Icy America

America First! That sounds good. Donald Trump won the presidency shouting that – but it also sounds a bit belligerent, as if everyone else in the world is second, or third, or doesn’t matter at all. It also sounds a bit defensive if not a bit paranoid – as if everyone else in the world has been using us and laughing at us behind our backs, and that has to stop – which is also what Donald Trump has been saying all along. Trump is big on the ties of blood and race and sectarianism – he’s a nationalist. That’s usually framed in terms of economic nationalism – trade deals and such – but he’s often said that NATO is obsolete and that the European Union is a stupid thing. He hopes more nations, like Britain, will leave, and things over there will revert to nations proud of the culture and language and, perhaps, race, standing alone, willing to fight for those things. That gave us two world wars, which was the point of setting up the European Union in the first place, but maybe he hasn’t thought this through. Mike Pence and “Mad Dog” Mattis and others have been telling our allies to ignore what Donald Trump says – he really believes in an interlocking world of alliances that has and will keep things stable. Everyone’s important. He knows that. He’ll say that, eventually. Give it time.

They don’t believe it. They don’t know who to believe. They see an America turning in on itself, sneering at all others while congratulating itself – a reflection of the personality of its new president of course. It’s an icy place that excludes all others, or at least diminishes them. Others don’t matter. They’re useful, or they’re not, but they really don’t matter much. It will always be America first.

That’s a geopolitical worry, but even in minor matters that iciness spreads:

Muhammad Ali’s son, who bears the boxing great’s name, was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his ancestry and religion in what amounted to profiling, a family friend said Saturday.

Returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, were pulled aside and separated from each other while going through the immigration checkpoint on Feb. 7 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Chris Mancini, a family friend and attorney.

Camacho Ali was released a short time later after showing a photo of herself with her ex-husband, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mancini said. But Ali Jr. was not carrying a photo of his world-famous father – a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ali Jr., 44, who confirmed his Muslim faith, was detained about two hours, despite telling officials that he’s Ali’s son and a native-born U.S. citizen, Mancini said. It was the first time Ali Jr. and his mother have ever been asked if they’re Muslim when re-entering the United States, he said.

They think they know the source of this:

“From the way they were treated, from what was said to them, they can come up with no other rational explanation except they fell into a profiling program run by customs, which is designed to obtain information from anyone who says they’re a Muslim,” Mancini said in a phone interview. “It’s quite clear that what triggered his detention were his Arabic name and his religion.”

During his detention, Ali Jr. was asked repeatedly about his lineage and his name, “as if that was a pre-programmed question that was part of a profile,” Mancini said.

There is a Muslim ban, or there isn’t:

Reached for comment Friday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in an email: “Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection,” according to The Courier-Journal’s report about the detention.

In short, they can do what they want and should say nothing about it to anyone, but others connect the dots:

Ali Jr. and his mother have been frequent global travelers. The family connects their treatment to President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration after calling during his campaign for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

“This has never happened to them before,” Mancini said. “They’re asked specifically about their Arabic names. Where they got their names from and whether they’re Muslims. It doesn’t take much to connect those dots to what Trump is doing.”

Camacho Ali and Ali Jr. live in Florida. They have not traveled abroad since, and are considering filing a federal lawsuit, he said.

That seems pointless. No lasting harm was done to anyone, but there was that Australian woman:

Australian author Mem Fox has received a written apology from the United States after what she said was a traumatic detention by immigration officials at Los Angeles Airport.

Fox, who was questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers for two hours earlier this month as she was on her way to Milwaukee to address a conference, said she collapsed and sobbed at her hotel after she was released.

She said the border agents appeared to have been given “turbocharged power” by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump to “humiliate and insult” a room full of people they detained to check visas.

“I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” Fox said.

“I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby, and I’m 70 years old.”

And she’s an old white woman who writes children’s books:

Fox, whose books include classics such as Possum Magic and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, said she was questioned about her visa status, even though she had travelled to the United States 116 times previously without incident.

“My heart was pounding so hard as I was waiting to be interviewed, because I was observing what was happening to everybody else in the room,” she said.

“They accused me of coming in on the wrong visa and they were totally wrong about that.”

They were wrong, but it’s too late for that:

The author lodged a complaint with the Australian embassy in Washington, and later one with the United States embassy in Canberra to which she received an emailed letter of apology.

“I said any decent American would have been shocked to the core by what had happened, it was so dreadful,” Fox said.

“And I had an absolutely charming letter from them within hours of my email hitting their desk.”

The author said she was unlikely to visit the United States again despite the friendliness of ordinary Americans.

The friendliness of ordinary Americans, however, doesn’t make up for what she saw:

She said the treatment of others in the airport holding room, including Iranians, Taiwanese and a Scandinavian parent with a small child, was just as poor, and all appeared to eventually have been released.

“I thought: ‘How can human beings treat other vulnerable human beings in this fashion, in public, in full view of everybody?'”

That’s America sneering at all others while congratulating itself and then there was this:

Henry Rousso, a French historian and one of the most pre-eminent scholars on the Holocaust, said he was detained for more than 10 hours by federal border agents in Houston and told he would not be allowed to enter the United States before lawyers intervened to stop his deportation.

Mr. Rousso said in a telephone interview on Sunday that he arrived at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport around 2 p.m. Wednesday on a flight from France when immigration authorities began to question his visa and his reason for being in the United States.

Mr. Rousso, an expert on France after the First World War, was scheduled to give a keynote address on Friday afternoon at a conference organized by the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“It would be in no means difficult to look up who he is,” said Jason Mills, an immigration lawyer who helped secure Mr. Rousso’s eventual release. “His reasons for being here were nothing but beneficial to the United States. He is a man of experience and age,” Mr. Mills said. “There is plenty of history there on him. I don’t understand why he would have been in for the several hours that he was. It is a little alarming.”

It was also icy:

Mr. Rousso said he was interrogated by Customs and Border Protection officers who told him that he was violating immigration law by using a tourist visa to enter the country to attend the academic conference. He said that at first they denied him entry to the United States, and told him he would be put on the next available flight to Paris.

The academics who had invited Mr. Rousso to speak in Texas became concerned when he failed to meet the driver who had been sent to collect him. They scrambled to alert immigration lawyers, the dean of the law school and Michael Young, the president of Texas A&M University.

The issue, Mr. Rousso said, appeared to be an honorarium of $2,000 that he was being paid to participate in the conference. Such payments are allowed for academics visiting the United States, but Mr. Rousso and those involved in securing his release said the customs agents appeared not to realize that at first.

Oops:

It was after 1 a.m. Thursday when Mr. Rousso was given back his passport and cellphone, taken to a public area of the airport and told he was free to go. He said he was told that the agent who originally held him was “inexperienced.”

These things happen, but an item in Foreign Policy suggests that will soon happen more often:

The Trump administration is seeking to loosen some security requirements for hiring Border Patrol agents in order to meet a dramatic surge in immigration enforcement, according to internal memos obtained by Foreign Policy and analyzed by five current and former officials in the Department of Homeland Security.

Customs and Border Protection, part of DHS, is seeking approval to relax some stringent standards that have made it difficult for the agency to meet recruitment targets in recent years. That includes a request to potentially loosen congressionally-mandated requirements such as a polygraph, as well as an entrance exam and background check.

Expect thousands more “inexperienced” agents, but it must be done:

The memo estimates that even with the measures to accelerate hiring, it will take five years and cost about $2.2 billion to help fill out CBP’s ranks to meet President Trump’s quota.

Expect trouble, particularly of this sort:

Some current and former DHS officials and outside experts are concerned that lowering standards could allow the influx of less-qualified candidates who may be susceptible to corruption. CBP is uniquely targeted by drug-trafficking and other transnational organizations seeking out agents they can bribe – with money or sexual favors – to allow drugs, undocumented immigrants, or other contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We actually lived through this,” said Jay Ahern, a deputy CBP commissioner under George W. Bush, when the agency doubled in size. When reviewing tens of thousands of applicants, he said, mistakes are inevitable.

There’s a reason for that:

According to rights group Southern Border Communities Coalition, between 2010 and 2015, media reported 40 deadly incidents involving CBP, and only one agent was prosecuted. The former head of internal affairs at CBP, James Tomsheck, who declined to comment for this story, claims he was pushed out in 2014 because he fought against a “paramilitary” mindset and a culture of evading accountability for abuses. This week, the Supreme Court is hearing a case to determine whether parents of a Mexican teenager shot and killed by a CBP agent can sue.

And that’s in this context:

The administration’s rush to beef up border security comes as illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico have sunk to their lowest levels in four decades; among Mexican immigrants, the flow has in fact reversed since 2000…

As for the son of the boxer, and the seventy-year-old Australian writer, and the French scholar, Kevin Drum asks this:

Whenever we hear stories like these, there’s one thing that’s constant: the border agents act like complete assholes. Why? Even if you think someone is here on the wrong visa or an expired visa or whatnot, why treat them like shit? What does that buy you?

It buys you a way to sneer that it’s America first, and the New York Times adds context:

In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreigners who had arrived for hearings on other matters.

At Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco were asked to show their documents before they were allowed to get off the plane.

The Trump administration’s far-reaching plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been introduced in dramatic fashion over the past month. And much of that task has fallen to thousands of ICE officers who are newly emboldened, newly empowered and already getting to work.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ICE and is icy now:

Interviews with 17 agents and officials across the country, including in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Washington and California, demonstrated how quickly a new atmosphere in the agency had taken hold. Since they are forbidden to talk to the press, they requested anonymity out of concern for losing their jobs.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Tuesday that the president wanted to “take the shackles off” of agents, an expression the officers themselves used time and again in interviews to describe their newfound freedom.

“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” the unions representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said in a joint statement after President Trump issued the executive orders on immigration late last month.

That may be a problem:

Two officials in Washington said that the shift – and the new enthusiasm that has come with it – seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.

But boys will be boys, playing soldier:

Agents are, in fact, predominantly male and have often served in the military, with a police department or both. New agents take a five-week Spanish language program as well as firearms training; they also learn driving maneuvers and have to pass seven written examinations and a physical-fitness test that includes an obstacle course.

The element of surprise is central to their work, and the sight of even a single white van emblazoned with the words Department of Homeland Security can create fear and cause people to flee. To minimize public contact, the arrests are frequently made in the early morning hours.

A supervisor in Northern California described a typical operation, with teams of at least five members rising before dawn, meeting as early as 4 a.m. to make arrests before their targets depart for work. To avoid distressing families and children, the agents prefer to apprehend people outside their homes, approaching them as soon as they step onto a public sidewalk and, once identified, placing them in handcuffs.

But arrests can appear dramatic, as agents arrive in large numbers, armed with semiautomatic handguns and wearing dark bulletproof vests with ICE in bright white letters on them. When they do have to enter a home officers knock loudly and announce themselves as the police, a term they can legally use. Many times, children are awakened in the process, and watch as a parent is taken away.

These guys are having “fun” with this, in that sneering Trump kind of way, but sometimes they hit a wall:

Perhaps their biggest challenge, said the supervisor in California, is the agency’s steadily deteriorating relationship with other law enforcement agencies, especially in liberal-leaning cities that have vowed to protect immigrants from deportation, known as sanctuary cities.

In one city alone, the supervisor said, the police once transferred 35 undocumented immigrants a day into federal custody, compared with roughly five per week during the final years of the Obama presidency.

On Thursday, Los Angeles, a sanctuary city, asked that ICE agents stop calling themselves police officers, saying it was damaging residents’ trust of the city’s own police officers.

It’s safe to assume the ICE agents laughed at that, but the old way is giving way to the new way:

Although all of the agents interviewed felt the old priorities had kept them from doing their jobs, John Sandweg, an acting director of ICE in the Obama administration, defended the rules as making the best use of limited resources. Without them, he said, fewer dangerous people might get deported. “There are 10 seats on the bus, they go to the first 10 you grab,” Mr. Sandweg said. “It diminishes the chances that it’s a violent offender.”

He said that he had spent a lot of time on the road, speaking at town halls where he heard a great deal from the rank-and-file agents about the priorities. “Certainly they were not terribly popular,” he said. “They wanted unfettered discretion.”

Agents said that even with the added freedom, they would still go after the people who presented the greatest danger to the public. And what Mr. Sandweg called unfettered discretion, they called enforcing the law.

“The discretion has come back to us; it’s up to us to make decisions in the field,” a 15-year veteran in California said. “We’re trusted again.”

And there will be tens of thousands more of them, hired with no requirements for a polygraph, or an entrance exam or a background check – trusted to do this work, in the name of America First.

Sandra Hernandez, the vice president for communication at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, writes about these things:

One case I reported on involved a U.S. citizen who had once before been wrongly deported to Mexico. When I met him, he was a candidate for deportation after he’d been convicted of drug possession. Again and again he told ICE he was an American, born in California’s Madera County. His family produced a birth certificate but neither the agents nor the immigration judge were convinced. Instead he was threatened with an added charge: impersonating a U.S. citizen. It took publishing a newspaper story about his plight to gain his release.

In another case, agents attempted to deport a Senegalese man who had a legal stay from a federal court allowing him to remain in the U.S. while his case was adjudicated. ICE dealt with him under a covert program that forcibly drugged immigrants with powerful psychotropics so they wouldn’t resist as they were loaded onto commercial airliners for the trip “home.” At LAX, airline officials refused to transport him. He eventually succeeded in court and is now a legal permanent resident.

There’s the young man in Washington state with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. He was rousted from bed and accused of being a deportable gang member. His lawyers say the charge is only supported by doctored documents. On Wednesday, federal agents removed a Salvadoran woman, reportedly scheduled for emergency brain surgery, from a Texas hospital bed.

The stories pile up, but it’s more than customs and immigration:

Jeena Sharma, 25, was applying for a work visa to the United States when news came that two Indian engineers had been shot in a Kansas bar by a man who drunkenly questioned their immigration status.

News of the shootings, which took place last Wednesday, was quickly eclipsed by other developments in Washington, and even in Kansas, but the same cannot be said of the Sharma household of Mumbai, where Ms. Sharma has received emphatic maternal lectures about her plans to move, starting first thing in the morning.

“She asked me: ‘Why do you even need to go to the States? Why do you need to go to a country that doesn’t want you? I’m going to be scared for your life every day,'” Ms. Sharma said.

Even as she endeavored, patiently, to convey to her mother the difference between Kansas and New York City, where she hopes to move, Ms. Sharma felt her own apprehensions growing, as the days passed and President Trump made no statement on the crime.

Why do you need to go to a country that doesn’t want you? There are reasons, because of the immediate specific needs of tech industry for one, but no more:

India is second only to China as a feeder to American colleges, with around 165,000 students enrolled in the 2015-16 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. Indians are the largest recipients of temporary skilled worker visas, known as H-1B visas, which the Trump administration intends to cut back. And close to half a million Indians, who mostly went to the United States legally as students or tourists or on work visas, have stayed on after their visas expired, the Pew Research Center estimates.

Reports of rising American hostility toward immigrants have stunned many Indians, said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who visited Hyderabad recently.

“I had a guy on a plane sitting next to me, who turned to me and said, ‘Is it true, what they say about America under Trump?'” she said. “There is a kind of confusion: What is happening to the United States? People can’t believe what they’re reading.”

There’s only one answer:

Nageswara Rao, 71, whose son and daughter work in the software sector in the United States, said he was “not much worried,” though he does dispense regular advice on safety measures.

“It is always better to keep away from bars,” he said. His children are safe, he added, “Because they don’t go to these bars where white people are more.”

That’s good advice, but none of this is Trump’s fault:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that it was “absurd” to suggest any connection between President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and a triple shooting in Kansas that some witnesses described as racially motivated.

“Any loss of life is tragic but I’m not going to get into that kind of – to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd, so I’m not going to get any further than that,” Spicer told reporters during a press gaggle recorded by the Washington Post.

Fine, but there was the event:

Adam Purinton, a 51-year-old resident of Olathe, Kansas, was arrested on Thursday in connection with a triple shooting the night before.

He allegedly shouted “get out of my country” before opening fire on Wednesday and later told a bartender that he had killed two Middle Eastern men, according to a report by the Kansas City Star.

This was an “America First” event, but Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla were quite legal immigrants from India, not the Middle East, and Kuchibhotla later died, and Purinton was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Maybe he can get a job with Customs and Border Protection. They won’t be doing background checks anymore.

Donald Trump has changed things. We have become him. America is turning in on itself, sneering at all others while congratulating itself. It’s an icy place now.

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Information Please

Things aren’t what they seem. The crowds at Donald Trump’s inauguration were the largest crowds ever, far larger that Obama’s previous record crowd. The photographs do show otherwise, but they’re only photographs. And that women’s march the next day wasn’t much. There are the photographs of massive crowds in Washington and every other major American city, and footage of massive crowds in cities around the world, and smaller crowds in every small town in America – but it wasn’t much – maybe twenty-three ugly women on a corner in Alexandria, Virginia, paid by George Soros. And the current angry town hall meetings all across America, where Republican congressmen and senators, now in recess and home again, are getting a local earful about Trump – about Obamacare, which is suddenly popular now that those who finally have health insurance realize that the Republicans have no alternative and never really had one and folks are gonna die, and about the Russian business and how Trump really needs to release his tax returns – aren’t much. Those people might have been bussed in. They might be paid by George Soros. Maybe all of that was set up by Obama to ruin Trump and to somehow take over America again. That’s possible – and those who control information – what everyone agrees is so – control the world. Information, please!

That’s the battle, but some try to have it both ways:

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said Thursday that he had decided not to hold town halls with his constituents because he thought such events turned “into a screaming session.”

Asked if angry protesters at town halls were being paid, King said he thought the town hall attendees were “legitimate,” but that yelling at the events “diminishes democracy.”

“There are people who are just angry, they’re angry that Trump won, that Hillary lost. There are others who are being, I guess, egged on, if you will. So I’m assuming that they’re all legitimate, but to me it just does not serve a purpose.”

So they weren’t bussed in and paid by George Soros, as Obama had arranged, and their concerns are legitimate – but they shout. That’s undemocratic. People shouldn’t shout. People in democracies don’t shout. Peter King will have nothing to do with such nonsense.

That’s one way to look at it, but things look even grimmer to others:

The head of the National Rifle Association painted anti-Donald Trump protesters as violent extremists and compared their disruptions to terrorism during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

“Ladies and gentlemen, another definition of terrorism is violence in the name of politics,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA. “And criminal violence has no place in political debate.”

These people are out to kill conservatives:

“The left’s message is absolutely clear. They want revenge, you’ve got to be punished,” LaPierre said. “They say you’re what’s wrong with America and now you’ve got to be purged.”

He said many on the extreme left “literally hate everything America stands for” and “are willing to use violence against us.”

Grab your gun. Things are a bit strange in Wayne’s World. His folks are the ones with guns, but the idea is that this sort of thing has to stop, and there are plans for that:

Since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.”

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Some are introducing bills because they say they’re necessary to counter the actions of “paid” or “professional” protesters who set out to intimidate or disrupt, a common accusation that experts agree is largely overstated. “You now have a situation where you have full-time, quasi-professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” said Republican state senator John Kavanagh of Arizona in support of a measure there that would bring racketeering charges against some protesters.

That’s the problem, an attempt to create public disorder, which is no more than information to counter what Kellyanne Conway famously said are Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” – an open admission that this is an information war, about what everyone agrees is so.

That’s the battlefield, and here are some of the weapons:

Arizona’s bill, introduced this week, would open up protests to anti-racketeering legislation, targeting protesters with the same laws used to combat organized crime syndicates. It would also allow police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent. It recently passed the state Senate on a party-line vote and is now before the House.

Go to a protest, and it gets rowdy, and you will lose your house and your car and your bank account. That’ll keep people in line, or this will:

An Iowa bill supported by nine Republican sponsors would make protesters who intentionally block highways subject to felony charges and up to five years in prison. The bill’s lead sponsor told the Des Moines Register it was introduced in response to a November incident in which a protest Trump shut down part of Interstate 80 in Iowa.

Or these will:

Washington lawmakers are considering a bill to increase penalties for people blocking highways and railways, acts that the bill’s sponsor has characterized as “economic terrorism.”

A bill introduced by Republican George Gainer in the Florida Senate this month would provide criminal penalties for protesters obstructing traffic and exempt drivers from liability if they struck a protester under certain conditions. It was filed this week, and if enacted would take force on July 1.

Yes, anyone who runs over a protester, intentionally or not, will face no charges at all, and there’s this:

A North Carolina Republican has pledged to introduce legislation making it a crime to “threaten, intimidate or retaliate against” current or former state officials, in response to an incident involving the heckling of Gov. Pat McCrory. The Senator proposing the legislation, Dan Bishop, confirmed via email that he still intends to introduce the legislation, perhaps as early as next week, after consulting with potential co-sponsors.

It’s unclear whether heckling a politician will be a misdemeanor or a felony, but it will be a crime, which would solve Peter King’s problem, but this Washington Post item also adds perspective:

This is by no means the first time in American history that widespread protests have inspired a legislative backlash, says Douglas McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor who studies protest movements. “For instance, southern legislatures – especially in the Deep South – responded to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education) with dozens and dozens of new bills outlawing civil rights groups, limiting the rights of assembly, etc. all in an effort to make civil rights organizing more difficult,” he said via email.

“Similarly,” he added, “laws designed to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights were common in the late 19th/early 20th century.”

But it’s still nonsense:

The ACLU’s Rowland says the new bills are not about “creating new rules that are necessary because of some gap in the law.” She points out, for instance, that “every single city and county in the United States” already has laws on the books against obstructing traffic on busy roads.

Rather, Rowland says the laws’ intent is “increasing the penalties for protest-related activity to the point that it results in self-censorship among protesters who have every intention to obey the law.”

That’s the idea, isn’t it? It may be necessary:

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks said Thursday that protests at town halls around the country might prevent Republican lawmakers from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“I’ll tell you, Toni, there are, in my opinion, a significant number of congressmen who are being impacted by these kinds of protests and their spine is a little bit weak,” the Alabama congressman said in an interview on “The Morning Show with Toni & Gary” on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. “And I don’t know if we’re going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they’re putting pressure on congressman and there’s not a counter-effort to steel the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country.”

Mo Brooks knows that his side is losing the information war. They need a pep-talk. It’s half time. Go out and win one for the Gipper, even if the Gipper here is played by Donald Trump, not Ronald Reagan.

But there are other ways to win this information war:

The White House blocked a number of news organizations from attending an informal briefing Friday – a rare and surprising move that came amid President Trump’s escalating war against the media.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer banned reporters from CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from attending a “gaggle,” a non-televised briefing, but gave access to a number of other reporters, including those representing conservative outlets.

The White House said the decision was not made to exclude journalists from organizations that have been the most critical of Trump in their reporting in favor of those who are more favorable. Although the invited included Fox News, Breitbart and the Washington Times – all considered sympathetic to the administration – the approved list also included CBS, NBC, ABC, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Time and the Associated Press.

However, reporters from AP and Time decided against attending the briefing in protest of the exclusion of other news outlets.

This may be a minor matter, an informal non-televised briefing held daily, but it is one skirmish in a larger war:

The unusual ban came the same day that Trump, appearing at an annual gathering of conservatives, launched another round of complaints about the news media. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump called reporters “dishonest” and “fake” and denounced the use of anonymous sources in reports about his administration.

Trump himself has served as an anonymous source on occasion and in the early 1990s occasionally posed as a fake anonymous source to promote himself. His blast about anonymous sourcing came a few hours after senior White House officials demanded anonymity from reporters in a briefing to criticize a CNN report that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had asked FBI officials to publicly disavow stories about Trump campaign aides’ contacts with Russian sources.

It’s that Russian thing again, getting hotter:

While Trump made lambasting the media a regular feature of his presidential campaign – and banned about a dozen news organizations from covering his rallies – he seemed to ratchet up his rhetoric last week by tweeting that various news outlets were “the enemy of the American people.” He repeated that description on Friday in his speech at CPAC. And Late Friday night, Trump kept up his Twitter attack, writing: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!”

Yes, they’re the enemy of the American people, and one should know one’s enemies:

The selected group included One America News Network, a small, conservative cable network that was founded in 2013 and has given favorable coverage to Trump. Among those excluded was CNN, which on Thursday broke the story of Priebus’s contacts with the FBI, and the New York Times, which first reported last week on alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign advisers and Russian officials. BuzzFeed, another excluded outlet, was the sole publisher of a 35-page dossier containing unproven allegations about Trump, including supposed compromising personal information.

Spicer’s move was almost immediately denounced by news organizations as unfair and a step toward throttling the press.

“It’s not acceptable,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on his afternoon program. “In fact, it’s petulant … This White House doesn’t seem to value a free press. There’s a word for this. The word is ‘un-American.'”

Trump was arguing that it’s un-American to report, from anonymous sources, that his chief of staff asked the FBI to say that there was nothing to this Russian business, and the FBI refused. That was great danger to our country? That was a danger to Trump.

Josh Marshall tries to straighten this out:

The places breaking the unwelcome Trump/Russia stories are blocked.

CNN is in high dudgeon over this, as are other outlets, which is entirely understandable. But I’d like to make a basic point about how we should see this, how journalists and news organizations should treat this. I think it is both more accurate and more productive to see this as cowardice rather than some sacrilege against journalism.

That’s what we’re dealing with here:

It is far preferable to have a President and a White House who believe in democratic and American values. But we don’t. It is best to recognize that fact and act accordingly. Whining is never a good look for journalists, for myriad reasons. Not least of which is that it plays into all the tools that authoritarians mobilize against a free press and American values.

That can be done:

The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. The most consequential reporting being done right now isn’t happening in the briefings. It’s happening with the ‘anonymous sources’ that President Trump says need to stand before him for retribution.

Marshall sees that as un-American:

Authoritarianism is inimical to American political culture. It is a sometimes visitor, an annoying relative. But it has never been a welcome visitor or an owner of the national home. This doesn’t mean that our history is unblemished. Far from it. To pick only one of the most glaring examples, even after emancipation, for almost a century the American South maintained a political system of democracy for whites and terror-enforced near-rightlessness for blacks. But that doesn’t change the continuities of political culture for whites, which non-whites and other minority groups have fought for decades and centuries to enter on equal terms. We know what our culture and traditions are. This isn’t it.

This is Trump’s problem:

Authoritarians always portray attacks on a free press as a sign of strength when in fact it’s sign of cowardice and weakness. Perhaps another way to put it is that weakness and strength have a particular meaning for free people. Fear of free people or violence against their mores is weakness. In our tradition if you fear free society, if you run to toadying sycophants to avoid being challenged, or demand followers toast your every action with superlatives, you’re a coward. You’re weak. You lack the strength to lead. This isn’t Russia. It’s not Horthy’s Hungary. This is America.

This isn’t surprising. We got a look yesterday at the mind and driver behind Trumpism, Steve Bannon. Bannon pitches himself as a champion of American ‘nationalism’, but it is a peculiar nationalism which takes most of its ideas and examples from the toxic and blooded authoritarians of 1930s-era Central and Eastern Europe. It’s no accident that we also learned today that Bannon’s ‘nationalist’ intellectual, Sebastian Gorka, was actually involved in forming a far-right political party in Hungary with known anti-Semites as recently as the aughts. So the guy who is going to give us American nationalism was born in Britain, set up shop as a rightist nationalist in Hungary before deciding to show up in America and become a citizen. Are we even sure we’re the last stop on his global tour?

That is odd, but this is an aberration:

The American experiment is a kind of de facto exile, perhaps an internal exile, but an exile still. The good news is that the majority doesn’t support Trumpism. But Trumpism has taken possession of the key powers of the state. It will require being aggressively American to beat back Bannon’s thuggish practices and contempt for the habits of free people.

Jake Tapper is working on that, but the information wars continue. In the Washington Post, Greg Miller had the Friday night scoop with Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories:

The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

Again, they wanted “their” information out there and did what they could:

The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.

The effort also involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. A spokesman for Nunes said that he had already begun speaking to reporters to challenge the story and that, “at the request of a White House communications aide, Chairman Nunes then spoke to an additional reporter and delivered the same message.”

The Trump administration’s actions reflect its level of concern about coverage of its relationship with Russia. Trump has continued to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, even after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential race to help Trump win.

Trump has also repeatedly disparaged the intelligence agencies that his administration last week turned to for support. Shortly before taking office, Trump accused U.S. spy agencies of a Nazi-style leaks campaign to smear him.

Our spy agencies refused. The heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees, investigating Trump, did not. The work of those committees is now compromised. Who will believe anything they conclude? If Trump had wanted calls for an independent kind of 9/11 Committee he couldn’t have done more. Information, please!

Team Trump is losing this war, and there was the other Friday night scoop:

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011.

That was unfortunate:

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month. Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges.

There’s a lot of detail here, but it comes down to this. Trump directed the analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence operation to find proof that those seven countries were a real problem – only that proof would save his travel ban. They looked. They found nothing. They reported that. Homeland Security spiked the report. Someone at Homeland Security got pissed and leaked the report to the Associated Press and now it’s on line for everyone to see – and the Trump team is trying to explain that. They lost this battle in the information war.

And they lost this one too:

President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.

That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.

It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn, who was also a three-star Army general before retiring.

Those who control information – what everyone agrees is so – control the world. McMaster wins battles too. That’s his thing.

And there was this minor battle:

When President Donald Trump took the stage Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he was greeted with cheers, chants of “USA,” and dozens of Russian flags.

Two young, progressive activists from DC, Jason Charter and Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action, purchased tickets to the conference, and handed out nearly 1,000 flags to attendees as a prank. After they were thrown out of the conference, they told Talking Points Memo they wanted to “shed light on an important issue” – namely, the drip of revelations of backchannel communications between the Russian government and the Trump campaign – and allow people to “get a laugh out of their day.”

CPAC staff quickly confiscated the flags, but not before lots of photos of Trump folks waving Russian flags went viral. This was guerilla warfare. Information wars can be fun too. Things aren’t what they seem, but sometimes they are.

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Mastering Fear

It’s been said before. It’s good to be loved, but that’s a fickle thing – a fool’s errand. It’s better to be respected, but that’s hard work and takes years. The third option is a bit easier – be feared. That’ll do, and that may be our new foreign policy – a Trump thing from his days on Celebrity Apprentice. “You’re fired!” No one wants to hear that. Fear of humiliation works wonders. People shape up, or submit.

Keep them off-balance. Confuse them– and that may explain last week’s security conference in Munich – where Vice President Pence gave a stirring speech in defense of NATO – the key alliance that has kept Europe and the world stable for almost seventy years. He said he spoke for Donald Trump, who keeps saying that NATO is obsolete and if other countries don’t pay their fair share we might not defend them, effectively ending the whole point of NATO in the first place. No one there seemed to believe the vice president – they had heard the president. They were appropriately confused – and confused about the United States and the European Union. Pence said it was wonderful – the nations of Europe opening their borders and using a single currency and deciding to act as one, as best they could. There would be no 1914 or 1939 again – no more pointless nationalistic wars over there. But of course Donald Trump cheered when Britain chose to leave the EU and keeps saying he hopes other EU nations will do the same. America will negotiate trade treaties with each, one by one. Mike Pence was again left flat-footed. He said he spoke for Trump. He clearly didn’t.

Europe is now frightened by the United States – and it didn’t help that Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, had called Germany’s ambassador here in Washington a week before Vice President Pence’s trip and told him the EU was worthless. Other nations should leave. Bannon of course is a nationalist – people naturally want to defend their nation, and its economy, and their language and their unique culture, to keep it pure. That’s human nature, and he has Trump’s ear. America First! That didn’t come from nowhere – and Trump did win the election, because of the nature of human nature.

The Trump administration denied that the Bannon chat was about that, and the Germans then decided to say nothing. They don’t want to piss off Donald Trump. Fear works wonders, particularly when it’s based on confusion. Keep them off-balance. They’ll shape up or submit.

That’s the plan, or so it seems, and now it’s Mexico:

In the White House, President Trump was telling American chief executives on Thursday that the days of being treated unfairly by Mexico – on trade, on immigration, on crime – were over.

“You see what’s happening at the border: All of a sudden, for the first time, we’re getting gang members out,” Mr. Trump said, referring to his instructions to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants. “And it’s a military operation.”

But in Mexico, his homeland security secretary, John F. Kelly, was saying the opposite, trying to tamp down fears of a military operation and to assure the public that American soldiers would not be used to police the border.

“I repeat: There will be no use of military in this,” Mr. Kelly said at a news conference on Thursday, appearing with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. “At least half of you try to get that right, because it continues to come up in your reporting.”

That didn’t help much:

Last month, on the first day of a trip to Washington by Mexico’s foreign minister, Mr. Trump signed an executive order to build a wall between the two countries.

Then, this week, just before Mr. Kelly and Mr. Tillerson touched down in Mexico, his administration released policies that vastly expanded the potential for deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Yes, keep them off-balance, but that’s hard to manage:

On Thursday, the contradictions between the president and his top staff raised a pressing question: Which version of Washington will come to bear on Mexico in the coming months? Will it be the aggressive approach of the president or the more reassuring stance of Mr. Kelly, who will be assigned to oversee some of the proposals likely to antagonize Mexico the most?

“Let me be very, very clear,” Mr. Kelly said, assuring Mexicans that the rules for deporting people from the United States had not fundamentally changed – another possible contradiction of his boss. “There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations.”

No one was buying that, and things were icy:

The statements during the visit offered a startling departure from past trips to Mexico by American diplomats. Four officials – two from Mexico and two from the United States – walked into a large ballroom with grim faces and made carefully worded comments without taking any questions.

It was the kind of cautious staging normally seen after tough negotiations between adversaries, not talks between friendly neighbors. No one suggested that a breakthrough had been made.

“Two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray of Mexico called it a “complex moment in the relationship.”

That’s all he could say:

In the last month, Mexican officials have shown cautious restraint, and even silence, in response to Mr. Trump’s threats, often to the frustration of the Mexican people.

Their logic, officials say, is clear-eyed: To descend into a fight with the United States would serve no one, least of all the Mexican people who are spoiling for a harder line against Mr. Trump.

But that is not to say the Mexicans are without recourse. While they are hoping to avoid a confrontation, the whispers of discontent have started to spread.

The minister of economy has said there will be no trade talks without similar talks on security and migration, twin areas of vulnerability for the United States.

And Mr. Videgaray, responding to a directive from Mr. Trump broadening the scope of deportations in America, has vowed to bring to the United Nations any actions by the United States to send non-Mexicans to Mexico.

That last bit is odd. If someone from Brazil crosses into the United States over the Mexican border, the United States will deport them to… Mexico? Mexico was having none of that, and Trump may be picking the wrong fight here:

Mexico is keenly aware of its leverage in the bilateral relationship: billions of dollars in agricultural purchases by Mexico, a decade of security cooperation to dismantle cartels and intercept drugs destined for the United States, and the detention of hundreds of thousands of migrants passing through Mexico on their way to America’s southern border.

On trade, putting aside the supply chains of vehicles and electronics engineered by the North American Free Trade Agreement, agriculture is a major vulnerability for the United States. Mexico is an immense purchaser of American farm goods.

The nation is the No. 1 purchaser of American corn, dairy, pork and rice. Mexico purchased nearly $2 billion of corn in 2016 and also bought large amounts of soybeans, wheat, cotton and beef.

A Mexican lawmaker recently proposed a bill to redirect purchases of corn away from the United States, a tactic that could devastate American corn farmers in the heartland of Mr. Trump’s base.

This could get nasty in a way that Donald Trump hadn’t considered, and there’s this:

On national security, Mexico also plays a large role. The government could slow down extraditions to the United States, keeping sought-after drug lords like Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, instead of sending them north. It could also stop deporting American fugitives who have fled to Mexico.

Perhaps more threatening to the United States would be a reconsideration of Mexico’s participation in the drug war. For more than a decade, the Mexican authorities have cooperated in arresting top cartel leaders and intercepting drug shipments destined for the United States.

Mexico could also leverage its participation in the sharing of intelligence. The vast majority of drugs funneled – and tunneled – through Mexico are not for domestic consumption.

“We receive information from Mexican authorities on a daily basis that helps us better target drugs smugglers at the border,” said Gil Kerlikowske, who was the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection in the Obama administration. “These are ties we want to strengthen, not weaken.”

Donald Trump hasn’t thought this through:

In 2014, Mexico launched Plan Frontera Sur to safeguard its southern border from migrants trying to enter from Central America. The plan has essentially served as a dragnet 1,000 miles south of the Texas border, catching hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans en route to the United States.

Some experts and officials have suggested that Mexico could simply ease up on its border patrols, granting passage to large numbers of Central Americans. That would not only swamp the American authorities, but might enable potentially dangerous migrants to slip into the country.

It was time for at least a little clean-up:

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, tried later in the day to clarify the contradiction between Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Kelly’s remarks. He said that Mr. Trump had not meant to characterize the deportation efforts as a military operation, arguing that the president had been using the word “military” as an adjective.

“It’s being done with precision,” Mr. Spicer said.

In short, ignore what Trump says. He just says things, but Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer in Foreign Policy note this:

Mexicans more broadly gave Tillerson and Kelly a decidedly lukewarm welcome. Someone (though the bus company would not say who) rented a bus adorned with an advertisement featuring Trump’s visage and a quote that roughly translates to, “We are Mexicans and we fuck your mother.”

And then there was the Foreign Minister:

Videgaray said Wednesday that Mexico had no reason to accept unilateral decisions imposed by another country. “We are not going to accept that, because we don’t have to.”

That was about Trump’s wall, which they won’t pay for, and Josh Marshall offers this:

It’s amazing that we are actually having a discussion over whether the US and Mexico can mend their differences over the US demand that Mexico pay what amounts to a war indemnity to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. It’s not just that Mexico hasn’t agreed to this. It is important to step back and realize that this is the kind of demand that usually happens in the context of punishment or exaction for losing a war or some other belligerent action.

The demand that Mexico pay for a wall has never really been about money. As wasteful and needless as the wall is, its cost would be manageable in the context of the total US national budget. The point of the demand is humiliation. It is comparable to the way authoritarian regimes (like China, for instance) sometimes charge the family of an executed criminal for the bullets used to execute their loved one. It’s not the money; it’s degradation.

It’s actually about Celebrity Apprentice – Trump humiliates those useless losers – but it’s more than that:

It’s not just that Mexico doesn’t need to pay for Trump’s wall. It would be terrible if they did.

In recent decades we have, as a society, radically changed our collective attitude toward bullying and abuse of various kinds – the denigration, the demeaning and damaging of the weak by the strong. With respect to Trump, Mexico and his wall, our position as Americans is comparable to being bystanders to abuse. We’re complicit if we don’t at a minimum speak up because between nations, on a national level, this is assault. It is one party with greater power using that power over a weaker party with the specific aim of demeaning and denigrating, of theft.

That may make good reality television but awful policy:

There’s no equitable question here we’re trying to resolve – some relative level of protection for US wages vis a vis lower wage workers in Mexico, no negotiation about who should foot the bill for some environmental degradation in the shared border region…

It is of a piece, intrinsic to the President’s entire worldview and instincts. The strong abuse the weak and society is structured around the hierarchies such abuse creates. As I described at various points over the course of the 2016 election, in the Trumpian worldview there are only the dominating and the dominated. There is no middle ground, let alone broad relations of equality and consensual freedom, where most of us experience much of the world. All relationships are zero-sum. For me to win, you have to lose. This is the root of Trump’s endless references to humiliation, to being laughed at. This worldview is the essence of Trumpism and its politics is the promise to put “us” back on the dominating side of the equation.

In this sense, the wall drama and who pays for it, isn’t really a budgetary issue at all. It’s something far more basic, far more essential to who we are, to how we act as a nation.

And who are we, as a nation? CNN reports that it has come to this:

A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smooths the grain of the wood floor in the dining room.

But this home Pastor Ada Valiente is showing off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home.

“It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says.

By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation.

The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California.

The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.

“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says.

Think of the Underground Railroad, or more precisely, to use Sean Spicer’s term, think of Anne Frank in the attic:

At another Los Angeles neighborhood, miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday.

The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door.

“I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”

It should be:

Under federal law, locations like churches and synagogues are technically public spaces that authorities could enter to conduct law enforcement actions. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security instituted a policy limiting ICE action at religious locations. The policy ordered ICE to not enter “sensitive locations” like schools and institutions of worship.

Religious leaders in Los Angeles that spoke to CNN are skeptical whether that policy will stand under a Trump presidency.

“There’s a difference between someone knocking on your door at the church who’s a federal agent and someone knocking on the door of your home, where, if they don’t have a warrant, they shouldn’t be entering,” Hoover says.

Right, but that could change, and at the other end of the country:

A news photographer has documented the latest fallout from U.S. immigration policy to hit Canada: asylum-seekers crossing illegally from the United States into its northern neighbor, where they are promptly arrested. The immigrants say they would rather be arrested in Canada then continue seeking a legal way to live in the United States.

A Reuters news photographer on Friday photographed several people fleeing a U.S. border protection officer in New York state, one of the most popular crossing points into the Canadian province of Quebec.

As U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to a gully at one of the unofficial crossing points, reporters witnessed four other adults and four children cross the gully. A photograph shows that at least one of the refugees had a passport from Sudan.

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police waited for them on the other side, helping the children up the hill and offering medical care.

It seems that we’ve become the bad guys, and Rolling Stone reports this:

Passengers of a domestic Delta flight from San Francisco to New York were told to show their identity documents to uniformed agents of the Customs and Border Protection agency upon their arrival at John F. Kennedy airport on Wednesday evening.

CBP officers are border agents, whose statutory authority is generally limited to international arrivals.

CBP agents inspected passenger identifications on the jet bridge by the door of the aircraft. A CBP spokesman insisted to Rolling Stone that this action is “nothing new” and that there is “no new policy.” But the unusual – and legally questionable – search of domestic travelers comes days after the Department of Homeland Security outlined its plans to implement President Trump’s sweeping executive order targeting millions of “removable aliens” for deportation.

Upon deplaning from Delta Flight 1583 in New York, passenger Anne Garrett tweeted, “We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.'”

Keep up the fear, and the confusion:

Rolling Stone asked CBP to point to its statutory authority to stop and examine the identity documents of deplaning domestic passengers. The spokesman sent a link to a document titled CBP Search Authority. The document refers to CBP’s authority to inspect international arrivals. Specifically, it cites 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states, “All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer.” The CBP document adds: “CBP has the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States.”

Asked to clarify CBP’s authority over domestic passengers, the spokesman replied that “at this time this is all I have.”

That was it, and the fear spreads, and Ed Kilgore adds this:

“Fear in the immigrant community” is itself a crucial tool for this administration given the signs that it would prefer that as many as possible of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country decide to self-deport. It is certainly less expensive and visible than running down huge numbers of people, holding them in detention facilities, and then shipping them out of the country…

If the self-deportation strategy doesn’t work substantively or politically, then we will find out whether Kelly and Trump have the stomach for the police-state tactics that would be necessary to deport many millions of people by force.

Sure, but fear works wonders so it may not come to that, and Kevin Drum sees a resolution:

I doubt that this noisy crackdown will cause very many undocumented workers to go back to Mexico or Central America. This is not the first time they’ve been the target of a grandstanding politician, and for the most part they’ll ride it out, just as they have with previous crackdowns.

However, it might very well dissuade further illegal immigration. What with the wall and the increased border security and the raids, a fair number of people might decide that the benefits of migrating to El Norte aren’t worth the risk. In other words, Trump’s style of TV-driven governing with little substance behind it might actually work here.

The question, of course, is how long it will work. Not forever, because TV will soon get bored and move on to something new no matter how much ICE tries to amp-up the outrages to get ever more coverage. So maybe it buys Trump six months or a year. After that, if he really wants to cut down the flow of illegal immigration across the border, he’s going to have to adopt an actually effective policy, something he hasn’t yet shown an aptitude for. He’s also going to have to deal with all the good Republican business owners who are going to get increasingly antsy for as long as this keeps up. They need workers, and they won’t be happy if Trump gets too carried away with all this.

That’s hopeful, or naïve. It’s good to be loved, but it’s better to be respected, but it’s easier to be feared – and it feels good too, at least to some people. Those are the ones who elected Donald Trump.

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Babysitting the Mad King

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The polls said this wasn’t going to happen – but Donald Trump certainly is the president. In his most recent press conference he said he won in the largest Electoral College victory in recent history. A reporter pointed out that wasn’t so. He had the figures. Trump backtracked. He was only talking about Republican presidents. The reporter pointed out that wasn’t so either. Trump backtracked again. He had been told that. Someone said that. He said it didn’t matter. He was president, so sit down and shut up.

That was unpleasant, but no more unpleasant than Trump’s repeated claim that he actually won the popular vote, even if the official and certified tallies show he lost the popular vote, by almost three million votes. No one’s with him on that, but he’s said he’s forming a commission to prove that three to five million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton – every damned one of them – the worst case of voter fraud in history. His vice president, Mike Pence, is to head that commission.

They have yet to meet. They may never meet, and his Republican Congress has said that they’ll pay for no such thing. They want to repeal Obamacare, somehow, without doing too much damage, and lower taxes on the wealthy, the job creators, and deregulate the financial system, and most everything else, and do something about abortion, and gays, and probably something about people who don’t accept Jesus as theirf personal savior. They’re busy. They don’t have time for Trump’s nonsense. They try to say that as nicely as possible.

Al Franken, the Democratic senator, has said his Republican colleagues in the Senate have told him they worry about Trump’s mental health – off the record of course. They dare not say that in public. Trump would end each of their careers with one of his classic tweetstorms. His voters would then end their careers. Say nothing. Trump might well be might mentally ill (as in quite crazy) – but that notion is both a bit dangerous and a bit silly – no one should diagnose at a distance, particularly angry amateurs, and even Lincoln suffered from what we’d now call clinical depression. He called it melancholia and he did just fine.

Donald Trump doesn’t have that problem. Clinical depression requires self-awareness. Too much of that will drive you crazy. Too little of that – what Jonathan Swift called “the perpetual possession of being well-deceived” – is another matter. There’s a name for that too – Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A large panel of perhaps unethical psychiatrists – diagnosing a man they never met – has decided that seems to be the problem here – but one of them notes that there are no good options when it comes to dealing with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.

That’s a serious mental illness, or the guy’s just a pain in the ass. He’s functional but he’s difficult. Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports on those difficulties – on the methods used by Trump’s staffers to manipulate what might be called his delicate and damaged psyche:

President Donald Trump’s former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.

The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up – and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.

“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg. “The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.”

This takes some strange turns:

Staff members had one advantage as they aimed to manage candidate Trump’s media diet: He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers – especially his go-to, The New York Times – and reading material his staff brought to his desk. Indeed, his media consumption habits were on full display during his roller-coaster news conference this past Thursday, when he continually remarked on what the media would write “tomorrow,” even as print outlets’ websites already had posted stories about his remarks…

Trump is also, however, a near-nonstop consumer of cable news, and his staff’s efforts were not always enough to keep Trump from tweeting on topics that were far from his campaign’s core message. Throughout the campaign, whatever messaging the candidate’s staff had planned was continually accompanied – and often overshadowed – by a string of feuds that played out both on and off Twitter.

But his team believed that its strategies would keep Trump from taking to his preferred social media outlet to escalate his personal or political conflicts.

They’d plant stories on Fox News, or at least request certain emphases, and carefully filter his reading material:

One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And if Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say…

During another damage control mission, when former Miss Universe Alicia Machado took to the airwaves to call out Trump for calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” the communications team scrambled to place a story in conservative friendly outlets like Fox News, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller and Breitbart.

They feed him those “alternative facts” to keep him from ruining himself, but still, he surfs cable television for hours, a habit that can feed the problem:

Leaving him alone for several hours can prove damaging, because he consumes too much television and gripes to people outside the White House.

But there may be a reason for that:

Part of the current problem is Trump is still adjusting to his new circumstances and has plenty of time to stew over negative reviews as he spends time alone in the evenings and early mornings as his wife, Melania Trump, continues living in New York while his youngest son, Barron, finishes the school year.

Imagine an angry defensive old man, up late at night, shouting at the television alone in his room, and then taking to Twitter. That may not be mental illness, but it is kind of sad. His staff has had to deal with that. They’re doing their best. It’s for his own good and perhaps ours. One angry tweet could end the world as we know it.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be dangerous, and Ezra Klein argues that Donald Trump is dangerous when he’s losing:

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I spoke to top liberals terrified that Trump would outflank them, and quickly. If he had given a conciliatory inaugural address, named some compromise candidates to key posts, filled his administration with competent veterans of government, and began his term by working on an infrastructure bill that Chuck Schumer could support, he would be at or above 60 percent in the polls, the media would be covering him positively, and the Democratic Party would be split between those who wanted to work with Trump and those who wanted to resist everything he did. In that world, Trump might be a big fan of America’s political institutions right now.

Liberals aren’t afraid Trump will outflank them anymore. He launched his presidency with a series of speeches, appointments, and executive orders that have made him radioactive among congressional Democrats. He’s running an understaffed, inexperienced government even as he provokes our enemies and alienates our friends. Trump is burning both political capital and time. It is significantly less likely now than it was a month ago that he will be able to replace Obamacare or pass a tax reform bill.

That’s good news for Democrats but also inherently dangerous:

This is the hard part about failure in American politics: It feeds on itself, perpetuates itself. Trump’s low poll numbers make it harder for him to win Democratic support on, well, anything. The inability to get anything done feeds his low poll numbers. The same goes for how Trump runs his White House. The Trump administration is a chaotic, leaky place, and that leads to negative press coverage of the Trump White House, which leads to more chaos and leaks as scared aides try to push blame for the disaster onto their rivals.

It is easy to imagine Trump, in a year, cornered in his own White House, furious at the manifold enemies he blames for his failures, and cocooned within an ever-smaller and more radical group of staffers and media outlets that tell him what he wants to hear and feed his grievances and resentments.

That’s the most vicious of cycles. It ends with someone babysitting the mad king. Things do go bad after all, and Jen Kirby notes one of those things:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly are headed to Mexico Wednesday. Things are still a little awkward as America tries to mend its relationship with its southern neighbor, but the White House might have made it that much harder with the release of sweeping new immigration memos.

Because, according to Reuters, Mexico is pissed. “I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other,” Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Videgaray told reporters.

He added that, “We are not going to accept it because there is no reason why we should – it is not in Mexico’s interest.”

Trump will not get his way:

Videgaray was reportedly objecting to a section of the immigration memo that would allow for federal agents to send undocumented immigrants at the border back across to Mexico, even if that’s not their country of origin. Immigration to the U.S. from other Latin American countries, such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras has spiked in recent years with asylum-seekers fleeing violence, so that could be a not-insignificant number of deportations. Mexican officials say this issue will now dominate the talks especially since, based on the memo, such a policy change would likely require cooperation on Mexico’s part. (It also doesn’t seem as if the United States gave Mexico too much of a heads-up about this provision.) Another Mexican official told ProPublica: “It’s a non-starter. I don’t see a scenario in which Mexico accepts this solely because an executive order from the United States says so.”

Enter the babysitter, Sean Spicer at his press briefing when asked about this – “No. The relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now.”

That’s what you tell the boss to keep him from firing off another angry disastrous tweet – because the boss watches these press briefings, and everything else. He has the time. Humor him.

Spicer knows what to do:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday that a wave of angry protests at town hall events in recent days was partly the result of a “professional protester manufactured base.”

During a press briefing, one reporter asked Spicer about a tweet from President Donald Trump Tuesday night, which said “some” of the rowdy town halls were the result of “liberal activists.”

“I think there’s a hybrid there,” between manufactured anger and real concern, Spicer said.

“I think some people are clearly upset but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there. Obviously there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, that it is not a representation of a member’s district or an incident,” he said.

“It is a loud, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention, no offense. It’s just I think that’s – just because they’re loud doesn’t necessarily mean that there are many, and I think in a lot of cases that’s what you’re seeing.”

Plant that story:

Earlier this month, Spicer agreed with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, who asked if protestors were being paid.

“Protesting has become a profession now,” he said.

Trump was watching, but there were other things to watch:

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was greeted at a town hall Tuesday in Iowa with a shouted question about “impeachment” as voters there and at other events across the country pressed lawmakers about the moves and goals of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“I am so unsettled. It feels like we have a juvenile running our country,” Doug Thompson, a Democrat and farmer from Kanawha, told Grassley at an event in Garner. Grassley outlined the process but didn’t give his opinion.

In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back at around 1,000 anti-Trump protesters who showed up outside his event, telling a crowd of business leaders inside that “winners make policy and the losers go home.”

And in Maquoketa, Iowa, members of a crowd booed and chanted “do your job!” at Republican Sen. Joni Ernst near the end of a roundtable, NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines reported.

And this:

In Tennessee, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was asked about the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, whom the questioner referred to as a “white supremacist.” Bannon has said he isn’t a racist or a white nationalist. Another woman demanded that Trump be required to release his tax returns. Both were met with applause.

“As a member of the House, we don’t have the ability to make that requirement,” said Blackburn, who represents a district between Memphis and Nashville. “He does have to file, and he has filed all the paperwork that is necessary with the Federal Election Commission, and he has done that.”

Some of the most contentious moments came after Blackburn was asked about the qualifications of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary. When the senator said, “I think Ms. DeVos is going to be a fine secretary,” she was met with boos.

“You have to do better than this. We are not stupid!” a woman in the crowd said.

And this:

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz was booed several times at a town hall in Utah this month and struggled to be heard.

“Come on, we’re better than this,” Chaffetz protested at a Salt Lake City event, practically pleading with the deafening crowd to let him speak.

In Florida, a crowd of several hundred turned hostile during an event with Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis earlier this month. In California, chapters of the group Indivisible pressured Republican Rep. Paul Cook to hold a town hall — even creating “missing” stickers to slap onto milk cartons.

Meanwhile, back in Iowa:

Grassley’s town hall Tuesday in Iowa Falls mirrored events in 2009, which Grassley engaged in as Democrats mulled over the proposed legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act.

At one of those town halls, Grassley propped up fears about alleged “death panels” that many Republicans claimed would be included in the law.

But on Tuesday, Chris Petersen, a pig farmer from Clearwater, turned to Grassley and asserted that he would own the creation of “death panels” if he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, suggesting that the senator was prepared to cut health care insurance for millions of Americans.

“Sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panels,” said Petersen, the former president of a farmers’ union in the state. “We’re going to create one big death panel in this country that people can’t afford to get insurance.”

Petersen, who won applause from almost everyone in the room, offered Grassley a container of Tums, the antacid tablets. “You’re going to need them the next few years,” he said. “People are disappointed.”

Grassley told reporters afterward that Trump’s presidency hadn’t warranted any reliance on the heartburn and gas relief drug.

That was humor, perhaps, but there are hundreds of these stories. Trump’s staff will have a hard time keeping them from him, and then there’s Jonathan Swift, the 1710 Edition of “A Tale of a Tub” and specifically Section IX: A Digression Concerning the Original, The Use, and Improvement of Madness in a Commonwealth:

For, if we take an examination of what is generally understood by happiness, as it has respect either to the understanding or the senses, we shall find all its properties and adjuncts will herd under this short definition, that it is a perpetual possession of being well-deceived.

Section IX is known at the Digression on Madness:

This is the sublime and refined point of felicity, called, the possession of being well deceived; the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves.

Who’s the fool? Trump? Who’s the chief knave? Steve Bannon?

There’s nothing new here. Stephen Colbert got to the same place in 2005 when he invented the word Truthiness – named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster, to Colbert’s delight:

Now I’m sure some of the “word police” – the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s – are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen.

Colbert was onto something. The word was useful for describing the political advantages fiction has over truth, a one-word compression of what Swift had said. Some things feel true so they must be true, because your gut tells you so, in spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary – but that was long ago and aimed at George Bush. Still, that seems to describe Trump voters, and the man himself.

It’s Trump’s world now, except that it isn’t, as Aaron Blake reports here:

It’s pretty clear what President Trump is doing by going after the media. He sees someone who is tough on him, with a lower approval rating, and he sets up a contrast. It’s like making yourself look taller by standing next to a short person.

“You have a lower approval rate than Congress,” he needled reporters at last week’s news conference, making clear he had done the math.

Except maybe it’s not really working.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth.

The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority – 52 percent – picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump.

Trump won’t win this one:

Trump may have gone a little too far by proclaiming the media the “enemy of the American people.” A 2013 Pew poll showed broad, bipartisan support for the media’s role as a watchdog of politicians. Fully two-thirds of Republicans, Democrats and independents said the press keeps political leaders from doing things they shouldn’t.

And they may also know a mad king when they see one. He tweets. His babysitters do what they can to keep him from tweeting again. He could get us all killed – but yes, he is the president. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It just did.

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The President as Victim

Donald Trump is not going to “grow” into the job. No one does. There’s a cliché for that – as there seems to be a cliché for everything. No one rises to the occasion. Crises – and the presidency is not much more than one crisis after other – don’t build character. Crises reveal character. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. You were either strong in the first place or you were not. A good crisis will reveal which it is – but nothing changes, even if you surprise yourself. And once a jerk, always a jerk – a good crisis will reveal that too. Donald Trump is who he is.

And there are the ongoing crises. Donald Trump created some of those when he hired the white nationalist Steve Bannon as his “chief strategist” late in the campaign and kept him on in the White House – his very own Karl Rove, setting the direction of everything. African-Americans didn’t like that much. Hispanics didn’t like that much. Muslim-Americans didn’t like that much – and now it’s Jewish-Americans. No one likes to be demonized, especially if they consider themselves citizens like everyone else – and the sudden nationwide spike in bomb threats and vandalism at synagogues and Jewish community centers, and the toppling of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, can be seen as a crisis. This isn’t Germany in the thirties. It only feels like it – and Trump really ought to do something about that. Crises reveal character.

Trump has said nothing about this, which speaks to his character, or lack of it. That won’t do. He’ll have to say something nice about black folks and Jews. He did tweet out a picture of himself eating a “taco bowl” on Cinco de Mayo. They’re not all rapists and murderers and drug dealers – their food is tasty. Something like that might help, and so he decided it was time to kill two birds with one stone, and say supportive things about Jews at a black history museum, which is just what he did:

President Trump on Tuesday denounced racism and anti-Semitic violence after weeks of struggling to offer clear statements of solidarity and support for racial and religious minorities.

During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump read carefully from prepared remarks decrying bigotry and specifically condemning a wave of recent threats against Jewish centers across the country.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Scanning the piece of paper with his finger as he read, Trump praised the museum on the Mall for its popularity and said the exhibitions had left their mark on his wife, Melania, who had visited the museum a week earlier.

Scanning the piece of paper with his finger as he read was telling – this wasn’t natural to him and he didn’t want to blow it, or someone told him not to blow it. He’d eat the damned taco bowl:

The appearance stood in stark contrast to the flashes of irritation he showed at a news conference last week at the White House, when he dismissed questions from reporters about his outreach to African American political leaders in Washington and his lack of response to a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country… Calls have been growing for Trump to respond to a wave of bomb threats directed against Jewish community centers in multiple states on Monday, the fourth in a series of such threats this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. More than 170 Jewish gravestones were found toppled at a cemetery in suburban St. Louis, over the weekend.

That did the trick, sort of:

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called Trump’s statement “as welcome as it is overdue.”

“President Trump has been inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated,” Pesner said. “The president of the United States must always be a voice against hate and for the values of religious freedom and inclusion that are the nation’s highest ideals.”

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the idea that Trump has been slow to address anti-Semitism and racism.

“I think it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough,” Spicer said.

Sean Spicer has a hard job, as there is reality:

In the past week, Trump seemed to bat aside opportunities to address anti-Semitism. And when asked by a reporter whether he would meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump asked the reporter, who is African American, whether she would arrange the meeting with the lawmakers, implying that they were her “friends.”

After a campaign in which Trump was criticized for appealing primarily to white Christians while strongly criticizing Mexican immigrants, Muslims and urban African American communities, the president has said little to assuage concerns that he would govern in a similar fashion, his critics say.

His critics did pile on:

“I get that Trump never expected to be president, but now that he is president, he has to act like he’s president for all of us,” said Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP. “If he wants to be seen as a healer, he’s going to have to atone for his own sins, starting with his race-baiting on President Obama.”

Yeah, Trump did spend eight or more years on a crusade to prove that Obama was born in Kenya and thus not our president, really. Obama was just not one “of us” – a crusade he gave up in a one-sentence announcement late in his campaign. It was like pulling teeth, but he had to admit that Obama was an actual American all along. He took no questions. That was that. He hoped to get at least a few black votes. He got seven percent.

And now it’s this:

Trump has been particularly sensitive to any suggestion that his administration is anti-Jewish. During the presidential campaign, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was accused of having used the conservative news site Breitbart, when he ran it, as a platform for the “alternative right.” The alt-right, as it is commonly called, is a far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state and whose adherents are known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view.

Asked during a news conference last Wednesday to respond to a wave of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, Trump first launched into a defense of his Electoral College victory instead of addressing the issue. The next day, Trump was given a second opportunity to address the problem at another news conference but seemed to take the question as a personal affront, declaring that the journalist who posed the question – who worked for a Jewish publication – was not being “fair” to him.

Yes, he was the VICTIM here. He went to say that “he was the least anti-Semitic person and the least racist person you’ll ever meet in your entire life” – and he likes to point out that his daughter married an Orthodox Jew and converted. So there! He hasn’t said that some of his best friends are black, or at least Ben Carson is. That’s no doubt coming soon, but there was this:

The White House released a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention the Jewish people or anti-Semitism. Instead of acknowledging any error, the White House defended the wording, prompting criticism from several Republican-leaning Jewish groups and the ADL.

The House Republicans did the same thing in their statement with the same defense – Hitler was mean to everyone – there’s no need to mention the Jews. Steve Bannon got his way, but there’s this:

Trump’s critics point to a larger pattern, including his hesitation at denouncing former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has repeatedly pledged his support to Trump since Trump began his campaign in June 2015. Trump’s comments Tuesday on anti-Semitism also came only after his daughter, Ivanka Trump, tweeted a broad condemnation of the recent attacks and threats Monday evening.

He may have to have a talk with Ivanka, but this was devastating:

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called President Donald Trump’s comments denouncing anti-Semitism Tuesday “a pathetic asterisk of condescension.”

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration,” a statement posted to the Anne Frank Center’s Facebook page read. “His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”

“Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration,” the Anne Frank Center’s statement added. “The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial.”

“And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to Antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment,” the group said.

That deserved a response:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to a harshly worded comment from the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect Tuesday by saying he wished the center had recognized the President’s “leadership” in combating anti-Semitism.

It was the same thing. Trump is the VICTIM here. He tries so hard. No one give him any credit, and Philip Bump comments on a curious exchange on CNN:

When a reporter who profiled Melania Trump was attacked by anti-Semitic Trump supporters, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that “I don’t have a message to the fans. A woman wrote a – an article that was inaccurate. Now, I’m used to it. I get such bad articles. I get such – the press is so dishonest, Wolf, I can’t even tell you. It’s so dishonest.”

That’s the first main problem for Trump: He has consistently been squishy about replying to questions about racism and anti-Semitism. The second problem? Many of his policy proposals – on immigration, for example – overlap with the stated aims of racist groups, and the rationalizations for those proposals often use language that reinforces negative or erroneous claims about minority groups.

Dahlia Lithwick adds this:

The White House’s statement on the Jewish Community Center threats read in full:

“Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.”

It’s worth noting that terrorism and vandalism have absolutely nothing to do with “individual freedom” and that threatening to kill small babies and elderly people is an affront to human safety and dignity, not just “freedom.” The White House statement, you also might have noticed, did not contain the words Jewish, Jewish Community Center, or terrorism or anti-Semitism.

This has become something of a tradition for the Trump administration, which failed to mention the existence of Jewish victims in a message issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

And there’s this:

Last week, Trump fielded a question about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by making another rambling reference to his Electoral College victory and his Jewish daughter and by dismissing the question as unfair. And on Thursday, in the strangest performance to date, Trump told a Jewish reporter to sit down and accused him of lying when he was asked a softball question about the rise of anti-Jewish hate.

That won’t do:

To be grateful that Trump finally said the bare minimum at the latest possible moment he could say it is to miss what was most horrifying about his assorted romps with anti-Semitism. You may have missed it amid the distraction of Trump’s insult to a Jewish reporter, but in the same press conference, SiriusXM’s Jared Rizzi circled back to the hate crimes question. “I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism,” Rizzi said. “It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country – some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?”

Trump’s reply: “Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?”

In case he wasn’t being sufficiently clear, he added, “Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump. They’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of those signs, and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”

Again, he’s the victim here:

Allison Kaplan Sommer, commenting at Haaretz, explained over the weekend that this – and not the insults directed to a Jewish reporter – was the real story about Trump and anti-Jewish hate speech: “Trump’s words echoed the theory that the threats to Jewish community centers and other anti-Semitic incidents have been contrived to support the premise that Trump’s presidency is ushering in greater racism.” These “false flag” claims are rampant among anti-Semites and have been pushed by David Duke himself. “I wonder who could be placing all those calls?” Duke tweeted recently, referencing the threats to Jewish community centers…

So please don’t be too grateful that President Trump has finally said that anti-Semitism is “horrible.” It’s more notable and more telling that he has also given voice and cover to the vile argument that these attacks and threats are not really happening to Jews or, worse, that Jews are doing this to their own communities in an effort to delegitimize Trump. The real question we should be asking Donald Trump today isn’t whether he deplores episodes of racial hatred. It should be whether he even believes they are happening or whether he truly thinks they are staged by his enemies to malign him.

And no one should panic about that other matter:

The Trump administration on Tuesday sought to allay growing fears among immigrant communities over wide-ranging new directives to ramp up enforcement against illegal immigrants, insisting the measures are not intended to produce “mass deportations.”

Federal officials cautioned that many of the changes detailed in a pair of memos from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly will take time to implement because of costs and logistical challenges and that border patrol agents and immigration officers will use their expanded powers with care and discretion.

Yet the official public rollout of Kelly’s directives, first disclosed in media reports over the weekend, was met with outrage from immigrant rights advocates over concerns the new policies will result in widespread abuses as authorities attempt to fulfill President Trump’s goals of tightening border control.

Trump took a hard line against illegal immigration during his campaign, at times suggesting he would seek to create a nationwide “deportation force” to expel as many of the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants as possible.

In a conference call with reporters, a senior Department of Homeland Security official moved to avert what he called a “sense of panic” among immigrant communities.

“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” said the official, who was joined on the call by two others, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to answer questions. “This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

They don’t have the resources for that yet, so relax, for now, or don’t:

Kelly’s new DHS policies considerably broaden the pool of undocumented immigrants prioritized for removal, including those who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a “chargeable criminal offense,” and those who an immigration officer concludes pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”

That’s a bit broad, and the world is beginning to wonder about us:

Trump’s early attempts to crackdown on immigration, including his executive order banning travel of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, have drawn criticism both in the United States and abroad. Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plan to visit Mexico later this week where tensions over the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border are sure to be on display. Around the same time, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will be leading a delegation of lawmakers to the border as Congress wrestles with how to actually implement Trump’s signature campaign promise.

It was time for another taco bowl:

Kelly’s implementation memos do not overturn one important directive from the Obama administration: a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that has provided work permits to more than 750,000 immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Trump had promised during his campaign to “immediately terminate” the program, calling it an unconstitutional “executive amnesty,” but he has wavered since then. Last week, he said he would “show great heart” in determining the fate of that program.

Maybe he is the least racist person you’ll ever meet in your entire life, but the New York Times’ editorial board points out the obvious:

Mr. Kelly included a catchall provision allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers or Border Patrol agents – or local police officers or sheriff’s deputies – to take in anyone they think could be “a risk to public safety or national security.” That is a recipe for policing abuses and racial profiling, a possibility that Mr. Kelly will vastly expand if Congress gives him the huge sums required to hire 10,000 ICE officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents.

He wants to “surge,” his verb, the hiring of immigration judges and asylum officers. He wants to add processing and detention centers, which surely has the private-prison industry salivating at the profits to come.

He wants to ramp up programs deputizing state and local law enforcement officers as immigration enforcers. He calls them “a highly successful force multiplier,” which is true if you want a dragnet. It’s not true if you want to fight crime effectively and keep communities safe. When every local law enforcement encounter can be a prelude to deportation, unauthorized immigrants will fear and avoid the police. And when state and local officers untrained in immigration law suddenly get to decide who stays and who goes, the risk of injustice is profound.

So is the danger to due process. Current procedure allows for swiftly deporting, without a hearing, immigrants who are caught near the border and who entered very recently. But Mr. Kelly notes that the law allows him to fast-track the removal of immigrants caught anywhere in the country who cannot prove they have been here “continuously” for at least two years. He’s keeping his options open about whether to short-circuit due process with a coast-to-coast show-me-your-papers policy.

And so on and so forth – this is nasty stuff – but this is from a man who didn’t rise to the occasion. Crises – even if this doesn’t seem to be a crisis at all – reveal character.

That’s the problem. Donald Trump is always the victim, as Jena McGregor notes here:

He’s blamed the Democrats for delaying his Cabinet picks. The “low-life leakers” are a “big problem,” Trump tweeted. It was during the Obama administration that “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia,” asking “was Obama too soft on Russia?” amid inquiries into his own team’s contacts with Russian officials. Massive voter fraud is to blame for him losing the popular vote, Trump has claimed, despite no evidence to support it.

The press, meanwhile, has taken the brunt of his ire, as he blames the “FAKE NEWS” media he now calls “the enemy of the people” for characterizing his transition as chaotic or revealing details about his phone calls with world leaders. In a bizarre and combative news conference last week, Trump repeatedly said he “inherited” a “mess.”

For Trump, it began on day one, when he declared in a dark inaugural address that “the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” That description seemed to depict a gutted America that had been led until then by the “establishment” in Washington that had “reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

It has continued on Twitter, as Trump has taken turns blaming the media for their coverage of his administration, a Democratic senator for “misrepresenting what [Supreme Court nominee] Judge Gorsuch told him,” and the department store Nordstrom for treating his daughter “unfairly.” He has even told his followers where to put the blame for future events: On Feb. 5, after U.S. District Judge James L. Robart put Trump’s executive order on immigration on hold, the president wrote on Twitter that he “just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

The finger pointing showed up in force during a grievance-filled news conference last week, when Trump repeated how he “inherited a mess”: “It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country.” When pressed on his false claim that he had the largest Electoral College victory margin since Reagan, Trump even blamed his aides. “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information,” he said.

It’s always someone else, which is not what the job calls for:

One of the most universally touted tenets of business management advice is that taking responsibility when things go wrong and giving credit to others when things go right is a hallmark of strong leadership. Casting blame doesn’t just hurt outside relationships; it sets a tone at the top that impedes risk-taking and creates a climate of fear that can slow down progress.

It should come as no surprise that a man who has ignored so many other management and leadership maxims would look past this one. From the value of dissent to the need for getting buy-in from senior team members to the importance of nurturing the morale of front-line workers, the president who was supposed to bring a businessman’s sensibilities simply isn’t using the same playbook most CEOs today espouse.

That’s another way of saying that he’s not going to grow into the job. Add another cliché – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sure, but they have to be tough in the first place. No whining. Life isn’t fair. You’re no more a victim than anyone else is – deal with it. Crises reveal character. Now we know this guy’s character – too late.

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Trump’s Generals

Everyone is trying to figure out Donald Trump, even if it’s a little late for that. He’s got the job, even if he might be mentally ill (as in quite crazy) – but that notion is getting a lot of play and not going anywhere. America will not admit its mistake, and a bit less than half the country sees no problem at all. And there may not be any problem. Lots of people with narcissistic personality disorder, with that psychopathic lack of empathy and a rock-solid sense of entitlement, do just fine. They’re captains of industry. Humor them or get out of the way.

Call it leadership – unless Trump is the insecure wannabe loutish guy from Queens who could never impress the Old Money in Manhattan, no matter how many gold-plated toilets he had installed in his gold-plated penthouse high over Fifth Avenue. He was still vulgar. Nixon had the same problem with the Kennedy crowd – those Ivy League bastards who, he thought, always considered him a rube. He’d show them. Overcompensation driven by insecurity drove him and perhaps ruined him – as it could ruin Trump – if that’s the problem. If that’s the problem, however, a bit less than half the country has the same problem, with the damned “coastal elites” and Hollywood stars and “experts” telling them what they should think and feel. They have the same seething resentment. They want to strike back too, and cause some real damage. They’ll blow up the system. They kind of did. But don’t call them crazy. They see themselves as rational actors.

None of this solves anything, but the problem persists. What is Trump’s problem? That question matters, and Bill Neely of NBC News reports on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to understand the psyche of our odd president:

A dossier on Donald Trump’s psychological makeup is being prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser…

Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov told NBC News…”Very serious preparatory work is going on in the Kremlin, including a paper – seven pages – describing a psychological portrait of Trump, especially based on this last two to three months, and the last weeks.”

They see a problem:

Putin’s government is growing increasingly concerned about Trump’s battles in Washington, according to Fedorov and former lawmaker Sergei Markov, who remains well-connected at the Kremlin. Fedorov added that Trump’s “constant battle with the mass media” was “worrying us.” The U.S. president “is dancing on thin ice,” he said. “It’s a risky game.”

A former prime minister under Putin said the Kremlin is taking no pleasure at Trump’s struggles. “Absolutely not – not laughing,” Mikhail Kasyanov said. “The situation is very serious and the whole of [Putin’s] team, they are nervous.” Many in the Kremlin believe hardliners in America – in Congress and the military – want to sabotage the president and his plans for better ties with Russia.

They see an unstable man, a risk-taker who can be naïve, in an untenable position, and Kevin Drum sees these implications:

From Putin’s point of view, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Trump can’t control himself. Putin could literally publish his dossier on his Facebook page and it wouldn’t matter. Just as he did in the debates, when Hillary Clinton baited him in the most obvious ways, Trump will respond to provocations the way he always responds.

That’s also the bad news, of course: Trump can’t control himself. He lives in a delusionary world where everything is going great and the White House is a finely tuned machine. This divorce from reality is likely to become ever more cavernous as time goes on, and there’s no telling how long it will be until this produces a disaster of some kind. Eventually it’s going to become clear that trying to run the US government the same way he ran his business – Trump acting as the showman/marketing genius, while professional managers keep the gears turning – isn’t producing any results here in consensus-reality. And then the whole delusionary edifice will come tumbling down.

Perhaps the Russians should wait for that, and then talk with the calm and measured and rather boring President Mike Pence. They might not get what they want but there’d be no surprises – but that’s not going to happen. Trump has professional managers keep the gears turning, and not just Mike Pence showing up in Europe to say that NATO is wonderful and not obsolete, no matter what Trump keeps saying. Trump has his generals – retired Marine General James Mattis as defense secretary, and John Kelly, another retired Marine general, as secretary of homeland security. Former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn got the job as national security adviser but that didn’t work out. James Mattis just made a surprise visit to Baghdad and the first thing he did was tell the Iraqis that America wasn’t there to take all their oil – no matter what Trump keeps saying over and over and over. Professional managers who keep the gears turning clean up after their boss, and there’s no one more professional than a general.

Flynn wasn’t that guy. James Clapper and Obama fired this guy. Trump had to fire him. He was once good at this intelligence stuff and then he lost it. He went off the deep end, saying what no one else would say – that Islam is not a religion and all the rest – and then lied about his pre-election back-channel talks with the Russians. And he hated the CIA and NSA and all the rest. He had his own facts – those “Flynn facts” that his previous staff used to mock behind his back. That’s why James Clapper fired him at the end of the Obama administration, but that may be why Trump hired him.

That’s a story in and of itself, about Donald Trump. He has a thing for “bad boy” generals. In fact, in early 2016, Emily Flitter filed a curious background story for Reuters:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump admires the late Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, both World War Two generals. They were winners, unpredictable, and not especially nice guys, he says in campaign speeches. But Trump’s pledge to imitate their styles sets modern-day military experts on edge.

Although unquestionably in the pantheon of U.S. military heroes, MacArthur and Patton were also controversial figures remembered by historians as flamboyant self-promoters. The commander in the Pacific, MacArthur was eventually fired by President Harry Truman for speaking out against Truman’s policies in the Korean War, which followed World War Two. Before Patton died in December 1945, he questioned the need to remove Nazis from key posts in postwar German politics and society.

It seems that Donald Trump doesn’t attend to details:

Born in 1946, a year after World War Two ended, Trump often praises MacArthur and Patton for the blunt ways he says they commanded respect. “George Patton was one of the roughest guys, he would talk rough to his men,” Trump told an audience last week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “His men would die for him,” Trump added. “We don’t have that anymore.” He said Patton would wipe out Islamic State without hesitation, were he still in command.

His audiences cheered, but others didn’t:

Interviewed by Reuters, recently retired military personnel voiced doubts about Trump’s grasp of U.S. military operations. One retired four-star general called Trump’s references to Patton and MacArthur “bumper sticker foolishness.” Another said Trump was comparing “apples to oranges” by likening America’s role in World War Two to the fight against Islamic State.

“He has no understanding of how it works, at least in my view,” said an aide to a third retired four-star general. “He makes these bold statements and one-liners, but that doesn’t translate into understanding what it takes to be a military leader, what it takes to develop a plan.”

In short, Trump was an amateur pretending he knows stuff that he doesn’t know:

Trump often says that in the spirit of MacArthur and Patton, he never wants to reveal his specific plans for military operations, since that would give the enemy a chance to prepare and counterattack. “I don’t want my generals being interviewed,” he said in Myrtle Beach.

Trump’s statement had an irony about it, given his oft-repeated comment that he knows what military experts have to say from their interviews on television. But historians said the comment also showed he has little understanding of just how often MacArthur and Patton spoke to the press.

“They were the media whores of their time,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor at International politics at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University who often writes on national security. He said anyone vaguely familiar with Patton by way of the 1970 George C. Scott film “Patton” would know he got into trouble for remarks that were politically controversial.

Trump saw that movie – everyone has – but there was this scene:

In early August 1943, Lieutenant General George S. Patton slapped two United States Army soldiers under his command during the Sicily Campaign of World War II. Patton’s hard-driving personality and lack of belief in the medical condition post-traumatic stress disorder, then known as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock”, led to the soldiers becoming the subject of his ire in incidents on 3 and 10 August, when Patton struck and berated them after discovering they were patients at evacuation hospitals away from the front lines without apparent physical injuries.

That was in the movie – Patton slapping the troubled soldier in the hospital and calling him a coward – and maybe Trump liked that scene. Trump’s like that. Everyone else is a coward. He’s not. Even if he didn’t go to Vietnam, he did attend a military academy, not a regular high school, so he knows about such things, or so he says:

Donald J. Trump, who received draft deferments through much of the Vietnam War, told the author of a coming biography that he nevertheless “always felt that I was in the military” because of his education at a military-themed boarding school.

Mr. Trump said his experience at the New York Military Academy, an expensive prep school where his parents had sent him to correct poor behavior, gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Maybe so, but Patton paid for slapping those soldiers:

Word of the incidents spread, eventually reaching Patton’s superior, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ordered him to apologize to the men. Patton’s actions were initially suppressed in the news until journalist Drew Pearson publicized them in the United States. While the U.S. Congress and the general public expressed both support and disdain for Patton’s actions, Eisenhower and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall opted not to fire Patton as a commander. He was nonetheless sidelined from combat command for almost a year.

In the end, Patton, the tough guy some folks still loved, was more trouble than he was worth:

Seizing the opportunity the predicament presented, Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy in Operation Fortitude, sending faulty intelligence to German agents that Patton was leading the Invasion of Europe. While Patton eventually returned to combat command in the European Theater in mid-1944, the slapping incidents were seen by Eisenhower, Marshall, and other leaders to be examples of Patton’s brashness and impulsiveness. Patton’s career was halted as former subordinates such as Omar Bradley became his superiors.

Brashness and impulsiveness ended Patton’s career. Brashness and impulsiveness ended MacArthur’s career too – the sudden move to take all of Korea without thinking about the Chinese on the other side of the Yalu or what Harry Truman wanted him to do. Brashness and impulsiveness ended Michael Flynn’s career too.

Flynn was Trump’s kind of general, but reality intervened. Perhaps Trump hired “Mad Dog” Mattis because of his nickname, but Trump got a thoroughly professional thoughtful guy instead. John Kelly, the retired Marine general, is a thoroughly professional and thoughtful too. They’ll do their best to clean up Trump’s messes, and advise him to stuff saying stupid stuff, if he can. Trump many not listen, but they’ll probably try – and just as, under Eisenhower, Patton was out and Bradley was in, now Flynn is out and McMaster is in:

President Donald Trump has picked one of the military’s leading warrior-scholars to restore order to the National Security Council – but also one who has staked out a decidedly more hawkish position on Russia and gone out of his way to assert that the war against terrorism must not morph into a war against Islam.

There will be no more brashness and impulsiveness:

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s newly named replacement for ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is considered one of the Army’s top intellectuals. When he was a young major he published a best-selling book about failed military leadership during the Vietnam War and later went on to help pioneer counterinsurgency operations in Iraq.

The first active-duty officer to hold the post since Colin Powell under President Ronald Reagan, he has also attained legendary status in military circles for his willingness to buck conventional wisdom.

It is a pedigree that might soon come in handy in his new post as the top national security policy official in the Trump White House.

McMaster is currently the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, where his job has been to figure out what the Army should look like in 2025 and beyond. He has placed particular emphasis on preparing to counter the kind of tactics and weapons that Russia, which he considers a rising threat to global stability, has used in its incursion in Ukraine.

This emphasis could put him at odds with Trump, who says he wants to improve relations with Russia and has expressed little concern about its aggressive behaviors in Eastern Europe and contends that Vladimir Putin can be bargained with.

And there will be no more nonsense:

Trump’s first pick to replace Flynn, Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward, turned down the job – in part, according to an individual familiar with his thinking, because he wasn’t given assurances he would be able to select his own staff and have autonomy from Trump’s close-knit political advisers – led by Steve Bannon, who Trump elevated to a permanent position on the National Security Council, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump had given McMaster “full authority” to hire “whatever staff he sees fit.”

Not that this will be easy:

Philip Carter, a defense analyst at the Center for a New American Security, said McMaster will be tested to try to “impose order and discipline on a White House national security structure and process that has seen neither since Election Day.”

“This challenge will be particularly hard given the political winds within the White House, and the fact that McMaster comes to the White House as an outsider and relative political neophyte,” Carter said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, who has known McMaster for years, said the new national security adviser is a hard-charging and forceful personality who grasps the political challenges he will face in addition to the national security ones.

“He’s going to have to build a relationship with the boss, get in to see the boss,” said Barno. “There’s no question something he will do daily is tell the boss hard things that he doesn’t necessarily want to hear.”

That may be the real problem:

Max Boot, a conservative military scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime critic of Trump, spoke for many so-called “Never Trumpers” in the Republican Party.

“McMaster is one of the most impressive army officers of his generation – a rare combination of soldier and scholar,” Boot said. “I cannot imagine a better choice for national security adviser.”

Yet, like many he also has doubts that McMaster can succeed if Trump does not moderate his rhetoric and insists on giving both [Steve] Bannon and [his son-in-law Jared] Kushner their own foreign policy portfolios.

“Not even the most talented individual will succeed in that job as long as Bannon and Kushner continue to run their own foreign policies and as long as Trump continues to make outlandish statements questioning basic American commitments and valued allies.”

Fred Kaplan puts that this way:

The key thing to know about McMaster – an active-duty three-star general and deputy commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command – is that he has made a career of speaking truth to power, often instinctively, without the slightest talent for fawning to his superiors. He made his first mark with a Ph.D. dissertation, written when he was a major, titled Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. Contrary to conventional Army wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s – which blamed the war’s loss on civilian micromanaging and the media – McMaster lambasted the top U.S. military officers for betraying their constitutional duties by failing to give the president their honest military judgment as the nation plunged into the quagmire of Vietnam.

Trump needs to be careful. Honest military judgment can be painful:

Early in the Iraq war, as the invasion drifted into occupation and spawned an insurgency, McMaster was chief adviser to Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command. In that capacity, he compiled – and read – an enormous library of books and articles, many of them long out-of-print, about counterinsurgency warfare. In 2005, McMaster took command of an Army regiment whose 5,200 soldiers were ordered to liberate Tal Afar, a city of a quarter million people that had been taken over by insurgents. Applying the lessons of his books, which emphasized not only combat tactics but also economic development and partnerships with local political leaders, McMaster won the battle and stabilized the city.

Among his traits as a commander that have particular pertinence now was that he ordered his soldiers to treat detainees humanely and not to use derogatory language toward Muslims.

Maybe he’ll slap some sense into Trump on that. Trump may not know what he’s gotten himself into. He loves generals, and now he’ll face a real one.

The Los Angeles Times adds to that:

Temperamentally, McMaster is far from the volatile Flynn, who had raised alarm in many quarters over his conspiratorial outlook, his hotly anti-Islamic worldview and his murky ties to Russia.

Associates of the new security advisor, whose appointment will not require congressional confirmation, have described him as tough and detail-oriented, with a wide-ranging intellect grounded in hard-won realism. He also has no immediately apparent connections to Russia, notable amid increasing calls in Washington for a congressional investigation into possible ties between Moscow and Trump’s associates.

“It is not an overstatement to say that Americans and the world should feel a little safer today,” tweeted Andrew Exum, an author and academic who saw combat in Afghanistan and writes widely about military affairs.

He was not alone:

Even some of Trump’s sharpest critics on the Republican side were effusive. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who in recent days had expressed some highly public misgivings about the administration’s foreign policy direction and fundamental values, called McMaster an “outstanding choice” and “a man of genuine intellect, character and ability.”

“He knows how to succeed,” McCain said in a statement. “I give President Trump great credit for this decision.”

Another Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, who is chairman the House Intelligence Committee, pointed to McMaster’s “history of questioning the status quo and infusing fresh thinking and new approaches into military affairs.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a veteran of the Iraq war, also hailed the selection, calling McMaster “one of the finest combat leaders of our generation … a true warrior-scholar.”

Somewhat tellingly, Trump answered only one of the multiple questions reporters asked at the announcement: whether Pence had helped select McMaster.

“He did,” the president said.

That’s all Trump had to say and it’s not hard to imagine what happened here. Others told Trump that McMaster was a fine general. Trump loves generals. Flynn didn’t work out. McMaster was a general. He would do.

Trump won’t know what hit him. Everyone is trying to figure out Donald Trump. The Russians are working on their new dossier – on Donald Trump’s psychological makeup as a wild risk-taker who can be quite usefully naïve. Others are trying to decide if Trump is stone-cold crazy. In this care Trump seems to be a sad sort of wannabe military mastermind, the insecure kid from the military prep school who never served a day in his life, and this may be a classic case of overcompensation driven by insecurity. He named the guy who others said is the best general we have, but he’ll be sorry. For once, the rest of us won’t be.

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The King of Chaos

It’s a new kind of presidency. Get used to it. Donald Trump says outrageous things. He tweets outrageous things. He enjoys it, or he thinks that it’s part of his job, the reason he was elected – to shake things up. He may or may not believe the false statistics he comes up with – three to five million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton – but it hardly matters. The point is to shake things up, and as he likes to say, he heard that somewhere. Maybe it is true. Assume it’s true – or don’t – he doesn’t care. It riles up his base and puts the politically correct and bleeding-heart liberals, and anyone who didn’t vote for him, on the defensive. They get all upset. He likes that. They sputter. They tie themselves up in knots. He laughs at them. They lose.

This is a change. For eight years it was No-Drama Obama. Trump is the King of Chaos. It has served him well. Just enough voters in just the right places wanted to kick over the table. Measured thoughtfulness hadn’t improved their lives in the slightest, even if it had – the economy if now fine, for all but those in dying industries that will never come back, and even those who wanted to kick over the table can now buy no-tricks health insurance at a reasonable price, after subsidies to those living on the edge.

Don’t tell them that. They don’t believe it. They’ll go with the tweets, but the latest was problematic:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

He was at it again. The media treats him unfairly. Their news of him is fake news – but this was different. The news media itself is now the enemy of the people. Perhaps this was just hyperbole. No one thinks he will issue an executive order designating these five news organizations “terrorist organizations” and shut them down – but no one knows if he won’t do that. He doesn’t explain his tweets. He just puts stuff out there, stuff that makes many uneasy. They should be uneasy. He was elected to make them uneasy. That may get him reelected too.

That’s the plan. Give the people what they want. Be outrageous, but even for a “friendly” news organization not on the list, Fox News, this was a bit much:

Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday pressed White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to explain President Donald Trump’s comment that the press is “the enemy of the American People.”

“He said that the fake media, not certain stories, the fake media are an enemy to the country. We don’t have a state-run media in this country. That’s what they have in dictatorships,” Wallace told Priebus on “Fox News Sunday.”

Priebus responded by calling “unsourced” stories about turmoil inside Trump’s administration “total garbage.”

That argument didn’t go well:

Priebus argued that the media has not covered Trump’s actions during his first month in office as closely as it has covered his notable failures.

“We covered all of that,” Wallace interjected. “Here’s the problem. When the President says that we’re the enemy of the American people, it makes it sound like if you’re going against him, you’re going against the country.”

He compared Trump’s response to critical media coverage to President Barack Obama’s response.

“You don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince! You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did,” Wallace said. “I’ve got to say he never said that we were an enemy of the people.”

“You don’t get to tell us what to do?” Add a sixth news organization to the list of enemies of the people, but there was this:

Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis said Sunday that he does not “have any issues with the press” in a break with President Donald Trump’s continued attacks on the media.

“I’ve had some rather contentious times with the press,” Mattis told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “But no, the press as far as I’m concerned is a constituency that we deal with, and I don’t have any issues with the press myself.”

It seems that “Mad Dog” Mattis isn’t mad at anyone, or he didn’t get the memo, or he’ll be fired, or quit – or Trump was just saying things and everyone should just relax. Mattis knows better. Trump didn’t mean it – or he did. No one knows, but one old fuddy-duddy took Trump at his word:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended the free press in an interview aired Sunday and warned that suppressing critical coverage is “how dictators get started.”

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” McCain said in an interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press.

He said that a free press is “vital” to that.

“Without it I’m afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started,” McCain said.

“That’s how dictators get started? With tweets like that?” Chuck Todd asked McCain, referring to a tweet posted by President Donald Trump on Friday…

“No, they get started by suppressing a free press,” McCain said Sunday. “The first thing that dictators do is they shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator, I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

McCain had to be ambiguous. Republicans wanted a Republican president, and got one. Trump will have to do. When Trump reads a bit more and learns a bit more he’ll be fine, but that’s not going to happen, as David Remnick notes here:

For months, cool, responsible heads have been counselling hot, impulsive heads to avoid overreacting to Trump. We must give him a chance. We must not in all our alarm compare him to all the tin-pot dictators and bloody authoritarians who have disgraced history. The Oval Office – its realities and traditions – will temper his rages. His aides, his son-in-law, and his daughter will “soften” his impulsivity. Besides, he doesn’t really mean all he says. Even as Trump was signing one chilling executive order after another – all with the cool counsel of Steve Bannon, late of Breitbart – we were assured that everything was fine. He was simply fulfilling the agenda of his campaign. Calm down. Don’t react to every tweet. Don’t take the bait.

Then came his press conference, last week, his first solo press conference in office, and it was epochal. Ostensibly an occasion to announce a replacement appointment to the Department of Labor after the first had to step aside, Trump instead took it upon himself to denounce repeatedly and at length the sinful, dishonest press and the “very fake news” it produces. It was unforgettable. With all his nastiness, his self-admiring interruptions and commands (“Sit down! Sit down!”) Trump resembled an over-sauced guy at a bar who was facing three likely options in the near term: a) take a swing at someone, b) get clocked by someone else, or c) pass out and wake up on a hard, alien cot.

But the venue was not a bar. It was the White House, and this was hardly a joke. What Trump resembled at the lectern was an old-fashioned autocrat wielding a very familiar rhetorical strategy.

There are, after all, precedents for this:

Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, makes the point that autocrats from Chávez to Erdoğan, Sisi to Mugabe, all follow a general pattern. They attack and threaten the press with deliberate and ominous intensity; the press, in turn, adopts a more oppositional tone and role. “And then that paves the way for the autocrat’s next move,” Simon told me. “Popular support for the media dwindles and the leader starts instituting restrictions. It’s an old strategy.”

Simon pointed to Trump’s lack of originality, recalling that both Néstor Kirchner, of Argentina, and Tabaré Ramón Vázquez, of Uruguay, referred to the press as the “unelected political opposition.” And, as Simon has written, it was the late Hugo Chávez who first mastered Twitter as a way of bypassing the media and providing his supporters with alternative facts.

This is what Trump many not know, which is even worse:

Trump, as indulgent parents say of an indolent child, is “not a big reader.” He may not hear every historical echo in his “enemy of the American people” tweet. What he does know, however, is that the American trust in “the media” – that generalized term that stretches from the Times to NewsMax – is miserably low. He is determined to exploit that to the hilt, if only to distract his base from the disappointments that are sure to come. On Saturday evening, he held a rally in Melbourne, Florida, and doubled down on the familiar theme: putting himself in the same league as Lincoln and Jefferson, he told the crowd, “Many of our greatest Presidents fought with the media and called them out.” The agenda is always to divide. “They have their own agenda, and their agenda is not your agenda,” he said.

Trump of course got Jefferson backwards on the importance of a free and sometimes irritating press, and made sure it was protected in the Constitution, but only historians and school kids know that, so we are where we are:

The attacks on the legitimacy of the courts, on the intentions of the intelligence agencies, and on the patriotism of the press have become too evident, too repulsive to be discounted as mere sideshow. Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida and the co-host of “Morning Joe,” tweeted a telling call to the right on Friday: “Conservatives, feel free to speak up for the Constitution anytime the mood strikes. It is time.”

Yes, it is, but shutting down the free press, as the enemy of the people, is only one off-the-cuff idea that Trump has floated, and McCain was at it again:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) delivered a scathing criticism of President Donald Trump’s worldview on Friday, though he never mentioned Trump by name.

“What would von Kleist’s generation say if they saw our world today?” McCain said at the start of a speech at the Munich Security Conference, referring to the international security policy conference’s founder.

The conference, founded in 1963, now hosts hundreds of diplomats and senior government officials annually. Other American attendees this year included Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chris Murphy (D-CT)

“I fear that much about it would be all too familiar for them, and they would be alarmed by it,” McCain continued.

“They would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism. They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see towards immigrants and refugees and minority groups, especially Muslims. They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

The last comment was a subtle jab at an interview Trump gave to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Super Bowl Sunday. After O’Reilly called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer,” Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” (McCain indirectly referenced the comment later in the speech, when he said: “I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries.”)

“But what would alarm them most, I think, is a sense that many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West,” McCain continued. “That they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without, and that while Western nations still have the power to maintain our world order, it’s unclear whether we have the will.”

That was curious. Yes, Trump is big on the ties of blood and race and sectarianism – those, and introducing what he sees as necessary chaos, have served him well – and he’s the President of the United States, not John McCain. Neither are Pence or Mattis, which seems to be confusing our allies:

Diplomats and leaders across Europe had one crucial – if unstated – question for Vice President Pence when he visited Munich and Brussels this weekend: Is he the shadow president or a mere shadow of the president?

And if the mission of Pence’s trip abroad was clear – to reassure worried allies this weekend that, yes, despite what his boss may say, the United States remains committed to the security of Europe and to the historic transatlantic partnership – Pence’s role was anything but.

Although the vice president repeatedly stressed that he was speaking on behalf of President Trump, the two men indeed seemed as though they were separated by an ocean.

Pence offered bland mollifications, forced to calm and cajole European countries that, in the post-Cold War order, until recently never had cause to question the support of the United States. But at a campaign rally Saturday evening in Florida, Trump did the opposite, again criticizing NATO – hours after Pence had extolled its virtues in Munich – and offending yet another ally when he implied that there was a recent terrorist attack in Sweden, one that seemed to exist only in the president’s imagination.

The less said about that Sweden thing the better. Trump had just seen something about something or other on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News and ran with it. He heard it somewhere, but that sort of thing won’t do, as no one knows what to believe anymore:

The day after Trump, in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, upended decades of U.S. foreign policy by saying that he was open to a one-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian peace process, Nikki Haley, his U.N. envoy, said the administration was, in fact, “absolutely” committed to a two-state solution. And at a NATO meeting in Brussels last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis seemed to contradict Trump’s claims that Russia had not tried meddle in the U.S. elections, and also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO.

On Saturday, Pence largely echoed Mattis’ message of support for NATO. And on Monday, in Brussels, he will meet with senior EU leaders before returning to Washington.

Our allies try to make the best of this:

In many ways, like the voters in the United States who took Trump seriously but not literally, some allies are now taking Pence hopefully – because he might be, they say, their best hope at maintaining the existing world order.

“I put my trust in them, so I am definitely reassured,” said Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who met Pence on Saturday with other Baltic leaders.

“He was very understanding, very friendly, and told us that if we ever have any problems we should call,” she said. “He said if you don’t want to call the president, you can always call me.”

Okay, call Mike, not Donald. Mike will set you straight. Donald is a bit… well, you know. He just says things. He’s like that. There’s a workaround.

It seems that the vice president just told our allies to ignore our loopy president, but that won’t do:

Pence and Mattis were “very cautious because they don’t know whether half of what they say could be contradicted by their boss on Twitter,” said Jan Techau, the director of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin.

One European diplomat said they worried that there was no way to bridge the gap.

“There remains by necessity skepticism about the nature of the president Pence serves,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss candidly his conversations at the conference. “No one can dispel that, no matter what he said.”

And there’s this:

In a tweet Saturday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was even more blunt, posting, “Looks like we have two governments.” He wrote that Pence had just delivered a speech about shared values between the United States and Europe while the president “openly wages war on those values.”

Perhaps we do, and Josh Marshall explores the implications of all this:

The really significant comments and warnings came from Germany and France. The countries’ defense and foreign ministers respectively warned the US about trying to sow divisions in Europe or even break up the European Union. As the storied and long-serving retired US diplomat Nicholas Burns put it in a tweet, America’s erstwhile European allies are now worried about America as a threat to the international order.

That may be the real problem here:

While it has received relatively little attention in the US press, the White House has been pursuing an open policy of destabilizing the European Union and using the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU to pry the EU apart with a series of bilateral trade agreements with the US. Whether this is feasible is another question; this is the intent. Why the White House – specifically President Trump and Steve Bannon – would want to do this is an important question. The fact that this aim lines up perfectly with Russian foreign policy goals speaks for itself. But it can equally plausibly be explained by the desire to destroy internationalist, liberal and largely cosmopolitan institutions to pave the way for a new global order based on competing blood and soil nationalisms. The US government is now in the hands of a faction or party the rise of which much of our statecraft has spent almost seventy years trying to prevent from coming to power in the states of Europe.

What is most striking about these warnings from the Europeans, however, is not simply the historical inversion. It is the fact that the Europeans are warning us, sounding the alarm about US attempts to destabilize and destroy the world order – particularly the North Atlantic order – that the US in fact created and which it has been the guarantor of for almost seventy years. The US is not only its creator but it is based on US concepts of government and norms and of course has the US at its center. If the record in what was once called the Third World is more mixed, the US has much to be proud of for the era of relative peace and historic prosperity since the 1940s in Europe and industrialized democracies of Asia. But it also goes without saying that the American-built and American-led world order has driven immense benefits which the US continues to enjoy.

The historic oddity of this situation points to a common dynamic Americans now face at home and abroad.

Our partners in the international order we created – some of whom we conquered to make it possible – are now seeking to defend it from us. Let’s say that again, defend it from us.

Somehow we became the enemy:

We cannot ignore the fact that the American experiment is now in a kind of exile – taken refuge elsewhere – and the executive power of the American state now under a kind of, hopefully temporary, occupation.

And that leads to an obvious question:

What do you do as an institutionalist when the central institutions of the state have been taken over, albeit democratically, by what amount to pirates, people who want to destroy them?

What do you do when the king is the King of Chaos? You turn to history:

This is not the first time this question or this dynamic has been faced. For scholars who study the Nazi seizure of power in Germany, one of the central questions has always been the role of the Social Democrats. The Nazis came to power democratically and the proceeded to dismantle the state using its own power. The Social Democrats were the only political force in the country with a sufficient mass base, contrary ideology and organization to resist. And yet the extremely simplified version of the story is that they did not. The reason is that (again, this is a very simplified version of the story) they were too bought into republican government and constitutionalism to take the actions which would have been necessary in that moment of paradoxical and existential crisis.

We are all warned, rightly, to avoid comparisons to the Nazi Germany whenever possible. But in this case I do so first to note the comparable dynamic – how does one vindicate and defend liberal values and constitutionalism when the people holding the levers of state power are trying to destroy them but even more to point to the ways in which this historical analogy is not at all comparable.

We usually hear the story of the rise of Nazism as a cautionary tale of the way fascism can rise from within a democracy to destroy it. This is a highly misleading description of events. Weimar Germany was in essence a failed state which was born to a relatively brief but intense and brutal period of civil war and political violence, went immediately into a catastrophic, multi-year economic crisis and then briefly stabilized for no more than half a dozen years before lurching again into crisis with the onset of the Great Depression. Imperial Germany had a thin parliamentary tradition but its political culture was deeply illiberal and authoritarian. The democracy Hitler destroyed was at best embryonic and broken. One can easily argue that it scarcely existed.

I say all this because while the danger of the current moment is severe, American is nothing like Germany of the 1920s or 1930s. American democracy is in more danger now than at any time since at least the 1930s and arguably more than at any time in its history. But we have centuries of unbroken history of regular elections, vibrant democratic institutions and most importantly a deeply embedded, though not infrequently challenged democratic political culture. I say this not in favor of complacency but to bolster confidence, which I think is sorely needed.

So there is hope, but only hope:

How do we act within democratic norms to protect our institutions from the piratical individuals who have taken hold of them? McCain gave some hint of this when he pledged that the legislative and judicial branches of the American would be upholding constitutionalism while the executive was in this period of what I would term occupation. This is something of an empty boast as long as the legislative branch, which McCain’s party controls, has done little to nothing to rein in Trump’s rule. It also shows the nature of the challenge since the executive is the branch with executive power, the power to act, especially abroad. Because of that we face a comparable question in how we defend the America-led international order during this period of occupation or this interregnum when the American presidency is under the control of men who openly seek to destroy it.

Yes, the American presidency is under the control of men who openly seek to destroy America-led international order, and who also openly seek to destroy the free press here at home – unless Trump is just kidding – but no one knows that. He doesn’t explain things. He just smiles. The King of Chaos does that, he just smiles, and this may not be a period of occupation or an interregnum. He did win the election. Those who want chaos, no matter what is destroyed, aren’t going anywhere. Now no one else will.

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