Socializing Trump

Socialization is odd. Men try to be cool. The feedback is instant and incessant – that was cool – you idiot, that wasn’t cool – be James Bond, damn it – or be John Wayne – so men make instant unending adjustments. That’s how men know who they are, and that may be why they then never think about what they want and what they think and what they need. That’s “women’s stuff” of course. Men need to be cool. They need to be strong. And their lives become a constant check for verification of that.

It’s been said before. The “self” is a social construct. Others let you know who you are, and that’s particularly true for men. Men don’t seek approval. They seek verification. That’s how they become tamed. That’s how they become socialized. That’s how they know who they are.

Yes, this drives women crazy. “Tell me what you really think, what you really feel.” It’s time to panic. The man simply doesn’t know. Okay, what would be the cool response? What would be the strong manly response? What would James Bond or John Wayne say to that? Hey, this isn’t fair!

That may be over-socialization. That’s the man playing a “real man” and lost in the part, and that may be Donald Trump. He knows how he wants to be seen – strong and cool and smarter and sexier and more handsome than any man who ever lived. And he doesn’t hide that. He says that’s just who he is, over and over and over. And no one will ever change him, because all other men are weak and he’s strong.

He has his counterpart in Brazil. All other men are weak and he’s strong. And everyone loves him, so he says, but feedback can be a bitch:

As an ecological disaster in the Amazon escalated into a global political crisis, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, took the rare step on Friday of mobilizing the armed forces to help contain blazes of a scale not seen in nearly a decade.

The sudden reversal, after days of dismissing growing concern over hundreds of fires raging across the Amazon, came as international outrage grew over the rising deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rain forest. European leaders threatened to cancel a major trade deal, protesters staged demonstrations outside Brazilian embassies and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products snowballed on social media.

As a chorus of condemnation intensified, Brazil braced for the prospect of punitive measures that could severely damage an economy that is already sputtering after a brutal recession and the country’s far-right populist president faced a withering reckoning.

On Friday, he said that he was planning to send the military to enforce environmental laws and to help contain the fires starting Saturday.

“Whatever is within our power we will do,” he told reporters.

That would be like Trump giving in on gun control or Trump saying that he thought about it and had decided that Obamacare is just fine, but Bolsonaro is not Trump. He believed it when others let him know just who he is at the moment. He was socialized, not that this will do much good:

It was unlikely that Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan could address the underlying crisis without a fundamental shift in his environmental policies, which have emboldened miners, loggers and farmers to strip and burn protected areas with a sense of impunity. Since the nationalist former army captain took office in January, deforestation has increased sharply across Brazil, including in indigenous territories. Mr. Bolsonaro has pledged to make it easier for industries to gain access to protected areas, arguing that native communities are in control of unreasonably vast areas that contain enormous wealth.

The Amazon rainforest is the source of twenty percent of the world’s oxygen and a major sink for global carbon emissions, so its destruction has the potential to end life on earth eventually or maybe sooner. Bolsonaro doesn’t like that science, and had said that’s all nonsense, but there is that feedback:

Global outrage over the fires has spurred calls to boycott Brazilian products and led European leaders to threaten to walk away from a trade agreement that the European Union struck with Brazil and a handful of neighboring countries in June.

In what has become an unusually nasty exchange among leaders of major democracies, President Emmanuel Macron of France went so far as to accuse Mr. Bolsonaro of lying about being committed to fighting climate change and protecting the Amazon. “Our house is burning. Literally.” Mr. Macron wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Mr. Macron said Friday that he would try to kill a major trade deal between Europe and South America that has been years in the making. He and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that the Amazon fires should be added to the agenda of the Group of 7 summit meeting this weekend.

That made Bolsonaro angry:

Mr. Bolsonaro fired back that Mr. Macron was the liar, chiding him for releasing “photos from the past century” to generate “hatred against Brazil.” As for the Group of 7, he told Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel to mind their own business.

He was playing the role of Donald Trump there. Brazil First! And he might have remembered last year’s Group of 7 summit meeting in Canada. Trump walked out early rather that attend any meeting on climate change or the environment in general, and he refused to sign the joint statement at the end of the meeting. He bluntly and directly insulted each of our allies, one right after the other, and then decided that Justin Trudeau had been mean to him when Trudeau stuck up for Canada on a few matters. Then half of Trump’s base called for war on Canada – and Trump, to his base, was a hero.

The rest of the world thought that Trump was a jerk, but maybe this year Trump would stick up for Bolsonaro in Biarritz, but no:

On Friday evening, President Trump, who supports Mr. Bolsonaro and has not criticized his environmental policies, said he had spoken to Mr. Bolsonaro and offered to provide assistance in containing the fires.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet.

That was nice, but Trump isn’t going to stick up for Bolsonaro. That guy caved to the Euro-weenies. Trump will send some water-dropping planes down that way, but that’s that, and Trump does have his own feedback problems. The New York Times’ Peter Baker explains Trump’s Friday from hell:

President Trump has again tossed out the economic and political playbook that guided other occupants of the Oval Office for generations as the United States dominated the flow of goods and services across the world.

In the space of a few hours, he declared that his own central bank chief was an “enemy,” claimed sweeping powers not explicitly envisioned by the Constitution to “order” American businesses to leave China and, when stock markets predictably tumbled, made a joke of it.

And then the feedback began, mostly whispers:

Mr. Trump’s wild and unscripted pronouncements on Friday renewed questions about his stewardship of the world’s largest economy even as he escalated a trade war with China before heading to France for a high-profile summit with the leaders of many of the world’s other major industrial powers.

Even some of his own aides and allies were alarmed by his behavior, seeing it as the flailing of a president increasingly anxious over the dark clouds some have detected hovering over an economy that until now has been the strongest selling point for his administration. They privately expressed concern that he was hurting the economy and was doing lasting damage to his own prospects for re-election.

One day, perhaps, one of them will offer the boss some feedback. This really is nuts:

The president’s volatile approach to the economic situation played out on Twitter over the course of only a few hours on Friday. He started the day boasting that “the Economy is strong and good, whereas the rest of the world is not doing so well.”

Hours later, he lashed out at the Federal Reserve Board for not taking the sort of action usually reserved only for an economy that is weak and bad.

Even for a president who has made a habit of personal attacks on his own Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, Mr. Trump then took it further than any president has in modern times by comparing him to President Xi Jinping of China. “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Not content to leave it there, Mr. Trump proceeded to try to unilaterally dictate to the private sector how and where it should conduct business, presuming a role in the marketplace that no other president has asserted in similar circumstances.

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he tweeted.

That was direct order from the president. When a soldier disobeys a direct order that solider is court-martialed and that soldier will end up in the brig – in jail for years and years. In time of war, that soldier might be executed. Trump seems to be ordering Boeing to stop selling planes there, and Ford and GM to stop selling cars there, and to end their joint manufacturing ventures there, and ordering KFC and Starbucks to get out of there now, and ordering Apple to make everything here. And that’s a direct order. Trump added the “we don’t need China” – and everyone in the business world howled. There was feedback. Only on the fringes of talk radio was anyone talking about sending the CEO’s and boards of all the corporations to Guantanamo for a bit of waterboarding. Everyone else pointed out that the president didn’t seem to understand the role of the president in these matters. There is no role.

But he wasn’t finished:

Shaken as both China and Mr. Trump again raised tariffs in a tit-for-tat exchange on Friday, stock markets fell sharply. The president turned that into a laugh line at the expense of a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who ended his bid for the presidency on Friday.

“The Dow is down 573 points perhaps on the news that Representative Seth Moulton, whoever that may be, has dropped out of the 2020 Presidential Race!” Mr. Trump tweeted. (The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day 623 points down.)

That joke didn’t go over well:

Mr. Trump’s tweets caught most of his advisers and staff by surprise. His advisers have grown concerned that he is creeping perilously close to turning what they had hoped would be his signature issue into a liability. His moves risk scaring away voters, including some of his own backers.

And there was context too:

The president’s comments come at a time when Mr. Trump, known for a visceral brand of politics that shakes things up rather than a calm and steady style of leadership, has seemed especially erratic, spinning out wild conspiracy theories, provoking racial and religious divisions and employing messianic language about himself.

He has also veered wildly on policies lately, reversing himself over the past week alone on gun control, tax cuts and foreign aid. He even abruptly called off a trip to Denmark out of pique that its prime minister would not sell Greenland.

“Is Trump really losing it, or is this just more of the same, but more?” asked Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

No one knew, but people were guessing:

The long-simmering debate about Mr. Trump’s stability has flared again in recent days. On Twitter, the president’s critics have again called for invocation of the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president for incapacity.

Mr. Trump “is a clear and present danger – to our country, to the globe and to himself,” tweeted former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts, who is waging a long-shot campaign for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination against Mr. Trump. He included the hashtag #25thAmendment.

The global economy will be front and center over the weekend in Biarritz, France, as Mr. Trump meets with his counterparts from the Group of 7 industrialized nations: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. No doubt the other leaders will be watching his moves warily even as Mr. Trump assails them for not following his lead on economics.

There will be feedback there. Trump is planning an address where he will tell those other nations they should be just like the United States and just like him, and thus they too will be wonderful, because he is wonderful. Expect stony silence. He tried that at the United Nations last September and everyone laughed at him but this isn’t funny any longer:

“The administration’s approach clearly isn’t working, and the answer isn’t more taxes on American businesses and consumers,” said David French, a senior vice president of the National Retail Federation. “Where does this end?”

On that, no one could say.

Perhaps Trump needs to be socialized again, but as Megan McArdle notes, the problem is with those who verify his current state:

The left had an easy time settling on its attitude toward President Trump’s supporters: a mixture of horrified outrage and sneering contempt. For many of us on the right, though, it hasn’t been so easy. The president’s boosters aren’t our natural enemies; they’re former and hopefully future allies. For three years, we’ve been struggling to find some way to discuss Trump.

But that cannot be done by discussing his awesomeness, because he’s just not awesome:

We don’t want to destroy Trump supporters but to convince them – that Trump’s main life achievements before the presidency lay in the fields of getting publicity, cheating people less powerful than himself and having a rich, politically connected father who could grease his way into the real estate business, rather than negotiating, managing or building; that impulsive, thin-skinned and belligerent people might be a great deal of fun to watch on television or Twitter but are rarely much good at their jobs; that Trump’s inexperience and lack of interest in policy have made him remarkably ineffective at pursuing even his stated political goals; and that the cost of his inexperience, his indifference to the day-to-day work of the presidency and his bitterly divisive rhetoric are not worth the transient joy of watching liberals have conniptions.

Some of our former comrades agree with the indictment but argue that the liberal establishment’s radicalism has left them no choice but to support the race-baiting vulgarian. The religious right, in particular, senses an existential threat from a combination of overweening government and “woke capitalism,” and feels compelled to throw in with anyone who promises to fight on its side. Others simply write off our dismay as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or a desire to finally fit in at the proverbial Georgetown cocktail party.

Many days I wonder if I shouldn’t just concede defeat. And then … Greenland.

That was too much:

This is a president who canceled a state visit because the prime minister of Denmark declined to sell part of Danish territory to the United States. Can you really look at that sort of behavior and think Trump’s critics have the derangement problem?

She knows who is deranged here:

If Greenland is so strategically valuable, you’d think Trump would want to deepen the U.S. relationship with the government with which the territory is associated. Or at least you’d think this if you believed that Trump cared more about U.S. interests than about his own fragile vanity.

This is not normal. And I don’t mean that as in, “Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment.” I mean that as in, “This is not normal for a functioning adult.”

So, in that case, provide some damned feedback for a change:

The longer you humor people who have clearly gone off the rails, the more time they have to damage themselves and those around them. Moreover, the damage is usually fiercest to the people closest by – which in Trump’s case means the folks who have been standing loyally behind him for the past three years.

So re-socialize the man. It’s not too late.

Yes it is. Andrew Sullivan says so:

“Absurd,” it turns out, is a trigger word for Trump, as it well should be. When the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, was asked to respond to the idea that Donald Trump wanted to “buy” Greenland, she found the mot juste. The proposal was “absurd.” Perhaps at one point at the beginning of the Cold War, some kind of strategic presence in Greenland would have been worth considering briefly. Now? Yes, absurd. The only thing more absurd is canceling a planned state visit to Denmark at the last moment in response to the prime minister pointing out the bleeding obvious, and adding the insult “nasty” to yet another independent woman for good measure. But this too is predictable: “We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow, best on those who caused his psychic injury.” Bad luck for Denmark.

President Donald Trump is absurd. His presidency is absurd. His party is absurd. We have known this ever since that absurd journey down an escalator and the surrealism has only intensified since. Perhaps it takes a sane foreigner, not subject to years of almost hourly Trump abuse, to point out the obvious.

Sullivan thinks Mette Frederiksen is a sane foreigner. Donald Trump thinks she’s nasty. Sullivan is with Frederiksen:

We have no Executive branch in any meaningful or serious sense. We have a joke that’s wearing thinner by the day. There is no institution or company in America – small or large – that would allow Donald Trump to run or represent it for more than a few days – because most sane institutions see immediately that a rape-y racist with no knowledge base or capacity to learn is an embarrassment, and a huge liability.

And this is Sullivan’s feedback:

His economic policy is absurd. In a time of intense economic inequality, he has made the rich far richer, at the expense of the nation’s fiscal balance, during a long recovery. The deficit has exploded; tax cuts did not add any real growth; and an unpredictable trade war with everyone is weighing down the economy. His climate policy is absurd: denying that a crisis exists and encouraging more fossil fuel use. His immigration policy is absurd: the deployment of cruelty as a substitute for legislation even as illegal immigration surges past the peak of his predecessor. His foreign policy is absurd: enabling North Korea, trashing NATO, blowing up summits.

His physical appearance is absurd: the fake orange tan, with the white circles around the eyes, the massive, hair-sprayed and dyed pompadour. How many people in public life look anything like that? His endless lies and contradictions are absurd. And his psychological disorder – the narcissism that guards against any hint of his own absurdity – is getting obviously worse. And it was always going to get worse. Someone with malignant narcissism has a familiar path, as Elizabeth Mika presciently wrote the week after his inauguration:

“It’s not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse. There has never been a case of a malignant narcissist in power whose pathology improved, or even remained stable: They always deteriorate, and often rapidly, as they become drunk on (what they see as) now unlimited power and adulation.”

That’s the problem now:

He is delusional. And the only persuasive thread of his reelection pitch – that the economy is booming – is beginning to fray. And that could make his absurdity even worse: “We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow.”

That was Trump’s Friday from hell, when the feedback started to reverse:

He invented a reality: that the economy was a disaster the day before he was elected and a miracle the day after, and will now have to confront that it was an invention. Every positive stat he has cited could well come back to discredit him; his own sad attempt to claim credit for everything could well morph into blame for everything; and what will he do then?

He will lash out at the Fed; he will become more paranoid; the grandiosity that accompanies his mental condition will likely increase. He will rage and distract; he will smear and inflame; and his deterioration will become more than an absurdity. It will become, as it has already, a massive liability.

The world is laughing at us, as he once claimed (when it wasn’t). And the laughter is entirely justified. If only more Americans would break free of his spell and do the same.

He does need that feedback. But maybe he’ll get that feedback at the G7 in Biarritz.

It’s that kind of place. Remember Hemingway. It’s Biarritz in the twenties, shortly after the War to End all Wars ended nothing, or ended everything. The Great War had created a Lost Generation – those who survived who would never believe in anything ever again, but would do their best, even if they knew that their best would mean nothing. That was the one last honorable thing to do, and Ernest Hemingway wrote about nothing else. That’s what The Sun Also Rises is all about – from Paris to Pamplona to San Sebastian and then, at the end, across the border to Biarritz, ending with this:

A taxi came up the street, the waiter hanging out at the side. I tipped him and told the driver where to drive, and got in beside Brett. The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Hemingway’s Jake Barnes knew better. Nothing is what you think. Trump may discover that, finally, in Biarritz.

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Not Now

There’s no Thursday evening column – pesky health issues – but expect a Friday evening post. Sorry.

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What He Thinks of Himself

It was a day for theology. So, what will liberals do when it turns out that Donald Trump is the King of Israel and the Chosen One and the Son of God returned to Earth – Jesus returned? He says that he is. He didn’t seem to be joking. Maybe he was just testing out some ideas. But what if he’s right?

Of course this is absurd, but this did happen. Sarah Pulliam Bailey covers religion for the Washington Post and dispassionately reports this:

President Trump on Wednesday tweeted a fawning quote from a non-Jewish conservative radio host who described Trump as the “King of Israel” and who said, without evidence, that Israeli Jews “love him like he is the second coming of God.”

Trump’s tweets cited Wayne Allyn Root, who described himself in a 2016 Townhall column as a “Jew turned evangelical Christian” and has promoted several conspiracy theories in the past, including that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and that he is gay.

“The Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel,” Trump quoted Root as saying. “They love him like he is the second coming of God… But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore.”

This was a continuation of Trump’s anger at American Jews. They always vote Democratic. They’re either misinformed or disloyal. Wayne Allyn Root agreed with Trump on that, and added, all on his own, the King of Israel and “second coming” stuff. That pleased Trump. He thought the world should hear that, but the other matter was less than it seemed:

Later Wednesday, Trump said “I am the chosen one” to fix the U.S. trade imbalance with China, as he looked to the sky.

He told reporters that his trade war with China was one that should have taken place a long time ago: “Somebody had to do it, so I’m taking on China. I’m taking on China on trade, and you know what? We’re winning.”

He stared at the sky and smiled when he said he was the Chosen One – so there was a hint of irony – but only a hint. No one really knows what he thinks of himself.

Bailey, however, sticks to the facts:

In the Bible, Jewish leaders call Jesus the “king of Israel” in a mocking way when he was put on the cross, according to Matthew 27:42: “He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

Root also says that Jews “love him like he is the second coming of God.” Jewish scriptures include mentions of a concept of a Messiah who will improve the world, but it is left unspecific and is not central to Judaism. Christianity includes the core idea of a Messiah, or savior – Jesus.

Two points – that king thing was a way of mocking someone, and the folks aren’t waiting for any “second coming” – because there was no first coming. Judaism does not and never did include Jesus – at all – but Wayne Allyn Root doesn’t like the details everyone else likes:

Root made his comments on Newsmax TV, and they were picked up Wednesday morning by Trump. Trump endorsed Root’s 2015 book about how Trump was changing the United States, and Root has spoken at Trump rallies.

In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting conducted by a lone white man, Root blamed “Muslim terror.” He also pushed the idea that the death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich was ordered by Democratic leaders. In addition, he repeated right-wing theories that Jewish billionaire George Soros paid Charlottesville protesters.

Root has spoken at Trump rallies, but does Trump believe all of that? No one knows. But meanwhile, far away in Israel itself, Trump is seen as someone else entirely:

After Trump announced he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Trump to King Cyrus of Persia, who allowed Jews to return to Israel, ending their historic exile in Babylon.

But wait. Persia is now called Iran. Trump wants to wipe out Iran once and for all. Trump is really the ancient King of Iran? Someone should tell the Iranians. This is getting confusing.

That’s fine. The rest of the Bailey item reports reactions to all this, mostly tweets, like this from Alan Cross:

Evangelical leaders, come get your man. Right now. Sit him down. Tell him to stop it. If ANY other world leader said this, they’d be pulling out the prophecy charts and talking about the Antichrist and Mark of the Beast this morning.

Evangelical leaders, however, shrugged. Trump is who he is, but that wasn’t all:

President Donald Trump claimed to laughter on Wednesday that he sought to give himself a Medal of Honor, but decided not to after being counseled against the move by aides.

The offhand remark from the president came during his address to the 75th annual national convention of American Veterans, a volunteer-led veterans service organization also known as AMVETS.

At the event in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump singled out for praise WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams.

“Thank you, Woody. You’re looking good, Woody. Woody’s looking good,” Trump said.

“That was a big day, Medal of Honor. Nothing like the Medal of Honor,” he continued. “I wanted one, but they told me I don’t qualify, Woody. I said, ‘Can I give it to myself anyway?’ They said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.'”

And everyone laughed, because they know this too:

Trump never served in the military and was granted five draft deferments – four for college and one for bone spurs in his heel.

That makes him one of them. No wait. This is getting confusing, but Trump was getting clearer:

President Trump said Wednesday that Jewish Americans who vote for Democratic candidates are “very disloyal to Israel,” expanding on his remarks from the previous day and dismissing criticism that his remarks were anti-Semitic.

“I think if you vote for a Democrat, you are very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters outside the White House before departing for an event in Kentucky.

The day before he had accused Jewish people, in America, of “great disloyalty” if they vote for Democrats, but he did not specify, at that time, disloyalty to whom, but now he was clear, and hung his friends out to dry:

After Trump’s initial remarks Tuesday, critics on both sides of the aisle as well as Jewish organizations immediately pointed out that Trump’s use of the word “disloyalty” echoed anti-Semitic tropes accusing Jews of dual allegiance… Some of Trump’s defenders, meanwhile, argued that he was speaking about Jewish people being disloyal to themselves rather than to Israel.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in an interview Tuesday that the president was talking about “being true to yourself.”

“I don’t think it invokes those [anti-Semitic] tropes,” Brooks said, describing Trump’s message to Jewish people as, “You’re being disloyal to yourself to say, ‘Hey, I support somebody who is known to espouse anti-Semitic comments.’ “

Brooks declined to comment Wednesday.

What could he say? Zack Beauchamp, however, found this to say:

Trump wants American Jews should forget about his long history of anti-Semitic comments and his declaration that there were “very fine people” among the Charlottesville Nazis and vote for him because of his blank check support for Israel. He wants us to forget about the upsurge in white nationalism and anti-Semitic hate-crimes that seems to have been a product of his political rise, including three synagogue shootings in the past year alone, because he gets along well with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He wants us to ignore our political values, vast policy and principled differences with the Trump agenda, because… Israel.

Trump wants American Jews to think of him as their friend, all of the evidence staring our community in the face that he isn’t.

If the past day’s outbursts have any upside, it’s that they reveal just how false this charade is – and show that American Jews are yet another minority group threatened by the Trump presidency.

In short, Trump’s “support” is an attack, an attack on one more minority of color:

There’s a perennial debate among American Jews about whether we qualify as “white.” It’s an odd conversation – it often ignores the existence of non-white Jews entirely – but it gets at an important question: To what extent can American Jews trust America’s white Christian majority to protect their community and civil rights?

Historically, the answer is “not very much.” During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant blamed Jews for a black market in cotton and, in punishment, attempted to expel them from parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Henry Ford blamed the Jews for World War I, and white supremacist terrorists targeted eight synagogues for bombings between 1957 and 1958. Social clubs and universities banned and restricted Jewish access; Harvard and Yale had tight quotas on Jewish admissions as late as the 1960s.

This list goes on and on, and then it got better, and then it got worse:

“The Trump presidency seethes with hostility toward many different minority and subordinated groups. But Jews have been elevated to a special protected category,” David Frum, who is Jewish, wrote in the Atlantic on July 24. “Gone are the days when Trump tweeted out a Star of David atop stacks of money.”

Less than a month later, Trump labeled Jews “disloyal” and declared himself our stand-in messiah.

And that’s where things stand now:

Jews of European descent enjoy many of the privileges of whiteness – especially when they aren’t visibly Jewish. But we also are only contingently accepted as equal participants in white American society. A political movement that threatens all minority groups invariably makes anti-Semitic forces more powerful…

We Jews are most certainly part of the “Other” with a capital-o, a tiny percentage of the country seen as different and distinct from the majority culture. We are targeted for attacks by the growing white supremacist movement and smeared by the president when we don’t do what he wants.

Marc Schulman puts that a different way – With His Accusation of ‘Disloyalty’ Trump Reminded Jews Exactly Why They Vote Democratic – which is not what Trump intended.

Nothing seems to work out as intended. That seems to be the problem that Thomas Wright sees:

Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland – the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.

Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere… [But] it is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal – and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs.

What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources?

That last thing is actually happening now, but this is madness:

This is the kind of thing the Russians and the Chinese do. It is territorial revisionism – the use of national power to acquire territory against the desire of its sovereign government and its people. The use of leverage would also call into question the U.S. commitment to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which is the cornerstone of stability in Europe. In it, all parties, including the United States, commit to “refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory” of all states in Europe.

That may be a little too detailed for Donald Trump, but this is not:

The cancellation of Trump’s visit to Denmark is part of a disturbing pattern. Trump regularly beats up on and abuses America’s closest democratic allies while being sycophantic to autocrats. His staff has followed suit. In July, for example, Trump hounded British Ambassador Kim Darroch out of his job. This followed two years in which Trump and his administration sought to undermine Prime Minister Theresa May’s government at every turn. Trump has been scathing in critiques of Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, never misses an opportunity to criticize his hosts. The U.S. ambassador to Poland publicly called for U.S. troops to be moved from Germany to Poland. Trump has reportedly said the European Union is “worse than China, only smaller.” Several senior U.S. officials have also attacked the European Union, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Meanwhile, Trump writes autocrats and wannabe autocrats blank checks. In May, Trump called a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to complain about a bipartisan letter asking the president to raise concerns about democratic backsliding in his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. When the two leaders met, Trump instead praised Orbán in front of the press and expressed no concern. He has also embraced the Brazilian strongman Jair Bolsonaro. The Trump administration has gone out of its way to help Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ride out the storm following the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He can’t say enough nice things about the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. He has done worse than nothing on Hong Kong, secretly promising Chinese President Xi Jinping that he would not condemn a crackdown and calling the peaceful protests by more than 1 million Hong Kongers “riots.”

And yesterday, on the day he canceled his visit to Denmark, he said he favored Russia rejoining the G7 without mentioning any preconditions, which would have the effect of abolishing one of the only forums for major democracies to meet with one another.

That was because, led by France and Germany, everyone in the organization voted to kick out Russia. It was Russia grabbing Crimea and working on grabbing Ukraine, so Wright says this:

Free societies and autocracies are at odds with each other – over human rights, the rule of law, technology, freedom of the press, the free flow of information, and territorial expansion. At this particular moment, it is not sufficient to say that the free world is without a leader. He has actually defected to the other side.

But he is the second coming of Jesus or something. Thomas Wright is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power – a skeptic about such claims.

But something else may be going on. Greg Sargent notes this:

President Trump has now canceled his planned trip to Denmark, claiming he’s doing so because Denmark’s prime minister has shot down his “proposal” to buy Greenland. But is that the real reason he has nixed the trip?

Some observers have offered another possible explanation: Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, plans to visit Denmark at the end of September, and Trump feared the contrasting optics.

And he cites this tweet from David Frum:

In his self-loathing heart, Trump knows Obama is bigger than he is, around the world as well as in the United States. That knowledge tortures Trump, never allows him a minute’s respite.

Sargent sees that may be so:

Several things are immediately striking about this episode. First, it’s a measure of how low we’ve all sunk that, in trying to explain why the president of the United States is making a consequential decision involving an official state visit, we’re forced to choose between two competing rationales that have nothing whatsoever to do with international diplomatic considerations or our national interest.

Notably, the official reason for the cancellation is nearly as saturated in narcissism and megalomania as the “less” flattering Obama-oriented explanation is: Trump is either angry that Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is not taking his suggestion seriously, or he’s embarrassed by it – or both.

Either way, this is a mess:

Leading figures in Denmark are pointing out that Trump’s conduct will complicate relations and make coordination on all manner of issues – from climate change to the Mideast – more difficult. There’s zero indication that Trump gave any thought to such consequences.

No, Trump gave thought to the idea that the elegant thoughtful skinny black guy may be the real Chosen One:

The idea that Trump would be driven – at least in part – by fear of a contrast with Obama’s reception is deeply twisted, of course, and I don’t claim to know whether this is the case. But this brings us to the second striking thing about this affair: That this might be partly what’s motivating Trump’s cancellation simply cannot be dismissed.

Everything we’ve seen from Trump makes it inescapable: An unflattering contrast with an Obama visit unquestionably would be something Trump wants to avoid.

After all, Trump regularly bases major policy decisions on a zeal to undo whatever Obama did – as if blotting out the Obama presidency is a measure of his own success – even as Trump and his propagandists regularly go to extraordinary lengths to create the cult-like illusion that he’s loved everywhere.

This includes claiming that polls showing his deep unpopularity are media fabrications and regularly inflating and obsessing over crowd sizes. Trump’s hypersensitivity to how he’s received extends abroad, too: After his trip to London, Trump claimed that large protests there simply never happened.

So it’s at least plausible that one of Trump’s considerations in canceling the Denmark trip was Obama’s planned visit.

That’s more than plausible:

After all, Obama is a leading member of the globalist elite that Trump has throttled so heroically. Of course leading Denmark figures would greet Obama as a rock star, while treating Trump with supercilious disdain! That would just prove Trump has been right all along – he’s their scourge!

But of course that’s nonsense:

Even if Obama has nothing to do with this decision, this tension is everywhere: Trump outwardly appears to welcome our allies’ contempt, while simultaneously being infuriated when it embarrasses him, particularly in contrast with treatment of Obama.

But that may not matter:

In the end, whether Trump’s rationale for the nixed trip is fear of Obama, or rage at his Greenland fiasco, or a desire to sow international disruption, at the core of Trump’s decision-making, moral emptiness and megalomania and total lack of concern for the national interest are all that’s left.

All that’s left is Donald Trump hinting that he is the King of Israel and the Chosen One and the Son of God returned to Earth – Jesus returned – worrying that the other guy was the Chosen One all along.

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No Longer Funny

Petulance is not pretty. Pettiness is not pretty. But they’re too often confused with pride and dignity, with refusing to deal with fools. But who’s the fool? That’s what the Washington Post reports:

President Trump on Tuesday abruptly called off a trip to Denmark, announcing in a tweet that he was postponing the visit because the country’s leader was not interested in selling him Greenland.

The move comes two days after Trump told reporters that owning Greenland, a self-governing country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark, “would be nice” for the United States from a strategic perspective.

Okay. They wouldn’t sell, but the Post’s reporters, Felicia Sonmez and Anne Gearan and Damian Paletta, provide context:

The episode was a rare window into secret White House national security planning – albeit with a Trumpian dealmaker’s twist and an element of the surreal. Trump touts his real estate background as a primary job qualification, promising voters he can negotiate better than his predecessors and spot a good deal. But the notion of buying a part of another country was widely met with surprise and bafflement when news broke last week of Trump’s interest in the island.

In his tweet, Trump said that while Denmark is “a very special country with incredible people,” he is postponing his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen based on her statement “that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland.”

“The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct,” Trump added. “I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”

But for now, there’s nothing to talk about. You won’t sell? That’s fine, but I ain’t dropping by now at all – your loss – because you’re stupid:

Over the weekend, Frederiksen had visited Greenland and told reporters there that Trump’s idea of buying the island was “absurd.”

It was not clear whether Trump will still go to Poland, as he had been scheduled to do for two days ahead of his trip to Copenhagen in early September.

Perhaps the folks in Poland have some big chunk of land to sell to Donald Trump and the United States. No? They too can wait, but at least Trump unified enemies:

Greenlanders, many of whom chafe at Danish rule, reacted with scorn to word last week that Trump was keenly interested in making an offer.

Both Danish and Greenland officials have said in recent days that the island is not for sale.

“Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism,” Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday in a tweet. “We’re open for business, not for sale.”

Greenlanders no longer chafe at Danish rule. Trump fixed that, but the cost was high:

Trump had planned to dine with Denmark’s queen before meetings in Copenhagen with Danish political leaders. Before news of Trump’s interest in Greenland, his visit was seen as an offbeat thank-you to a small country that has been a stalwart NATO member and that supported U.S. military actions.

“This is no longer funny. Danish troops fought alongside the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. 50 Danes died,” Brookings Institution Europe specialist Thomas Wright tweeted Tuesday. “The president dishonors the alliance and their sacrifice. On the same day he sought to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin by supporting his return to the G8.”

Trump earlier Tuesday renewed his call for Russia to be allowed to rejoin the Group of Seven industrial nations whose annual meeting he will attend this weekend in France.

Denmark now knows what Trump thinks they’re worth – nothing much – and we lose another ally.

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison addresses that:

Some of this is Trump’s usual pettiness towards any foreign leader that doesn’t flatter and praise him, but it is also an example of how the president intensifies his support for obviously stupid things when he is challenged. The Danish prime minister dismissed Trump’s Greenland fantasy as “absurd,” and so he thinks she has to be punished.

Trump’s behavior towards one of our best European allies is the usual childish petulance that we have come to expect, but it is remarkable all the same because there is absolutely no cause for a quarrel with Denmark. There is no serious underlying policy disagreement or clash of economic interests at stake. There is no excuse at all. Trump is simply showing contempt for an allied country because their government refused to bow and scrape in response to his offensive suggestion that the U.S. buy up part of their kingdom.

This more than a bit offensive:

What he wants is using other governments to enhance his own reputation and status. Wanting to purchase Greenland to give him a presidential legacy is a good example of this.

It will never happen, and he will actually harm U.S. relations with Denmark by harping on it, but because he sees it as a way to make himself seem more important he will keep pursuing it. He does not realize that in doing so he will make himself seem very small and silly, and the people that he thinks he is overawing with the power of his office will never stop laughing at him.

So he’s the fool here, and Kevin Drum has questions:

Can we finally start talking publicly about Trump’s mental state? This is the action of a child, not an adult in full control of his faculties. Everyone aside from Trump understood that his Greenland compulsion was a sign of cognitive regression in the first place, and this episode demonstrates that it was no passing fantasy. Trump took it seriously enough to treat Frederiksen’s comments as just another incitement to a feud with a political enemy.

The man is not well. I don’t care what you want to call his condition, but he’s not well.

Others have begun to notice that. Eugene Robinson sees that:

Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal – any trade deal, apparently – and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.

He entertains grandiose almost-Napoleonic fantasies – purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.

But there’s more:

Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News poll that showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda – indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play – but the polling unit is a professional operation.

“There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday. He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates – the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.

Petulance is not pretty. Pettiness is not pretty. They are not pride and dignity, so Robinson sees this:

The astonishing thing is that the president of the United States is – let’s face it – raving like a lunatic – and everyone just shrugs.

The nation is still reeling from two mass shootings. The financial markets are yo-yoing by hundreds of points. A bomb in Afghanistan, where we’re still at war, killed 63 revelers at a wedding. Tension between the United States and Iran continues to mount. North Korea keeps testing new missiles. India is playing with fire in Kashmir. Hong Kong has been convulsed for months by massive protests seeking to guarantee basic freedoms.

And Trump obsesses about buying Greenland.

The truth is that we don’t have an actual presidency right now.

No, we have this:

President Trump on Tuesday said that any Jewish people who vote for Democrats are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” prompting an outcry from critics who said the president’s remarks were promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes.

But context matters and this was the context:

Trump made the comment in an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office ahead of a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Trump began by lashing out at Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), questioning the sincerity of her tears at a news conference where she talked about her decision not to travel to Israel to see her elderly grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank.

“Yesterday, I noticed for the first time, Tlaib with the tears,” Trump said. “All of the sudden, she starts with tears, tears… I don’t buy it for a second, because I’ve seen her in a very vicious mood at campaign rallies, my campaign rallies, before she was a congresswoman. I said, ‘Who is that?’ And I saw a woman that was violent and vicious and out of control.”

He then went on to attack Democrats more generally over the views of Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.). Both women have long been fierce critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. They support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global protest of Israel.

“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Trump asked. “Where have they gone, where they’re defending these two people over the state of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

This was no more than carelessness. He could have stopped with his question. Where has the Democratic Party gone? That’s a good question. Democrats ask that question too. But he makes a quick odd leap. American Jews must hate being Jewish because they hate Israel, because they disagree with Netanyahu on so many things, and he is Israel, and he loves Trump. They’re either stupid or they hate Israel and hate being Jewish and – next step – maybe they’re not really Jews at all? They are disloyal.

That’s the problem here:

Critics on both sides of the aisle as well Jewish organizations immediately pointed out that Trump’s use of the word “disloyalty” echoed anti-Semitic tropes accusing Jews of dual allegiance.

“American Jews – like all Americans – have a range of political views and policy priorities,” David Harris, CEO of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, said in a statement. “His assessment of their knowledge or ‘loyalty,’ based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.”

Harris wasn’t alone:

Former congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke shared a video of Trump’s comment and declared, “The Jewish people don’t need to prove their loyalty to you, @realDonaldTrump – or to anyone else.”

Omar was roundly criticized by members of both parties for saying during a town hall earlier this year that she wanted to discuss “the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Some conservatives criticized Trump on Tuesday, arguing his statement was equally offensive.

“This is a disgusting comment that indicates Trump has no idea why many of us have been so sickened by the anti-Semitism of Omar & Tlaib,” tweeted Philip Klein, the executive editor of the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner.

Omar responded to the president’s remark with a two-word tweet. “Oh my,” she wrote, followed by a face-palm emoji.

That made sense:

Some on Tuesday also noted that the overwhelming majority of American Jews have long voted Democratic. In 2016, for instance, 71 percent of Jewish voters voted for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, while only 23 percent voted for Trump, according to exit polls.

J Street, a liberal Jewish group, said that the “vast majority” of American Jews are “loyal to the Jewish and liberal democratic values of tolerance, equality, social justice and the pursuit of peace- not to the far-right agenda of this president.”

“It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal,'” J Street spokesman Logan Bayroff said in a statement. “But it is no surprise that the president’s racist, disingenuous attacks on progressive women of color in Congress have now transitioned into smears against Jews.”

Yes, one thing does lead to another, but this was a long time coming:

Tuesday was not the first time that Trump’s remarks about Jewish people have prompted criticism that he is invoking dual-loyalty tropes. During an April speech to the RJC, the president told the crowd that he “stood with your prime minister at the White House.”

At another point, Trump warned that Democrats’ “radical agenda” in Congress “very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”

But they’re Americans!

Philip Klein addresses that:

“Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Was he talking about disloyalty to America? Disloyalty to Trump? Disloyalty to Israel? Disloyalty to Jews? No matter which way one wants to interpret this comment, it’s sickening coming from an American president — all the more bizarre coming as he has been unleashing a barrage of attacks on Tlaib and Omar for anti-Semitism…

Accusations of dual loyalty have been at the center of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews for centuries. Yet here is Trump throwing out the “disloyalty” charge.

One potential interpretation is that he was suggesting it would be disloyal to Israel to vote Democrat. But American Jews are first and foremost American, not Israeli. Suggesting that Jewish votes should be determined primarily by U.S. policy toward Israel is in fact to suggest divided loyalties.

If he was trying to say Jews would be disloyal to their faith by voting Democrat, he needs to shut right the heck up, because he is in no position to criticize somebody’s relationship to their faith.

Klein has had enough of this nonsense:

As a conservative, I have found it difficult to get behind Trump despite supporting a number of his policies, and a big reason is the manner in which he speaks about many minority groups. He has up to this point avoided turning his wrath on Jews, but given his history of flipping on people he views as “disloyal,” his comments make me wonder what would happen if, as is most likely, Jews overwhelmingly vote against him despite his pro-Israel policies.

They would be punished. Ovens work, but Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has other ideas:

To be sure, claims that “outsiders” and “others” can never be loyal to America have swept in Catholics and Muslims over time, but they will always have a special salience for Jews, dating back to the original fake news that was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, used to cast doubt on Jewish “loyalty” for decades.

So when Trump claims that Jews have not just dual loyalties, but that, in fact, their primary loyalty lies elsewhere, it’s hard to ignore…

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, again attempting to decipher what exactly Trump was talking about, while knowing it was nothing good, told the Hill: “At a time when anti-Semitic incidents have increased – due to the president’s emboldening of white nationalism -Trump is repeating an anti-Semitic trope. If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism. If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality-check.”

Fine, but the Trump seems to think that American Jews actually owe primary loyalty to Netanyahu and only secondary fealty to himself, and then maybe to God and then to their religion, and then to their family, and so on, moving down the list. That’s his reality, and Lithwick finds that dangerous:

This emphasis on Jewish primary loyalty is even more pernicious than the dual loyalty claims that have been directed at Jews for generations. It is what Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 – the folks whom Trump once described as the “very fine people” on one side of the Unite the Right protest – were arguing for as well. They think Jews don’t belong in America because they have their own ethno-nationalist state.

Trump has been trying mightily to bring Jewish voters home to the GOP, but according to a Pew study, 79 percent of Jewish voters broke for Democrats in the 2018 midterm. So Trump’s charge that any Jews who vote for any Democrats are “disloyal” is an accusation against … the vast majority of American Jews.

And not only is he imputing ill motives and un-Americanism to vulnerable minorities again, he’s doing so amid a climate of unprecedented personal fear and insecurity.

There has been a surge in anti-Jewish violence and threats across the country and the world. These remarks come just days after a pickup truck accelerated into Jewish protesters outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Rhode Island. The driver, an ICE employee, sent several protesters to the hospital. Trump didn’t tweet about this attack. But Fox News’ Lou Dobbs did weigh in to say that the protesters “had it coming.” Which is of course, the terrifying other side of the coin: Jews who are not loyal, well, they deserve whatever they get.

These are the times in which we all live, and Lithwick says what needs to be said:

This is a slur and a scandal in which the president of the United States is invoking an age-old, blood-soaked, anti-Jewish trope. And, ever the narcissist, Trump is also warning all American Jews that he will not protect them if they are disloyal to him.

And that’s how these things start. Listen at Trump’s next Nuremberg Rally. Of course we don’t want the Sudetenland. We want Greenland. We took no for an answer, but this may not be over. And it’s no longer funny.

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From There to Here

These things used to be a joke, sometimes an extended joke, like the 1961 hit Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – young, ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch rises from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company. He has no talent. He has no skills. But he has a book that tells who to flatter and when, and when and how to lie, but not maliciously, and when to hide. It’s a cool show. There’s a lot of pleasant and quite clever singing and dancing. But the next day at work the whole thing seems sad and depressing – because anyone who has worked in a large organization knows that none of this stuff is funny, because it’s all quite real. Talent and hard work don’t matter all that much.

Other things matter. Who do you know? What did you just say? Who is saying what about you? Which pleasant idiot do you have to say is a genius now? What fool do you have to look in the eye and tell him he’s wonderful? And what good will any of that do anyway? You’re not getting the promotion. And how do you wash off the stench of all this when you get home at the end of the day? Don’t kick the dog. Fido did nothing. Pour yourself a stiff drink. There had been no singing and dancing where you work.

Broadway is one thing. Real life is another. How do people get from nowhere to somewhere, from the bottom to the top? No one has Finch’s book of instructions in never-get-caught flattery and deceit. There is no such book, but people do get from there at the bottom to here at the top. There must be a book.

There’s Los Amigos High School out here in Fountain Valley, down in Orange County, part of the Garden Grove Unified School District. Orange County used to be ultra-conservative Republican, but Garden Grove is getting pretty Vietnamese and the county is all mixed up, so the place has turned blue – Democratic – but it’s still a nowhere place – and Fountain Valley even more so. Hollywood is a two-hour drive north and Washington and New York City might as well be on the far side of the moon.

No one comes from Fountain Valley, but Michael Richard Pompeo did, since April 2018, Trump’s secretary of state. He was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from January 2017 until April 2018 and a congressman from Kansas 2011 to 2017, and before that, nothing much. But he’s come a long way from Los Amigos High School, almost all in the last eight years.

How’d he do that? Maybe he has that imaginary book from that 1961 musical. He does know how to succeed seemly without really trying.

He has something, as the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser reveals in her massive and detailed profile of Pompeo, Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of Trump, which opens with this:

In the winter of 2016, Donald Trump was roaring through the primaries, and Mike Pompeo was determined to stop him. Pompeo, a little-known congressman from Wichita, helped persuade Marco Rubio to make a late stand in Kansas. Like many Republicans in Congress, Pompeo believed that Rubio had the national-security knowledge and the judgment to be President, and Trump did not. Urged on by Pompeo, Rubio’s team pulled money out of other states to gamble on winning the Kansas caucus. It was one of the few remaining contests in which Rubio still hoped to beat Trump, who, he said, was a “con artist” about to “take over the Republican Party.”

On March 5th, Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, arrived in Wichita for the caucus. Rubio left his closing argument to Pompeo, who told the crowd at the Century II arena, “I’m going to speak to you from the heart about what I believe is the best path forward for America.”

An Army veteran who finished first in his class at West Point, Pompeo cited Trump’s boast that if he ordered a soldier to commit a war crime the soldier would “go do it.” As the audience booed, Pompeo warned that Trump – like Barack Obama – would be “an authoritarian President who ignored our Constitution.” American soldiers “don’t swear an allegiance to President Trump or any other President,” Pompeo declared. “They take an oath to defend our Constitution, as Kansans, as conservatives, as Republicans, as Americans. Marco Rubio will never demean our soldiers by saying that he will order them to do things that are inconsistent with our Constitution.”

Listening backstage, Trump demanded to know the identity of the congressman trashing him. A few minutes later, Pompeo concluded, “It’s time to turn down the lights on the circus.”

Pompeo’s stinging rebuke of Trump got barely a mention in the local press, and Rubio finished third in Kansas.

Pompeo was still nobody. Rubio had chosen the wrong guy, but Pompeo made adjustments:

In May, Trump secured the delegates needed for the nomination, and Pompeo reluctantly joined the rest of Kansas’s congressional delegation in endorsing him. Still, Pompeo had told the Topeka Capital-Journal in April that Trump was “not a conservative believer,” and, a few weeks later, he said, on CNN, “A lot of his policies don’t comport with my vision for how I represent Kansas.”

At that point, Pompeo had never met Trump. Like many Republicans who called Trump a “kook,” a “cancer,” and a threat to democracy before ultimately supporting him, Pompeo disagreed with much of Trump’s platform. He took issue in particular with Trump’s “America First” skepticism about the United States’ role in the world. Pompeo was a conservative internationalist who had been shaped by his Cold War-era military service, and he remained a believer in American power as the guarantor of global stability.

Yet, after Trump won the Presidency, Pompeo sought a post in his Administration and did not hesitate to serve as his CIA director. In 2018, after Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by tweet, Pompeo happily replaced him as America’s top diplomat.

He did what it took to get ahead, having few obvious ethical scruples:

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who keeps an open Bible on his desk, now says it’s possible that God raised-up Trump as a modern Queen Esther, the Biblical figure who convinced the King of Persia to spare the Jewish people. He defines his own job as serving the President, whatever the President asks of him. “A Secretary of State has to know what the President wants,” he said, at a recent appearance in Washington. “To the extent you get out of synch with that leader, then you’re just out shooting the breeze.”

No matter what Trump has said or done, Pompeo has stood by him. As a former senior White House official told me, “There will never be any daylight publicly between him and Trump.” The former official said that, in private, too, Pompeo is “among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump.” Even more bluntly, a former American ambassador told me, “He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass.”

That works:

Thirty-one months into the Administration, the relationship between Trump and Pompeo, born in derision and remade in flattery, has proved to be surprisingly durable. Trump often gushes about Pompeo, even as he has berated his hawkish national-security adviser, John Bolton, for taking similar positions. “I argue with everyone,” Trump told a reporter. “Except Pompeo.”

He was in and now he’s the president’s man:

Fifty-five, burly, and barrel-chested, Pompeo lives with his second wife, Susan, and their golden retriever, Sherman, in a rented house on the grounds of a military base across the street from the State Department. A film buff and an AC/DC fan, he seems modest and approachable in settings where he’s comfortable. When challenged, especially about the President, he gets testy and red in the face. He favors baggy gray suits and close-cropped gray hair. Trump, who often talks about whether someone “looks the part,” has made a point of calling out Pompeo’s unglamorous presence. At a recent appearance in South Korea, he summoned Pompeo to the stage with his daughter Ivanka, referring to them as “beauty and the beast.”

Pompeo shrugged. That was fine. He’d come a long way:

Pompeo’s background bears little resemblance to that of recent Secretaries of State, all of whom came to the job after long careers in public life and with extensive international experience. Pompeo, in contrast, has had a “meteoric rise,” as his friend Steve Scalise, the House Republican Whip, told me. A little more than a decade ago, he was unknown not only in Washington but also in his adopted home state, where he had just lost his first campaign, placing third in a three-way race to become chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.

Trump often touts Pompeo’s credentials as a top student at West Point and at Harvard Law School, but in six years as a member of Congress he never chaired a subcommittee or faced a genuinely competitive election, and he served just over a year at the CIA. He spent much of his career running a struggling Wichita aviation company.

But perhaps he was a diamond in the rough:

Born in 1963, Pompeo was one of three children in a working-class family in Southern California. His father, Wayne, was a Navy radioman in the Korean War. His mother, Dorothy Mercer, was one of ten children of small-town Kansas pool-hall owners. In conservative Orange County, Wayne was a passionate liberal, according to two sources who heard this from the future Secretary.

Pompeo does not speak publicly about his political disagreements with his father, but they began early on: he has said that, as a teenager, he read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” and became a staunch conservative. The valedictorian of his public high school, he was nominated for West Point by his congressman, Bob Dornan, a fiery hard-right favorite of the defense industry. “That should give you a good idea of where I am coming from politically if ‘B-1 Bob’ chose me for West Point,” Pompeo told the conservative magazine Human Events, in 2011.

And then he ticked off all the boxes:

After marrying his college sweetheart, Leslie Libert, the weekend he graduated, Pompeo took a prestigious posting as a tank commander in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which patrolled the border between East and West in Germany. Five years later, with the end of the Cold War, the border was gone and Pompeo left the military, having risen to the rank of captain. He went to Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review, then moved to Washington, D.C., and joined the blue-chip firm Williams & Connolly.

In the late nineties, however, Pompeo radically changed his life. He quit the law firm after two years and divorced his wife. (He kept the dog, Byron; she got the cat, Keats.) He moved to Kansas, his late mother’s home state, where, in early 1997, he and “three of my best friends in the whole world” from West Point, as he put it recently, started a company, Thayer Aerospace. Their aim was to acquire firms that manufactured specialized machinery for aviation companies clustered in Wichita, a city known as “the air capital of the world.” Pompeo became Thayer’s CEO.

That didn’t work out, so he simply moved on:

In 2010, amid the Tea Party backlash to President Obama, Pompeo made another career switch, running for an open Congress seat in the state’s Fourth District. The establishment climber from California had become a heartland evangelical.

Pompeo ran a nasty race against the Democrat, an Indian-American state legislator named Raj Goyle, who, unlike Pompeo, had grown up in Wichita. Pompeo’s campaign tweeted praise for an article calling Goyle a “turban topper,” and a supporter bought billboards urging residents to “Vote American -Vote Pompeo.”

In the heavily Republican district in a heavily Republican year, he won easily.

“Pompeo’s singular ability is in navigating power,” Goyle told me. “On that I give him massive respect, the way he mapped Wichita power, the way he mapped D.C. power, the way he mapped Trump.”

And he mapped the big money too:

In Washington, Pompeo found a way onto the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the critical panel for the business interests of his Kansas patrons. He appointed a former Koch lawyer as his chief of staff and acquired a reputation as a fierce defender of the Kochs. “Stop Harassing the Koch Brothers” was the title of an op-ed that he wrote in 2012, in which he dismissed attacks on them as “evidence of a truly Nixonian approach to politics.” Two years later, he called the Kochs “great men.” His loyalty was rewarded: according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 he received more campaign funds from the Kochs’ network than any other candidate in the country.

This was the Broadway musical without all the singing and dancing, and now Pompeo works for Trump, on a mission, which Glasser finds odd:

The word “mission” was the tell. Pompeo in public often refers to the “mission set” he’s been assigned by Trump, presenting himself as a mere executor of the President’s commands. “He’s very focused on whatever the mission is. He’s a West Point guy: Trump wants a deal, so I’ll get a deal,” another of the former officials said. The official noted that Pompeo uses the language of “an Army captain, a guy who went to West Point and got out before he became a general.”

This behavior is the reason that Pompeo has succeeded in becoming the lone survivor of Trump’s original national-security team. At the start of his Administration, the President had bragged about “my generals.” But, now that he has pushed out the actual generals who served as his chief of staff, his national-security adviser, and his Defense Secretary, it seems clear that Trump was uncomfortable with such leaders, and rejected their habits of command and independent thinking.

He wanted a Mike Pompeo, not a Jim Mattis, a captain trained to follow orders, not a general used to giving them.

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison has a few things to say about that:

It is Pompeo’s willingness to play the groveling yes-man to the president that has kept him around this long, and it is also one important reason why he constantly tells so many preposterous lies about the “successes” of Trump administration policies. He doesn’t care if he is deceiving the public or Congress as long as he is flattering Trump and making the president think that everything is going well. Pompeo’s serial lying doesn’t come up in the profile, but the profile helps explain why the lying comes so easily to him.

Larison, however, finds this appalling:

Two days later, Trump announced that Pompeo was his nominee for the CIA job. Trump seemed to know little about him, and Representative Devin Nunes, a member of Trump’s transition team, later said that he didn’t think Pompeo had even filled out a vetting questionnaire.

After the announcement, Jeff Roe, Ted Cruz’s former campaign manager, called Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and reminded him of Trump’s fury at Pompeo’s Kansas caucus speech. As Tim Alberta recounts in his book, “American Carnage,” Kushner put the call on speaker, so that Trump could hear.

“No! That was him? We’ve got to take it back,” the President-elect roared. “This is what I get for letting Pence pick everyone.”

But the appointment stood. Two weeks later, Pompeo was hanging out with Trump in Urban’s box at the Army-Navy football game.


It is typical of the shoddiness of Trump’s hiring practices that he picked an unqualified Congressman to run the CIA without even knowing who he was, but the somewhat surprising thing about this episode is that Trump didn’t end up holding Pompeo’s previous criticism against him. Pompeo evidently proved to Trump that he could be just as much of a suck-up as a he was a critic, and that is what he has done. Unfortunately for the country, that has meant having a wholly unqualified man in charge of representing the U.S. to the world because he happens to know how to stroke the president’s ego.

These things used to be a joke, sometimes an extended joke, like the 1961 hit Broadway musical, but this isn’t the World Wide Wicket Company. This man represents this nation to the world, and the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake sees this:

Trump is rewriting the rules of the presidency in precisely some of the ways Pompeo warned about. Trump has warmed to authoritarians and authoritarianism, similar to Pompeo’s warnings. Shortly before becoming Trump’s pick for CIA director, Pompeo tweeted that Trump should “make the undemocratic practice of executive orders a thing of the past;” Trump has instead taken it to new heights. The secretary of state who once assured that soldiers “don’t swear an allegiance to President Trump or any other President; they take an oath to defend our Constitution” has shown an almost-unmatched allegiance to Trump.

Some in the foreign policy establishment apparently want to believe it could all be for the best – that Pompeo can, on balance, be a force for good. But we’ve seen their hopes dashed when it comes to another man in whom they invested some wishful thinking, Attorney General William P. Barr.

Pompeo might be the other most consequential man in Trump’s Cabinet. And the narrative of his tenure is very much up in the air – and dependent upon the man he once derided as a dangerous commander in chief.

None of this is funny in real life, which led to this:

U.S. President Donald Trump once again lashed out at Anthony Scaramucci, claiming that “nobody ever heard of” the former White House communications director “until he met me.”

“Nobody ever heard of this dope until he met me. He only lasted 11 days!” Trump wrote in a nighttime Twitter post.

Yes, but he himself had named “this dope” his White House communications director so this was his mess:

Trump and Scaramucci – who was fired in 2017 after serving less than two weeks as communications director – have publicly fallen out recently.

In various news media interviews, Scaramucci suggested the Republican Party should push Trump off the 2020 presidential ticket. The president, in return, took to Twitter to discredit Scaramucci – who is founder and co-managing partner of SkyBridge Capital and a GOP donor.

In a Monday opinion piece in The Washington Post, Scaramucci wrote that he was wrong to support Trump before.

“I can no longer in good conscience support the president’s reelection,” he added.

But it’s more than that:

President Trump lashed out anew Monday at aide-turned-nemesis Anthony Scaramucci after the former White House communications director threatened to cobble together a coalition of former Cabinet officials to speak out against the president as part of an apparent bid to find an alternative Republican nominee in 2020.

Accelerating a remarkable conversion from short-lived White House insider to brash detractor, Scaramucci said in an interview Monday morning that he wants to find a “viable alternative” and is assembling a “team” of like-minded people toward that end.

“I’ve got to get some of these former Cabinet officials in unity to speak up about it. They know it’s a crisis,” he said, predicting such a coalition would go public by the fall.

That seems unlikely. That 1961 Broadway musical was about real life, everywhere in business and government. They added music and dancing to make it all quite funny. But it never was. It never will be.

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The White Guy with the Shiny Teeth

It’s something old men say, that those were the days:

“The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature” is a book by Harvard University psychologist and philosopher William James. It comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on natural theology, which were delivered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901 and 1902. The lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science in the academic study of religion.

That book is still in print. It has never been out of print. The whole idea was to look at all religions dispassionately – scientifically – in order to understand what people believe and why, and in what physical and economic environments. Was there a “natural religion” of some kind? It was time to step back and look at religion from the outside for a change. This was the birth of Comparative Religion as an academic field of inquiry that combined anthropology with sociology and psychology. James would go on to develop his philosophy of pragmatism – forget the fancy stuff – work out what things mean practically, in everyday life. And it was all the same. William James found zealots fascinating. And he also found them tiresome and useless. Study them. Don’t hang around with them.

Those were the days. Zealots seem to rule the world now. Those who view any issue dispassionately are often scolded and shamed. This is the time to take sides. Have an opinion. And shout it out. Otherwise you’re useless. Don’t be a coward. Speak up. What the hell do you believe in anyway?

This is not Scotland in 1901 and 1902. This is the United States now. This is where what one believes, deeply, is always in question, a land of proud zealots on the defensive, and on television:

As part of a ‘Morning Joe” discussion about how many Christian evangelicals have set aside their professed beliefs in order to embrace Donald Trump despite his adultery and hateful rhetoric, former Republican National Committee head Michael Steele blew up on what were described as “hypocrites’ during the segment.

With conservative Ben Howe on the MSNBC show promoting his book “The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values,” Steele brought up a Politico article that noted that a few Christians are parting ways with Trump because of his use of profanity.

“I love this book,” Steele gushed to Howe. “Thank you so much – it’s so long overdue. I have just been fed up with the hypocrisy from these guys.”

Well, that was an odd Politico article:

Using coarse language is far from the president’s only behavior that might turn off the religious right. He’s been divorced twice and has faced constant allegations of extramarital affairs. He previously supported abortion rights, and he has stumbled when trying to discuss the specifics of his religious beliefs, once referring to a book in the Bible as “Two Corinthians” instead of Second Corinthians. Yet to this point, Trump has maintained broad support from evangelicals, including the unwavering backing of some prominent conservative Christian leaders.

“We all wish he would be a little more careful with his language, but it’s not anything that’s a deal breaker, and it’s not something we’re going to get morally indignant about,” said Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Trump’s earliest supporters among religious leaders.

But it is a deal breaker:

For evangelicals, Trump’s indelicate language has frustrated religious fans who have otherwise been staunch supporters of his agenda. They agree with his social policies, praise his appointment of conservative judges and extol his commitment to Israel – often tolerating Trump’s character flaws for the continued advancement of all three. But when it comes to “using the Lord’s name in vain,” as West Virginia state senator Paul Hardesty put it, “the president’s evangelical base might be far less forgiving.”

Yes, he can shoot someone dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they’d still love him, but he’d damn well better not swear when he’s laughing and pulling the trigger. And that set off Michael Steele:

“As the president stands at these rallies and uses the Lord’s name in vain as we are reminded we shouldn’t do by a lot of these individuals, what’s your take – is it really the political and power pulse here or something more morally corrupt that’s going on inside the evangelical community at this point?” he asked.

“I think it’s both,” the conservative Howe replied. “I mean, the moral corruption is something that frankly took me a while to recognize. I have been an evangelical all my life. My dad was a pastor. He was a Southern Baptist pastor and he worked with Jerry Falwell Jr.’s father at Liberty University.”

“We give passes to the people that we think are doing what we want and we don’t hold them accountable,” he continued. “Trump in a lot of ways exemplifies the exact type of caricature when you think of these evangelicals. You know, the white guy with the shiny teeth telling them the Promised Land is coming.”

Howe is unhappy. His book is Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values and here’s a bit of it:

As the debate about how to handle applicants for refugee status at the U.S. southern border gained urgency in recent months, Pew Research Religion waded into the social-media fray on July 7 with a tweet about the results of a poll the organization conducted last year. Pew reported, and online commentators quickly noted, that white evangelical Protestants were the least likely group – amid results sorted by age, race, education and religion – to say that the United States “has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country.”

Sixty-eight percent of white evangelical Protestants said the country has no responsibility for refugees. No other demographic group came within 10 points of that result.

And this came from the bottom up:

Some evangelical leaders had been taken aback when the Pew results were originally released in May 2018, and urged their flocks toward change. But back then, the main question about refugees concerned those fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria. “When faced with a potential conflict between prominent evangelicals’ biblical pro-refugee arguments and President Trump’s opposition,” Brian Newman of Pepperdine University noted in The Post, “the vast majority of white evangelicals choose Trump.”

A year later, with the focal point on refugees from Central America, in much greater numbers and more likely to be vilified by the president, evangelical leaders are largely as one with their congregations.

They gave up leading their flocks and joined them:

Consider the response in June when Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, ventured this observation on Twitter: “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”

Moore’s comments didn’t sit well with Jerry Falwell Jr., inheritor of his father’s Christian empire, president of Liberty University and a prominent evangelical figure.

“Who are you @drmoore?” Falwell tweeted. “Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you the authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee – a bureaucrat.”

In short, are you a billionaire? No? Well then, shut up. God said so. And if He didn’t say so God would say so, if he weren’t busy elsewhere, so go away.

That was odd but not all that odd:

Some were dismayed by Falwell’s response, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone paying attention the past few years that was surprised by it.

Trump, of course, welcomes this way of thinking. Speaking to an assembly of Christian leaders as a presidential candidate in June 2016, Trump said, “You can pray for your leaders, and I agree with that. Pray for everyone. But what you really have to do is you have to pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person. We can’t be, again, politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders, because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling evangelicals down the tubes.”

He may murder babies and pull the wings off flies, and swear a lot, but he won’t sell them out, and that bothers Howe:

The evangelical embrace of Trump has been an electoral positive for the Republican Party, but for those who would evangelize, the new reality is tragic. It is hard to pitch faith as a function of voting.

Christians are instructed in the Bible to attract people to Christ, to convince them, to witness to them. We’re meant to speak the truth in a way that invites strangers in, welcomes them, and that makes them feel loved.

To care for the least of these is a Christian value. Expressing and demonstrating it is spreading the Word.

That’s called evangelizing. A movement that based itself on the term but now embraces its antithesis is becoming difficult to recognize.

Michael Gerson can testify to that:

“There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!”

This recent statement by religious-right activist Ralph Reed is objectively true – at least when it comes to sloppy kisses for the president. Considered purely as a political transaction, religious conservatives have gotten two appointments to the Supreme Court who set their hearts aflutter. They, in return, have shifted from the language of political realism to the language of love.

He has their vote:

Trump has not gone back on the conservative promises of his 2016 campaign. More than that, he has not let up in his attacks against liberal elites who disdain religious conservatives. Reed is correct that Trump has “defended us” and “fought for us.”

But this language itself should raise warning signs. Is this really how most conservative Christians view the political enterprise – as the vindication of their own interests rather than the good of the whole?

Ah, Michael, the answer is yes, but Gerson argues that that’s the wrong answer:

A lot of attention has been given to the risks to the GOP (at the national level) of placing all their electoral bets on white voters who resent and fear a morally and ethnically changing country. In 2008, white Christians constituted 54 percent of the population. By 2014, that figure was more like 47 percent and the slide continues. Republicans seem doomed to ride a retreating wave.

There is also, however, much to be said about the risk to evangelicalism. Evangelical Christians are tying themselves to an institution – the GOP – that is actively alienating college-educated voters, minority voters and younger voters. Evangelicals are thus entrenching a public perception that their movement consists of old, white Christians who want to restore lost social status through political power. Maybe this is because the perception is often accurate.

Gerson then joins Howe on the moral consequences of being a loyal part of Trump’s political coalition:

During the 2016 presidential election, evangelical Christians could comfort themselves that it was possible – just possible – for Trump to grow in office and become something greater than the sum of his tweets. Doesn’t someone whom James Dobson called a “baby Christian” deserve a chance to grow up? Isn’t that the essence of grace?

This argument was a small fig leaf when it was made. Now, evangelical Christians are naked before the world. Trump’s cruelty (see the treatment of migrant children), his bigotry (see Charlottesville), his obstruction of justice (see any fair reading of the Mueller report), his vanity (see any time he speaks in public), his serial deception (also see any time he speaks in public) have become more pronounced and unrepentant over time. Can there be any question that reelection would result in Trump unbound?

Evangelical Christians might want to think about that:

Some evangelical Christian leaders have become more effusive in their praise of the president. More willing to defend the indefensible on his behalf. More dismissive of the importance of character in public life.

In the process, evangelical Christian leaders have placed themselves – uncritically, with open eyes – into a political coalition that is inspired by ethnic nationalism. Such are the occupational hazards of calling good evil and evil good.

Perhaps, but good and evil seem ambiguous now, so the Atlantic’s Emma Green decided to interview Howe about these things, and she opens with this:

Ben Howe is angry at evangelicals. As he describes it, he is angry that they didn’t just vote for Donald Trump in record numbers, but repeatedly provide moral cover for his outrageous failings. He is angry that leaders of the religious right, who long claimed to be the champions of American morality, appear to have gladly traded their values for power. He is angry that Christians claim they support the president because they want to end abortion or protect religious liberty, when supporting Trump suggests that what they really want is a champion who will mock and crush their perceived enemies.

To redeem themselves, Howe believes, evangelicals have to give up their take-no-prisoners culture war.

Green notes that that’s just what Howe did:

He grew up attending Falwell’s church in Virginia, Thomas Road Baptist Church, down the street from Liberty University, where Howe’s father, a Southern Baptist pastor, taught classes. In other years, Howe’s family attended First Baptist Church in Dallas, which is now pastored by one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, Robert Jeffress. After being raised in the bosom of the religious right, Howe went on to become a filmmaker, a Tea Party activist, and a blogger for the conservative website RedState, where he spent a not insignificant portion of his time trolling progressives. He was later fired from that website, along with other writers, because of his vocally anti-Trump views, he claims.

That seems to be what happened but what he says now matters more:

Emma Green: What bothers you so much about the wholesale evangelical support for Donald Trump?

Ben Howe: There is not necessarily anything inherently wrong with a transactional relationship with a president. But Trump brings a few problems. The first is the kind of support he demands, which is a loyalty even when he does something wrong. If you want to stay on his good side, you have to support what he did and even laud him for it. The late ’70s, with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority – the whole idea was that they were bringing something to Washington: expectations of morality and character. Now it seems like evangelicals are there to put faith around basic Republican politics.

So, evangelicals now provide the window dressing, but the odd thing is their motivation:

Green: You talk a lot about the bitterness that motivates evangelicals in the realm of politics. Where does that come from?

Howe: It comes from a reasonably understandable place. If people feel that their motives are impugned, if they feel they’re not bad people but are being told they are—being told they’re racist or misogynist—it can foster a mentality of victimhood.

In the minds of a lot of conservatives, the left exists to impugn their motives, and the Republican Party regularly lied to them and said they would defend them and then didn’t. And that was the establishment. Trump became their hero, because he hated the establishment, and he beat up on the media, and he was fighting back against all these forces. The more he fights, the more they feel justified, like, He’s our hero because we needed someone to do this for us.

Trump’s appeal is not judges. It’s not policies. It’s that he’s a shit-talker and a fighter and tells it like it is. That’s what they like. They love the meanest parts of him.

In short, he will humiliate and torture and punish their enemies. Let him murder babies and pull the wings off flies, as long as he inflicts as much pain as possible on their enemies, as long as he doesn’t swear when he’s inflicting that pain, and Howe has had enough of that:

Green: You’re really willing to throw evangelicals under the bus but less willing to focus on movement conservatism. Have you rethought Republican policies around policing, or mass incarceration, or racism, or poverty?

Howe: I’ve rethought the likelihood that no matter how ideal we may believe our perfectly magnificent free-market ideas are, they exist in a perfect world that we don’t live in. So I’ve changed on that.

What? He’s a liberal now? Perhaps so, but that’s not all:

Green: Have you rethought the right’s hatred of Barack Obama, particularly given your argument that character is the most important quality in a leader?

Howe: Between Trump and Obama, there is just no question that Obama exhibited more Christian behavior. I rethought what was scary, I guess. There was stuff I thought was scary back then that’s funny to me now.

Green: You didn’t know how good you had it in the Obama years?

Howe: I don’t think that phenomenon is exclusive to me. George W. Bush’s polling has gone way up since Trump. And I think it’s the same effect. I’ve heard people say that, looking back on Bush, they disagree with so much that he did, but they realize at least he thought he was doing the right thing – which is a hell of a lot better than being happy to do the wrong thing. I have to say it: Trump has made me like Obama.

Perhaps that means that now God hates Howe. Ask an evangelical about that, or read Heather Parton:

I see people who love a lying asshole like Trump because he’s a “shit-talker” and it seems obvious to me that they really are deplorable. And the truth is that, for me, this is a relatively new thing. I impugned the motives of their leadership over the years and rightly so. But it’s only with the advent of Trump and the ecstatic reaction from GOP voters to his disgusting Nuremberg rallies that I realized how far gone they really were.

I have always assumed that most Republicans were basically normal Americans with an ideology I opposed. I knew that some were racists but I never thought it would add up to 90% or more of the Party! I certainly assumed that they would be appalled by Trumps obvious psychological and intellectual insufficiency, much less his clear immorality. It’s very hard to have respect for people like this…

I know you are not supposed to say this. I get reprimanded every time I mention it. But it is my honest observation and in this day and age I think it’s important to be honest about what you see. The Republican rank and file is in thrall to an unfit racist demagogue and he’s not hiding it. So it’s on them.

The Washington Post’s Colbert King agrees with that:

Life is short. So, don’t waste it trying to prove President Trump is a racist, a bigot or a white supremacist… If by now minds haven’t been made up about Trump’s repugnant racism and religious intolerance, nothing said or done from this moment on will make a difference.

The sad truth is that with all that Trump has said and done, millions of Americans don’t see where he has ever crossed the line.

And these are a few of those lines:

Slurring Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists? Calling for a ban on all Muslims coming into the country? Suggesting that a U.S.-born judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit should recuse himself because of his Mexican heritage (“He’s a Mexican,” Trump said)? Saying people in the United States from Nigeria will never “go back to their huts”? Referring to Haiti and African countries as “s—hole countries” while wishing the United States would take more people from places like Norway? Tweeting that four black and brown members of Congress — three of them born in the United States — should “go back” to their countries of origin? Launching a slimy birther crusade against President Barack Obama? Constantly resorting to racially charged language?

That’s a partial list, but that will do:

What about those acts, you might ask? Shouldn’t they prompt folks in Trump’s camp to start striking their tents?

That’s not going to happen:

Within the ranks of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” disciples are people who believe he is all that stands between them and an earthly perdition where their version of Christianity is on the ropes. That helps explain why they cheer Trump on when he moves against the LGBTQ community, makes life miserable for “invaders” along the southern border and when he launches ugly racist attacks on women of color, oh yeah, and slurring that black congressman from Baltimore who dressed down a white federal bureaucrat over the treatment of detained migrant children. Put him in his place.

It doesn’t bother them at all when Trump resorts to racist, sexist and religiously intolerant tropes in his onslaughts.

Face it. They helped put and are now fighting like mad to keep a prejudiced president in the White House. What does that say about them?

What does it say about the rest of us if we let them?

That’s a thought. Go vote this time. Four more years of this white guy with the shiny teeth might be the end of everything. Be pragmatic.

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Rattled and Irrational

The week ended with a news story of vast historical importance that wasn’t particularly noticed, because all the other news buried it – the Epstein suicide, if it was that, Trump and Netanyahu declaring that all Democrats hate Jews and hate Israel and Israel will never deal with them again, the stock market crashing and sort of recovering, but not really, as no one knew what was coming next, and Trump’s sudden idea that the United States should buy Greenland from Denmark, or he should, or something. No one noticed our eighteen-year war in Afghanistan will now end and the president has no idea why:

President Trump met with top national security officials on Friday to review near-final plans for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, a prospect that has already prompted fierce political debate but could offer Mr. Trump a compelling talking point for his 2020 re-election campaign.

The president and his advisers gathered at his golf club in New Jersey to assess a deal reached with Afghan insurgents by his special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, during several weeks of negotiations in Qatar. Mr. Trump is a longtime skeptic of the United States’ 18-year military presence in Afghanistan and campaigned against expensive foreign interventions.

In short, geopolitics and national security don’t matter all that much. Trump’s reelection is what matters. But that’s the problem here:

His decision point on Afghanistan – and the widespread belief that he is impatient to begin a withdrawal before the next election – has already kicked off an argument in Washington about whether an exit would amount to a premature retreat or a crucial step toward long-overdue peace. That debate scrambles partisan lines, with some prominent Republicans warning that leaving would be reckless, while top Democrats applaud the idea of concluding the war in Afghanistan, a goal that eluded President Barack Obama.

But the president may not be taking part in those discussions:

For Mr. Trump, initiating a departure from Afghanistan would allow a president who once promised to “bomb the hell out of” terrorists and has spoken of wiping Afghanistan “off the face of the earth” to present himself as a peacemaker.

That could be particularly useful at a moment when his nuclear diplomacy with North Korea has achieved little tangible promise and his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has failed in its goal of bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.

He needs something – anything – to go the way he said it would go. This could be it, or not:

Skeptics of the agreement – which has not been finalized and could still fall apart or be rejected by Mr. Trump – fear it is meant more for the American political calendar than for the complex realities of the Afghan conflict and the enduring terrorist threat against the United States, and warn that it could end in disaster for both countries…

Even if the Taliban reach an agreement with the Afghan government, current and former government officials fear it may be only a matter of time before they seek to reconquer the entire country, as they did in the 1990s, creating a radical religious government that provided safe haven to the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden….

This could be a disaster, but this can be fixed:

Supporters of an extended troop presence in Afghanistan are trying to remind Mr. Trump of Mr. Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Iraq’s security forces were unprepared to fight on their own and, three years later, the Islamic State rampaged through the country, capturing major cities and plotting attacks against the West.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article last week, David H. Petraeus, a retired Army general who commanded United States forces in Afghanistan under Mr. Obama, warned that a “complete military exit from Afghanistan today would be even more ill-advised and risky than the Obama administration’s disengagement from Iraq.”

This is just what Obama did! Everyone knows Trump. Say that and Trump will do the opposite. Geopolitics and national security don’t matter. There are those magic words – “Obama did that.”

That may solve that problem, but Michelle Goldberg is more concerned about the threat of armed conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir:

India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over the Himalayan territory, which both countries claim, and which is mostly divided between them. India recently revoked the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the part of Kashmir it controls and put nearly seven million people there under virtual house arrest. Pakistan’s prime minister compared India’s leaders to Nazis and warned that they’ll target Pakistan next. It seems like there’s potential for humanitarian and geopolitical horror.

That might be because these are two really big countries with really large militaries, both with massive nuclear capability, and with a long history of conflict. Trump may want to think about this, or think about a few other things:

All over the world, things are getting worse. China appears to be weighing a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in Hong Kong. Hostilities between India and Pakistan ratcheted up further; on Thursday, fighting across the border in Kashmir left three Pakistani soldiers dead. (Pakistan also claimed that five Indian soldiers were killed, but India denied it.) Turkey is threatening to invade Northeast Syria to go after America’s Kurdish allies there, and it’s not clear if an American agreement meant to prevent such an incursion will hold.

North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile testing continue apace. The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is more remote than it’s been in decades. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. A Pentagon report warns that ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria. The U.K. could see food shortages if the country’s Trumpish prime minister, Boris Johnson, follows through on his promise to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place for the aftermath. Oh, and the globe may be lurching towards recession.

How the hell did all that happen? Goldberg suggests this:

In a world spiraling towards chaos, we can begin to see the fruits of Donald Trump’s erratic, amoral and incompetent foreign policy, his systematic undermining of alliances and hollowing out of America’s diplomatic and national security architecture…

To be sure, most of these crises have causes other than Trump. Even competent American administrations can’t dictate policy to other countries, particularly powerful ones like India and China. But in one flashpoint after another, the Trump administration has either failed to act appropriately, or acted in ways that have made things worse.

“Almost everything they do is the wrong move,” said Susan Thornton, who until last year was the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, America’s top diplomat for Asia.

And to get specific, there’s this:

Consider Trump’s role in the Kashmir crisis. In July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmir, even suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, and then stripped it of its autonomy.

That may not have been a coincidence:

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

But there’s more to it than that:

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

On the other hand, things might work out:

Obviously, India and Pakistan still have every interest in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Wary of starting a war before the 2020 election, Trump might make a deal with Iran, though probably a worse one than the Obama agreement that he jettisoned. The global economy could slow down but not seize up. We could get through the next 17 months with a world that still looks basically recognizable.

But don’t count on it:

The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego. The United States has been lucky that things have hung together as much as they have save the odd government shutdown or white nationalist terrorist attack. But now, in foreign affairs as in the economy, the consequences of not having a functioning American administration are coming into focus. “No U.S. leadership is leaving a vacuum,” said Thornton.

We’ll see what gets sucked into it.

That’s a bit frightening, but Paul Waldman says that the problem now is something else entirely:

President Trump is gripped by fear.

That is the message coming through from his public statements, his recent policy decisions, and reporting from inside the White House that paints a picture of a president increasingly rattled and irrational, striking out wildly as he searches for an argument that will frighten Americans enough to reelect him.

That’s his thesis and here’s some evidence:

Trump told his fervid supporters at a rally Thursday that if he is not reelected, the economy will crash. “You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)’s down the tubes. Everything is going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.”

Amid growing signs of a coming economic downturn, he is reportedly experiencing a combination of denial and rage. “Trump has a somewhat conspiratorial view, telling some confidants that he distrusts statistics he sees reported in the news media and that he suspects many economists and other forecasters are presenting biased data to thwart his reelection,” the Washington Post reports. But he has also “told aides and allies that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell would be a scapegoat if the economy goes south.”

Actually, that Washington Post item reported much more than that:

Despite gyrations in the U.S. stock market and economic slowdowns in other countries, officials in the White House, at the Treasury Department and throughout the administration are planning no new steps to attempt to stave off a recession. Rather, Trump’s economic advisers have been delivering the president upbeat assessments in which they argue that the domestic economy is stronger than many forecasters are making it out to be.

In turn, Trump has sought to use his Twitter pulpit to drown out negative indicators. On Thursday, he promoted the U.S. economy as “the Biggest, Strongest and Most Powerful Economy in the World,” and, citing growth in the retail sector, predicted that it would only get stronger. He also accused the news media of “doing everything they can to crash the economy because they think that will be bad for me and my re-election.”

This is not good. Delusion and defensiveness never mix well, but it’s not all delusion:

Privately the president has sounded anxious and apprehensive. From his golf club in New Jersey, where he is vacationing this week, Trump has called a number of business leaders and financial executives to sound them out – and they have provided him a decidedly mixed analysis, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were confidential.

But he won’t hear that analysis:

Trump has a somewhat conspiratorial view, telling some confidants that he distrusts statistics he sees reported in the news media and that he suspects many economists and other forecasters are presenting biased data to thwart his reelection, according to one Republican close to the administration who was briefed on some of the conversations.

“He’s rattled,” this Republican said. “He thinks that all the people that do this economic forecasting are a bunch of establishment weenies – elites who don’t know anything about the real economy and they’re against Trump.”

So, imagine Trump wandering the halls of the White House late at night, alone, muttering to himself – “Establishment Weenies, Establishment Weenies…”

Expect those in a supermarket near you soon, or expect this:

In the past, world leaders have come together to try to assure the public about a unified approach to confronting global economic turmoil. But Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on Japanese and German cars and on French wine, and has encouraged newly minted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union, even if it means a violent breakup that threatens the economic standing of multiple countries.

Obviously something is wrong here, like this:

Lawrence H. Summers, a former treasury secretary and National Economic Council director who helped lead the Obama administration’s efforts to end the Great Recession a decade ago, said no president is immune to a recession and the government ought always to be planning for and guarding against one.

“When the economy turns down, one of the important resources we have is policymakers’ credibility,” Summers said. “Ludicrous forecasts and economically illiterate statements have dissipated the credibility of the president’s economic team.”

Referring specifically to Trump’s actions, Summers added, “It’s banana republic standard to deny the statistics, bash the central bank, try to push the currency down and lash out at foreign countries.”

But there’s no stopping him:

Trump has been closely managing his administration’s moves. Two weeks ago, he exerted immense pressure on Mnuchin to label China as a “currency manipulator,” a move the treasury secretary had repeatedly resisted because China’s currency moves did not meet the Treasury’s established criteria, three people with direct knowledge of the push said.

This is madness:

Some conservatives who have previously praised Trump’s economic policy have soured on his approach to trade, however.

“The president doesn’t understand the basics of international economics, and his erratic behavior is likely slowing business investment, working against his signature corporate tax cuts, and hurting his own reelection chances,” said Michael Strain, an economist at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

It would be nice to have a president who has some vague idea of what he’s talking about – like what the words mean – but he doesn’t and Waldman sees this:

It’s the economic news that really has Trump sweating. As any sensible observer understands, presidents get more credit than they deserve when the economy does well and more blame than they deserve when it does poorly, because most of what happens in a country with about 330 million people and more than $20 trillion of economic activity is out of their control.

Trump was given an economy in the midst of a steady recovery, which since then has continued on pretty much the same trajectory it was on (though job creation was somewhat better under President Barack Obama). Yet more than any other president in history, he has insisted that he deserves personal credit for every positive economic development, which could only be the result of his unique genius.

He’s not that:

He has a particular habit of visiting a factory that was approved or began construction when Obama was president and saying it was all because of him. “It was the Trump administration that made it possible. No one else,” he said this week outside a Shell plastics plant that had been planned since 2012 and which the company formally announced in 2016. “Without us, you would never have been able to do this.”

Meanwhile, whenever he creates a new controversy with some racist outburst, distressing public performance or new revelation of corruption on the part of himself and his appointees, Republicans everywhere offer the same argument: Okay, so that stuff isn’t exactly optimal, and yeah, I wish he’d tone down the bigotry and stop tweeting. But the economy is doing well, right?

Well, forget that:

You don’t need a PhD in political science to understand the threat this poses. If the economy does falter – even a slight slowdown, let alone a full-on recession – it could become almost impossible for Trump to win reelection. If he can’t argue that he has delivered prosperity, all that remains is the single most repugnant human being to ever sit in the Oval Office, befouling everything he touches.

Trump knows this as well as anyone. In his growing fear of that eventuality, he wants us all to be as afraid as he is: afraid of immigrants, afraid of socialism, afraid of dissenting voices, afraid of a changing society, afraid of the future.

So, expect that:

As a political strategy, it’s certainly morally abhorrent, but it still might work. After all, if Trump didn’t have such skill at finding and stimulating what is worst in people, he wouldn’t have become president in the first place. And by this time next year, fear could be all he has left.

This could get ugly. But the man is rattled. And he is irrational, or more irrational than usual. Now what?

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