That Small Group of People

In 2004, George Lakoff, that professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, published Don’t Think of an Elephant! The subtitle was “Know Your Values and Frame the Debate – The Essential Guide for Progressives” – necessary after John Kerry lost to the goofiest guy in the Bush family, mired in a pointless war that was getting worse by the day. How did that guy win a second term?

George Lakoff knew how that happened. It’s all in how things are framed, and it was time to get as tricky as the Frank Lutz conservatives. Tell people not to think about something and they’ll think about that very thing because they’re trying not to think about that very thing. It was not important that John Kerry was fluent in French and “looked kind of French” – doesn’t matter a bit – don’t think about it. People thought about it – and about how the French mocked Colin Powell at the UN when he said the world had to approve of, and join in, America’s war to get rid of Saddam Hussein, because of that guy’s weapons of mass destruction. Of course no one mocked Colin Powell. The elegant and suave Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin asked simple questions, damn it. That was unforgivable. America now hated the French.

John Kerry had nothing to do with any of that, but he was fluent in French and kind of skinny too. But don’t think about that. And that worked. There was no way for Kerry to respond. He was one of those French bastards. Those guys on the other side were good. George Lakoff wanted to make his side as good, so in 2014 he wrote a new version of the book – but that may not have been necessary. Republicans sometimes do all the work for the Democrats and progressives and liberals and whatnot. They get defensive. They deny this and that, when they shouldn’t mention this and that at all. Nixon said that the American public needs to know that their president is not a crook, and he was not a crook.

Don’t think of a crook, and don’t think of him as a crook? The nation considered the question. What did he expect would happen? He framed all the debate that would end his presidency. And now it’s Trump. Don’t think of him as a white supremacist – do NOT think that thought – and don’t think he’s encouraging white supremacists. Try real hard not to think those things.

No, don’t even mention such things. Shrug. Hide. Change the subject. Don’t set this up as the subject. What fool would make such arguments?

That would be this guy:

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that the New Zealand mosque massacre, where a white supremacist allegedly killed 50 people, had nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that the president “is not a white supremacist.”

Mulvaney defended Trump during a pair of interviews on the Sunday political talk shows.

On “Fox News Sunday,” anchor Chris Wallace asked “to the degree that there’s an issue with white supremacist, white nationalist, anti-Muslim bigotry in this country, and there is an issue with that, why not deliver a speech condemning it?”

“You’ve seen the president stand up for religious liberty, individual liberty,” Mulvaney said.

Yes, Trump has stood up for the rights of the oppressed white Christian minority in America to refuse service to gay folks, and to refuse them medical care and even medicine, but that’s not this, so Mulvaney dropped that for this:

“Let’s take what happened in New Zealand yesterday for what it is, a terrible, evil, tragic act, and figure out why those things are becoming more prevalent in the world,” he continued. “Is it Donald Trump? Absolutely not. Is there something else happening in our culture where people go, ‘Know what? I think today I’m going to go on TV and live-stream me murdering other people’? That’s what we should be talking about. Not the politics of the United States.”

This was one sick puppy, so let’s look at the culture that might have twisted this once good white guy, ruining him, and he is just one guy:

Trump condemned the shooting on Friday, but when asked if he believes white nationalist terrorism and violence is a rising concern globally, the president said, said, “I don’t really.” Trump added that he thinks “it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

But they are few, as he sees it, and then there was the second interview:

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mulvaney said Trump “is no more to blame for what happened in New Zealand than Mark Zuckerberg is because he created Facebook.” The social networking site said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shooting within 24 hours of the attack.

In short, blame Facebook, not Trump, but not everyone agreed:

Trump’s former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he hoped the president “doesn’t maintain the position” that white nationalism is “not a threat at all.”

“I don’t think that the two threats are equal, ISIS and white supremacists,” Bossert said. “They’re equally repugnant. They are not equal in size. But the president has to combat the ideology of both.”

That was the advice:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on CNN’s State of the Union, that white nationalists are “using” Trump “as an excuse” to commit violence.

Trump “should be giving strong statements, public speeches defending Muslims in this world,” the 2020 presidential candidate said.

Don’t expect that. Trump goes the other way:

President Donald Trump seemed to adopt the role of programmer in chief on Sunday, firing off a series of tweets that singled out for solidarity and scorn various anchors at his favorite network, Fox News, and suggested that federal regulators should bear down on “Saturday Night Live” and NBC.

He was on a roll:

The president’s posts directed at Fox News followed a particularly bruising week for the conservative cable outlet. Last Sunday, audio clips surfaced of misogynistic comments that prime-time host Tucker Carlson made on a Florida shock jock’s radio show from 2006 to 2011, and fellow talking head Jeanine Pirro was roundly rebuked the same weekend for appearing to question the patriotism of a Muslim-American member of Congress.

The damned Muslim-American member of Congress criticized the Israeli government and that government’s lobbyists in Washington, and she dresses funny, so she must hate America and want Sharia Law here right now, which was a bit too much for even Fox News, and that angered President Trump:

Fox News did not air Pirro’s weekly program, “Justice,” on Saturday night, and CNN reported Sunday that she has been suspended from the network. The president made clear that he was no fan of the unannounced lineup change.

“Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro,” Trump said in a tweet Sunday. “The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country. They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well.”

In another message, the president wrote that Fox News “must stay strong and fight back with vigor.” Framing the public relations fracas in gladiatorial terms, Trump advised the network to “continue to fight for our Country” and “stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down.”

He wasn’t’ saying Muslims should be shot, but “the majority of our Country” understands how anyone can feel that way, and should. But of course he wasn’t finished:

Earlier in the morning, Trump had indicated for the second time in two months that government officials should scrutinize “Saturday Night Live,” the satirical sketch show that airs weekly on NBC, for potential abuses.

“It’s truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side,'” the president tweeted. “Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows.”

“Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this?” Trump wrote in a separate post. “There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia!”

Saturday Night Live is financed and produced and written by the Russians? There is the Federal Election Commission. There is the FCC too. But expect a presidential commission to look into this – or not. Donald Trump likes to be outrageous. The man just says things. He doesn’t mean them – unless he does.

Assume he means what he says. White supremacists aren’t a problem. White nationalist terrorism is not on the rise around the world – that’s just a small group of people with issues. Don’t think about it.

Charlie Pierce thought about it:

There is now little doubt that white supremacy is an international terrorist threat stretching from Christchurch to Pittsburgh and extending out in every direction. It runs on a parallel track with the rise of a xenophobic rightwing nationalist politics that is conspicuously successful in a number of putatively democratic nations. Liberal democracy is under attack and, like any revolution, this one has both a respectable political front and a violent auxiliary that operates on its own imperatives … This is the everyday al Qaeda of the angry white soul, and it’s growing.

The respectable political front here is the Republican Party and Donald Trump, of course, violent auxiliary is everywhere. That’s what Christopher Dickey argues here:

The fight against extremism must start with ideas, and with language that is clear and unequivocal. Which is why we should be perfectly blunt about what Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old monster of Christchurch, claimed to represent, and did and does represent, which is white nationalist terrorism.

Tarrant may have been a lone shooter when he slaughtered 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, but he was not a “lone wolf.” He was part of a much wider movement that is every bit as extensive as Al Qaeda was when it attacked the United States in 2001 and potentially much more dangerous to the future of Western democracies.

The recommendation:

Now, before it grows any stronger, should be the time to move against it with the same kind of concerted international focus of attention and resources that were trained on Osama bin Laden. Now is the time for a global war on white nationalist terrorism.

The reasoning:

Nobody can claim, as the George W. Bush administration did, that “we’re going to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” because they are already “here” with a vengeance, steadily increasing their power and presence in Western democracies.

Networks of white nationalist apologists, sympathizers, supporters and facilitators – vital to any terrorist movement – are deeply embedded in the political and social fabric. They are literally the enemy within. As an apologist, it should be said, President Donald Trump is in a class by himself. Trump is “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” as Tarrant wrote in his manifesto.

The obsession with the border wall, the attempts to ban all Muslims – such measures are trending in Tarrant’s direction because Trump’s base buys into them. And when it comes to feeding the basic instincts of the base in order to hold on to power, it is not at all clear how far Trump will go.

That is the issue, because Trump really is the issue here:

I have been told by a very senior former U.S. intelligence official that he is concerned if Trump is impeached and removed, the result could be violence tearing the country apart. And Trump himself likes to feint in that direction, as he did in his Breitbart interview last week.

In a weird aside, in the middle of an otherwise soporific dialogue about former House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump declared, “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

That was widely interpreted as a veiled threat of violence because, clearly, it was one.

So, if we are going to think seriously about a global war on white nationalist terrorism, we have to admit that the American president is an enormous obstacle.

That’s not what Mick Mulvaney said. Mulvaney said do not even think such thoughts. Do not think about that elephant, but Christopher Dickey has been an international correspondent based in Paris for decades, so he sees a bit more than Mulvaney and Trump. This is an international issue:

Provocateurs like Tarrant are hoping for draconian measures, looking to provoke a conflagration. “Civil war in the so called ‘melting pot’ that is the United States should be a major aim in overthrowing the global power structure and the Wests’ egalitarian, individualist, globalist dominant culture,” Tarrant’s manifesto tells us. He’s hoping “the conflict over the 2nd amendment” will lead to that fratricidal fight and “eventually balkanize the U.S. along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.”

He wants that to spread everywhere, but he’s just one guy late to the game:

When Tarrant writes in all caps “THE MYTH OF THE MELTING POT MUST END, AND WITH IT THE MYTH OF THE EGALITARIAN NATION” he is not coming up with his own lunatic theory, but parroting ones that have been disseminated for years by American racists, and developed into an ideology in Europe as resonant of terror today as Mein Kampf was in the 1920s.

Vladimir Putin and his ideologues are apostles of ethnic and linguistic nationalism, and promote it both overtly and covertly in Western European countries to disrupt and divide their democracies.

Parties running on anti-brown-or-black-immigrant platforms are now significant players in the politics of Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy. We know that Tarrant recently traveled to Spain, Bulgaria and other countries where there are active ultra-right movements. In Hungary, where the government of Viktor Orban is rabidly anti-immigrant and obviously anti-Semitic, the New Zealand shooter probably felt right at home.

And then there’s France:

As the popular French daily Le Parisien headlined on Saturday morning, “49 Dead in New Zealand: Everything Started in France…”

In 2017, Tarrant came here to watch the presidential election between Emmanuel Macron, who represents everything from globalization to higher education that the Tarrant crowd hates, and far-right Marine Le Pen, who, he concluded, was just not racist enough for his tastes.

But he did find someone he liked:

The key to Tarrant’s thinking and to his connections is in the title of his manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” drawn directly from the work of far-right French author Renaud Camus, who has written that the fecund peoples of Africa and the Muslim world will overwhelm and replace European populations.

As the daily Le Monde pointed out, the fantasy of this sinister replacement plot originally was based on the notion that the Jews were out to diminish or subjugate the white population of Europe – a notion that endured in right-wing circles even after World War II and the revelations of the Holocaust. And it is still a common trope among Americans on the far right. When neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville in 2017, they were vowing that they would not be replaced by Jews.

Trump did say that there were fine people on both sides there, and his chief advisor on such things, who writes all of his speeches for him, is young Stephen Miller – a big fan of Renaud Camus. Miller was mentored at Duke University by Richard Spencer – the famous White Supremacist – before he joined Jeff Sessions’ senate staff, before the White House. John Kerry wasn’t French but Miller may be. Even so, Dickey reports this:

Here in Europe in the 21st century, where many countries treat expressed anti-Semitism as a crime, Renaud Camus put a new spin on that replacement fable following Sept. 11, 2001, by claiming Muslims were colonizing Europe, but on Friday, Camus denied any incitement to terrorism in his own particular way.

“The colonized,” he wrote, meaning the embattled white Europeans, “ought not to imitate the methods of the colonizer,” meaning the immigrants to Europe, by adopting terror tactics. “That is to become like him already and give in to colonization.”

He got cold feet, but Dickey adds this:

It might be possible to silence such voices of hate. Many European governments have tried. But would that be enough to stop the spread of white nationalist terrorism? Almost certainly not.

These people will not be silenced:

The man accused of mass shootings at mosques in New Zealand has fired his lawyer and plans to represent himself in court, leading to speculation that he might try to use his trial as a platform for extremist views.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, of Australia, who has been charged with one count of murder, appeared to be lucid and not mentally unstable, said Richard Peters, his former attorney. He is expected to face more charges when he next appears in court on April 5.

In his defense he will cite his motive, claiming justifiable homicide or some such thing. When he cites his motive perhaps he’ll read his seventy-four page manifesto, word for word, and add extemporaneous commentary, to add depth and emphasis. That’s his right. And that will spread the word. That too will spread white nationalist terrorism – the concept. There’s no stopping this.

Trump says that this is just a small group of people with issues. Mick Mulvaney says that Trump has nothing to do with any of this. Nixon said he was not a crook. Don’t even think such things. Okay, now don’t think about an elephant. Try real hard not to think about an elephant. And there it is.

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The Guys with Guns

Timing is everything. On a pleasant Thursday, Donald Trump did say this:

I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.

That might have been a threat. Don’t tick off “his people” – the police and the military and those bikers. They all love him, and when they find out you don’t love him, they’ll be very angry. You don’t want these people angry at you. You could die. Not that these good people would do anything, but they might. You never know. Perhaps you should be careful. Watch what you say. And this might have been a warning about impeachment. Try that and that would tick off the police and the military and those bikers too – all of them good citizens who own big deadly guns and know how to use them. So watch what you say and what you do. The police and the military and those bikers are going to protect him. No one is going to protect someone who doesn’t like him. So agree with him. There is a deep state plot against him. And the media is the “enemy of the people” too.

That was the message. His people have guns. Don’t mess with them and don’t mess with him. Remember who has the guns. And then there was Friday morning:

President Trump deleted a tweet Friday linking to the conservative Breitbart News featuring an interview in which he suggested his supporters could “play it tough” if need be. The deletion came after the terror attack that left 49 victims dead at mosques in New Zealand.

The tweet was deleted mid-morning, according to analysis using the Internet archiving system Wayback Machine.

President Trump doesn’t delete all that many tweets, but he deleted that one, and Jennifer Rubin notes why:

The horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, which has taken at least 49 lives, reminds us of the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which reminds us of the murders of innocents in a Charleston, S.C., church. White supremacy. Fear of an invasion. Conspiratorial, apocalyptic thinking. The alleged murderer in New Zealand – as in the other incidents -tells us exactly why the attacks occurred.

That would be this:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Yes, he had to delete that tweet, but that didn’t fix much of anything:

President Trump said Friday he does not believe white nationalism is a rising global danger after a suspected gunman who authorities say espoused that ideology killed 49 Muslims in New Zealand.

When asked at the White House whether white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, Trump replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”

Trump also said he had not seen a manifesto that named him as an inspiration for white identity ideology.

He was saying he couldn’t really comment on something he hadn’t seen yet, and then the commentary started:

The responses Friday by Trump and other U.S. politicians to the New Zealand tragedy divided heavily along partisan lines. While many Republicans de-emphasized the role of white nationalist ideology, some Democrats suggested, either directly or indirectly, that Trump’s history of anti-Muslim remarks and policies contributed to the tragedy.

“Time and time again, this president has embraced and emboldened white supremacists – and instead of condemning racist terrorists, he covers for them,” tweeted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is seeking to challenge Trump in 2020. “This isn’t normal or acceptable. We have to be better than this.”

And this was about us:

Like the suspect accused of killing 11 Jewish synagogue-goers in Pittsburgh last October, the suspected mosque shooter in New Zealand allegedly drew inspiration from the rise of white nationalism in America. The 74-page manifesto posted online hailed Trump as a symbol “of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

And there is context:

Trump’s comments on the attacks came as he vetoed a congressional resolution that sought to block him from declaring a national emergency to build his long-promised wall along the southern border. Trump has repeatedly warned of violent criminals and terrorists coming into the country from Mexico, including claiming without evidence that “Middle Easterners” are sneaking in with asylum seekers over the southern border.

Trump has a long history of derogatory remarks about Muslims, including declaring in 2016 that “Islam hates us.” He formally proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States during the presidential campaign and since taking office his administration has implemented policies barring citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States.

And there’s that one word:

During the veto signing, Trump referred to people trying to invade the United States as a reason for the wall. The manifesto in the New Zealand attack referred to invasions of foreigners as an existential threat to white civilization.

That’s a problem:

John D. Cohen, a former Homeland Security official in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, said there is concern among law enforcement officials about Trump using such language.

“These white supremacists live in this conspiratorial bizarro world,” Cohen said. “They will draw a connection between the use of that language by the person who wrote the manifesto and statements being made by our government. That is what is concerning law enforcement.”

Trump said he didn’t care, he liked that “invasion” word, and this WAS an invasion, of families with children turning themselves in and asking for asylum – but really rapists and murderers and drugs dealers and Islamic terrorists. And they cannot come in. But he had nothing to do with that guy in New Zealand. And that, in turn, had nothing to do with anything that ever happened in America:

In the document, the man also stated that he was following the example of notorious right-wing extremists, including Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Well, there is that, and Paul Waldman argues this:

The manifesto left by the alleged shooter in the horrific mosque attack in New Zealand contained one mention of Donald Trump, in which the man expresses mixed support for our president. “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”

That’s praise – Trump got the White Nationalist thing right. And that’s scorn. Trump can’t get anything else right. So let’s add this:

Let’s add in this fascinating report by Astead Herndon in the New York Times, about how the Trumpian politics of polarization and racial grievance has come to define Republicans even in the most local races. Herndon visited a district near Scranton, Pa., where a Republican had badly lost a state legislative race after his bigoted and conspiracy-mongering Facebook posts were revealed.

Many of the losing candidate’s supporters saw him and President Trump as victims of the same unfairness.

That’s not good news for the Republican Party:

What is coming to define a good portion of the Republican Party is a sense that white people are not just losing something today but are under the threat of cultural, political and even physical annihilation.

In its extreme form, it’s defined as “white genocide,” a term common among white supremacists who believe that the white race is literally in danger of being wiped out. In a less extreme form, it manifests in people being increasingly drawn to white identity politics.

Waldman says that is where the party is headed:

In her upcoming book, “White Identity Politics,” political scientist Ashley Jardina clarifies that the term should be understood to refer, not just to straightforward racism, but to something more particular. White identity politics is about whiteness becoming an organizing political factor, a group identity that leads people to seek certain things and favor certain policies because of how they will affect white people.

And we finally got there:

The presidency of Barack Obama had a great deal to do with the current white identity politics, and in hindsight we might see it as inevitable that a racist demagogue would emerge to exploit the backlash Obama produced. That’s why Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to Trump as “the first white president,” arguing that his 2016 campaign should be understood as an assertion that whites had to retake power and restore (as they saw it) their rightful place atop the hierarchy.

And this is about fear:

What motivates it isn’t just hostility to minorities but fear that whites will be overrun, oppressed and eventually eliminated, and the solution is, in turn, to banish minorities from wherever white people are feeling this threat, whether it’s the United States, Europe or New Zealand.

This is a key through-line connecting white supremacists, white nationalists, clash-of-civilizations advocates and people who would describe themselves as none of those things but just Trump supporters worried about a changing America no longer having a place for them.

And that explains this:

The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville – the ones Trump called “very fine people” – chant “Jews will not replace us!” On the president’s favorite news network, Tucker Carlson tells viewers that immigrants make America “poorer and dirtier and more divided.” Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, used to serve as the chairman of an anti-Muslim organization that published a tract warning of a “Great White Death” in Europe resulting from too much dark-skinned immigration.

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop says that “the ideas behind the Green New Deal are tantamount to genocide,” saying it was dreamed up by people who “judge distance not in miles but in subway stops.” And you know who those people are.

Watch this 2015 video of Trump nodding along as an audience member says, “We have a problem in this country: It’s called Muslims.” When the man asks, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump answers, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things.”

And of course, during that campaign, in addition to his unending stream of bigoted statements against a wide variety of minority groups, Trump proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

That’s the party now, even if no one yet believes that:

Many Republicans would protest that their party affiliation is based not on racial fears of extinction but on things such as support for small government and tax cuts, or opposition to abortion rights and marriage equality. And they aren’t lying. But it’s also undeniable that with Trump in charge – and with the party having given itself over to him so completely, at least for now – white identity politics now defines the GOP. But what will they do as it drags them down? What happens if Trump loses in 2020? What if he loses to a person of color?

The choices are to stay and become a white nationalist, or to bail out and quit the party, or to hide from it all. But that won’t work:

As Jardina argues, “one effect of the perceived waning status of white Americans is the activation of white racial identity and white racial consciousness.” As nonwhite Americans become more numerous and gain political, social and cultural influence, whiteness becomes more salient and important to a subset of white people – which means that a Trump defeat would almost certainly intensify feelings of white identity among a significant portion of the Republican base.

That, in turn, will make it harder for the party to break itself away from white identity politics. If it tries to de-emphasize identity issues and create space for those turned off by Trumpian politics to join the party, that core of its base could rebel or just fail to show up at the polls. In states and districts that remain overwhelmingly conservative, white identity politics will become more intense, and the people elected to represent those areas will keep pulling the party back even as it harms their national prospects.

And then what happens to the party? What happens to all of us?

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Now It’s Personal

Don’t take things too far with John Wayne, or later, Clint Eastwood. They know the rules, and they play by the rules, but offend them, deeply, and they’ll say those words “Now it’s personal” – and all bets are off. You’re gonna die. They’ll track you down, to the ends of the earth if necessary, no matter how long it takes. Now they’ll ignore the rules, and you won’t like that very much. There’s nowhere to hide. It’s over, at least in the movies. Never get on the wrong side of righteous man.

But things may be changing:

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, with 12 Republicans joining all the Democrats to deliver a rare bipartisan rebuke of the president.

The disapproval resolution passed the House last month, so the 59-to-41 Senate vote will send the measure to the president’s desk. Trump intends to use the first veto of his presidency to strike it down, and Congress does not have the votes to override the veto.

He wins. He sees any opposition as pointless:

“VETO!” Trump tweeted moments after the vote. A short while later he added, “I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country. I thank all of the Strong Republicans who voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL!”

And now this was personal, so he was going after his traitors:

For weeks, Trump had sought to frame the debate in terms of immigration, arguing that Republican senators who supported border security should back him on the emergency declaration, which would allow him to redirect military construction funds to the wall in the absence of an appropriation from Congress.

But for many GOP lawmakers, it was about what they saw as a bigger issue: the Constitution itself, which grants Congress – not the president – control over government spending. By declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress, Trump was violating the separation of powers and setting a dangerous precedent, these senators argued.

And some of these senators tried to do something else about all this:

Thursday’s vote followed numerous failed efforts at compromise by vacillating GOP senators, including one Wednesday evening in which a trio of Republican senators – Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska – showed up nearly unannounced at the White House, interrupting Trump at dinner in a last-ditch effort to craft a compromise.

Their efforts failed, and Graham, Cruz and Sasse all ended up voting against the disapproval resolution.

“I said, ‘Thank you for meeting with us. Sorry we ruined your dinner.’ And again, if it’d been me, I would have kicked us out after about five minutes,” Graham said later.

That was odd, and didn’t matter:

Ahead of the vote, Trump took to Twitter to goad his critics and insist that defectors would be siding with Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“A vote for today’s resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!” Trump wrote.

No one would change HIS mind. He and his base were right. Everyone else is wrong, and this was personal now, as the Washington Post reports here:

President Trump tried to marshal his most potent weapon – himself – to stave off what eventually became an embarrassing rejection from his own party over his declared national emergency on the border.

This was, then, all about him:

In numerous calls with Republican senators in recent days, the president spoke of the battle almost exclusively in personal terms – telling them they would be voting against him while brushing aside constitutional concerns over his attempt to reroute billions of federal dollars for a border wall. He argued that a vote against the emergency would be seen by GOP supporters as being against border security and the wall and would hurt their own political fortunes, according to a person with direct knowledge of some of the calls.

The president, along with his aides, continued to hammer that message leading up to Thursday’s Senate vote on the issue. Trump tweeted the day before that Republican senators were “overthinking” it, stressing that it was only about supporting border security. And White House aides made it clear to undecided Republicans that Trump was noticing those who chose to oppose him – particularly if they were up for reelection in 2020.

In short, make him look good or face the consequences.

That may have been the wrong approach:

Trump’s personal pleas and pressure were among a number of missed opportunities and missteps by the White House that contributed to a defeat notably worse than the administration had hoped for in trying to limit defections, according to officials and lawmakers familiar with the efforts, many of whom requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The administration, for example, failed to give opposing GOP senators legal opinions, project details and other information that they had requested about the national emergency, according to lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides. Vice President Pence was also unable or unwilling to make commitments on behalf of the president even while serving as Trump’s main emissary to negotiate with Republicans, people familiar with the debate said.

Trump made a mistake. This wasn’t all about him, and staffers were exasperated:

The deep concerns some GOP senators held about potential abuse of the separation of powers have been clear to the White House for weeks. In fact, some White House and congressional aides questioned whether the effort to sway them was even worth it.

“This was the inevitable outcome, and it’s unclear why any effort or political capital was spent trying to avoid it,” said Brendan Buck, a former top aide to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “There aren’t the votes to override, so why bother negotiating?”

That’s a good question, but there was little negotiating:

During a private GOP lunch in late February that Pence attended, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) asked to see any memorandum produced by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that would lay out the administration’s rationale for why the emergency declaration was lawful, according to an official with knowledge of the closed-door discussion.

Cruz had raised a hypothetical question involving a Democratic senator from Massachusetts that struck at the heart of some of their concerns: What if a President Elizabeth Warren declared a national emergency to seize oil wells in Texas?

A Justice Department official in attendance said the White House had drafted a legal memo the Office of Legal Council had approved. When Cruz asked to see that document, Pence said he would relay the request to Trump.

The White House never provided that memo, according to an official familiar with the discussions.

Oops. But wait, there’s more:

A similar scenario unfolded a week later, when Republican senators pressed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for a list of military construction projects that could lose funding this year as a result of Trump’s emergency declaration. Nielsen told them the issue was largely the purview of the Pentagon – while Defense Department officials at the same time were deferring to Nielsen’s agency for information they needed to make a list of targeted projects.

Senators never got that list of projects either and some Republicans doubted whether one exists.

Nonetheless, Trump called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) almost daily to press him on who was opposing his declaration – all while White House officials worked to keep the number of Republican defectors in the single digits, according to two administration officials.

McConnell hung back, declining to pressure senators and instead focusing on getting as much information to Republicans as possible.

Trump may be losing the Republicans, or throwing them away, and Michael Gerson finds that odd:

There is no measurable sense in which Trump has grown into the office he holds. He remains defiantly nativist, instinctually divisive, habitually offensive. A significant portion of the voting public has gone from ambivalence about Trump to alarm, hostility and disdain.

So, in the 2018 midterm elections, Trump tried to nationalize the election on issues that motivate his party – appealing to those voters who are excited by exclusion.

That didn’t work. That will never work:

The politics of partisan mobilization works only if you don’t scare the rest of America to death. Republicans have come to the defense of a man who is incapable of widening his appeal. And this has opened up a reality gap between the GOP and the rest of our political culture. The rift between Republican perceptions of the president and the view of the broader public has grown into a chasm. This is now the main political context of the 2020 campaign.

Trump will say this is all about him and him alone, and that’s the problem, because he’s right, and trouble has to follow:

Why have Republicans fallen in line with a politician who has sometimes targeted their own party and leaders for populist disdain? Why have conservatives come to the defense of a leader with decidedly un-conservative views on trade and foreign policy? Why have religious conservatives embraced the living, breathing embodiment of defining deviancy down?

Here’s why:

Those who violate their own beliefs for political gain – elevating the ends of politics over the means of character – become mentally invested in their choice. Admitting that Trump is a chaotic and destructive force in U.S. politics would require self-judgment. There is a reason that enablers enable – because a more objective self-assessment would bring guilt and pain.

So it was time to make a sad but sort of reasonable deal:

A president who panders to the religious right may end up being more reliable than a leader who is actually a religious conservative and thinks for himself or herself. Pandering is utterly predictable. Conscience makes distinctions.

But there is a downside to the deal. This particular demagogue requires not just consent but approval. And not just approval but obeisance. So religious conservatives end up blessing what Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful and the mayor of South Bend, Ind., memorably called “the porn-star presidency.” Deficit hawks vote for massive increases in debt. Economic conservatives accommodate the instincts of an economically illiterate leader. Military hawks endorse a foreign policy that resembles President Barack Obama’s, except with more praise of dictators and less backbone.

To ensure the political triumph of their views, these partisans must publicly dilute and discredit those views. Trump offers true believers an uncomfortable arrangement: What you would save you must first defile.

All of this is, then, unsupportable:

Making the case for Trump requires his advocates to consistently minimize his vices. Rather than conceding Trump’s demolition of public standards of honesty and decency, his supporters pronounce him a little rough around the edges. His racial bias is dismissed as straight talk or rhetorical excess. His testing of constitutional boundaries is an excess of zeal. His cruelty and crudity are, when you get used to them, just part of the show.

But if, as I suspect, Trump’s deception, indecency, racism, viciousness and lawlessness are uniquely dangerous to our democracy, his enablers will find their deal more difficult to explain.

Michael Gerson may be onto something there. Some things will be difficult to explain. Jonathan Chait suggests that this may be one of them:

One of Donald Trump’s favorite riffs is a wish, cast as a warning, that his supporters inside and outside the state security services will unleash violence on his political opponents if they continue to oppose the administration. The specifics of the riff don’t vary much. Trump laments that his opponents are treating him unfairly, praises the toughness and strength of his supporters – a category that combines the police, military, and Bikers for Trump, which he apparently views as a Brownshirt-like militia – and a prediction that his supporters will at some point end their restraint.

Trump did say this:

I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.

Chait says that it could be this bad:

Early warnings that Trump could undermine the Constitution have not been borne out, which has produced a certain complacency about the issue. It is true that Trump is only an aspirational authoritarian, and to date has failed to bring his most illiberal dreams to life. He has used the government to punish independent media, prevailing upon the Post Office to raise rates on Amazon in retaliation for Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post, and repeatedly told his staff to order the Justice Department to block a merger in order to punish CNN. So far, this has had little effect.

On the other hand, if Trump wins a second term – a prospect that, under current economic conditions, is close to a toss-up – his presidency will only be a quarter of the way through. Already his authoritarian rhetoric is so thoroughly normalized that it hardly even registers as news any more. Anyone whose political efforts involve helping Trump gain more power, rather than opposing that project, is playing Russian roulette with the Constitution.

Republicans have had some success in restraining Trump’s abuses – in large part by slow-walking his most blatantly illegal or authoritarian orders. But the GOP’s willingness to defy Trump has also eroded steadily over his presidency. Congress’s failure to block Trump’s use of emergency powers to build the border wall that Congress has declined to fund is an important marker in that deterioration.

That is deterioration:

Republicans used to define more modest exertions of executive power by President Obama as dangerous Caesarism. Republicans turned Obama’s rather casual vow to use his “pen and phone” to carry out executive authority into a Hitleresque claim of total power. Accordingly, when Trump claimed executive power to fund a project Congress refused to fund, at least some conservatives denounced his plans. North Carolina senator Thom Tillis wrote an op-ed calling for Congress to deny Trump’s authority.

“Conservatives rightfully cried foul when President Barack Obama used executive action to completely bypass Congress and unilaterally provide deferred action to undocumented adults who had knowingly violated the nation’s immigration laws. Some prominent Republicans went so far as to proclaim that Obama was acting more like an “emperor” or “king” than a president,” he wrote, “There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach – that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.”

But then Trump started looking into supporting a primary challenger against Tillis. And lo and behold, Tillis abandoned the sacred principle. Republicans could have mustered a veto-proof majority to join with Democrats and block Trump, but failed. If Republicans are too frightened to defend what they themselves regard as a vital principle of the Constitution, what confidence should we have that they’ll stand in the way of Trump’s continued assaults on the Republic?

Greg Sargent is worried about that:

“It would be very bad, very bad.”

First, take Trump’s declaration that he has the support of the police and the military. Read in the most charitable way, Trump could merely mean that people in those groups tend to support him as individuals, not that he wants them to think of themselves as belonging to institutions that support him.

There’s no particular reason to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on this. But even if he did intend it in this somewhat less disgusting way, he’s still saying that the ranks of his armed supporters could at some point feel provoked to violence. He doesn’t say they should feel provoked, but merely that they might feel provoked under certain conditions.

This allows Trump to plausibly claim that he isn’t endorsing that outcome or openly inciting it; why, he’s merely observing what’s possible. And it would be very bad, very bad if that did happen, let me tell you, so you’d better hope it doesn’t!

Also note that Trump isn’t saying one way or the other whether violence would be justified – which means he’s dangling it out there that it might be. He certainly isn’t saying that it wouldn’t be.

This is dangerous stuff:

As Aaron Blake suggests, this kind of rhetoric at least could “plant a seed” in his supporters’ minds that violence might reasonably occur, if they feel sufficiently “wronged by the political process.” And Trump regularly indulges in all kinds of lies about such wrongs, whether it’s spinning ludicrous fantasies about a deep state plot to reverse the election or telling his supporters that the media is the “enemy of the people.”

And there’s this:

There’s one other point that gets lost at these moments, which is that Trump has repeatedly been put on notice that his rhetoric is leading to terrible consequences. Recall that remarkable conversation between Trump and New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, in which Sulzberger urged Trump to understand that his attacks on the press – such as his “enemy of the people” claim – are emboldening “dictators and tyrants” to suppress the free and independent press in multiple other countries.

Informed of this fact, Trump said: “I’m not happy to hear that,” and added that “I want to be” a defender of the free press. But he just can’t do this, as much as he’d like to, because the press keeps provoking his attacks by unfairly criticizing him.

Needless to say, since that conversation, Trump has kept right on attacking the media as the enemy of the people. Really, this is a very lamentable state of affairs. It’s really too bad that the press won’t stop making him do this.

Similarly, it would be just terrible if his supporters were incited to violence by conditions not of their own making. It would be very bad, very bad. We’d better hope that doesn’t happen.

Sarcasm seldom helps an argument, but here it does. So far, a small group of Republican senators decided to do what they could to help preserve the legislative branch of government here. That may not be enough.

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The Old College Try

College was the last four years of the sixties. The times they were a-changing. Jack and Martin and Bobby had been assassinated, and the war in Vietnam got worse and more stupid by the day, and that, and the music and the sex and the drugs, was tearing the country apart. And race was still an issue. The world was falling apart – be were in college – safe from the draft with our student deferments. Life was good. Some of us marched against the war. Others had toga parties at their frat houses. That was fine. We stayed in our lanes. There were the kids from unimpressive families – the first kid in the family to go to college – who worked in the summer and a bit during the year to somehow pay for this all. And there were the kids whose families had money – everything was already paid for. But that was fine too. It didn’t really matter how anyone got there. Staying there, and graduating, was the trick. And then there were the legacy kids – usually dolts whose mothers or fathers, or grandmothers or grandfathers, had graduated from the place long ago. They were there as a courtesy, a “George Bush at Yale” thing. They got their gentleman’s C’s and smirked a lot and everyone ignored them. And then there were those who parents had bought their way in, usually with a big donation. That does happen:

In 1998, according to sources familiar with the gift, the New York University alumnus Charles Kushner pledged $2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in annual installments of $250,000… At the time of the pledge, Kushner’s older son, Jared, was starting the college admissions process at the Frisch School, a Jewish high school in Paramus, New Jersey. A senior in 1998-99, Jared was not in the school’s highest academic track in all courses, and his test scores were below Ivy League standards. Frisch officials were surprised when he applied to Harvard – and dismayed when he was admitted.

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former school official said. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not”

Yea, well, Harvard took the money and let him in, and they made sure he somehow graduated. A quarter million dollars buys a lot. That happened back in the sixties too. The sums were smaller. But that’s how the world works. Everyone back then knew that. Everyone shrugged. These things happen. The only issue is, when necessary, covering your tracks:

Last week, Michael Cohen revealed that he threatened academic institutions not to release Donald Trump’s school records. Turns out, he might have undersold the effort.

The Post’s Marc Fisher just broke the news that the New York Military Academy, which Trump attended as a boy, moved its Trump files to a more secure location amid pressure from moneyed Trump allies. The school didn’t accede to these allies’ requests that the documents be turned over. But citing financial ailments and worried about legal action, it did help ensure they’d never see the light of day.

The timing of this new revelation is the most notable. Cohen last week submitted a letter he wrote threatening Fordham University with legal action if Trump’s records were released. That was in 2015, when Trump was about to run for president.

But this newest effort is actually from 2011, when Trump was considering challenging Barack Obama in his 2012 reelection race. That actually places it much closer to when Trump was routinely attacking Obama for not releasing his own academic records.

Faking it at the time can be real trouble down the road, but in 2015 W went the other way:

George Bush gave hope to millions of average students everywhere when he reminded graduates at a university in Texas C-grade students can become President too.

Giving the commencement address at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, his wife’s alma mater, the former president offered his congratulations: “To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done’.”

“And as I like to tell the C-students: You too, can be President,” he added to laughter and applause.

That was the alternative for Trump – “Obama is smart, and I’m dumb, but dumb is better.” He could have said that. His angry base, angry at all the smart people running everything and getting everything, would have cheered. He was honest and he was as resentful as every single one of them. But he didn’t go there. He had been the best student at the best schools. And he did that all on his own.

That was nonsense, but that’s been nonsense for the last seventy years, ever since our guys came back from the war and had the GI Bill and all of them actually could get into college. Get to the best of the best schools and be wonderful there – that’s what matters. There’s nothing new in the concept, only in the execution of the concept now:

The Justice Department on Tuesday charged 50 people – including two television stars – with participating in a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme that enabled privileged students with lackluster grades to attend prestigious colleges and universities.

The allegations included cheating on entrance exams and bribing college officials to say certain students were athletic recruits when those students were not in fact athletes, officials said. Numerous schools were targeted, including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA, among others.

The juicy details keep pouring in and it’s hard to turn away. The television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ran from 1984 to 1995 – feeding the nation’s need for “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” – showing the quite real shallow and totally unaware idle rich, surrounded by gold-plated everything. The show was a hit, and this college admissions scandal will be a big hit too – for the same reason. Look at those stars and rich people!

There more to this. Jennifer Rubin argues that this changes the debate about Affirmative Action:

The incident gives upper middle-class and wealthy whites a full appreciation of what “privilege” and “rigging the system” really mean.

It is human nature to assume whatever you and your offspring have done has been earned while others got “advantages.” However, you simply cannot treat the legal advantages these parents could have provided (e.g., private schools, tutors, sports coaches, essay counselors, alumni gifts) as part of given, earned success and whatever boost an athlete or poor applicant got in the name of diversity as unearned, unfair advantage. Now, rather than accusing every successful nonwhite student from an elite school of getting preferential treatment, appropriate skepticism should be directed at children of the super-rich who managed to get into elite schools despite less-than-sterling-grades.

And a few new court rulings would help too:

In the best-case scenario, the justice system will be a great leveler, handing down stiff sentences for those convicted, although I fear a judge somewhere will declare them to have lived a blameless life previously and go easy on them. We might also compel elite school to look at their egregiously disproportionate admission of the super-rich and their role in widening income inequality. “Diversity” has to include first in the family to go to college and low family income. Maybe it will force universities to make their admissions process more transparent, letting us all know just how many legacy admissions (and children of donors) there are. Maybe we could prevail upon college ranking outlets to take offending schools off the rankings and/or penalize schools that take the vast majority of students from the 1 percent. More radically, the fake student athlete scam is another argument for rethinking the role of college sports.

But it all comes down to this:

It is time to put away the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats myth, recognize real and substantial inequities, understand that inequities feed anti-democratic extremism, and embrace the idea that we are losing out as a country if mediocre elites get opportunities over more talented non-elites.

Elizabeth Bruenig puts that this way:

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged dozens of celebrities and lesser-known wealthy parents with counts of bribery and fraud over various alleged schemes to get their underachieving children into elite colleges. The details range from infuriating to bizarre to hilarious: Imposters hired to take standardized tests; a tennis coach bribed to produce a bogus admissions recommendation; hapless children’s faces Photoshopped onto the bodies of real athletes. The indicted parents could face prison if convicted. Their children could face expulsion.

News of the scandal has provoked near-unanimous anger, because what these ultra-rich moms and dads did wasn’t fair. But nothing about the American experience of social mobility is fair, and repairing that will require a much more radical reconsideration of society than smashing a pay-to-go racket.

It makes sense that people are outraged. The prospect of working hard, getting into a good school and building an excellent life atop one’s own hard-won accomplishments is the last, abstract vestige of the American Dream. And all of this undermines it: Apparently, as common sense probably dictated to most people anyway, you can get ahead simply by having rich parents, and elite credentials aren’t strictly the fruit of grit and skill.

Of course everyone knew that already. Not that there’s much that can be done about this mess:

It’s only reasonable to despair over American social immobility. Indicting these parents might have some deterrent effect on egregious cheating, but it won’t make a dent in the widespread and entirely public practices of legacy admissions or donations-for-admissions, which makes college admittance just as unfair as those seedier practices.

So, yes, the college admissions system is unfair on a deep and possibly irreparable level. But perhaps it’s even more unfair, and even less reparable, than this particular scandal and its focus on cash-for-credentials makes it seem. Why are we comfortable with a system that guarantees that some people will wind up much poorer than others for reasons beyond their control – or for any reason at all?

That’s the larger question:

All we want is fair competition, and that rich kids getting spots at the front of the line subverts that. But so does having an unusual talent, even if it arises from genetic instead of financial fortune. Another might be that it’s hard work and commitment that really matter to getting ahead – but each person’s maximum capacity for achievement is still set by unchosen, inborn and external factors.

In short, there’s no way to fix this, because there’s nothing broken.

Molly Roberts continues that thought:

Meritocracy may be a myth, but that means someone is keeping the fiction alive. The multimillion-dollar college admissions scandal the Justice Department announced this week gives us a sense of who – and why.

Prosecutors alleged Tuesday that wealthy parents paid a high-powered consultant pretending to operate a charity for disadvantaged children to help their extraordinarily advantaged children get into top-tier schools including Yale, Stanford and UCLA, among others. Sometimes, that allegedly involved engineering elaborate schemes to cheat on college entrance exams. Other times, it was reportedly bribing coaches to say students were tennis stars when they barely knew their way around the baseline.

Much of this was absurd:

Then there’s the strangeness of the logic behind paying for it at all: Children whose parents can throw around that sort of money as if it’s nothing are going to be okay. They can live off their family’s largesse without a bachelor’s degree, or at least without an Ivy League diploma, and they can capitalize on connections they already have from growing up alongside the powerful. So why college? And why these highly selective schools?

Those are good questions:

Many Americans fetishize the attendance of four-year institutions. Going to college, we think, is what smart and successful people do – especially people like the financiers who made up a sizable chunk of the now-indicted parents. Living a life of luxury looks a lot less questionable if there’s some indication you made it there on merit. A degree is society’s stamp of supposed deservingness.

Sure, there’s a more innocent explanation for our collective appreciation for college, too. College might not be what’s best for everyone, but it’s invaluable for many young people seeking to learn critical thinking and independence and to form friendships they’d have been unlikely to develop anywhere else.

But that’s where the second question comes in. The sorts of children whose parents reportedly sneaked them into Yale already went to private schools, or exemplary public ones. They could go to college somewhere, even if it didn’t show up on the first page of U.S. News and World Report rankings, without the “side door” the architect of the fraud reportedly promised.

So why these colleges? It’s because the societal stamp of deservingness from a place on page one is extra shiny.

And that’s everything, and empty too:

Parents who care whether their children attend one of America’s “best” schools are buying into the idea of being the best. There are material advantages to attending one of these colleges, yes, from plush employment to social connections. But most of the children implicated in this scandal don’t need those advantages. They already have them. What a family gains from sending its scions to those schools is less concrete: the perception that the children are smart and successful, so that they can exist without shame in the high-achieving circles where they were reared – and the parents can, too.

Purchasing a mini-campus with your name on it doesn’t serve that purpose nearly so well, because the corruption is written right there on the portico. It has to look like the beneficiaries of academic cachet at least sort of earned it. Better still if the students, unaware of or unwilling to recognize the advantages they’ve received, believe they’ve earned it, too. Recommendation letters or phone calls from big-shot family friends, standard-size donations, SAT tutoring and more are the same game played on a smaller scale.

This is a tension strung so tight it should snap.

And this did snap:

Parents allegedly committed fraud to send their children to these schools because they believe those schools are superior. That image of superiority depends on the perception of the schools as places for smart and successful people to study. But by allegedly buying admission for students who are neither especially smart nor especially successful, these parents are guaranteeing that the Stanfords of the country aren’t actually only for smart and successful people, after all. They’re for people who can pay. Then, the schools churn out kids positioned to be rich – many of whom were rich to start with – and the cycle continues.

“The way the world works these days is unbelievable,” one parent, a senior executive at a private-equity firm who has advocated ethical investing, said as he arranged to trick admissions officials into thinking his son was a football kicker, according to court documents. But it is people like that who keep it working that way.

It is what it is, which is how it has always been. There’s always that jerk half-asleep in the back of the room, but that guy who will somehow pass the class, and then go on to run the family’s multinational corporation. Yes, he probably cheated, or his family did, or both – and he will be a billionaire soon enough – but let it go. The rich will get their kids into the best schools. Everyone else, do what you can… and wait. They got in to wherever. They won’t get out alive.

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Choosing When to Back Off

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.” ~ W. C. Fields

Nancy Pelosi is no fool. Conservatives may think she is evil and nasty and ugly and an old hag. And they hate everything she stands for – all that liberal crap. But she’s sneaky. She’s sly. She’s methodical. She holds her caucus in the House together. She has for years. She’s no fool. Donald Trump’s withering dismissive nickname for her is “Nancy” – which makes here smile. She has stumped him. And now she’s done it again. As the de facto leader of the Democratic Party as it reorganizes to face Trump again, she pulled the rug out from under him again. She offered a new party position on impeaching Donald Trump. That ain’t gonna happen. There’s no point – at least not now. Her now solidly Democratic House can impeach him, sure, but Mitch McConnell’s solidly Republican Senate will never convict him and send him packing – so there’s no point in the House impeaching the guy. Unless something changes, which is unlikely, there’s no use being a damn fool about this. And besides, an impeachment in the House would tear the country apart, and “he’s not worth it” – implying that there’s no point in tearing the country apart over one petty little man who will be gone soon enough.

She is good at withering insults to which there is no possible reply, because she’s no fool:

Months after taking control of the House on a promise to hold President Trump accountable, Democrats are signaling that they’re unlikely to pursue impeachment, lowering expectations that the special counsel’s report will spur an immediate attempt to unseat the president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in an interview with the Washington Post released Monday that impeachment is too divisive to pursue “unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan.”

On Tuesday, rank-and-file Democrats largely fell in line. Some said the House must first complete its own investigations to determine whether Trump committed impeachable offenses. Others said even if they determine he did, an impeachment process would be too harmful to the country unless the majority of Congress and the American people agreed.

And there’s the problem. The American people have not agreed that it’s time to consider impeachment, yet, if they ever will, and then, if they do, the majority of Congress may have to agree with them, to keep their jobs, but the majority of Congress also knows the angry voters of their own districts. This is a long shot at best. So the best Pelosi can do is take away all of Trump’s ammunition:

Pelosi’s remarks appear to be part of a larger strategy Democrats are pursuing to downplay special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s much-anticipated report and prevent Republicans from using the threat of impeachment to rally conservatives ahead of the 2020 presidential race… It’s also an acknowledgment that the risk of failure or backfire is huge. Even if an impeachment measure got through the Democratic-controlled House, the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to convict Trump. And pursuing a partisan kamikaze mission would give Trump a convenient political foil for the 2020 election, many Democrats fear.

And there’s history:

Looming large in the minds of veteran Democrats is the impeachment of President Clinton. The Republican-controlled House voted to impeach him, but the GOP wasn’t able to get two-thirds of the Senate to convict him. Clinton’s political contemporaries believed that the effort was viewed unsympathetically by the public and hurt Republicans in the next midterm.

So, move on:

House Democrats are also trying to refocus public attention on their own investigations, which just got underway. The House Judiciary Committee recently asked 81 people or organizations for documents related to the president and the Trump organization.

But not everyone is happy:

By coming out against impeachment, Pelosi is putting herself between the party’s more liberal voters and activists who are clamoring for impeachment and moderate Democrats – many of whom were just elected to their first term – who are more skeptical about impeachment. Those moderates, many of whom will go before voters next week at town hall meetings during the congressional recess, now can redirect some of that frustration to Pelosi, who has long been willing to take the heat for her rank-and-file lawmakers.

But announcing her opposition to impeachment even before Mueller has released his report is unlikely to sit well with everyone in the progressive wing of the party.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) still plans to pursue impeachment and potentially force a House vote. He forced a similar measure last year when the House was controlled by Republicans. Only 66 Democrats voted on a procedural measure in support of the articles of impeachment.

He may be the fool here:

Most Democrats appear in alignment with Pelosi’s position. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Conference Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York and even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the highest-profile freshman and a progressive leader, said they are willing to tap on the brakes.

“I’ve always been very clear that I’m supportive and how I would vote in terms of impeachment,” she said at a news conference in New York last week. “I understand that leadership may want to build a stronger case and subpoena more records or figure out what’s happening, perhaps in the Mueller investigation.”

She said she would “defer to party leadership.”

That’s cool, but Jennifer Rubin notes the complications here:

Impeachment is a monumental undertaking so you better have reason to do so. This is an appropriate analysis since impeachment, undoing an election via Congress, is contemplated as a political, not legal, process and requires a super majority for removal. The American people must be convinced that he cannot remain in office. If there is some atrocious smoking gun and/or the accumulated evidence is so weighty, then even Republicans’ minds might be changed.

Okay. Pelosi is right, but not quite:

The rub is if the evidence is truly compelling but Republicans remain his obstinate defenders. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe argues that in such a case you also have to consider “the danger of NOT impeaching a president whose guilt has become clear just because the Senate seems too beholden to the president to remove him.”

Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti had a similar reaction. “While I understand why Speaker Pelosi believes that it would not be politically advantageous to impeach Trump if Senate Republicans will not vote to convict, the House has a constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law.” He adds, “Given the Justice Department’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted, a decision by the House not to impeach unless conviction in the Senate is certain allows a Senate minority to ensure that a president escapes punishment for serious crimes. While her decision may be politically savvy, the American people deserve to know where each Member of Congress and Senator stands, and for the constitutional process to play out.”

But then Pelosi is right:

Still, Pelosi understands the politics and knows that defeating Trump in 2020 is of the highest priority. If an ultimately ineffective impeachment detracts from that goal, it’s not worth it. It would in fact be a gross political error. Moreover, if a smoking gun does turn up, the possibility of bipartisan consensus remains.

But, you say, this means he’ll “get away” with it! Nonsense – as soon as he is out of office, he can be prosecuted like any American at the federal or state level – and on any number of possible charges including obstruction of justice, campaign finance violations and a host of financial crimes involving his business and/or foundation.

It may be best to just carry on:

Why bother with congressional hearings? Well, it’s important for the voters to know what Trump has been up to so they can hold him accountable at the polls in 2020. In addition, other people’s crimes or noncriminal wrongdoing may be revealed. The very act of congressional investigation is critical to reestablishing democratic norms and the separation of powers.

Moreover, let’s remember that Congress is supposed to investigate lots of things that aren’t crimes – e.g., a disastrous child-separation policy, conflicts of interest, carelessness in handling security clearances, receipt of foreign emoluments, incompetent foreign policy. That is what we do in a democracy. (I know, it’s difficult to remember after Republicans did nothing.) We insist government be transparent and we hold those responsible to account for their conduct.

Finally, remember that both the special counsel and Congress are investigating a counterintelligence matter. Who, if anyone, cooperated or conspired with the Russians. If Trump, members of his family or current officeholders did it, or were negligent in preventing others from doing it, we need to know.

Rubin says worry about that. The impeachment stuff will take care of itself.

No it won’t. Brian Beutler argues this:

Because of what they have said – the terms they have committed themselves to – Democratic leaders have all but doomed themselves to the worst-possible approach, one in which they unearth damning evidence and then make the conscious decision not to act on it; one in which they tacitly bless all of Trump’s wrongdoing and pray both that voters do all the hard work for them, and that nothing tragic happens as a consequence of their inaction…

What Pelosi really did was affirm that Democrats long ago gave the Republican Party a silent veto over whether Trump should be held accountable for anything. Back in May of last year, when Democrats were still in the minority, House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff insisted, “there will be no impeachment, no matter how high the crime or serious the misdemeanor,” unless “Democratic and Republican members of Congress can make the case to their constituents that they were obligated to remove him.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler adopted a similar standard recently, and yesterday he endorsed Pelosi’s view. “She laid down a number of conditions— it has got to be bipartisan, the evidence has to be overwhelming – which is what I’ve been saying.”

Pelosi, Schiff, and Nadler are seasoned politicians who don’t say much that’s unrehearsed. Their position that passing articles of impeachment – a process that requires a simple majority in the House – must be bipartisan sends a clear message to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders, that the key to Trump’s continued impunity is for Republicans to simply continue doing what they’ve been doing all along – ignore or celebrate his misconduct, attack the investigators, lie as much as it takes to keep Trump’s base of support from falling through the floor.

This is actively supporting the unsupportable:

When Republicans inevitably take this path, the Pelosi standard will commit Democrats to the course of consciously, publicly choosing to proceed no further – to say Congress will take no position on Trump’s obstruction of justice, his violation of the emoluments clause, and his criminal schemes. That might or might not be the safest political course of action for the party, but it will establish a new precedent in our country that presidents can make themselves untouchable, to the law and to Congress, if only they’re willing to be as selfish and malevolent as Trump.

This, then, is abdicating all responsibility:

Under the Pelosi standard no abuse of power is too severe to tolerate if a third of the country can be convinced to overlook it. Under the Pelosi standard, Republicans enjoy a handicap where they and their propaganda allies can short circuit the Constitution through relentless disinformation and culture war nonsense, and never face a referendum on their underlying conduct or character. Under the Pelosi standard, Republicans can openly embrace any impeachable conduct that actually delights their supporters, which means Trump and future GOP presidents will have a freer hand than they already do to sic the Justice Department on their political enemies.

If Pelosi merely wanted her impeachment-happy members to dial it back, she could have told them to simmer down, let investigators compile evidence, and allow the party to decide internally whether that evidence is “compelling and overwhelming.” She instead told them that they will do nothing with the evidence, no matter how compelling and overwhelming, unless Republicans suddenly become willing to do the right thing. And that makes her declaration, if it holds, an abdication all Democrats will come to regret.

Brian Beutler does not agree with W. C. Fields. Try again, and again, and again. Be a damn fool about it.

Or forget it. There are losing battles. Some things are what they are and they’re not changing. Bosses hire their feckless children all the time, because they can. There’s usually no way to stop them from doing that. They’re the boss. This usually ends in disaster, but Donald Trump hired his daughter and son-in-law and that’s not an impeachable offense. It’s not even illegal, although the anti-nepotism laws are a bit vague, so it might be illegal, if anyone wanted to do something about this, but no one does. There’s no use being a damn fool about it. Let it go.

No, don’t. The Mercury News’ Martha Ross explains why:

A new tell-all book, which focuses on how Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner rose to “extraordinary” power in the White House, is sure to bolster the opinion among President Donald Trump’s critics that his daughter has a princess complex and that nepotism is the only reason she and her husband have their jobs as senior advisors.

This book will not help matters in Washington:

According to the New York Times, “Kushner Inc.,” by journalist Vicky Ward, portrays Ivanka Trump and Kushner as the heirs of New York real estate empires who were forged by domineering fathers. However, in Ivanka Trump’s case, her father was “disengaged,” and her childhood often was “isolated.”

The book also describes, in reportedly unflattering ways, how the two “climbed to positions of power by disregarding protocol and skirting the rules when they can,” added the Times, which got a sneak peek at Ward’s book.

There’s nothing impeachable here, just nonsense:

One example of Ivanka Trump and Kushner’s apparent sense of entitlement and rule-skirting comes in the way they have demanded use of Air Force One at times when it was “not appropriate,” Ward writes, according to the Times.

The couple wanted to control who could travel on trips funded by the State Department, according to the Times. When former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied their requests, the couple tried to get around him by inviting along a cabinet secretary, usually Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to get access to the plane.

That’s not a big deal, but all the little deals do add up:

One purpose of the book is to dissect the kind of influence Ivanka Trump and Kushner have on President Trump and on his administration’s management and policies, the Times reported. There is a common “narrative” that the two serve as “stabilizing voices inside an otherwise chaotic White House,” but the book instead depicts the two as Trump’s “chief enablers,” the Times reported.

This appears to be the case in Ivanka Trump’s reaction to her father blaming “both sides” following a deadly white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

The book reports that top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn considered resigning when Trump refused to condemn the white nationalists outright at a news conference. Cohn shared his concerns with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and came away “shocked” by Ivanka’s response.

“My dad’s not a racist; he didn’t mean any of it,” Ivanka Trump reportedly said, echoing those who defended her father’s controversial statements, according to the Times. She also insisted that her father’s critics were misinterpreting his words. “That’s not what he said,” the first daughter declared.

While Cohn did not resign over the Charlottesville controversy, the episode changed his view of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, according to Ward.

He was worried, as he should have been:

Since joining the White House, Ivanka Trump has created a portfolio that includes issues that have bipartisan support and are mostly noncontroversial, CNN reported. However, Ivanka Trump’s advocacy for some issues, notably women’s empowerment and combatting sex trafficking, have bought accusations of hypocrisy because she appears to stand in opposition to White House policies and her father’s actions and rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Jared Kushner more controversially has been tasked with leading U.S. efforts to forge Middle East peace, but he has been criticized for his friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The two know next to nothing about most of everything, and even Daddy understood that:

“Kushner Inc.” depicts the president as going back and forth over wanting to push Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner out of the White House, especially after it occurred to him that the two, who had no experience in government service, “didn’t know how to play the game.” Individually and together, they also have generated their share of negative headlines for the White House, which became a concern for the president, according to the book.

At one point, Trump gave his former Chief of Staff John Kelly the task of getting the couple to move back to New York. But now Kelly is gone, and Ivanka Trump and Kushner are still around. It appears that the president has resigned himself to their presence or realized that he can’t rely on many others to be so loyal. According to reports, Ivanka Trump and Kushner’s power has only grown since Kelly’s departure in December.

And then there’s this:

The idea of Ivanka Trump’s “princess” complex has been reported before. In another tell-all book, published last year, “Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family,” she and her siblings “seized on the opportunity” of their father winning the presidency.

Ivanka Trump, in particular, had stars in her eyes when it came to her father’s transition and the inauguration, according to author Emily Jane Fox, who also writes for Vanity Fair. She came from a family that long hoped to fashion themselves into a “modern version of the Kennedys,” Fox wrote.

For Trump’s inauguration, the marketing-savvy Ivanka Trump “seemed particularly attuned to the stagecraft,” Fox reported. She was keen on the potential pageantry and symbolism of the occasion and worked with a stylist on devising her inauguration day outfits. She told friends she wanted a “princess moment,” according to Fox.

She got that. She is the perpetual princess now. And her husband is crown prince. His new best friend, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will show him the ropes on that, and perhaps show him the bone saws too. But this is what it is. The boss hired his kids, who knew little about anything, so expect disasters, but hey, they’re his kids. As with the impeachment, let it be. And wait.

No. Be a damn fool about it. This has to stop.

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Trump as Charles de Gaulle

The final and complete liberation of Paris, on August 25, 1944, couldn’t come fast enough for Winston Churchill and the other Brits in London. Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces in exile there, had been a pain in the ass – arrogant and stubborn with a massive ego, easily wounded, and with no charm at all. Churchill and the others humored him, and rolled their eyes, and when the time came sent him back home, gladly. Let him rule France. They had other worries, and they had no time for his nonsense.

That was a mistake. Don’t ignore charmless men with big egos. They become older and more charmless with even bigger egos. And they don’t change, and they do have fragile egos, and they hold grudges, forever. That sounds a lot like Donald Trump, but he wasn’t the first at this. Trump thinks things should be just the way he wants. Charles de Gaulle did too. This is a matter of stubborn pride. Donald Trump may want to pull the United States out of NATO but Charles de Gaulle actually did pull France out of NATO:

The memo was brief – just a few hundred words. The memo was polite. But for President Lyndon Johnson and his NATO allies, it read like a slap in the face.

“France is determined to regain on her whole territory the full exercise of her sovereignty,” wrote French President Charles de Gaulle. The country intended to stop putting its military forces at NATO’s disposal and intended to kick NATO military forces – and those of NATO members – off of its land.

In short, de Gaulle had just done the unthinkable: pulled the plug on a crucial part of NATO.

In short, de Gaulle was Trump before Trump was Trump:

De Gaulle’s 1966 decision to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command sent shock waves through NATO’s member states. It was a reminder of the fissures within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and a challenge to its very existence. Could NATO survive without a member state’s participation in the very military agreements it was founded on?

Yes, NATO could survive, and did, but de Gaulle had only wanted to Make France Great Again:

French president Charles de Gaulle still resented what he saw as the United States’ abandonment during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when the U.S. effectively forced France to withdraw its forces from the area around the Suez Canal during a conflict over its nationalization by Egypt. And he valued French military independence – something he felt could never be achieved within the context of the alliance.

Frustration mounted even more when de Gaulle suggested that France, the United States and Britain be put on equal footing within NATO in terms of nuclear strategy. The proposal failed, and as a result de Gaulle began slowly reducing French participation in NATO. He withdrew France from the Mediterranean fleet and refused to store nuclear weapons from other countries on French soil…

The situation reached a boiling point by 1963, when the U.S. and France clashed over a plan to have NATO nations man a North Atlantic nuclear fleet. De Gaulle and his military had planned their own North Atlantic nuclear fleet, and withdrew France’s participation as a result. Then, in 1966, de Gaulle struck a final blow. He announced that he was withdrawing France from the integrated military structure and that all foreign forces had to leave France.

And that was that, but not quite:

The withdrawal forced all member states to remove their French bases, and NATO itself had to move its military headquarters from France to Belgium. But France did not withdraw from the political alliance of NATO, and made behind-the-scenes assurances to the United States – the Lemnitzer-Ailleret Agreements – that it would support NATO in the case of nuclear war in Europe.

And then things slowly settled down:

It took 43 years for France to change course. By the time Nicolas Sarkozy announced that France would rejoin the military portion of the NATO alliance in 2009, the USSR no longer existed, the Cold War was over and France had participated in NATO peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

“We send our soldiers onto the terrain, but we don’t participate in the committee where their objectives are decided?” said Sarkozy. “The time has come to end this situation. It is in the interest of France and the interest of Europe.”

France was accepted back into the fold – a powerful reminder that the alliance has so far managed to sustain itself despite vehement differences among its member states.

That’s nice. But that’s a long wait. And that was a stupid move in the first place. Someone has to prevent Trump from doing this himself, and the Washington Post reports that someone is doing just that:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is joining with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other congressional leaders to extend a rare bipartisan invitation to NATO’s secretary general to address a joint session of Congress next month.

McConnell and Pelosi held quiet talks about the idea of an invitation to Jens Stoltenberg as they eye ways to honor NATO as it celebrates its 70th anniversary in April and underscore the U.S. commitment to the group’s values and importance in securing global order, according to three people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

But the message here is clear. Trump does NOT speak for most Americans. He’s just too strange:

The invitation to Stoltenberg comes as President Trump’s nationalistic foreign policy has rattled U.S. allies and NATO members – and as he has pushed them to pay more for having U.S. troops stationed on their territory and framed the alliance in transactional terms.

In particular, Trump has told his aides in recent weeks that he has devised an eye-popping new formula for U.S. allies, including NATO countries, although he has not implemented it.

Under his proposal, countries would pay the full cost of stationing American troops on their territory, plus 50 percent, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the idea, which could have allies contributing five times what they now provide.

Trump calls the formula “cost plus 50,” and it has struck fear in the hearts of U.S. allies who view it as extortionate.

Perhaps the idea is that the United States would finally turn a profit on its diplomatic efforts. The Department of State could be a profit center. Think of America as a business. It’s about time the government started making money, not losing it, but even the daughter of Lord Voldemort finds this stupid:

Republicans such as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), a member of party leadership, have criticized the suggestion. “It would be absolutely devastating,” Cheney said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“It’s going to be very important for us to make sure that people understand the danger that will do to our relationships and to our fundamental security,” Cheney said. “Our security, we’ve been able to protect it because of our alliances and because we have been able to work with countries. We should not look at this that we need to charge them rent for the privilege of having our forces there.”

Perhaps so, but perhaps this is just another way to dismantle NATO for Putin or whoever else frightens Donald Trump a bit. Either way, those folks should stay away:

NATO declined to say whether Stoltenberg would accept the invitation, saying that his schedule during his Washington trip in April “will be announced in due course.”

The invitation could put the NATO leader in a slightly awkward position. Stoltenberg has gone to great lengths to foster a positive relationship with Trump. If the congressional invitation were seen as too direct a rebuke to the White House, it could suck him into a domestic U.S. political battle he has been eager to avoid.

Trump is personally friendly with Stoltenberg and has praised him, making frequent comments about the former Norwegian prime minister’s efforts to increase members’ financial contributions to NATO in exchange for U.S. military operations. And even as many European leaders cringe at Trump, Stoltenberg has strained to give Trump credit for shaking up negotiations over NATO finances and the U.S. military’s support.

He holds his nose and does what he can to calm Trump, but Trump is who he is:

McConnell has been a defender of NATO and has split with Trump over the president’s skepticism of the alliance, beginning with the candidate’s assertion during his 2016 presidential campaign that he wouldn’t automatically come to the defense of NATO allies if they were attacked.

The majority leader also aligned himself with former defense secretary Jim Mattis when he abruptly resigned in December, urging Trump to nominate a successor who shared Mattis’ support for global alliances.

And his counterpart in the House has been doing the same:

Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Brussels in mid-February, where she and her colleagues met with NATO leaders, including Stoltenberg.

During the visit, Pelosi said she was asked repeatedly by NATO and European officials whether the United States was having second thoughts about its membership given reports that Trump repeatedly floated withdrawing from the alliance. She promised them the U.S. was not considering an exit, arguing that Trump controlled only one branch of the government and that NATO had bipartisan support.

“Over 50 members of Congress were there – House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans – reasserting our commitment to the transatlantic relationship between the U.S. and Europe, as well as our commitment to NATO to strengthen it,” Pelosi said following the trip. “People seemed very happy to see such bipartisanship, House and Senate, with a very positive message of the importance of that region to us.”

So, as McConnell suggests, don’t listen to the big guy:

Trump broke with past U.S. presidents by omitting a pledge to common defense from his first address to NATO leaders in 2017.

Speaking last month in Poland, Vice President Pence highlighted the administration’s commitment to the NATO alliance and its core mission of a united front against Russia on Wednesday, with a caveat that American interests will always come first.

He doesn’t really mean that. Trump really doesn’t mean that. But they do. The issue now is swagger:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that $13 billion in proposed budget cuts for his agency won’t hurt America’s “swagger” abroad.

The Trump administration’s budget plan, released Monday, would slash the budget for the State Department and international programs by more than 23 percent, from $55.8 billion to a proposed $42.8 billion.

In an interview Monday with McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, Pompeo said he was deeply involved in preparing the budget and would support it before Congress.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

It’s not the money, it’s the swagger:

The people who work at the State department “understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

Trump’s proposed cut is consistent with past reductions he has pursued. In the first year of his presidency, under Pompeo’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he asked Congress for a 30 percent reduction. GOP lawmakers described the proposal at the time as reckless.

When he became Secretary of State last year, Pompeo pledged to help the agency “get its swagger back.” Asked on Monday how that would be possible in the face of such deep cuts, Pompeo was unfazed.

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of the world,” he said.

And you can tell our NATO allies that if any of them want our troops around then they have to pay us – big time – all the costs of each soldier or sailor or Marine – plus a fifty percent surcharge, just because. Otherwise, we’re gone. We will leave NATO. Charles de Gaulle did it. Trump can too. And the world needs another Charles de Gaulle, right?

The world has one now.

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Looking Forward Now

The immediate news is tiresome – just another week of sentencing hearings in Washington. One Trump campaign official or advisor or another, or the general who was Trump’s first national security advisor, or just someone else who lied a lot, will get the bad news – a few years in jail, or a bit more. Trump hasn’t pardoned any of them yet, and there are too many of them now. Wholesale pardons always look bad and keep each of the scandals alive for a news cycle or two. Let it go. The public will eventually shrug. Who cares anymore?

It’s the same with the rest of the news. Trump still wants his wall. No one else does, not even most Republicans. He will declare an emergency so he can override Congress and spend billions on his wall – using money Congress appropriated, by law, for other things. He laughs at that. He can assume the powers of Congress anytime he wants – and they will vote to stop this. Republicans will vote with Democrats to stop this. He will veto whatever they pass, and they don’t have the votes to override a veto. So, he gets what he wants, and Congress is further neutered, as if they weren’t useless enough already. And nothing really changes.

The public tuned out long ago. This is old news. And we’ve defeated ISIS – or we haven’t – or Trump has fixed everything with North Korea – or he hasn’t. The news rolls on and on, but nothing much changes.

Let it be. Wait it out. Think about something else. Think about what happens after these immediate issues are settled, or forgotten. Things can’t go on like this – or they should and must go on like this. Think about the 2020 election. Trump wants to stay. Democrats want him gone. The present is locked in. How will the future work out?

That calls for a bit of planning, and CNN’s Zachary Wolf covers one thing Trump has planned:

President Donald Trump clearly thinks he has a winning argument against Democrats in 2020 and it comes straight out of his Baby Boomer childhood.

Trump and other Republicans have spent the past few weeks arguing that Democrats would rob Americans of consumer comforts like cars and hamburgers, using a definition of socialism that borrows from a time when that ideology – in the form of communism – posed an actual existential threat in a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union.

Baby Boomers remember “duck and cover” – what to do in the elementary school classroom in 1957 when the giant atomic bomb goes off right overhead. That’s socialism at work, but that’s not quite what Trump sees:

“Just this week, more than 100 Democrats in Congress signed up for a socialist takeover of American health care.”

“America will never be a socialist country – ever.”

“If these socialist progressives had their way, they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat.”

“We believe in the American Dream, not in the socialist nightmare.”

There’s no atomic bomb, but there is bad stuff, or as Wolf notes, there’s nothing to worry about at all:

Democrats are selling a softer socialism, leaning on government as the solution to soaring health care costs, widening inequality, and a new and more dangerous existential threat – climate change – that many fear is literally killing the earth.

Their audience is the portion of the electorate too young to remember the Cold War. This group’s view of socialism is in the happy social media dispatches from Northern Europe, where child care is free, almost everyone has a job, health care is provided for and retirement is guaranteed…

Americans coming of age today and even those who have been voting in recent elections are more likely to have encountered socialism not via Russian communism, which is long gone, but from China’s version, which is planted emphatically in the world marketplace, or from Northern Europe, where Bernie Sanders likes to points out the governments honor free markets but also take care of their citizens.

This is a generational thing, but the old farts have the young whippersnappers outnumbered:

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Monday, just 18% of Americans had a positive view of socialism, 50% had a negative view and 26% had a neutral view. Capitalism, meanwhile, was the mirror opposite: 50% had a positive view, 19% had a negative view and 25% had a neutral view.

And thus Trump will win the next election:

Most of the skepticism about socialism comes from older American generations. Trump’s Baby Boomers – he was born in 1946 at the beginning of the Baby Boom – grew up under fear of nuclear fallout and seeing the Soviet Union as the main existential threat to the US.

Now, it is their distrust of socialism that Trump is banking on, even as those Boomers embrace the twin US government safety nets of Social Security and Medicare.

Distrust of socialism is a winner – unless the Democrats hammer home that, if you’re an older Trump enthusiast, put you money where your mouth is and drop out of Social Security and Medicare, and call for both to be abolished. Short of that, you’re a socialist too. Get over it. That would make the 2020 election more interesting.

That won’t happen, but Wolf throws in this curiosity:

Only the very oldest voters might be old enough to remember 1920, the high-water-mark for American socialism, before the Cold War or the Soviet Union, when Eugene Debs, running outside the major party system, got 3.4% of the US presidential vote as a socialist.

Things weren’t always this nutty here, and the New York Times Roger Cohen, who has spent far too much time in France, points out that these issues were settled there long ago:

France has one of the world’s most elaborate social protection systems. The ratio of tax revenue to gross domestic product, at 46.2 percent, is the highest of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. In the United States, that ratio is 27.1 percent. Look no further to grasp Franco-American differences.

But no one over there is throwing money away:

This French tax revenue is spent on programs – universal health care, lengthy paid maternity leave, unemployment benefits – designed to render society more cohesive and capitalism less cutthroat. Of the French Revolution’s three-pronged cry – “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” – the first has proved most problematic, freedom being but a short step, in the French view, from the “Anglo-Saxon” free-market jungle. Socialist presidents have governed France for half of the past 38 years.

The country has paid a price for its social solidarity, particularly in high unemployment. But France has prospered. It has a vibrant private sector. It is a capitalist economy, among the world’s seven largest.

Its socialism is no European exception. The Continent decided after World War II that cushioning capitalism was a price worth paying to avoid the social fragmentation that had fed violence.

So they made their choice, and now we can make our choice:

The parties that produced Europe’s welfare states had different names, but they all embraced the balances – of the free market and the public sector, of enterprise and equity, of profit and protection – that socialism or its cousin social democracy (as opposed to communism) stood for. Socialism, a word reborn, has none of the Red Scare potency in Europe that it carries in the United States. It’s part of life. It’s not Venezuelan misery.

A 21st-century American election is about to be fought over socialism. Amazing!

And it will be a fight:

The charismatic voice of such sentiment in the United States is the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the lightning rod of a new American politics.

“The definition of democratic socialism to me, again, is the fact that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live,” Ocasio-Cortez tells NBC’s Chuck Todd. Like Britain’s leftist Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, she favors significant state intervention in the economy.

Trump, unerring in his instinct for the jugular, declares, “We believe in the American dream, not the socialist nightmare.”

So we get this:

The basic issue before the Democratic Party now is how far left to go. Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. Kamala Harris calls herself a progressive. John Hickenlooper, conciliator, says he can “get stuff done.”

Cohen doesn’t care because he sees what he thinks is inevitable:

The notion that American elections are won in the center was buried by Trump. The energy in the Democratic Party lies in the progressive camp. It stems from anger at a skewed economy and millennial disgust at the elitist turn that cost the Democrats their working-class base and much of small-town America. This opened the way for Trump. My own inclinations are centrist, but not a “centrism” that cares more for Goldman Sachs than the opioid crisis. I don’t see how the Democrats can eschew a new era’s left-leaning energy and win.

But there is the counterweight:

The United States was founded in contradistinction to, not as an extension of, Europe. Self-reliance is to America what fraternity is to France: part of its core. American space – so immense, so un-European – conjures in Americans a bristling independence of spirit that wants government out of their lives. Nations do not cast off their cultural essence.

Cohen reported this in 2004:

It is not going to be a pretty American election. Already the Bush administration has embarked on a campaign to portray John Kerry as a flip-flopping, tax-raising, European-educated wimp. The presumptive Democratic candidate has responded by describing the president as a job-destroying, budget-busting, alliance-breaking unilateralist.

But perhaps the surest indication that the looming political season will be ugly has come from repeated Republican suggestions that Kerry “looks French.”

That was enough, back then, and now Cohen says this:

The dirty secret of European welfare states is that they tend to be business-friendly. As Monica Prasad, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, has pointed out, Sweden has a lower corporate tax rate than the United States. The sweet spot for Democrats is getting business to buy into progressive reform. America can be nudged in a French direction without losing its self-renewing essence.

So do it:

France is also home to the yellow-vest protests from the marginalized. So much for social cohesion, you might say. But there’s a lesson. As James McAuley observed in The New York Review of Books, those vests reflect, above all, a “material demand to be seen.”

Socialism is no silver bullet. The basic requirement of any Democratic candidate is to make the forgotten, the struggling and the invisible of American society feel visible again.

In short, Trump may not want to raise this issue at all. Look, Venezuela! No, look – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, and so on and so forth! And of course the Democrats had better not nominate Kamala Harris – because when she was twelve her mother moved with the children to Montreal, where she had accepted a position doing research at Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University. After graduating from Westmount High School in the Westmount suburb near downtown Montreal, her daughter, Kamala, was off to Howard University in Washington – but the damage was done. She speaks French. Of course she’s a socialist.

No one under sixty cares. The socialism thing may not work, but there is this:

To prevent leaks from Trump’s Friday night Mar-a-Lago speech to RNC donors, security guards made attendees put their cellphones in magnetized pouches that they carried around like purses until they left the club.

So leakers had to rely on their memories. Trump entered to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American,” then launched into one of his trademark stream-of-consciousness speeches, according to three people who were there. They said the crowd roared with laughter throughout.

Some of his remarks raised eyebrows. Referring to the recent anti-Semitism controversies with Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump told the donors: “The Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Trump said he didn’t understand how any Jew could vote for a Democrat these days. Trump talked about how much he’d done for Israel, noting his historic decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Trump said if he could run to be prime minister of Israel, he’d be at 98% in the polls, according to three sources who were there.

Democrats hate Jewish people? The (American) Jewish people (except for Sheldon Adelson and few others) are all Democrats – liberal civil-rightsf people big on social justice and fairness, who despise Netanyahu and the Likud party. This sort of messaging will thrill the evangelicals, who look forward to the coming End Times and the Conversion of the Jews and the Rapture and all the rest, but they were going to vote for Trump anyway. Trump won’t be converting any Jews here. He won’t win in 2020 by shouting, over and over, DEMOCRATS HATE JEWISH PEOPLE!

There has to be another plan, and the Washington Post reports that there is:

President Trump and his advisers are launching a behemoth 2020 campaign operation combining his raw populist message from 2016 with a massive data-gathering and get-out-the-vote push aimed at dwarfing any previous presidential reelection effort, according to campaign advisers, White House aides, Republican officials and others briefed on the emerging strategy.

Trump’s advisers also believe the Democratic Party’s recent shift to the left on a host of issues, from the push for Medicare-for-all to a proposed Green New Deal, will help the president and other Republicans focus on a Trumpian message of strong economic growth, nationalist border restrictions and “America First” trade policies.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan will become, in signs and rally chants, “Keep America Great!”

But this is more of the same, with the volume cranked up to eleven:

The president’s strategy relies on a risky and relatively narrow path for victory, hinged on demonizing Trump’s eventual opponent and juicing turnout among his most avid supporters in Florida, Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest – the same areas that won him the White House but where his popularity has waned since he was elected. Some advisers are particularly concerned about the president’s persistent unpopularity among female and suburban voters, and fear it will be difficult to replicate the outcome of 2016 without former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a foil.

He can try to lead the loud and endless “lock her up” chants, but now there’s another possible response out there. Who are we talking about again? Hillary Clinton can ruin Donald Trump’s life by staying at home and watering the plants. All she needs to do is step back:

Democrats – fresh off a wave midterm election that brought them control of the House – say Trump is a severely weakened incumbent with a tired anti-immigrant message who has alienated the female and suburban voters who will decide the election. They see his 2016 Electoral College victory as a fluke and his approval numbers, consistently stuck in the low 40s, as an opportunity. More than a dozen Democratic candidates are already competing for a chance to make him a one-term president.

“Trump is weak,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser at MoveOn. “And he’s doubling down on his shrinking base. Independents have left him, women have left him. I don’t think you would see this many people jumping in if they didn’t think Trump could be beat.”

Trump may know he could lose this thing:

Trump recently received an extensive slide-show briefing on the campaign effort in the White House residence and has taken intense interest in the details of the battle to come, advisers say. He regularly quizzes advisers about potential foes – such as Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former vice president Joe Biden – and about individual battleground states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida. He also has asked aides about the perceived popularity of his positions, such as his vow to remove troops from Syria, and is an avid consumer of polling data, advisers say.

And he has a plan:

Trump has sought to build a 2020 messaging campaign around the idea of “promises kept” – replacing his 2016 “Make America Great Again” slogan with “Keep America Great!” and telling his supporters to chant “Finish the wall” instead of “Build the wall,” even though no section of his promised border wall has actually been built.

They won’t know the difference. They trust him, but others aren’t so sure:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican moderate who is considering a primary race against Trump, told CBS News last month that Trump looks “pretty weak in the general election.”

The RNC took the unusual step of voting unanimously to pledge its “undivided support” of Trump during its winter meeting in January, and party officials have been actively pointing to the president’s high poll numbers among Republican voters to scare off primary challengers.

Campaign officials are calling state party leaders across the country to ensure that the 2020 convention is an unimpeded coronation of Trump – and are seeking to install allies in delegate and chair roles. Campaign advisers say they have taken note of incumbent presidents who lost because they did not have the party machine fully behind them.

They want an unimpeded coronation of Trump as their candidate in the big election, the ultimate and one and only Republican of all time, but that may not be worth much:

Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, said Trump will probably need to expand his support beyond his base and win back moderates and independent voters who sided with Democrats during last year’s midterms.

Focusing on divisive issues like immigration and his proposed border wall won’t help with that, she said, noting that Trump’s approval ratings have remained below 50 percent throughout his presidency. During the midterms, Trump frequently did not follow the urging of many Republicans that he focus on the growing economy; instead, he injected polarizing issues such as birthright citizenship into the debate.

“Why is he spending time leaning into an issue that has a 60 percent disapproval rate?” Walter said. “It’s a real lack of discipline.”

Who knows? That’s what he does:

President Trump on Monday will request at least $8.6 billion more in funding to build additional sections of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, setting up a fresh battle with Congress less than one month after he declared a national emergency.

In Trump’s annual budget request to Congress, he will request $5 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security to continue building sections of a wall, three people briefed on the request said. He will request an additional $3.6 billion for the Defense Department’s military construction budget to erect more sections of a wall.

No one wants this wall, but he’s not going to back down now, which is a bit odd:

Top Democrats reacted swiftly to reports that Trump was seeking more money for the wall, reflecting how they are girding for the fight and betting that public sentiment is on their side.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the request was “not even worth the paper it’s written on.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) added that Trump caused a government shutdown in December because he defied Congress and demanded a wall. They said lawmakers were prepared to block his demand this time as well.

“The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” they said in a joint statement. “We hope he learned his lesson.”

He hasn’t, and he will end socialism too:

The request will come as part of a broader proposal to cut $2.7 trillion in spending over 10 years for programs including welfare assistance, environmental protection and foreign aid…

The budget would call for severe reductions at a number of federal agencies. It will propose a 12 percent cut at the Education Department, a 12 percent cut at the Department of Health and Human Services, an 11 percent cut at the Interior Department, a 23 percent cut at the State Department, a 32 percent cut at the Environmental Protection Agency and a 22 percent cut at the Transportation Department, according to the summary.

Almost all of the proposals would require congressional approval, and lawmakers have dismissed cuts of a similar size in Trump’s past budgets. Many Democratic leaders have said they will oppose the sweep of the White House’s proposed cuts, though administration officials have signaled they plan to fight over the budget much harder this year, saying it provides a sharp contrast between Democrats and Republicans heading into the final year of Trump’s first term.

That will provide a stark contrast. It’ll be the aging and angry white Baby Boomers on one side – fighting Soviet-era socialism and hating Mexicans and distrusting the French – versus just about everyone else. That’s what’s coming next. Things won’t get any less tiresome.

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