Other Problems Elsewhere

It is very possible that the president of the United States is a criminal. And it is very possible that his criminality made him president. Prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo for his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump himself had directed Cohen to break campaign finance laws. There’s more – Trump’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow during the election and his campaign’s ties with Russians during the campaign. There is the question of obstruction of justice, which has already been proven by Trump’s own actions, and there are all the people in Trump’s circle who have been charged with or have admitted to lying about any number of things, including their contacts with Russians. And there’s more and more every day. This will not end well, but there is the rest of the world. Others have their own problems. Sometimes they can top ours.

Tanya Gold, a writer for The Spectator, notes this from across the pond:

I wonder if this is what the Black Death was like. People wandering around with donkeys, crying, “Bring out your dead!” and painting crosses on walls, which was, I guess, like a medieval Twitter.

Everyone I know is either a Brexit Denier – “It’s not happening,” they say. “We’ll have a People’s Vote! Another referendum! We’ll win this time!” – or a Brexit Apocalypticist – “It’s happening. We are doomed. Hold my hand and run toward the blast.”

The only people who are hopeful are the far-right supporters of a “hard Brexit” who marched through the streets of London on Sunday protesting Prime Minister Theresa May’s “betrayal” and carrying her effigy. They didn’t hang it. Presumably, that can wait.

Brexit is the issue. In June 2016 those folks voted to leave the EU – the vote was close but the rural xenophobes won the day, over the urban and urbane city folks – the bankers and information technology sophisticates with their fancy degrees and whatnot. The Russians may have stirred the pot over there, as they had over here, with their odd stories on social media   – “them there foreigners are ruining your life” and all that – but the deed was done. Britain would toss all the foreigners out and not deal with the EU at all anymore.

That was stupid. May worked out a deal – not total isolation – but no one liked that:

On Monday, the real Mrs. May postponed the long-planned vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, the one she spent 20 months negotiating with the European Union and the last three weeks trying (and failing) to sell to the British public and Parliament. What’s next? Apparently, she will go to Brussels on her knees, begging for further concessions. She doesn’t know how to implement the will of the people, if the will of the people – or at least the people who hold her political future in their hands – is suicide.

It feels like a good time to mention that the Palace of Westminster is falling apart. The building itself is a rotting construct, honoring an imagined past and – just for fun – built on a marsh. What does that remind you of, eh? It was not much publicized, for obvious reasons, but on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum itself, the basement was flooded with sewage. It was rainfall and a high tide, they said, but I know better. Metaphor, like the gods, must be heard.

Tanya Gold is a lively writer, but a serious one too:

No one here knows what will happen next – an election, another referendum, a new deal, a departure from the European Union with no deal at all. The last 18 months have felt like political hell; now, I fear we will look back at them as the time when things were sane.

I see Brexit as a progressive disease, like alcoholism. What you think gives you hope… is killing you. I wouldn’t have said this at any time since 1940 but it feels apt now. Pray for us.

That might not do any good, as this was a mess:

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that she would delay a vote on the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the European Union, rather than face a devastating loss in Parliament that would have threatened both her Brexit deal and her political survival.

“If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” May conceded to a packed chamber in the House of Commons.

Nearly 100 members of her own Conservative Party had signaled they would vote against her half-in, half-out version of Brexit. Such a defeat would be hard for any prime minister to survive, but more so for May, who failed to win a majority for the Tories after a disastrous election campaign in 2017.

On Monday in Parliament, May instead chose the jaw-dropping humiliation of acknowledging the likely loss before it happened.

This wasn’t working, because there was no solution here:

She insisted she had negotiated the best possible Brexit deal, but she agreed to return to Brussels this week and “do all that I can to secure the reassurances this House requires to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people.”

But by delaying the vote, May also prolonged the uncertainty over Brexit – whether, come March, there is her deal, no deal or no Brexit at all.

It doesn’t matter, as this will not go well:

Neither May nor the Europeans want a no-deal Brexit, although some hardline Brexiteers say they are willing to suffer short-term pain for long-term ­independence. Economists have predicted that a no-deal “doomsday scenario” could result in food and medicine shortages; paralyzed trade and transport, including grounded aircraft; and a possible recession in Britain.

Slate’s Josh Keating adds a bit more:

The delay reflects May’s acknowledgement that she doesn’t have the votes for the controversial deal she negotiated with Brussels, which would keep Britain in a customs union, at least for a time, with the EU, in order to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The deal is opposed not only by the opposition Labour and Scottish National parties but also by her coalition partners, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and many hardline Brexiteer members of her own Conservative Party. Both Labour and the Scottish National Party have suggested that a motion of no confidence in May’s government could be put forward this week.

But there will be a vote no matter how unwise:

According to the Guardian, “the vote could take place next week or even be delayed until early January, although this would allow less time for the ensuing Brexit legislation to be passed through parliament before 29 March,” when Britain is due to leave the EU, deal or no. Time is running short, and the delay raises the likelihood of a “no-deal” Brexit in which Britain would revert to trading with Europe under WTO rules, a prospect that experts have warned would have dire consequences for the British economy. The pound fell 0.5 percent against the dollar Monday in response to the news.

And there’s the issue of Ireland being part of the EU in most matters of trade:

The delay will give May some more time to lobby reluctant lawmakers, and she has also suggested that the so-called “Northern Ireland backstop” could be modified. An EU spokesperson insisted, however, that the deal on the table is “the best and only deal possible” and would not be renegotiated. Given the knottiness of the Irish border problem, it’s not quite clear what an alternative arrangement would even be.

And there’s this:

No one actually knows what the rules are because no one has ever done this before. The EU has already compromised more than many expected in agreeing to the customs union arrangement. After insisting for months that “Brexit means Brexit,” May also agreed to a much closer future economic relationship between Britain and the EU than was anticipated. Both sides also seem to be making quiet preparations for postponing Brexit past March, after long insisting that the deadline was nonnegotiable.

At the moment, a host of scenarios – including a no-deal Brexit, some alternative compromise on the Irish question, a delayed Brexit, a new “people’s vote” referendum on the deal, and an ouster of May leading to who knows what – all seem entirely plausible.

Americans will have to decide what to do with or about Donald Trump. Americans have it easy. The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien sees this:

Even if you’re not a fan of British humor, it’s hard not to laugh a little at Brexit.

Sure, there have been bigger disasters in history, but it’s rare to find dumber ones. The whole idea, after all, behind Britain leaving the free-trade zone that is the European Union was for it to “take back control” from the bureaucrats in Brussels so that it could… make its own free-trade deal with the European Union? Well, that and keep immigrants out.

The problem, though, is that the EU links the free movement of goods to the free movement of people. It won’t give you one without the other. So the only way Brexit wouldn’t be a worse deal than the one Britain already has would be if the deal wasn’t really Brexit in any meaningful sense of the word – which is to say if it was just a fig leaf that kept Britain’s current relationship with the EU more or less intact while giving it a new name.

This may be the Monty Python skit about the dead parrot but this is dead serious:

In case all of this wasn’t already absurd enough, there’s another layer to it: Northern Ireland. It’s the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with an EU country, and the fact that you can’t tell that – there are no checkpoints or barriers between the two – is one of the great achievements of the peace process of the past 25 years. Why does that matter? Well, a “hard” Brexit that pulled Britain out of the EU’s customs union would end all that. Everything that moved between Ireland and Northern Ireland would suddenly need to be inspected to make sure that it complied with the other’s different rules and regulations – which, of course, is a nonstarter for the Northern Irish, whose votes British Prime Minister Theresa May needs to maintain her slim parliamentary majority.

The May government has agreed to what’s known as an “Irish backstop” that would keep all of Britain in the EU’s customs union for an indefinite period of time. The idea being that Northern Ireland needs to remain in to prevent a hard border from being set up between it and Ireland, and that the rest of the United Kingdom needs to then stay in as well to prevent an economic border from being set up between it and Northern Ireland. In the meantime, Britain and EU would work on hammering out a new deal that would supposedly resolve all of these contradictory issues – taking Britain out of the EU’s customs union without taking Northern Ireland either out of it or out of the United Kingdom’s customs union – at a later date.

What? Don’t try to figure that out:

This compromise isn’t good enough for the biggest Brexit backers in May’s Conservative Party, who really believed that the only reason they couldn’t have their cake and eat it too was that Brussels wouldn’t let them. And so now it’s up to her to try to come up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t have one.

The simple story is that a win for British sovereignty – a hard Brexit – would be a loss not only for the British economy but also for Irish integration. And while they might be willing to make that first trade-off, that’s not the case for the second.

Which is why it wouldn’t be surprising if all this ended the most fitting way possible: with another vote that gives them a chance to pretend that none of this ever happened.

That actually might work:

The European Union’s highest court ruled Monday that Britain could unilaterally reverse its decision to split from the 28-nation political bloc, a verdict that gave a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners. The decision, which came a day before the British Parliament was scheduled to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s deeply unpopular Brexit deal, made clear Britain has the ability to reverse itself any time before the March 29 deadline to leave the European Union. A legal question had arisen about whether a reversal would require the consent of the other 27 EU members, but the binding decision made clear that little stands in London’s way – should it want to return to the EU fold.

Nope, it’s too late for that:

The British government said in a statement the ruling did not change their plans to pull Britain out of the European Union.

“This does not change the government’s firm policy,” the statement said. “The British people gave a clear instruction to leave, and we are delivering on that instruction.”

The decision fueled demands in Britain for a second referendum that could reverse the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union….

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has warned she could try to lead Scotland out of the United Kingdom and back into the European Union, also embraced the ruling.

But this is take-it-or-leave-it:

The European Commission said the ruling changed little about its Brexit planning. Mina Andreeva, a European Commission spokeswoman, said the European Union was still planning for Britain’s membership to end next March.

This puts America’s issues with Donald Trump in perspective, and meanwhile, in France there was this:

French President Emmanuel Macron announced late Monday that he will increase France’s minimum wage by 100 euros – about $114 – a month and slash overtime and some pension taxes in an effort to curb a wave of violent protests that have rocked the country for nearly a month and undermined the authority of his government.

The announcement, delivered in a brief televised address, came as Macron faced the most significant crisis of his young presidency: the so-called yellow vest movement, a popular uprising that began as a reaction to a carbon tax that the president had put in place but that quickly became a revolt against Macron himself, who is widely perceived as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Macron did what he could:

Although he roundly condemned the recent violence, Macron acknowledged people have a right to be angry. “I don’t forget that there is an anger, an indignation, which many of the French can share,” he said, adding that he wants to declare a “state of economic and social emergency” to address their needs.

“We want a France where one can live proudly off one’s work,” he said.

The protesters took their name from the high-visibility yellow safety vests many wear in a literal and figurative attempt to be visible. On Monday night, Macron made them the focus, seeking in an uncharacteristically short, direct speech to emphasize that he had taken the problems of the vulnerable into account – the single mothers who cannot afford child care, the retirees who work their entire lives only to struggle in old age.

“I saw them,” he said.

But he’s not good at this:

This was a crisis triggered, in no small part, by language. A number of protesters in Paris and provincial France told the Washington Post that it was Macron’s personality – but especially his words – that drove them to the streets. They especially resented what they considered his disdain for the working class, citing several remarks he had made since his election in 2017.

In June, Macron, a former investment banker, referred to welfare spending as “crazy money.” In September, he told a young, unemployed gardener that it should be easy to find another job. “You just need to go and get them,” he said. “Honestly, hotels, cafes, restaurants – if I walk across the street, I will find you something.”

This was a replay of June 2016 in England’s Green and Pleasant Land – the rural xenophobes versus the urban and urbane city folks – and the Russians were there too:

The Kremlin on Monday denied involvement in the “yellow vest” protests that have rocked France, after reports that Russia-linked social media accounts are waging a campaign to encourage unrest.

Britain’s the Times reported Saturday that hundreds of accounts linked to Russia have “sought to amplify” the protests. They had posted photographs purporting to show injured protesters, the newspaper reported, but which were in fact taken at other events, citing analysis from a cybersecurity company.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday that Russia “considers all that is happening exclusively the domestic affairs of France.”

“We have not interfered and we don’t plan to interfere in the domestic affairs of any country including France,” he said.

Reports to the contrary were “nothing but slander”, he added.

Max Boot doubts that:

Weekend after weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron is dealing with sometimes violent protests from a populist movement known as the gilets jaunes (yellow vests). The protesters were galvanized by a plan to raise gasoline taxes, but they are still out in the streets even though the gas tax increase has been suspended. Now they’re demanding, among other things, default on the public debt, exit from the European Union and NATO, and less immigration

The Russians were there:

BuzzFeed reports that the “yellow vests” emerged out of “anger groups” that popped up on Facebook to channel the grievances of “fed up” rural, working-class French people – the Gallic version of President Donald Trump’s deplorables or the tea party. Just as in the United States, their online propaganda included a great deal of misinformation. Activists circulated a picture of cars stranded on a highway, claiming it showed German motorists who had abandoned their cars to protest fuel taxes. In fact, the picture was likely of a traffic jam in China. Another popular meme claimed that a 2016 government decree had invalidated the French constitution and that everything that has happened since, including the gas tax, is illegitimate.

And now it all fits together:

Macron has angered the left by cutting taxes on the wealthy, slashing regulations and curbing the power of unions. You would think this would have made him the darling of the right, which applauds Trump for similar moves.

But Macron’s desire to curb global warming (the goal of the higher gas tax), his support for the European Union and NATO, his unabashed elitism (he once worked for the Rothschild investment bank, a bogeyman for anti-Semites) and his clashes with Trump have made him a target of the far right too.

Trump himself applauded the protests, falsely claiming they are chanting, “We want Trump.”

That’s was a bad idea:

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday urged President Trump to stop interfering in France’s affairs after Trump made various claims about why protests were taking place in the country.

“We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated,” Le Drian told LCI television, according to Agence France-Presse. “I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: leave our nation be.”

Good luck with that:

On Saturday, Trump said the Paris climate agreement wasn’t “working out so well for Paris” and used the protests taking place in the country to justify his argument.

“Protests and riots all over France,” Trump said. “People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment.”

He also asserted that protesters were chanting “We Want Trump!” in the streets, the second time he’s shared a tweet with that claim.

Ah, no:

Le Drian rejected Trump’s claim that demonstrators were shouting “We Want Trump” during the protests, saying that “the yellow vest demonstration was not protesting in English, as far as I know.”

He also added that most Americans did not support Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal.

There is the rest of the world. Others have their own problems. Sometimes they can top ours and we should stay out their problems. There’s more than enough to do here.

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The Sinking Ship

Idioms are odd. There you are, in Paris, deep in a discussion of world politics and big issues with one of the locals, over cognac in a warm steamy café on a cold winter afternoon, and the other guy says “Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard.” That doesn’t break three legs to a duck? What? But it’s just a French idiom – he’s saying that’s nothing to write home about. What you just said was obvious and not particularly interesting and makes no difference anyway. It would be better if he had shouted out “La vache!” That one is easier. Holy Cow!

Idioms don’t translate well, but useful idioms last forever:

The idiom like rats fleeing a sinking ship, used in reference to people abandoning an enterprise once it seems likely to fail, has shown great linguistic tenacity, having been in regular use for over four hundred years. However, the wording and form of this standby has changed quite a bit over the centuries. The original setting for the fleeing rats was a decrepit house, one that was on the verge of falling down. Both rats and mice, in the 16th century, were said to have the ability to know when a structure was on the verge of collapse, and would accordingly decamp some time before this happened… It is not until the latter portion of the 17th century that the rats decide they’ve had enough of running from collapsing and burning houses, and the expression took on a new mode of egress: decamping from a foundering ship.

And then things settled down:

This metaphor seems to have started with rats deserting the sinking ship, and toward the middle of the 19th century added the variants of abandoning or fleeing the vessel. While there is considerable variation of verb employed to describe what the rats are doing, there is less in terms of the situations that these idioms were applied to; almost all of these early uses are in reference to political scandals.

There is something about rats, and politicians and sinking ships, that has made sense for almost two hundred years, and this was the weekend that played out again, as the Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report here:

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency – and threatens to consume the rest of the party, as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Kelly, who tried to bring order and discipline to the place, is as good as gone, and it may be that this ship is sinking:

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

The troubles are obvious:

Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony.

The response to those troubles is troubling:

The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe. But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated.

That seems to be the case:

The president has been telling friends that he believes the special counsel is flailing and has found nothing meaningful. “It’s all games and trying to connect dots that don’t really make sense,” one friend said in describing Trump’s view of Mueller’s progress. “Trump is angry, but he’s not really worried.”

That doesn’t break three legs to a duck after all, but the rats are considering departure:

For now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are still inclined to stand by Trump and give the president the benefit of the doubt. But one pro-Trump senator said privately that a breaking point would be if Mueller documents conspiracy with Russians.

“Then they’ve lost me,” said the senator, noting that several Republican lawmakers have been willing to publicly break with Trump when they believe it is in their interests — as many did over Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), an outspoken Trump critic and a frequent subject of his ire, said, “The president’s situation is fraught with mounting peril, and that’s apparent to everyone who’s paying any attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues.”

It may be time to abandon ship, and it’s certainly no time to jump on board, and the New York Time’s Maggie Haberman reports on that:

As President Trump heads into the fight of his political life, the man he had hoped would help guide him through it has now turned him down, and he finds himself in the unaccustomed position of having no obvious second option.

Nick Ayers, the main focus of President Trump’s search to replace John F. Kelly as chief of staff in recent weeks, said on Sunday that he was leaving the administration at the end of the year. Mr. Ayers, 36, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is returning to Georgia with his wife and three young children, according to people familiar with his plans.

Nick Ayers knows better, and that’s a problem:

The decision leaves Mr. Trump to contend with fresh uncertainty as he enters the 2020 campaign amid growing danger from the Russia investigation and from Democrats who have vowed tougher oversight, and could even pursue impeachment, after they take over the House next month.

Now what? Now this:

As the president hastily restarted the search process, speculation focused on a group that was led by Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is the hard-edge chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but also included the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin; Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney; and the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer.

Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who as a onetime United States attorney could help Mr. Trump in an impeachment fight, was also being mentioned. And some Trump allies were pushing for David N. Bossie, the deputy campaign manager in 2016.

Mr. Trump’s ultimate choice will be faced with a president whom the two previous chiefs of staff found nearly impossible to manage.

That’s the challenge, and it hadn’t been solved:

The president on Sunday disputed news reports that he had settled on Mr. Ayers as his pick. “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” he said on Twitter. “Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”

But two people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers’ appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.

Other advisers to Mr. Trump were stunned by the turn of events. One former senior administration official called it a humiliation for Mr. Trump and his adult children, an emotion that the president tries to avoid at all costs.

And this guy had been the guy the kids wanted:

For more than six months, Mr. Ayers had been viewed as the favored candidate of the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have been seen as maneuvering for greater control and influence around the president. They had clashed repeatedly with Mr. Kelly as he tried to establish more regulated channels to the president. Matt Drudge, an ally of Mr. Kushner, weeks ago posted a photo of Mr. Ayers on The Drudge Report as the next chief of staff.

The kids didn’t get what they wanted, but someone knew this ship was sinking:

Other factors may also have weighed on Mr. Ayers. His ascension to the top West Wing job would have meant newfound scrutiny of his personal finances – last year he reported a net worth of $12.2 million to $54.8 million, a sizable sum for a political operative in his 30s who has amassed his own fortune. He accumulated his wealth partly through a web of political and consulting companies in which he has held ownership stakes.

And Mr. Ayers, who has been seen as a potential candidate for statewide office in Georgia, could have potentially faced a fate shared by many who have left the administration: a diminished public standing after an ugly parting with a mercurial president who often insults his former aides on Twitter.

And now the president is sad:

With a head of blond hair, Mr. Ayers somewhat resembles Mr. Trump in his younger days, a fact that the president often looks for as a positive signal. The president had an unusual affinity for Mr. Ayers, telling aides who expressed concern about Mr. Ayers that he liked him. And after barreling from a chief of staff recommended by Republican congressional leaders (Reince Priebus) to a military general who shared some of Mr. Trump’s personality traits (Mr. Kelly), the president seemed intent this time on simply picking someone he personally liked.

That might have been nice, because General Kelly was a handful. Mehdi Hasan at The Intercept offers this assessment:

The president’s chief of staff is heading for the White House exit. “John Kelly will be leaving,” Donald Trump confirmed to reporters on Saturday. “I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring,’ but he’s a great guy.”

This “great guy” will leave behind an administration mired in scandal, chaos and corruption; a president perhaps even more reckless and lawless today than he was when Kelly arrived for work at the West Wing on the morning of July 31, 2017.

Hasan argues that everyone got this guy wrong:

Remember how his appointment, as replacement for the hapless Republican operative Reince Priebus, was greeted by the liberal press? Kelly, we were told, would be the “adult in the room”; he would rein in a brash and belligerent commander-in-chief.

The New York Times called the former Marine commander a “beacon of discipline” who would be “unafraid to challenge” the president. The Washington Post said he would “bring some plain-spoken discipline to an often chaotic West Wing.” Axios listed him as a key member of the “Committee to Save America.” Then there was my favorite headline, from Bloomberg News, on August 6, 2017: “New Chief of Staff Kelly Moves Quickly to Tame Trump’s Tweets.”


Kelly, lest we forget, arrived at the White House from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where he had quickly and proudly built a reputation “as one of the most aggressive enforcers of immigration law in recent American history,” to quote from a scathing evaluation of his six-month tenure in charge of DHS by the New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer. On Kelly’s watch, wrote Blitzer, “Immigration arrests in the U.S. increased by forty per cent and DHS became one of the few branches of the federal government that has been both willing and able to execute Trump’s policy priorities.”

In March 2017, while defending Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’, Kelly had threatened to walk out of a meeting with Arab-American and Latino groups in Michigan. In April 2017, in a speech in Washington D.C., the DHS Secretary had told members of Congress to either change the country’s immigration laws or “shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.” In May 2017, at a Coast Guard ceremony, the retired general was caught on a hot mic telling Trump, who was holding a ceremonial sword, that he should “use that on the press, sir.”

And then there’s this list:

This was a chief of staff who told Fox News that “the lack of the ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” while praising the pro-slavery Confederate general Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man”; who protected and promoted White House staff secretary Rob Porter – a man accused of domestic abuse by both of his ex-wives – and described him as a man of “true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him”; who repeatedly misled the press about what he knew about Porter and when he knew it, which led to one of his White House colleagues calling him a “big fat liar”; who claimed the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants “don’t integrate well” and “don’t have skills”; who described immigrants who were eligible for DACA but had failed to apply for it as “too lazy to get off their asses”; who said he wanted to reduce the number of refugees admitted into the United States to “between zero and one”; who defended the separation of migrant children from their parents on the grounds that the kids would be “put into foster care or whatever” and bragged that the “big name of the game is deterrence”; who signed a “Cabinet order” authorizing the (potentially illegal) use of lethal force by troops at the border; who lamented that women were no longer treated as “sacred and looked upon with great honor” but who was also accused of suggesting women were more emotional than men; who breached security protocols by firing White House aide Omarosa Manigault in the Situation Room and threatening her in the process; who boasted to Manigault on a secret recording that everyone in the White House “works for me and not the president”; who made a series of false accusations against black member of Congress, Frederica Wilson, and then swore he would “never apologize” for lying about her; and who shamelessly allowed Trump to use his dead son to attack former President Barack Obama.

There’s not much that’s nice here:

Yes, he was quoted calling the president “an idiot” multiple times, according to NBC News; yes, he was quoted by journalist Bob Woodward describing the Trump White House as “Crazytown”; yes, he publicly undermined the president by suggesting Trump had “evolved” on the issue of a border wall (spoiler alert: Trump hadn’t). So, yes, not unsurprisingly, all of this annoyed and upset Kelly’s thin-skinned master in the Oval Office, who – with the encouragement of his daughter – finally gave the retired general the big heave-ho over the weekend.

But let’s be clear: Kelly was never a “great guy”; never the “adult in the room.” He was a bully, a bigot and a liar; as racist and reactionary as his soon-to-be former boss. He was an enabler of Trump’s worst crimes and abuses – from the “unconstitutional” appointment of his crony Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, to the abduction of children at the U.S.-Mexico border, to the fake furor over the migrant “caravan.”

The truth is that this once-distinguished military man should never have been appointed to the top political job in the White House – and deserves to have been fired from it long ago.

He wasn’t fired long ago but now the ship is sinking and he seems happy to be getting out of there. Nick Ayers doesn’t even want to start. He doesn’t want the job. This is an enterprise that seems likely to fail.

Why? That’s simple. The New York Times’ Charles Blow makes it simple:

It is very possible that the president of the United States is a criminal. And it is very possible that his criminality aided and abetted his assumption of the position. Let that sink in. It is a profound revelation.

Last week, prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo for Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump himself had directed Cohen to break campaign finance laws.

Stop there.

Yes, there is still information dribbling out about Trump’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow during the election and about his campaign’s ties with Russians during the campaign. Yes, there is the question of obstruction of justice, which I believe has already been proven by Trump’s own actions in public. Yes, there are all the people in Trump’s circle who have been charged with or have admitted to lying about any number of things, including their contacts with Russians.

But beyond all that, we now have an actual, and one assumes provable, crime. A federal crime. And the president is its architect.

And that’s a problem:

Trump, his team and to some degree his supporters in Congress seem to view Trump as very much above the law – or at least some laws. The defense is bizarre: Since he is the president, there are laws he isn’t obliged to obey. In other words, it is permissible for him to break some laws, but not others.

Last year, one of the president’s lawyers went even further, claiming that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

This all holds the potential to further make a mockery of a system of justice that already privileges power.

So this is quite simple:

According to prosecutors, Trump directed Cohen to commit a felony. Then he lied about it and either allowed or instructed others to lie about it on his behalf. He misled the American people through a conspiracy of lies, and he did so to help attain, and then maintain, his presidency…

We have to prove that our institutions are more important than our ideologies, that the dream, the whisper, the precious possibility of America cannot be trampled by the corrupt and the fraudulent, the venal and the lecherous.

America has to prove that it can indeed survive a criminal presidency.

That won’t be easy, but by the end of the weekend there was this:

Former FBI Director James Comey asked American voters Sunday night to end Donald Trump’s presidency with a “landslide” victory for his opponent in 2020.

“All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,” Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City’s Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election.

“I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, “but they have to win. They have to win.”

That’s because the other ship is sinking:

Over the course of more than an hour, Comey repeatedly derided Trump’s character, again likening the atmosphere around the President to what he saw in prosecuting mafia figures and suggested that Trump’s tweets could eventually amount to witness tampering. Asked if Trump might be an unindicted co-conspirator in some of the crimes recently described by special counsel Robert Mueller, Comey said he didn’t know, “but if he’s not there, he’s certainly close.”

Still, Comey said he hoped that Trump would be swept out of office without being impeached. Framing the rise of Trumpism as a political ill the country needed to exorcise at the ballot, he expressed a hope that Americans would “in a landslide rid ourselves of this attack on our values.”

“Removal by impeachment would muddy that,” he said, and potentially leave a third of the country feeling like their chosen leader had been removed in a “coup.”

So do it by voting. Sink that ship by voting and let “the rats” bolt if they wish, even if some won’t bolt:

Speaking about the period before the 2016 election, Comey was unsparing of Republican congressional leaders who he said opposed making public intelligence community concerns over Russian interference.

“To their everlasting shame, the leaders – (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell and (House Speaker Paul) Ryan – refused,” Comey said. “I think they’re going to have a hard time explaining that to history.”

He will have an easier time:

He had kinder words for former President Barack Obama, describing the Democrat as a foil to Trump in almost every way.

“I was struck that Barack Obama is the best listener as a leader I had ever seen and Donald Trump is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Comey said. “Obama had the confidence to be quiet and try and get that. Donald Trump is a deeply, deeply insecure person, so I don’t see any prospect that he would be able to be quiet for long enough to hear the truth.”

And that ship is sinking anyway. Rats and mice, long ago, were said to have the ability to know when a structure was on the verge of collapse or when a ship was sinking. They got out of there. Politicians knew enough to abandon an enterprise once it seems likely to fail. They did the same. They really are rats and mice – but in a good way this time. This is a matter of survival. This is a matter of everyone’s survival.

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This Friday Breakdown

It was another freaky Friday. No, not the 2003 movie where Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis are the daughter and mother whose bodies somehow get switched, which seems to have something to do with a mysterious fortune cookie – a remake of the 1976 version where Jodie Foster was the daughter. Both films were rather stupid, but there’s a market for such things. Suddenly, no one is who they’re supposed to be. That can be played for laughs. That can make money, again and again, but were such a thing to happen in real life no one would be laughing. People are hardwired to expect the expected. Things should be as they’re supposed to be. No one really wants to be freaked-out.

But that happens. Donald Trump is not going to settle down and be “presidential” – everyone understands, now, that’s beyond him. He doesn’t have the knowledge or skills or experience to do that, he never did, or else he’s not interested in being anything other than what he is – he made a choice. It doesn’t matter. Expect the unexpected. Expect a freaky Friday now and then.

This was one. Fox News will say that nothing happened. MSNBC will say the whole world is falling apart. CNN will gather a panel of people who despise each other and let them shout at each other. But in this case, actual experts are nice. Barry Berke is co-chairman of the litigation department at a big “white shoe” law firm where he is a partner specializing in white-collar criminal defense. Noah Bookbinder is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former federal corruption prosecutor. Norman Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. These three know things. These three saw the Trump presidency falling apart:

On Friday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, delivered a potentially devastating one-two punch against President Trump…

Calling on the court to impose a sentence of substantial imprisonment against Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York stated that Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the campaign were all directly involved in an illegal scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Prosecutors wrote that payments made by Mr. Cohen and other actions were taken “with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election” and pursued “in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1” – that is, Mr. Trump.

Michael Cohen tipped them off. Now they’ve gathered the hard evidence. Trump told Cohen to break the law. He told him exactly what to do and Cohen did what he was told:

The Trump Organization’s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for payments were fraudulently disguised as legal fees – and, according to the memo, were approved by senior executives at the organization. The New York prosecutors also disclosed that they are investigating additional unspecified matters involving Mr. Cohen and, presumably, the Trump Organization. In light of these disclosures, the likelihood that the company and the Trump campaign face charges is now high.

Although President Trump may avoid a similar fate because the Justice Department is unlikely to indict a sitting president, he could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, as was President Richard Nixon, or charged if he leaves office before the statute of limitations runs out.

But wait, there’s more:

In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion – the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.

But wait, there’s more:

Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.

The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress – and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.

How many people in the White House were helping Cohen plan his precise perjury and who were they? And there’s more:

Mr. Trump’s legal woes do not end there. The special counsel also advanced the president’s potential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.

If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both the president and his company could face substantial jeopardy.

This was not looking good for the president, and then things got worse:

In a second blow to the president, on Friday prosecutors also disclosed a list of false statements that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, allegedly made to federal investigators in breach of the cooperation agreement he entered into following his conviction for financial fraud and subsequent guilty plea to criminal conspiracy.

Some of the lies that the special counsel spells out in the redacted memorandum appear to implicate the president and those close to him in possible collusion and obstruction crimes. Notably, Mr. Manafort is accused of lying to the special counsel regarding his contacts with the Trump administration.

We don’t know the content of those contacts, but considering public statements about potential pardons, it is not hard to imagine they could implicate the president and others in a conspiracy to obstruct justice or witness tampering if, for example, they suggested a potential pardon if Mr. Manafort protected the president.

And then the assessment:

Contrary to the president’s claim that all of this “totally clears” him, the danger to Mr. Trump, his business and his campaign has compounded significantly.

Timothy O’Brien adds a bit more:

Mueller’s ten-page, partially redacted Manafort filing outlines why he and his team believe that Manafort lied to them ever since he decided to cooperate with their investigation in September.

They accuse Manafort of breaching the plea agreement in two ways. First, he allegedly dissembled about contacts he had with members of the Trump administration. He’s also said to have conspired with Konstantin Kilimnik – a Russian linked to his country’s intelligence network – between February and April to obstruct justice by shaping the testimony of two of Mueller’s witnesses. (Pro tip: It’s not a good idea to be in touch with a suspected Russian intelligence asset when you’re being prosecuted by seasoned federal law enforcement officials probing your role in Russian efforts to sabotage a presidential election.)

The Mueller team’s Manafort memo is embroidered with hard-earned confidence: “We are prepared to prove the basis for the defendant’s breach at a hearing that will establish each false statement through independent documentary and testimonial evidence, including Manafort’s subsequent admissions.”

This is trouble:

Trump’s name isn’t in any of the un-redacted portions of the Manafort sentencing memo but his presence looms large in all of the court filings since the defendants both worked for him. In a taste of what might still be coming, CNN reported earlier on Friday that one of the president’s ersatz lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said Mueller’s team told Manafort that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian attorney offering compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Manafort was present at that meeting, along with the president’s son-in-law and current White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Another thing to consider: Manafort breached his plea agreement with Mueller after being indicted for money laundering, bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to register as an agent of the Ukraine government. He was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, witness tampering, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. The money laundering and registration charges were never heard in a courtroom because he pleaded guilty to the other charges.

That is a lot of illegal and disreputable stuff, and Manafort’s plea deal likely would have spared him a meaningful chunk of prison time. Yet he lied to Mueller’s team and now faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Why? I’ll venture to guess: He may be expecting a pardon from the president or he has been trying to protect third parties – perhaps from his roster of rough-and-tumble Russian and Ukrainian clients who might represent a threat to his family.

This is a mess, or it’s not:

The White House dismissed the three sentencing memos, with Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, specifically noting that the Cohen memos “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”

Trump himself took to Twitter to offer the optimistic conclusion that everything filed by prosecutors today “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

Paul Waldman does not see that:

The president still seems to think that he can be saved from whatever this investigation uncovers. He just announced that William Barr will be his next attorney general, and the New York Times reported that in private, “Mr. Trump has also repeatedly asked whether the next pick would recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election.” It’s as though he thinks this investigation is in its early stages and can be quashed by a properly loyal underling.

But at this point it doesn’t matter. It’s far too late. Trump’s former aides have cooperated, they’ve conducted their interviews with the special counsel, they’re being sentenced, the documents have been reviewed, the connections have been traced, and the full picture is soon to be revealed.

This scandal can’t be hidden away. Republicans in Congress can’t save Trump, his attorney general can’t save him, and no amount of desperate tweets can save him. Accountability is on its way, and it’s arriving very soon.

Perhaps so, but there was even more to this Friday:

Nearly nine months after his unceremonious firing by tweet, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is breaking his silence on his time in the Trump administration, venting that he had to repeatedly tell President Donald Trump that what he wanted to do would violate the law.

The former ExxonMobil CEO appeared at a fundraiser in Houston on Thursday evening where he sat for a conversation with CBS reporter Bob Schieffer and outlined how Trump had a “starkly different” style from Tillerson, who said the two also did not share a “common value system.”

That’s an understatement:

Tillerson said his relationship with Trump took off quickly – the first time he met the future president was the day he asked Tillerson to serve as the nation’s top diplomat – and that impulsiveness marked the rest of his tenure in the White House…

“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t – doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t – doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you’re not going to do that.”

Tillerson expected reason, but that wasn’t to be:

The two continued to clash when Trump would test the limits of his executive power and would grow frustrated when Tillerson would inform him that he didn’t have unilateral authority to do something. Tillerson, who once reportedly referred to Trump as a “moron” behind his back, said his downfall may have been his directness with the president in such instances.

“When the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here is how I want to do it, and I’d have to say to him, ‘Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law, it violates the treaty, you know,'” Tillerson explained.

Tillerson did expect reason and thus he had to go:

“I didn’t know how to conduct my affairs with him any other way than in a very straightforward fashion. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him, ‘You can’t do that, and let’s talk about what we can do.'”

Tucker Higgins takes up the story from there:

President Donald Trump called former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “dumb as a rock” a day after Tillerson said the president encouraged him to break the law while he was in the administration.

“Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him,” Trump said on Twitter. “His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!”

Tillerson, lazy as hell, ran ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world, for decades, the decades Trump was in and out of bankruptcy and, faking it, so there was this:

In May, Tillerson delivered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president during a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute.

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” he said at the time.

On Thursday, Tillerson said that the way Americans consumed news concerned him, in an apparent reference to Twitter, the president’s favored tool for foreign policy announcements.

“I will be honest with you, it troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues, that they are satisfied with a 128 characters,” Tillerson said.

Someone is as lazy as hell and it isn’t him, and Chris Cillizza chimes in:

Remember that former FBI director James Comey has testified – under oath – that Trump, in a one-on-one meeting, asked him to put aside the Justice Department investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The President publicly pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take up an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. (Clinton was not charged in a previous FBI investigation.)

Time and time again – particularly in his interactions with the Justice Department – Trump has shown that he has zero understanding of the limits of his job.

That means that Tillerson should not have been surprised:

Trump’s total ignorance of the law – whether willful or just from sheer obtuseness – is, at this point, a defining characteristic of his presidency. He simply doesn’t get that there are limits on his power, limits put in place to preserve the office of the presidency – and the broader institutions of our democracy.

We have a President who, according to his one-time FBI director and his first secretary of state, repeatedly proposed ideas that were in violation of established laws. Sit with that for a minute.

Or sit with this:

Stocks dropped sharply on Friday, concluding what has been a wild week for Wall Street. A weaker-than-expected jobs report and China-U.S. trade tensions sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average lower by 558.72 points to 24,388.95 and erased its gains for the year.

At one point, the Dow was up more than 8 percent for 2018.

The S&P 500 pulled back 2.3 percent to 2,633.08 and also turned negative for the year. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.05 percent to close at 6,969.25. Shares of large-cap tech companies led the way lower. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet all traded lower. Apple’s stock also fell 3.6 percent – erasing its gains for the year – after Morgan Stanley cut its price target on the tech giant’s shares, citing weakening iPhone sales.

For the week, the major indexes all dropped more than 4 percent. Thursday’s session included a violent drop of nearly 800 points, followed by a strong rebound from those levels. This week was also the worst for the indexes since March.

Something was up, and maybe it was this:

Stocks had been trading higher earlier Friday, but the market turned sharply lower after Trump administration officials seemed to contradict each other on trade.

While White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow sounded an optimistic note about China talks on CNBC, trade adviser Peter Navarro was simultaneously warning on CNN of higher tariffs if issues aren’t resolved during a 90-day negotiating period.

“We’ve gotten a hodge-podge of mixed messages from people in the same administration,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR. “We’re not sure who we’re supposed to listen to.”

Everyone was freaked out, even this guy:

President Trump may be conspicuously silent when it comes to major stock market losses, but he’s apparently still watching every move with rapt attention.

Several officials close to Trump say he values the Dow Jones Industrial Average as an indicator of his success and job performance in the same way he values presidential approval poll numbers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The president reportedly watches every little update on TVs he tunes to business networks. “He’s glued to it,” one person close to the White House told the Journal.

He’s freaked:

Trump’s obsession with markets has continued this week after his self-described “historic” meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump is now reportedly questioning why the temporary tariff truce with China hasn’t reflected more positively in U.S. markets. While talking with his advisors, Trump was reportedly convinced the market lows were due to the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise benchmark interest rates. However, some investors and administration officials attribute the downturn to Trump labeling himself a “Tariff Man” on Twitter Tuesday, signaling potentially heightened tensions with China down the road.

He doesn’t want to hear that, but there are lots of things he doesn’t want to hear at all:

John Kelly is expected to resign as White House chief of staff in the coming days, two sources familiar with the situation unfolding in the West Wing tell CNN.

Seventeen months in, Kelly and President Donald Trump have reached a stalemate in their relationship and it is no longer seen as tenable by either party. Though Trump asked Kelly over the summer to stay on as chief of staff for two more years, the two have stopped speaking in recent days.

That’s the end:

When Kelly first replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff last summer, he ruled with an iron fist. He curbed Oval Office access, blocked certain outsiders from being able to call the White House switchboard and had broad authority over staffing.

But in the last months, Kelly has seen his status as chief of staff diminish. Trump began circumventing many of the policies and protocols he enacted, and he was on the verge of being fired or resigning numerous times.

Trump often vacillated between criticizing and praising Kelly, sometimes within minutes of each other. Kelly started holding increasingly fewer senior staff meetings – once daily occurrences were whittled down to weekly gatherings – and began to exert less control over who talks to the President.

And then it was over, but it was just another freaky Friday. Expect the unexpected and hang on. This one isn’t a comedy. And there will be more of these.

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The Careless Ones

F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the last years of his life in Hollywood, in a little apartment just down the street here on North Laurel Avenue, editing others’ screenplays and typing away at “The Last Tycoon” – the novel he never finished. Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and that crowd was long ago. Zelda was locked up in an asylum back east, in the North Carolina mountains. It had all gone wrong, and he was still writing about rich people. He always did. The last tycoon was a Hollywood producer. The first tycoon was Jay Gatsby, and the narrator of Fitzgerald’s first novel wasn’t too happy with two of those rich people:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Fitzgerald was impressed and disgusted with such folks, a love-hate thing, and a decade after the Gatsby novel he opened a short story with this:

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

And then Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood and reconfirmed that, and died here – but the Gatsby novel was odd. Jay Gatsby was absurdly rich but a good guy, the hero of that tale. Gatsby had dreams and ideals – stupid dreams and stupid ideals, but that was enough. Tom and Daisy smashed up things and let other people clean up the mess they had made. That’s all they had. That wasn’t enough.

And then there’s Donald Trump. Vice’s Rex Santus tells that tale:

An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who works at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey as a housekeeper gave the New York Times extensive details about her time at the club and her numerous run-ins with President Donald Trump. On Thursday, the day the article was published, she reportedly decided to skip work…

Victorina Morales left Guatemala in 1999 and crossed the U.S. border illegally, eventually settling in New Jersey. Using falsified documents, she secured employment at Trump National Golf Club in 2013, where she remained until Trump’s rhetoric and a hostile work environment compelled her to come forward as an undocumented immigrant. She was still employed at the club Thursday but stayed home from work after the Times gave her a heads up about the article, according to its editor Marc Lacey.

Someone has to clean up the messes he makes, but they don’t have to take abuse. That’s what the interview is about and Santus notes this:

In private, she said, he offered her fat tips, praised the Guatemalan people, and even helped her clean some glass she couldn’t reach. Sandra Diaz, a former housekeeper who worked at the club between 2010 and 2013, scrubbed the future president’s toilets, washed his sheets and towels, and ironed his clothes. President Trump, she said, was much more particular about the cleaning capabilities of his housekeepers than their legal status, once asking her to follow him to a clubhouse on the property while he finger-inspected the Georgian manor for dust particles. Satisfied, he tipped her $100.

Both women were personally assigned to clean Trump’s residence on the property, a long-term job that required adhering to his exacting standards but also brought them into close proximity to his personal and professional life.

And that was the problem:

Diaz, who was undocumented when she began working at the club but now holds a green card, gave some insight into the president’s famed orange complexion. Diaz described to the Times a 2012 incident when the future president had “an outburst” when she was unable to remove orange makeup stains from the collar of his golf shirt. But it was a rare moment of uncouthness for Trump, whom both housekeepers agree was kind and well-liked among the staff.

But the women say they were angered when the president’s campaign succeeded largely because of his anti-immigration rhetoric, which once equated Mexican and Central American immigrants with violent criminals. And Morales said the president’s rhetoric also emboldened supervisors at the club to make abusive remarks about her immigration status.

“We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” she said of her decision to come forward with her story. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

They’re helping him make money. That should be enough, but it wasn’t. Morales said her supervisors have made more of an issue of her immigration status since Trump declared his presidential candidacy – although an unnamed manager still helped her obtain a false green card. One supervisor “frequently made remarks about the employees’ vulnerable legal status when critiquing their work … sometimes calling them ‘stupid illegal immigrants’ with less intelligence than a dog.”

Enough is enough:

“There are many people without papers,” said Ms. Diaz, who said she witnessed several people being hired whom she knew to be undocumented…

Ms. Morales expects she will have to leave her job as soon as her name and work-status are made public. She understands she could be deported. But she also says she is certain that her employers – perhaps even Mr. Trump – knew of her unlawful status all along.

“I ask myself, is it possible that this Señor thinks we have papers? He knows we don’t speak English,” Ms. Morales said. “Why wouldn’t he figure it out?”

Careless people don’t figure it out, and the Atlantic’s Elaina Plott tells that tale this way:

Nobody knows how the White House plans to respond to the Mueller report – including the people who work at the White House.

The special counsel is reportedly nearing the end of his probe. Sentencing memos are dropping. Plea deals are being struck. The president’s legal team expects a response to his written interview “soon.”

When the report will hit is the question. That it will hit, and that it will contain at least some new problems for President Donald Trump and those close to him – especially as House Democrats take the majority – seem certain.

And that doesn’t matter to careless people:

While most organizations, political or otherwise, might take the time to prepare for this kind of slow-moving train, the Trump White House is all but winging it. According to a half-dozen current and former White House officials, the administration has no plans in place for responding to the special counsel’s findings—save for expecting a Twitter spree.

The one thing they do know, Rudy Giuliani told me, is that they’re going to fight. If Robert Mueller’s team tries to subpoena the president, “we’re ready to resist that,” Trump’s attorney said.

That may not be true:

Giuliani said it’s been difficult in the past few months to even consider drafting response plans, or devote time to the “counter-report” he claimed they were working on this summer as he and Trump confronted Mueller’s written questions about the 2016 campaign… “Answering those questions was a nightmare,” he told me. “It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days.”

And there are numerous other reasons no response plan has been produced, White House sources said, including the futility of crafting a strategy that Trump will likely ignore anyway. There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller’s findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle. Those close to Trump have either doubled down on the “witch hunt” narrative, they said – refusing to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing – or decided to focus on other issues entirely…

Attempting to plan “would mean you would have to have an honest conversation about what might be coming,” a former senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told me.

There are no honest conversations in the White House anymore, for good reason:

It’s not that White House officials are altogether unwilling to confront the topic. But many current and former White House staffers I spoke to stressed the problem that has plagued them since the beginning of Trump’s presidency: making plans and sticking to them when the “communicator in chief” will, inevitably, prefer his own approach.

“We would always put together plans with the knowledge that he wouldn’t use them or they’d go off the rails,” one recently departed official told me. “And at this point, with Mueller, they’ve decided they’re not even going to do that.”

“It’s like, ‘Jesus, take the wheel,'” the source added, “but scarier.”

Nevertheless, the thinking is that it’s “safer to follow POTUS’ lead,” the former senior official said. This has allowed staffers to “focus on other pressing matters,” the official allowed, “but leaves you naked when it comes to the final scene of this play.”

And there’s this:

Giuliani initially pushed back on the prediction that Trump would take center stage after the report drops. “I don’t think following his lead is the right thing. He’s the client,” he told me. “The more controlled a person is, the more intelligent they are, the more they can make the decision. But he’s just like every other client. He’s not more … you know, controlled than any other client. In fact, he’s a little less.”

For Giuliani, letting Trump guide the response post-report may not be ideal, but “I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that can stop Donald Trump from tweeting,” he acknowledged. “I’ve tried.”

And there’s this:

The dearth of communication about the probe has left the president’s top lieutenants on Capitol Hill anxious about the fallout, according to multiple congressional GOP sources. “We haven’t heard from the White House at all on this. You’d think there’d be more of an effort to have a coordinated response,” one senior Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, so as not to damage the aide’s relationship with the White House, told me. “Members want to help, but can’t if they’re not getting any information.”

This is a careless president, in all matters:

President Donald Trump has settled on State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to replace departing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Nauert, 48, is an unusual choice for the UN role given that she had little experience in government or foreign policy before joining the administration in April 2017 after several years as an anchor and correspondent for Fox News, including on the “Fox and Friends” show watched by Trump. Haley also lacked foreign policy experience when she took the UN posting, but she had twice been elected governor of South Carolina.

Nauert has, however, hosted Fox and Friends, which still provides Trump with his real presidential daily briefing. And she was, like all the women on Fox News, young and tall and leggy and blond and pretty. She just got a bit older – that’s all – and she has friends:

Nauert’s candidacy had the strong support of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who came to trust her as a reliable voice and advocate for Trump’s agenda. It was a stark turnaround from the era of Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who shut her out from his inner circle. She had threatened to quit several times under Tillerson but, thanks partly to her alliance with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, she ended up outlasting her former boss…

White House aides believe Nauert’s key assets include strong communications skills and a fluency with the Trump White House, particularly in understanding the thinking of the president and secretary of state.

In short, she won’t make trouble, but still:

“In the absence of any actual diplomatic experience I suppose it’s reassuring to UN supporters that she will arrive with no particular personal agenda,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. But in a reference to Nauert’s background as a spokeswoman, she added, “It’s not a role for merely reading talking points.”

No, there is this:

If Nauert wins Senate confirmation, she will face a broad agenda at the UN topped by the need to maintain international sanctions on North Korea. Haley rallied global support for tougher measures in 2017, when Pyongyang ramped up its ballistic missile and weapons testing, but there has been increasing pressure from other countries to ease up on the restrictions since Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-Un in June.

She’ll also take up the administration’s efforts to defend Israel at the UN and counter what Haley called the organization’s bias against the Jewish state. In a sign of the difficulties the administration has had, the UN General Assembly on Thursday rejected a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas, the Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

That’s a long way from chatting on Fox and Friends in the morning:

Nauert won’t face an easy confirmation battle given her lack of experience and the likelihood that she’ll be asked to answer for the Trump administration’s scorn for international bodies, including the UN. In a speech in Brussels this week, Pompeo made his doubts about the organization clear, asking, “Does it continue to serve its mission faithfully?”

Among its flaws, he cited peacekeeping missions that “drag on for decades,” climate treaties that he said serve only to redistribute wealth and what he called its anti-Israel bias.

So, the UN is useless and kind of a joke, and so is Heather Nauert. It’s a match, but Daniel Drezner, the professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, has a few things to say about Pompeo’s big speech:

Earlier this week the secretary of state gave a speech in Brussels designed to be sweeping in its scope. He claimed that, “Trump is returning the United States to its traditional, central leadership role in the world. He sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. He knows that nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests. He knows, as George H. W. Bush knew, that a safer world has consistently demanded American courage on the world stage. And when we – and when we all of us ignore our responsibilities to the institutions we’ve formed, others will abuse them.”

What is odd about that paragraph is that Pompeo caricatured one of the key pillars of American leadership that George H. W. Bush embraced: “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Was that ever really true? The central question that we face is that – is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today, and as the world exists today – does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?”

Drezner says that the best response to this came from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick:

Leave aside for the moment that nobody actually believes what Pompeo alleges: that multilateralism should be an end in itself; that paper commitments are credible absent implementation, verification, and enforcement; or that the yardstick of success is how many bureaucrats get hired. What sensible people do believe is that multilateral cooperation is often (though not always) the best way for nations to advance their interests in an interconnected world of complicated problems. Working with others is typically superior to unilateralism, since going it alone leaves the United States with the choice of trying to do everything itself (with uncertain results) or doing nothing. Multilateralism also provides far more bang for the buck than President Trump’s favored approach to diplomacy, bilateralism….

“The central question that we face,” Pompeo asked in Brussels, “is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today – does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?” The answer, of course, is not as well as it should, and not for nearly enough of them. But if the secretary is seeking to identify impediments to a better functioning multilateral system, he can look to his left in his next Cabinet meeting.


I do not think Americans appreciate just how much collateral damage the Trump administration is doing to U.S. interests on the continent.

But these are careless people. They smash up things and creatures and then retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness and let other people clean up the mess they’ve made. Obama handled the clean-up starting in early 2009 – and that took eight years – and not everything could be fixed. Who is going to clean up this mess? Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz can’t handle this. Who can? Maybe no one can this time. Careless people can end the world.

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America’s Funeral

Wednesday, December 5, 2018, was cold and bleak back in Washington. It rained here in Los Angeles. Things were dismal everywhere, and the day before the markets had crashed. The Dow fell eight hundred points. And the Trump presidency seemed to be imploding. Robert Mueller seems to have the goods on Trump and his crew and was closing in, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia did order the murder of a journalist who had offended him. No one believed our president, not even Republicans, our president who had said otherwise, and tariffs and trade wars are dangerous and no one wins there. That’s why the markets tanked. Trump had called himself Tariff Man – but the markets were closed for the day. No fortunes would be lost, for at least one day.

America paused. It was an official day of mourning. There was that funeral. Maybe it was America’s funeral. That’s what Greg Jaffe implies here:

The men who came to eulogize former president George H. W. Bush spoke of the 41st president and the American presidency on Wednesday in broad and magisterial terms. He was “the last great soldier statesman” in the words of his biographer. A former Canadian prime minister recalled Bush as the leader of the “greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on this earth.”

But the words of praise for Bush seemed to contrast with a jarring reality: A generation after he left office, the presidency has become all-consuming in American life, yet it has also never seemed smaller and more prone to failure.

“The public interest in the presidency is sky high,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “But the institution of the president has shrunk. It’s becoming a tawdry kind of thing.”

Presidents used to be heroes – Washington and Lincoln and, before he was president, Eisenhower. Then they were celebrities, like Reagan, who became presidential. And now it’s a celebrity who won’t or can’t become even vaguely presidential for more than thirty seconds. Maybe that’s him. Maybe it’s the office. The presidency itself is a tawdry kind of thing now. It’s not Trump. George H. W. Bush may have been the last pre-celebrity president. But there is Trump:

The smallness (and meanness) was evident the moment President Trump entered Washington National Cathedral for Bush’s state funeral, shed his overcoat and took a seat with his fellow commanders in chief.

Trump briefly shook hands with former president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Beyond that exchange, the four presidents in the front row seemed incapable of even fleeting contact. Former president Bill Clinton glanced quickly in Trump’s direction and then looked away. Rather than shake Trump’s hand, former president Jimmy Carter checked his watch.

Trump, with his arms folded across his chest, stared stoically throughout, as traits of his predecessor, so different from his own, were praised.

The differences were obvious:

More than with most recent presidents, Bush’s instincts at home drove him toward bipartisan compromise on issues as disparate as the budget and the environment. Overseas, he labored to build broad-based alliances… Today, American presidents have largely given up on such bipartisan sentiments, and cross-party compromises on anything of substance have become rare. Obama passed health-care reform without any support from Republicans. Trump’s tax bill passed without the benefit of a single Democrat’s backing.

Perhaps only Obama was like this Bush, but the presidency had changed:

In speeches near the end of his term, Obama talked of trying to reach across America’s growing divide – even if his efforts were sometimes disparaged by critics as halfhearted or insincere. “I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” he said in his final State of the Union address. “But I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

Trump, in his rallies and speeches, has largely dispensed with even the appearance of trying, opting for a posture closer to all-out war with his political opponents. That has made it far easier for his opponents to dismiss him as not their president, and for the presidency itself to diminish in breadth.

But don’t blame Trump:

To many historians, the Trump presidency is a reflection of the larger problems with the country and the office.

“The modern presidency has gotten out of control,” Leon Panetta, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff and Obama’s defense secretary, told the Atlantic magazine earlier this year. Presidents, he argued, are confronted by too many crises. Instead of solving big problems in the country, they are focused on dozens, if not hundreds, of disasters of the moment.

Others blame the seeming smallness of the office on the relative magnitude of the problems facing recent presidents. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has spanned an unheard-of three presidencies, with no end in sight. And then there’s global warming, which some Democratic presidents have described as an existential threat, only to be dismissed by Republicans who call it a hoax or junk science.

“How does a president appear magisterial on a topic like global warming?” said Jeremi Suri, author of “The Impossible Presidency” and a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “The problem is so big and the president has so little control.”

That’s because things have changed:

Today, presidents face a far more divided landscape than Bush would’ve ever conceived possible. Today, Clinton’s tough on crime stance and embrace of free trade have made him increasingly unpopular within his party, which has shifted to the left. Bush’s focus on environmental protection, global alliances and extending protections to Americans with disabilities would get him disowned in today’s Republican Party.

The absence of voters in the middle has made it almost impossible for presidents to break through the gridlock on any issue of substance. “Presidents are playing a game of speaking to empowered groups and not to the public interest,” Suri said.

It wasn’t always that way. John F. Harris is editor-in-chief of Politico and author of The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House and he notes this:

The memorial service for George H. W. Bush was a perfectly civil and eminently civilized event, and if one was listening in a literal-minded way it all sounded like a grand exception to life in modern Washington – two hours of stories and tributes that were entirely bereft of political tension. The only way to listen in a literal frame of mind, of course, was through some equivalent of self-lobotomy – to be willfully oblivious of context, guileless in a way that certainly does not describe Bush or any of the people he chose to speak at his farewell.

The service was replete with praise for the 41st president that could, with just the slightest nudge of interpretation, be heard as implied rebuke of the 45th president. But only implied, never explicit – this, unlike almost everything else in American politics today, was not about Donald Trump. And yet it very much was.

It was simple contrast:

Speakers rhapsodized about Bush’s natural good cheer and optimism; his willingness to share credit and accept blame; his preference for self-deprecating humor; his gift for personal diplomacy; his loyalty to friends when they were down; his talent at assembling international coalitions; his mistrust of “unthinking partisanship”; his inaugural address in which he said that Americans must judge our lives by kindness to friends and neighbors rather than the pursuit of “a bigger car, a bigger bank account”; his commitment to truth and to living up to the obligations of a “gentleman.”

Who wouldn’t admire these traits? Or expect that any president should try to emulate them?

And that was deadly:

To be political while sounding apolitical is a lost art in contemporary times, and it would be hard for President Trump to claim injury because his name was never mentioned. President George W. Bush – who, like his father, broke with his party in not supporting Trump – swerved skillfully around that by starting his remarks by thanking “distinguished guests” and then, with seeming emphasis, adding “including our presidents and first ladies” but mentioning none of them by name.

Was that a slight? If so, it was subtle:

Three months ago, the same space – the Washington National Cathedral – hosted another memorial service after the passing of Sen. John McCain. Like Bush, he had the lead time to carefully plan his own service, which became weaponized after a dying McCain made clear that he did not want the man who derided him for having been captured in Vietnam to be present. The Bush family, by contrast, was willing to set aside its disdain for Trump – the taunts of “low-energy” Jeb, the relentless criticism of George W’s Iraq war. Whether out of respect for the office or a desire to avoid another politicized Washington funeral, they made it clear that their leader had very much wanted the current president to be there, and in remarks in recent days family members had emphasized that Trump has been “very gracious.”

Assuming that comment to be entirely sincere, it is still a shrewdly effective way to shift the week’s events toward ground – polite, decorous, devoid of controversy – that is hardly Trump’s natural terrain. One supposes that he was not sorry when the plane that is normally Air Force One lifted off to carry the 41st president back to Texas for burial, allowing Washington to return to normal business for the first time since Friday evening.

That’s likely, but Dana Milbank saw this:

During his eulogy, Bush biographer Jon Meacham identified Bush’s “thousand points of light” – a phrase Trump has ridiculed – as a “companion verse” to Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature,” because “Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.”

And there, in the front pew, was Trump, who leads by stoking fear and confirming base impulses.

George W. Bush recalled of his father: “In victory, he shared credit. When he lost, he shouldered the blame.” Bush invoked his dad’s “unlikeliest” friendship with Bill Clinton as they went from opponents to “brothers from other mothers.”

Trump, a few seats from former president Clinton, alternated between folding arms impassively across his chest and leaning forward uncomfortably. Could he comprehend the ideas of giving credit, accepting blame or forgiving?

And there was more:

Bush friend Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming senator, said the 41st president “never hated anyone” and loyalty “coursed through his blood,” including a “loyalty to the institutions of government.” This must be incomprehensible to Trump, who dispenses hatred in 280-character increments, demands loyalty but offers none in return and trashes the institutions of government for sport. And the current president, though not given to self-reflection, could not have missed the rebuke delivered by another eulogist, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, who praised Bush for negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (which Trump has called the “worst trade deal in history”); for environmentalism (which Trump derides); and for international leadership (which Trump dismisses).

“When George Bush was president,” Mulroney said, “every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute and brave.”

No more needed to be said, but for this:

Meacham, putting Bush’s leadership in the style of George Washington and both Roosevelts, recalled how he “spoke with those big, strong hands” (was he trolling Trump?) and stood against totalitarianism and blind partisanship. “And on his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand, and doors across America opened to those with disabilities,” Meacham said – in front of a president who would build a wall, who winks at dictators and who publicly mocked a journalist’s disability.

Bush’s life code, Meacham said, began with “tell the truth” and “don’t blame people.” The truth-challenged, finger-pointing president could only listen.

There was no escape, and Philip Rucker saw this:

From the moment he crossed the transept of the soaring Washington National Cathedral, tore off his overcoat and took his seat in the front pew, President Trump was an outsider.

When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles’ Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H. W. Bush’s integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.

He had no choice:

By 10:49 a.m., when Trump and first lady Melania Trump stepped into the cathedral, a cool hush had come over the pews filled by American dignitaries and foreign leaders, past and present. Trump handed his black overcoat to a military aide and took his seat on the aisle next to his wife, with three past presidents and first ladies seated to her side.

First was the president Trump said was illegitimate (Barack Obama); then the first lady he called a profligate spender of taxpayer dollars (Michelle Obama); then the president he called the worst abuser of women (Bill Clinton); then the first lady and secretary of state he said should be in jail (Hillary Clinton); and then the president he said was the second-worst behind Obama (Jimmy Carter) and his wife, Rosalynn.

Trump despises them all, but Rucker notes that Trump despises them on principle:

As he assumed the presidency, Bush summoned all Americans to create a “kinder” and “gentler” nation – a message that Trump, then a Manhattan real estate developer and tabloid celebrity, found lacking.

“I like George Bush very much and support him and always will,” Trump said in a 1990 interview with Playboy. “But I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist.”

There are those who say that if the country gets any more like Trump it will cease to exist – but perhaps this was a funeral for that kinder and gentler America – and a funeral for what the presidency used to be.

But then it was back to business, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Lachlan Markay report here:

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s aides and advisers have tried to convince him of the importance of tackling the national debt. Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn’t have to worry about the money owed to America’s creditors – currently about $21 trillion – because he won’t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.

The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.

“Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.

He’s no George H. W. Bush, but he is sort of a realist:

The Washington Post recently reported that Trump had instructed his Cabinet to devise plans to trim their budgets in an effort to reduce the federal deficit. But Trump also set strict limits on what sorts of programs could be cut – and quickly proceeded to propose increased spending in other areas of the federal government.

“He understands the messaging of it,” the former senior White House official told The Daily Beast. “But he isn’t a doctrinaire conservative who deeply cares about the national debt, especially not on his watch… It’s not actually a top priority for him… He understands the political nature of the debt but it’s clearly not, frankly, something he sees as crucial to his legacy.”

There is his legacy, and Heather Parton:

I don’t really care about deficits much either, especially when they grow as a result of an economic downturn. That’s how the economy is managed to avoid as much human misery as possible. But consciously exploding the deficit in good times is actually a Republican trick going way back, even if Trump is taking it to extremes… Their goal is to deconstruct the welfare state whenever possible and one way to do that is to sabotage the economy and then hold vital programs hostage to the deficits they caused. And they can blame the Democrats for doing it! So much winning!

Trump has a completely different motive, of course. He just wants to be Santa Claus for his cult and doesn’t care what happens to the country in any case.

He’s no George H. W. Bush, and Steve Kornacki tells that story:

It became the most famous broken promise in modern political history.

George H. W. Bush made it inside the New Orleans Superdome on Aug. 18, 1988. He was there to accept the Republican presidential nomination and to launch his fall campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

“My opponent won’t rule out raising taxes, but I will,” Bush said. “And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I’ll say, ‘No.’ And they’ll push, and I’ll say, ‘No.’ And they’ll push again, and I’ll say to them, ‘Read my lips: No new taxes!'”

By channeling Dirty Harry, Bush hoped to put to rest once and for all two of the biggest doubts about his candidacy. From the right, there remained deep skepticism about his commitment to the conservative cause; among the public at large, there remained a stubborn image problem – “the wimp factor,” as a Newsweek cover had memorably put it a few months earlier.

In the short term, it succeeded brilliantly.

And then it didn’t:

Two years later, President Bush found himself in a budgetary jam. The boom economy of the Reagan years was slowing, interest rates were climbing and annual deficits, already up drastically over the last decade, were exploding. Just as Bush had predicted in his speech, Congress, with its big Democratic majorities, pressed him to raise taxes. But there was no climactic stare-down. Instead, Bush said he’d go along with the demand.

It kicked off what was known as the budget summit, months of negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders from both parties. This was the way, generally speaking, of Bush’s generation of leaders, compromise over confrontation.

The grand bargain was announced in the Rose Garden on the last of September 1990: Democrats would get hikes in the gas tax and other excise taxes and Republicans would get spending cuts, including a chunk from Medicare – a big, bipartisan deal that would, supposedly, slash deficits and steady the economy.

And then it fell apart:

The top-ranking Republicans on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole and House Minority Leader Robert Michel, stood with Bush at the ceremony. But there were others in the GOP, more than Bush had ever realized, who saw this as a betrayal by the president – not just of his own promise but of everything their party had come to stand for.

The Republican Party of the old days had prioritized balancing the budget, even if it meant higher taxes, but Ronald Reagan’s revolution had upended all of that. In his 1980 campaign, Reagan embraced the newly popular concept of supply-side economics, which claimed that tax cuts, by unleashing economic growth, could actually produce more government revenue.

The idea was ridiculed as “voodoo economics” by Reagan’s chief opponent in the ’80 GOP race, a moderate named George Bush, whose strong showing in the primaries landed him the VP slot on Reagan’s ticket. Bush spent the next eight years refashioning himself as a Reagan loyalist and making peace with the ascendant conservative wing, but the right remained on guard – hence the “Read my lips!” pledge.

By breaking that promise, Bush was validating all of those old suspicions.

So be it. The deal fell apart and a new version was hammered out:

A majority of Republicans sided with Newt Gingrich and broke with their own president. The deal died, and the final tally wasn’t even close. The blow was humiliating for Bush, who then cut a new deal, this time slanted even more heavily to Democrats’ demands. Finally, with Gingrich and much of the GOP still up in arms, the package passed and Bush signed it.

And he lost the next election. There would be no second term for him, but the higher tax rates from 1990 and 1993 helped bring in a revenue windfall:

By 1998, the country even ran a surplus for the first time in decades, and the elimination of the national debt actually seemed in sight… In 2014, as Bush neared 90, the John F. Kennedy Library gave him a Profile in Courage Award for “putting country above party and political prospects” when he raised taxes. Bush accepted and thanked the library “for remembering what our team tried to do, lo, those many years ago.”

He wouldn’t say it, but it seemed he no longer thought he’d made a mistake – even if it had become an article of faith within his party that he had.

And now there is this:

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., said the late President George H. W. Bush was able to come to terms with his decision to raise taxes, even though it cost him a second term in the White House, by saying he was always about helping the country.

“Recall the Andrews air base conclave, where congressional participants drafted a remarkable bill that dealt with two-year budgeting, entitlement reform, comprehensive and catastrophic healthcare, Social Security solvency, and much more,” Simpson said at Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral Wednesday…

Recognizing that he had made a promise on the campaign trail in 1988 that he would never raise taxes, Bush said that he would agree to raising taxes if it meant Congress could pass the bill.

“And then they all said, ‘Yes, but we can get it done, and it will be bipartisan.’ And George said, ‘Okay, go for it, but it will be a real punch in the gut,'” Simpson said.

“He often said, ‘When the really tough choices come, it’s the country, not me. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s for our country that I fought for,'” Simpson said.

That’s odd. He gave up his second term to save the country. Donald Trump will ruin the economy, but he won’t be here when it finally collapses. That won’t be his problem. So things have changed. The presidency changed. The country changed. And the nation had a fine funeral for what had died – America’s funeral.

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The Unknown Known

It was February 12, 2002, it was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the question at the press briefing was about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, and this was Rumsfeld’s answer:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult one.

That was an indirect way of saying that the Bush administration didn’t really know what Iraq had done or was doing, dressed up as philosophic mediation on the nature of knowledge itself – a deep dive into theoretical epistemology. Those unknown unknowns are a real problem. Reporters could chew on that. That would stop them from asking the one deadly forbidden question – “You really don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

That worked for a day or two, but later, psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek would argue that beyond these three categories there is a fourth, the unknown known, that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know.

That’s a real problem too. Some things are obvious to even the most casual observer, but there are those who insist that those things just aren’t so. The war in Iraq was a fine idea and a great success! Global warming is a hoax! Massive tax cuts pay for themselves! Trade wars are good and easy to win! And of course that whole Russia thing is a hoax – the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Russia and did nothing with Russia, and Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 election at all. There was no collusion. There is no obstruction of justice. There’s nothing there. That’s an unknown known. Everyone knows that.

Everyone knows the opposite, or knows it now:

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn has given special counsel Robert Mueller “first-hand” details of contacts between President Donald Trump’s transition team and Russian government officials, a bombshell court document filed Tuesday says.

Mueller in a sentencing memo said Flynn’s “substantial assistance” to his probe warrants a light criminal sentence – which could include no jail time for the retired Army lieutenant general.

That assistance, which includes 19 interviews with Mueller’s team and Justice Department attorneys, related to a previously unknown “criminal investigation,” as well as to Mueller’s long-running probe of the Trump campaign’s and transition team’s links or coordination with the Russian government.

That is to say that Mueller is closing in on any coordination with the Russian government by Trump, by his transition team, on obstruction of justice too – for trying to hide this stuff and trying to screw up any investigation of it – and something new – a mysterious criminal investigation – but Mueller isn’t saying much:

“The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials,” the memo says. Mueller’s memo almost completely blacks out details of what Flynn might have said.

What? It seems the nation will have to wait for that:

Flynn pleaded guilty last December to a single count of lying to federal agents about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition in late 2016. Flynn has cooperated with Mueller’s ongoing probe since pleading guilty.

“Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below, a sentence at the low end of the guideline range – including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration – is appropriate and warranted,” Mueller’s office wrote in the memo filed Tuesday.

Mueller’s memo says that some of Flynn’s benefits to the probe “may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing.”

Yes, there is more to come:

Mueller is expected to file another court document later this week in connection with ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Those documents will detail Mueller’s allegation that the longtime Republican consultant Manafort, who pleaded guilty in August to multiple crimes unrelated to the campaign, had lied since then to investigators after agreeing like Flynn to cooperate with Mueller’s probe.

The walls are closing in, and Politico offers additional detail:

Flynn had been under scrutiny for months ahead of his plea deal for his connections to Russia. He memorably sat next to President Vladimir Putin of Russia at a 2015 gala in Moscow sponsored by the Russian news agency RT, whose propaganda was later cited by the U.S. intelligence community as a facet of Putin’s plan to interfere in the 2016 election.

Flynn also drew investigators’ attention for his business ties to Turkey. On the day of the 2016 election, he wrote an op-ed supporting the extradition of the Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the U.S., and hailed Turkey as the United States’ best ally against the Islamic State. He was also suspected of failing to register as a lobbyist for the Turkish government when he assumed his position as Trump’s national security adviser.

Congress has also investigated Flynn’s business connections. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has raised questions about Flynn’s efforts to promote within the White House a deal to jointly build nuclear power plants across the Middle East with a Russian company under U.S. sanctions. In late 2017, Cummings made public a whistleblower’s testimony alleging that Flynn’s business partner pushing the nuclear deal bragged that Trump would tear up existing sanctions on Russia to help pave the way for the plan.

Flynn’s ultimate downfall, though, was the result of phone calls he held with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition. Leaked details of the call indicated that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, something that the incoming administration – including Vice President Mike Pence – denied publicly. Flynn resigned in February 2017, just weeks after being sworn in, amid FBI scrutiny of the phone calls.

So, no jail time for this guy? He must have spilled a lot of beans, amazing beans, and then there’s this:

Flynn’s name also came up in another unusual episode: the hunt by GOP operative Peter Smith for Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. In an episode chronicled by The Wall Street Journal just weeks before Smith’s apparent suicide, Smith purportedly mounted a well-financed attempt to get Clinton’s emails on the dark web and told contacts that he was affiliated with Flynn and other members of the Trump campaign.

Members of the Trump campaign were offering big bucks to anyone who would steal Clinton’s emails? Those unknown unknowns are a real problem. But maybe everyone kind of knew that already. That might have been an unknown known. Some things are obvious to even the most casual observer, and then the bullshit ends.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports on that actually happening:

Republican senators emerged from a briefing Tuesday about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and essentially accused the Trump administration of misleading the country about it – and even covering it up for Saudi Arabia.

In remarks after a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested there is no plausible way that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t order the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, and said that the evidence is overwhelming.

Is it? There was this:

This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it’s unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it – despite the CIA concluding this with “high confidence” – while Pompeo said last week that there was no “direct reporting” implicating him.

Trump and Pompeo were pulling a Rumsfeld there – some things just cannot be known – but these guys weren’t buying it:

Graham said Tuesday that you’d have to be “willfully blind” to not know Mohammed was responsible – a clear rebuke of Trump’s argument that this whole thing resides in some kind of gray area.

Graham was also asked about Pompeo’s comments and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ comments that there was no “smoking gun.” The senator said there was indeed a “smoking saw” – a reference to the reported bone saw that was brought to dismember Khashoggi – and that Pompeo was being a “good soldier” by toeing the administration’s line. So that’s basically saying Pompeo aided Trump’s “willful” effort to obscure the truth.

“If they were in a Democratic administration,” Graham said of Pompeo and Mattis, “I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.”

Corker was about as full-throated, saying, “If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes” – another clear rebuke to Trump’s statement and Pompeo’s and Mattis’ suggestions that this is some kind of unknown.

Something was wrong here:

Corker also suggested that the briefing last week, which featured Pompeo and Mattis but not Haspel, was entirely misleading. When asked whether there was a difference in the message about Mohammed’s culpability, Corker compared it to the “difference between darkness and sunshine.”

In fact, as Blake notes, they’re angry:

These senators aren’t just accusing the administration of missing the point on Khashoggi; they’re saying they feel misled and that the administration has obscured the truth. Graham saying he’d question Pompeo’s and Mattis’ motives if this were a Democratic administration is a particularly striking statement – and one from someone who is a frequent Trump ally these days. Corker has been more of a Trump critic, but his suggestion the he feels last week’s briefing wasn’t on the up-and-up is also remarkable from a Republican.

Questioning Trump is not unprecedented for Republicans in Congress; the fact that they are going there on Pompeo and even Mattis, who is perhaps the most bipartisan figure in the administration, shows the severe degree of concern about the lack of consequences. These senators are serving notice that they won’t back down without a fight – a fight that could tar both Pompeo’s and Mattis’ legacies.

And there is Rumsfeld’s legacy. What can we really know about anything? When those in charge of war and peace and all the rest say such things, the nation panics.

Panic may be appropriate. Damian Paletta and Philip Rucker report this:

After his Argentine steak dinner last weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Trump announced that they had reached an “incredible deal” to temporarily suspend his trade war. But days later, Trump declared, “I am a Tariff man.”

Trump last week proposed stripping away electric-car subsidies from General Motors as punishment for the automotive giant moving to cease production at plants in the United States and Canada. But then his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the White House would do no such thing. Targeting a single company, he explained, would be illegal.

Then there is the way Trump talks about how the economy works – imprecise at best, ignorant at worst. For instance, the president routinely says that China and other countries are paying billions of dollars to the United States because of his tariffs. But that is false. Tariffs are paid by companies, often U.S. firms that import foreign-made products.

And that cost is passed on to their customers. The price of what they import, or produce with foreign components, spikes. American consumers pay the price for that, so what Trump says just isn’t so, and that has consequences:

Once again this week, world leaders, U.S. lawmakers and jittery investors have been reminded that Trump’s words cannot always be trusted.

The whiplash nature of Trump’s economic policies and pronouncements bore tangible consequences on Tuesday, when U.S. stock markets cratered amid investor skepticism of Trump’s China talks. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 799 points, or 3.1 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 3.2 percent and the NASDAQ dropped 3.8 percent.

This was a Trump Crash:

Global markets demand consistency and reliability, but Trump delivers neither. Instead, he makes knee-jerk announcements that surprise investors, lawmakers and even some of his own aides and advisers, who sometimes find themselves reversing course depending on the president’s whims.

“The words are noisy, but markets can’t wear noise-canceling headphones,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “You can’t delineate the noise from policy because sometimes the noise is policy. Markets like certainty. They need to know the rules of the road, whatever they are, to move forward.”

There are increased signs that investors, after hanging on any signal from Trump and his advisers about the status of economic planning, are beginning to understand that many of the statements lack any real substance.

They are asking that one deadly forbidden question – “You really don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” And they have their answer:

Trump’s aides have described the president as obsessed with the stock market’s performance, which he sees as a numerical validation of his personal performance. Trump spent much of late 2017 and early 2018 cheering big gains, which he claimed were stimulated by his presidency – in particular, his moves to cut taxes and roll back regulations. But markets have moved wildly in the past two months, in part because of Trump’s erratic policy pronouncements – a pattern that only seems to worsen when there are signs the economy is showing signs of future weakness.

In short, he panics, and everyone runs for the hills, or shrugs:

Trump often makes off-the-cuff – and sometimes inaccurate – statements related to the economy. On Thursday, Trump wrote in a tweet blasting GM for its plant closures and layoffs that BMW had “just announced a major new plant. The U.S.A. is booming!”

That was false. BMW has made no such announcement.

And this was just more of the same:

Analysts attributed Tuesday’s market jolt to uncertainty about Trump’s dinner on Saturday with Xi in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the Group-of-20 summit. U.S. and Chinese officials have publicly disagreed over several substantive points.

Chinese officials did not confirm the White House’s initial claims that China had agreed to buy large amounts of U.S. agricultural products and remove tariffs on U.S. automobiles. Kudlow later said there was not an actual agreement for China to remove auto tariffs, though he said that he expected Beijing to eventually do it as a show of good faith.

Adding to the confusion, Trump sent tweets Tuesday threatening import penalties on Chinese products.

“President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man. When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so.”

But they are not the ones who pay! Oh well. The upscale bars in and around Wall Street will do great business. Everyone down there will be drinking heavily after the market-close each day. Invest in scotch.

But there’s a method here:

A former White House official explained that Trump considers his unpredictability and sudden shifts a virtue because he thinks they help ensure his opponents – in this case, the Chinese – stay off balance.

“It introduces so much confusion and chaos into a situation that by the time it’s all over with he’s the only one who really knows what he thinks, including his own staff,” said the former official, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss Trump’s tactics.

That’s not a method:

Andy Laperriere, a trade specialist and head of U.S. policy research at Cornerstone Macro, said, “There is a sense that what was portrayed as meaningful progress, when you look at the fine print, doesn’t feel that way. In reality, China did not agree to reduce or eliminate the tariff on cars,” he continued.

“They haven’t agreed to any specific purchases of agricultural products. And I think, even more importantly, China does not seem inclined to make any concessions on the big issues that would be the subject of negotiations over the next 90 days.”

That’s because something is missing:

One reason for the confusion is the lack of any formal document or agreement from China and the United States detailing progress.

In past White Houses, officials had lengthy discussions about foreign and domestic policy changes, and they briefed lawmakers and outside allies ahead of time to ensure there would be no surprises. But in the case of the China talks, the public was left to read a White House statement and comments from Chinese officials, then interpret discordant Twitter messages from Trump.

There are far too many unknown unknowns here, but at least some things are obvious to even the most casual observer:

A tea party activist who helped the Texas Republican Party draft its 2018 platform proudly declared himself a “WHITE NATIONALIST” last week.

“Damn Right, I’m a WHITE NATIONALIST and very Proud of it,” Ray Meyers wrote on Facebook last Tuesday, in response to someone else’s post that accused President Donald Trump of being a white nationalist.

The Texas Observer, which reported on the Facebook post Tuesday, noted Meyers’ connections in the Republican Party: He is the founder and chairman of the Kaufman County Tea Party, was on the Ted Cruz presidential campaign’s “Texas Leadership Team” and served as a delegate for Cruz at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone was surprised by this, or by Ray Meyers’ careful clarification:

In a phone call Friday, Meyers told the Observer that identifying himself as a white nationalist “doesn’t have anything to do with race.”

“I am Anglo and I’m very proud of it, just like black people and brown people are proud of their race. I am a patriot. I am very proud of my country,” he said. “And white nationalist… all that means is America First. That’s exactly what that means. That’s where the president’s at. That’s where I’m at and that’s where every solid patriotic American is. It doesn’t have anything to do with race or anything else.”

Yeah, sure:

Merrill Perlman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review last year: “Adding an adjective to indicate what ‘their’ nation is can turn ‘nationalism’ into a polarizing term. A ‘white nationalist’ generally wants a nation of white people. Whether that means creating a separate nation of just white people or pushing those who are not white out of their current nation depends on which branch of ‘white nationalism’ is talking.”

And the Southern Poverty Law Center defines white nationalist groups as those that believe “white identity should be the organizing principle of the countries that make up Western civilization.”

Some things are obvious. There may be unknown unknowns, as Rumsfeld said, but there is the obviously obvious. Mueller has the goods on Trump and his crew and he’s closing in, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia did order the murder of a journalist that offended him, and our president is fine with that, and tariffs and trade wars are dangerous and no one wins there, ever, and someone has stoked white fear and panic and anger, and that may explode soon. Donald Rumsfeld once mused about what we can know. What can we know, really? We can know lots, actually, and do.

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Pro Patria Mori

There’s that line from one of Horace’s Odes – “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” – even if Wilfred Owen didn’t think so. “Sweet” may not be the right word either – “satisfying” might be better – but decorum – fitting and proper – is the right word. One should do things properly. Good manners matter, even in difficult circumstances, or particularly in difficult circumstances. Formality helps, as does a bit of tolerance. Don’t be a jerk, and the Bush family knows this. The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report this:

The family of former president George H. W. Bush has planned a state funeral that will steer clear of the kind of anti-Trump sentiment evident at the recent funeral of Sen. John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.

The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President Trump would be welcome at the funeral, scheduled Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, and to assure him that the focus would be on Bush’s life rather than their disagreements, according to one former administration official.

This was a compromise, even if an awkward compromise:

The truce with Trump allows the Bush family, and the nation, to honor the legacy of a president who guided the United States through the 1991 Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union without becoming mired in today’s toxic politics. Trump in turn has been effusive in his praise of Bush since his death… But the detente also comes after Trump’s long history of insulting and taunting the Bush family – calling his 2016 primary opponent “low-energy” Jeb Bush, saying the 9/11 attacks were partly due to President George W. Bush’s failure to keep the nation safe, and mocking George H. W. Bush’s signature “thousand points of light” volunteerism program. And it comes as Trump has fully taken control of the Republican Party, leading a bare-knuckle rejection of the traditional GOP establishment that the Bush family represented and helped build.

But let that slide for one day, masking resentment with formality:

While Trump will not deliver a eulogy, he will be seated in the front row alongside former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush’s son, former president George W. Bush, will deliver a eulogy.

Neither he nor the other eulogists – former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former senator Alan K. Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham – are expected to focus on the stark differences between the genteel and patrician Bush and the bombastic Trump.

“If you have any sensitivity for human feelings, you just don’t get into that,” Simpson said in an interview Monday. “It’s not what a funeral is for.”

And some things are, after all, rather obvious:

Another Bush confidant said, “The comparisons are presenting themselves; we are not heightening them,” according to a person familiar with the funeral preparations.

A third person, who like others close to the preparations spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the tone of Wednesday’s funeral will reflect the sense of propriety of Bush, who “wouldn’t want anyone there to feel uncomfortable, including the incumbent president.”

“It’s interesting, though, that praising the Bushes or McCain risks sounding critical of Trump even when Trump’s in no way part of the thinking,” the third person said.

So tell him this:

Three current and former administration officials said there had been deep frustration in the White House over the anti-Trump tone of the Sept. 1 funeral for McCain, which Trump did not attend. One senior administration official said Trump’s reaction to the criticism was “almost paralyzing for a week,” and officials have been assured that Bush’s funeral would be different.

It won’t be different:

The eulogists all knew the 41st president for many years. Mulroney was Canada’s prime minister from 1984 to 1993 and helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Bush. He also gave eulogies at the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy Reagan.

Meacham, who wrote “Destiny and Power,” a 2015 biography of Bush, also delivered a eulogy at Barbara Bush’s funeral. “In hours of war and of peace, of tumult and of calm, the Bushes governed in a spirit of congeniality, of civility, and of grace,” Meacham said. “Barbara and George Bush put country above party, the common good above political gain, and service to others above the settling of scores.”

Mulroney is NAFTA. Trump hates NAFTA. Meacham will speak of congeniality and civility and grace, Trump keeps saying “We have to stop being so NICE to people, folks!”

Donald Trump will be unhappy, but Max Boot, the former Republican, is not surprised:

George H. W. Bush and Donald J. Trump had almost nothing in common beyond their privileged upbringing and membership in the Republican Party.

During World War II, Bush volunteered for the Navy at age 18 and two years later was shot down over the Pacific. Trump won five draft deferments to avoid the Vietnam War. Bush held a long series of appointed and elective government positions before becoming president, making him one of the most knowledgeable occupants of the Oval Office. Trump had no government experience and still has next-to-no knowledge of policy. Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun – “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.

But Trump won that battle:

Bush was the most successful one-term president in the nation’s history. He presided over victory in the Persian Gulf War, the peaceful end of the Cold War and the unification of Germany – all achievements that today might appear to have been inevitable but could easily have had a far less happy outcome. Yet he never got any love from the right. Conservatives did not see Bush as one of them, and by end of his term they had turned against him.

The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan – and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.

And the rest is history:

The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out. Opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats doomed the deal, forcing a temporary government shutdown. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.

From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus.

Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal – and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise – helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.

Bush did see that:

Bush saw what was happening – and it horrified him. In “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” author Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything… They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever… They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”

Well, now they have taken over, and it is impssible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.

Frank Bruni saw that too:

Kinder. Gentler. Those were words that George H. W. Bush famously used in his inaugural speech, when he was sworn in as the 41st president of the United States. I say “famously” not because the verbiage was particularly visionary, but because it evolved, over the years, into shorthand for his philosophy, for his character, for what the Republican Party needed to be and for what he wanted to make it.

The words fell into a passage of the speech that, in relation to the “American carnage” of the current president’s oratory, seems both quaint and exotic — and makes you yearn for an earlier time. “America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle,” Bush told the crowd arrayed in front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989. “We as a people have such purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

That’s not going to happen:

In reality and in retrospect, Bush was a kinder and gentler breed of leader. He believed in courtesy, as any lawmaker who dealt with him and any journalist who repeatedly crossed paths with him can attest. He believed in manners, not merely as an outgrowth of his patrician background and not principally in a fussy way, but because he saw them as an expression of respect. To read his voluminous letters is to encounter a man who cared deeply about that – about precedent, propriety, tradition. And, yes, about kindness.

And yes, that was a mistake:

That softness and soulfulness at times earned him derision, as when Newsweek published a cover story about his 1988 presidential campaign that was titled “Bush Battles the Wimp Factor.” For decades afterward, everyone in the Bush family seethed about it.

I look back now and wonder if it was really an unintended compliment. We could use more wimps like him.

Evan Thomas agrees with that:

In October 1987, when George H. W. Bush announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.'” The article did not quite come out and declare that Bush was a weakling, and it noted that Bush’s own advisers were worried about the “wimp” label. But the clear implication of the cover story (which I edited, penciling in the word “wimp” over the objection of the story’s reporter, Margaret Warner) was that Bush somehow lacked the inner fortitude to lead the free world.

How wrong we were.

This was not a wimp:

As the 41st president, Bush was anything but a wimp. In 1991, he had the courage to abandon his own “read my lips” vow and instead raise taxes in the cause of restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget, left badly out of whack by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Agreeing to raise taxes was necessary to get the Democrats to agree to spending cuts, but it was political suicide for Bush. It cost him a second term in office, which he had almost surely earned by bringing the Cold War to a successful, peaceful conclusion and by driving Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm. Bush had wisely limited the first Gulf War to its stated war aims and resisted the temptation to push on to Baghdad. If only his own son had been so prudent after 9/11 and stuck to liberating Afghanistan without plunging into Iraq.

This was a careful man:

Bush was at heart a moderate Republican, a nearly extinct species today. He was fiscally conservative, but he believed that government had a role in protecting the poor and redressing social injustice – all within reason, of course. The on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand tepidness of Republican moderation is easy to mock, and has been, mercilessly, by tea partiers and talk show shouters. But Bush nurtured a belief in compromise and consensus even, or perhaps especially, if that meant swallowed pride. In foreign policy he was an internationalist, an interventionist if necessary – but never an adventurer. He was smart to order his minions not to gloat when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. He knew that communism would fade away more quickly if Uncle Sam did not dance on its grave.

He’d wait, because he is who he is:

In a boastful age, when young people feel the need to “brand” themselves, Bush’s circumspection seems almost quaint. But the current dysfunction in Washington and the mindless one-upmanship played out on cable TV is enough to make one nostalgic for a time when politicians of different persuasions tried to listen and deal with each other. Bush as much as anyone embodied that lost age, when politics were said to stop at the water’s edge and there was a sense of shared purpose among lawmakers confronting the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War.

It would be a mistake to mythologize Bush. Politics were hardly pure in his time, and he made compromises that strained his sense of principle (like going along with Reagan’s antiabortion stand or pandering to conservatives by promising never to raise taxes). He could wander off the high road when political exigency demanded. In the 1988 election, he allowed his political henchmen, Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, to paint the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. George Dukakis, as a weak-on-crime nerd – and to play to white fears of black criminals. Nor was Bush ego-free. At Newsweek, he let us know how mad he was at being called a “wimp.” But it is impossible to imagine him resorting to the petty vindictiveness of a Trump tweetstorm.

Bush has been partly forgotten by history, but America’s 45th president may make us nostalgic for the grace and manners – and self-discipline – of our 41st.

So he never was a wimp, but David French argues that was always the issue:

One of the more puzzling aspects of modern Republican discourse is the equation of Donald Trump’s aggression with manliness and the slander of his (male) critics as feminine. As near as I can tell, the foundation of the argument is essentially stylistic and tactical… In a 2016 magazine piece I noted the hosannas poured on Trump for his alleged masculinity. A popular pickup artist said he “tight game.” He was the “ultimate alpha.” Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros said, “The Left has tried to culturally feminize this country in a way that is disgusting. And you see blue-collar voters – men – this is like their last vestige – their last hope is Donald Trump to get their masculinity back.” Another Fox personality called him “street,” meaning it as a compliment.

As for his critics? Well, if you’re a man and criticize Trump – especially on moral grounds – prepare for the allegation that you’re “pearl-clutching.” MAGA-world will call you “low-testosterone” or “dilettantish.” In fact, the accusation of weakness will often substitute for argument. After all, why argue the merits of a point when you can just accuse a man of wetting his panties?

But there’s nothing new here:

The Right has long struggled with the notion that “toughness” requires a particular kind of angry public posture. As a colleague noted to me yesterday, one of the hallmarks of the Trump era is that the president makes old conflicts more “electric” rather than creating new ones. It’s stunning to consider this when you consider the basic facts of Bush’s biography, but he battled the “wimp factor” and claims that he was “too nice” for much of his political career. It’s a sign of our fallen world that all too many people misinterpret the presence of manners as a lack of manliness. It’s destructive to our culture and body politic that all too many people interpret kindness as a lack of conviction.

After Bush’s death, this almost 40-year-old clip of Bush on CBS’s Face the Nation rocketed around the Internet. In it, Bush presents the best answer I’ve ever heard to the charge that he was too nice:

“I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That’s toughness. That’s fiber. That’s character. I have got it. And if I happen to be decent in the process that should not be a liability.”

Now add this:

As we raise our sons, who is the better model? Is it the “wimp” who enlisted in the Navy at age 18, became one of the service’s youngest aviators, was shot down over the Pacific and rescued, went on to a lifetime of public service (including the presidency), led the nation in war, and managed the fall of the Soviet Union with calmness, ending a great-power conflict without triggering a cataclysm? Is it the beloved husband (of one wife for more than 70 years) and father – a man of real faith?

Or is it the “tough guy” who ducked his war, paid off porn stars, gloried in his adultery, married three women, built a business empire in part through nepotism and “suspect” tax schemes, bankrupted casinos, and now adopts his aggressive posture mainly through public insults and angry tweets? This isn’t the masculinity that we should respect. And it’s hardly “manly” to defend behavior that is barely removed from the posturing and strutting of the schoolyard bully.

George H. W. Bush a wimp? No, he was a man in full. Decency requires strength. The conservative movement (and our nation) would do well to remember that vital truth.

That might be difficult. Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio did the research:

We found that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.” Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as “breast augmentation” and “menopause.”

And this has to do with Trump alone:

In contrast, fragile masculinity was not associated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or support for John McCain in 2008 – suggesting that the correlation of fragile masculinity and voting in presidential elections was distinctively stronger in 2016.

The same finding emerged in 2018… In the more than 390 House elections pitting a Republican candidate against a Democratic candidate, support for the Republican candidate was higher in districts that, based on Google search data, had higher levels of fragile masculinity. However, there was no significant relationship between fragile masculinity and voting in the 2014 or 2016 congressional elections. This suggests that fragile masculinity has now become a stronger predictor of voting behavior.

Kevin Drum adds this:

I was uninterested at first because I figured the Trump effect was really just a Republican effect. But no, insecure men voted in unusually large numbers for the Republican candidate only when that candidate was Trump. And two years later, the effect was still there in a midterm election that was heavily dominated by Trump’s presence.

If this holds up, it suggests that Trump really did appeal to a kind of toxic masculinity in a way that other Republicans haven’t. If it’s true, it’s quite possible that it’s galvanized mostly by factors that affect the self-image of men who have grown up thinking that stereotypical manliness was a core part of who they had to be. Inability to be a good breadwinner would certainly be part of that. Being the “losers” of the feminist movement would be part of it. Being forced to give up their traditional control of family and sex – no more demands, no more casual harassment – would be part of it. A candidate who explicitly appealed to this frustration and promised to fix it – which neither Romney nor McCain did – would attract their votes especially if he were running against that shrill harpy Hillary Clinton.

Long story short, this is interesting to the extent that it shows who Trump specifically appealed to above and beyond normal Republican candidates.

It’s also something for Democrats to give some serious thought to, even if, like Trump, they currently have few real solutions to offer. I’m not sure what a “real” solution might be, but it’s worth noting that one thing it’s not is an insistence on nominating a man in 2020. Although the authors found that insecure men might like Trump, they held no grudge against women running for office: “Notably, fragile masculinity was unrelated to support for female candidates in the 2018 elections.”

That means we can feel free to nominate anyone we want. It just needs to be someone who knows how to talk to insecure men.

But who knows how to do that? It’s just as well that George H. W. Bush is gone. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – but what if that kind and gentle and thoughtful country disappeared years ago?

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