Trump’s Island

“No man is an island” – that’s how the famous John Donne poem opens. In the middle there’s this – “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” And it ends with a warning – “Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a riff on that. His Robert Jordan is a young American fighting in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Someone had to fight the fascists, so many young Americans did. A bunch of liberals went off to war, far from home. They decided that they were involved in all mankind after all – but Franco, with the help of Hitler and Mussolini, won that war. Hitler got to try out his new air force. Mass civilian bombings worked pretty damned well. Picasso’s giant painting Guernica is about how well that worked, and Hemingway’s hero is gravely wounded and then his new young wife dies. That’s a sad tale, but the real thing was a sad tale too. Still, someone had to fight the fascists, even if back then it meant fighting alongside a good number of communists.

There would be hell to pay for that later when Joe McCarthy started asking questions. Many of those spry young liberals who went off to war far from home ended up as blacklisted balding middle-aged men no one would hire ever again, for any job – but they had once, long ago, heard the bell tolling, for them. They knew that they weren’t really communists. They knew that no man is an island. They had no regrets.

They knew, as everyone knows, that man is a social animal. Talk about personal responsibility and rugged individualism is fine – those are good things – but we’re all in this together. Only fools and Republicans try to go it alone. Elizabeth Warren once put that this way:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

That fell on deaf ears of course. At the time, Mitt Romney was running for president and privately talking to his donors about that awful “forty-seven percent” – the morally inadequate Takers, not the highly moral Makers. That talk became public and Romney backed off a bit, but the impulse on that side of things was always there. Republicans read Ayn Rand, not John Donne. Everyone’s an island.

That might explain Donald Trump. As the Washington Post’s Abby Phillip explains, he’s on an island all alone now:

President Trump has become more isolated than ever from the Republican Party, world leaders and the business community that once cautiously embraced him – a fissure that was growing for weeks but turned into a chasm following his response to the racist violence in Charlottesville last weekend.

Trump had to disband two corporate advisory councils after a slew of chief executives resigned from the panels. They criticized the president for blaming both white supremacists and counterprotesters for the melees that led to the death of a 32-year-old woman. Republicans continue to distance themselves from Trump as they call on him to more forcefully condemn the racist groups that gathered for the Unite the Right rally. And foreign officials lined up this week to make clear that they strongly disagree with Trump’s view of the events in Charlottesville.

Trump already had stoked tensions in recent weeks as he repeatedly attacked congressional GOP leaders for his stalled legislative agenda, and alarmed allies at home and abroad with threats of military force against North Korea and Venezuela.

Phillip doesn’t even mention the heads of all the armed services standing up to him – but the damage is real:

Trump’s reaction to last weekend’s violence, which roiled the nation at a time when a president typically provides comfort and guidance, has created deep uncertainty about whether he can effectively lead his party and focus on urgent tasks in the fall, including avoiding a government debt default and moving forward on the tax cuts he promised during the campaign.

“This has done irreparable damage in some ways,” said Joshua Holmes, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who remains close to him. “There has been lingering tension between the president and Capitol Hill here for months. This clearly made it significantly worse. I don’t know of any Republican who is comfortable with where we’re at right now based on the president’s comments.”

“His agenda was put at tremendous risk by being critical of Senator McConnell and alienating McConnell and McConnell’s entire operation,” said one Republican who is in frequent touch with the White House. “He’s now alienated a majority of rank-and-file members in the House and Senate.”

And there was this:

On Thursday, Trump continued to take aim at members of his party, targeting Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), both of whom have been critical of the president, and suggesting that voters in their states get rid of them.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted, referring to Flake’s primary opponent.

Trump may be wrong about who is toxic here, and there was this curious report:

Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz is predicting that the president is getting ready to call it quits – and that the resignation will happen soon.

He wrote on Twitter Wednesday: “The circle is closing at blinding speed. Trump is going to resign and declare victory before Mueller and congress leave him no choice. Trump’s presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner.”

Schwartz predicted Trump would make a deal for immunity in the Russia investigation in exchange for his resignation.

“The Russia stuff will be huge,” he wrote. “He doesn’t want to go to jail.”

Tom Toles can’t wait:

Schwartz’s analysis is based on the assumption that Mueller has the goods on Trump, and Trump’s choice will be jail or bail out, and if so, I hope Mueller hurries up. Because otherwise, we will continue to be the victims of Trump’s other traits: his moral blindness, his incompetence, his unfamiliarity with concepts such as truth, self-reflection, guilt or apology. And his resulting tendency to double down on his own destructiveness – and down and down and down, and taking us and the nation with him.

This is the pattern that his sociopathic behaviors have inflicted on us so far, and it shows no sign of letting up. He is overwhelmed by his own sense of persecuted righteousness, and that if he just opens his puckered yapper a few more times, everybody will come to see how correct and brilliant he is, has always been and always will be. If only the people who question his diseased ramblings could be made to shut up and fall in line, that is.

This is getting absurd:

This is not a good set of traits for a president to have, to say the least. These are not problem-solving traits. They are problem-creating traits, then problem-magnifying traits. There is no self-correcting mechanism here, only a journey ever-deeper into the diseased rabbit-hole of his self-conception. We are a long way in already. The elephant following him is apparently too big to turn around.

Maybe we will be saved from Trump’s terrible personality disorder by his greater instinct for self-preservation.

Josh Marshall is more measured:

Everything we are seeing stems almost inevitably from the decisions the country made, collectively, last November. We elected a President driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It’s no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a President who is an abuser and a predator. I’ve analogized him before to an abusive man in an abused household – only his house is now the country, now with all the cumulative exhaustion, warped perceptions and damage that are the common lot of people living with and trapped with violent predators, addicts or people with certain profound mental illnesses.

If so, expect escalation:

As things get worse, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. There’s no kill switch on this escalating aggression. It only builds. This morning he’s tearing into senators who’ve dared to criticize him and essentially declared war on one who is key to preserving the GOP’s senate majority next year. He compensates for ebbing support by redoubled aggression. It’s a self-reinforcing, self-accelerating cycle. Vicious people can be helpful in a cynical way. But vicious and self-destructive people are dangerous to everyone around them.

Trump will clearly and happily destroy the GOP if he feels the party has proven disloyal to him. Given what’s happened, it would be richly deserved. But Trump’s greatest powers are not as head of the GOP but as head of state of the country. He would happily destroy the country too, to sate his own anguished feelings of betrayal. Sound hyperbolic? Why would the pattern be any different written on so large a canvass?

His own party knows this, as Sean Sullivan reports this:

President Trump drew a new and forceful round of criticism Thursday from a leading Republican senator who asserted that Trump has not demonstrated the “stability” or “competence” necessary to effectively lead the country.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has been one of the most outspoken GOP Trump critics in Congress, expressed displeasure with Trump’s response to the deadly weekend violence in Charlottesville and warned that if the president does not change his behavior, “our nation is going to go through great peril.”

“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” the senator told reporters in Tennessee. “And we need for him to be successful.”

Corker’s remarks came on a day when at least two other Republican senators – Tim Scott (S.C.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) – also faulted the president. Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, said in an interview with Vice News that Trump’s “moral authority is compromised.”

And as for that senator weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in the Senate:

Said Corker – “Senator Flake is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. The White House would be well served to embrace the character, the substance of someone like Senator Flake.”

Trump really is on an island, and there was that editorial in The Economist:

Mr Trump is not a white supremacist. He repeated his criticism of neo-Nazis and spoke out against the murder of Heather Heyer. Even so, his unsteady response contains a terrible message for Americans. Far from being the savior of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.

The rest is the detailed evidence of that, ending with this:

For Republicans in Congress the choice should be clearer. Many held their noses and backed Mr Trump because they thought he would advance their agenda. That deal has not paid off. Mr Trump is not a Republican, but the solo star of his own drama. By tying their fate to his, they are harming their country and their party. His boorish attempts at plain speaking serve only to poison national life. Any gains from economic reform – and the booming stock market and low unemployment owe more to the global economy, tech firms and dollar weakness than to him – will come at an unacceptable price.

Republicans can curb Mr Trump if they choose to. Rather than indulging his outrages in the hope that something good will come of it, they must condemn them. The best of them did so this week. Others should follow.

And the hits keep coming:

President Donald Trump, who boasted in January of his appearances on magazine covers, might not be so happy with cover art unveiled Thursday in the wake of violence that erupted over the weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s own wavering rhetoric on the subject.

The Economist posted cover art featuring Trump using a KKK hood as a megaphone, which appears on its site under the headline, “Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president.”

Time magazine revealed art of a figure draped in the American flag, giving a Nazi salute, under the headline, “Hate in America.”

And the New Yorker unveiled cover art titled “Blowhard,” featuring Trump propelling a sailboat with a KKK hood for a mainsail.

Donald Trump doesn’t care:

Despite ongoing rebukes over his defense of white supremacists, President Trump defiantly returned to his campaign’s nativist themes on Thursday. He lamented an assault on American “culture,” revived a bogus, century-old story about killing Muslim extremists and attacked Republicans with a renewed vigor.

Hours after a terrorist attack in Spain, Mr. Trump recalled a debunked event in which Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing supposedly killed Muslim rebels in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in the blood of pigs, which Muslims are forbidden to eat. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Barcelona, where the driver of a van crashed into a busy tourist boulevard, killing 13.

“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Mr. Trump tweeted, spreading a mythical story even as he again accused the news media of being “Fake News” in another tweet. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

As when he trafficked in the same unproven legend during the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump ignored the conclusions of historians, who repeatedly have said it did not happen. Additionally, his claim that Pershing ended terrorism in the Philippines for 35 years is refuted by the violence that continued for decades after the rebellion that ended in 1913.

That sort of thing doesn’t matter anymore, and there was this:

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump made clear that he has no intention of stepping back from his assertions about the Charlottesville rally that have drawn widespread condemnation. In three tweets, Mr. Trump defended Civil War-era statues, using language very similar to that of white supremacists to argue the statues should remain in place.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump called it “foolish” to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and mused that monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be next. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” the president wrote.

Actually, he may not really care, but that would piss people off, but that makes things lonelier on Trump Island:

There was new evidence on Thursday that the political crisis created by the president’s Charlottesville remarks was having an effect on Mr. Trump’s business. The Cleveland Clinic announced it was pulling out of a 2018 fund-raiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., and the head of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce urged businesses not to host events there.

The American Cancer Society, which had planned to hold its 2018 gala at Mar-a-Lago, announced it, too, would change the venue, citing its “values and commitment to diversity.”

“It has become increasingly clear that the challenge to those values is outweighing other business considerations,” the group said in a statement…

And Carmen de Lavallade, a dancer and choreographer who will be honored by the Kennedy Center in December, announced on Thursday that she will forgo the related reception at the White House.

“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” Ms. de Lavallade, 86, said in a statement.

Maybe no one will show up.

What is going on here? Jane Coaston says Trump is Sarah Palin but better at it:

Nine years ago this month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) picked Sarah Palin as his running mate for his presidential campaign. Conservatives immediately fell for the popular Alaska governor, proclaiming her the new star of the right for years to come. Less than a decade later, Palin is a political nonentity. She largely keeps her thoughts to paid speeches, the occasional interview and Facebook, where she shares links to conservative clickbait farms.

And yet Palin remains critical: to a faction of the Republican Party, and to understanding the emergence of Donald Trump and Trumpism – the ideology created by the president’s most ardent supporters, though not necessarily by the president himself.

That was the trick:

Palin’s popularity with the GOP and the American right as a whole wasn’t based on her speeches or her conservative bona fides, her gubernatorial history or her political beliefs, but on what she could be made to mean. In his run for president, Trump was much the same. Now even as Trump’s base of support shrinks, those who remain, the truest of true believers, will never renounce him.

In short, never underestimate the power of a blank slate:

From the moment Palin entered the national scene, the praise for her on the right was heavily tied to her image. After the 2008 vice-presidential debate, National Review editor Rich Lowry described her as “so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing, [sending] little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.” In one of the earliest conservative critiques of Palin, written in September 2008, Post columnist Kathleen Parker said of her initial interest in Palin: “She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood – a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.” Nowhere in the piece were Palin’s conservative viewpoints referenced; her views on, say, health care or school choice, or even abortion, went unmentioned. Palin’s problem, in Parker’s view, wasn’t her beliefs but her tendency to ramble. What mattered about the governor was what she could reflect back to a hungry Republican base: an “attractive, earnest [and] confident” woman in a position of power.

And Palin said what the base was thinking. She accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” She praised those willing to “screw the political correctness.” She cheered the birther movement promoted by one Donald Trump. As the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, she taunted Democrats, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out?” In turn, she was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of “Run, Sarah, run!”

Liberals condescended to Palin. Newspapers corrected her statements on “death panels.” “Saturday Night Live” satirized her relentlessly. That treatment infuriated her supporters. And none of it changed their minds anyway because Palin was an avatar for how her supporters felt about themselves and the world they wanted to see, one they saw rapidly slipping away from them. Sure, she might be wrong, they seemed to say, but she’s like us. She is us.

She also led the way:

Trump campaigned on the Palin model. In fact, he improved upon it. His identity was his trademark, rendering the constant shifts in policy goals and promises almost meaningless. His base saw in Trump what they wanted to see. Some saw a fighter who would stand up for them, others saw a vaunted truth-teller, and a few, truth be told, likely saw a potential white-nationalist hero. And he gave it to them: the image, the veneer, the blank slate upon which their deeply held dreams – for themselves as much as their country – could be written. His fans weren’t dissuaded by his past support for Democrats (including his 2016 opponent), or his lies, or his personal liberalism, or his crudeness, or his long history of mistreating small-business owners of the kind he claimed to champion, because his fans weren’t voting for Trump. They were voting for what Trump meant to them personally.

In turn, his base will not leave him, because to abandon Trump would not be to abandon the current president but to leave behind deeply held beliefs of their own. His popularity is cultural, not political, and resilient to the notions of truth and fiction and to Trump’s own failures. Even after his presidency, regardless of whether it ends in impeachment or in two consecutive terms in office, the image will remain undaunted.

Perhaps so, but a blank slate cannot govern the country. There’s nothing there. As Marshall notes, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. He turns on everyone, even his own people, and he ends up alone and proud to be standing alone, but unable to get anything at all done, which seems to be fine with him, because what he wants to get done was always a bit vague. One day it’s one thing. The next day it’s another, sometimes its opposite. But nothing will get done. No man is an island, and the bell is tolling for him now.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Crypt

Andrew Ross Sorkin is an interesting fellow – a business reporter for the New York Times and a co-host on CNBC in the mornings, but really a teller of tales. He makes that dry financial stuff novelistic – vivid complex characters dealing with crises that, in the end, are personal – about values and integrity – about saving their businesses, or the economy, but really about saving their souls. That’s what his famous book Too Big to Fail was about – it was about more than the financial crisis at the end of the Bush administration that came close to ending the world as we know it.

Sorkin then co-produced a movie adaptation of the book for HBO Films. An agonized William Hurt was Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary. William Hurt does personal agony well. Paul Giamatti was Ben Bernanke, the quiet panicked scholarly chairman of the Federal Reserve. James Woods was the proud and clueless Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers – a study in angry defensive denial. Edward Asner was Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, but he was still the kind and curmudgeonly Lou Grant from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Bill Pullman was Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase – not the former fighter pilot now president saving the world from space aliens on Independence Day, but close enough. It was a rip-roaring tale.

The awful thing was that it was all true. Sorkin is a reporter. He interviewed all these folks, extensively. He father may have been a playwright, but Sorkin didn’t make up all this stuff out of thin air. He just turned it all into high drama, which it was anyway.

Andrew Ross Sorkin was made for the Trump years, and he, with the help of three other reporters from the New York Times, now tells another tale of personal crises in that world:

On Tuesday, Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of PepsiCo, joined a call with other prominent corporate chieftains who – like her – had agreed to advise President Trump.

A rebellion was brewing.

Along with other business leaders, Ms. Nooyi had watched with bafflement over the weekend as Mr. Trump blamed “many sides” for an outburst of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Ms. Nooyi spoke with Mary T. Barra, the head of General Motors, Virginia M. Rometty, the chief of IBM, and Rich Lesser, the chief executive of Boston Consulting Group, who were similarly outraged with the president’s response. All of them wondered whether it was time to step down from the Strategic and Policy Forum, an elite group formed late last year to advise the president on economic issues.

It might be time to save their souls, but they weren’t alone:

As these calls were occurring, the president’s other main business advisory group, the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, had begun to disintegrate. Early Monday, the chief executive of Merck stepped down from that group, followed by the chiefs of Intel and Under Armour, and representatives from a labor group and a nonprofit business alliance.

Some chief executives were still on the fence on Tuesday, torn between remaining on the prestigious presidential policy advisory panel and making a statement by stepping down.

But after the president delivered a series of stunning remarks in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, when he again equated far-right hate groups with the groups protesting them, many chief executives had enough.

On Wednesday morning, a dozen of the country’s most influential C.E.O.s joined a conference call, and, after some debate, a consensus emerged: The policy forum would be disbanded, delivering a blow to a president who came into office boasting of his close ties with business leaders.

With the collapse of the councils, the president had all but lost his most natural constituency – the corporate leaders who stood to benefit from his agenda of lower taxes and lighter regulation.

American business leaders were about to turn their backs on Donald Trump, but he wasn’t going to be embarrassed:

Before they could make a statement announcing their decision, however, Mr. Trump spoke. He had caught wind of their planned defection and wanted to have the last word. Taking to twitter, he wrote: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

He had trumped them, but he had really lost this one:

Seven months into his presidency, Mr. Trump is faced with an uncomfortable situation: Fewer and fewer business leaders are willing to be associated with a president who continues to advance opinions and policies that are deeply unpopular.

“There is continuing pressure on C.E.O.s from customers, employees, shareholders and board members to take a position against what’s going on and separate themselves from president Trump’s councils,” said Bill George, the former chief executive of the medical device maker Medtronic and a board member of Goldman Sachs. “These executives cannot live with customers thinking they are in cahoots with someone who supports white supremacists or neo-Nazis.”

Sorkin then reports this:

“In American history, we’ve never had business leaders decline national service when requested by the president,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. “They’ve now turned their backs on him.”

The Atlantic’s David Graham says that’s not exactly so:

Trump had been defiant over earlier defections – “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” he tweeted Tuesday morning – but he saw the end in sight and tried to get ahead of the story. In a twist on the old “you can’t quit, I’m firing you,” he said he did so for the good of the members.

That’s not a win, as Graham notes the essential contradiction here:

Trump’s campaign for president stood on two legs: the politics of racial grievance, and a promise to bring back manufacturing jobs. What became clear this week is that he can either work with industrial titans on jobs or he can place white identity politics center stage, but he cannot do both. With his open embrace of de-facto white nationalism on Tuesday, Trump made his choice.

From his border wall with Mexico to his protectionist trade impulses to his vow to end “American carnage,” Trump promised white Americans that he would get them back on their feet, turn back the tides of immigration and progressive social justice, and bring back their jobs.

Forget that now, but of course he was never very serious about this stuff, even if he should have been:

In practical terms, the end of these groups may not make much difference. After all, Trump has achieved so few of his goals on economic policy that the executives’ absence can’t really hurt. It is, however, a blow to Trump’s self-conception. Having long nursed a grudge over being viewed derisively by many business moguls, he reveled in inviting them to the White House. It is also a blow to his public image, suggesting that rather than being the businessman who could fix government, he can wrangle neither the private nor the public sector effectively.

And it is, as well, a challenge to his approach to race. On Tuesday, a reporter asked him what he’d do to overcome racial divides. “I really think jobs can have a big impact,” Trump said. “I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact, positive impact, on race relations.”

If Trump believes, as he told reporters, that racial divides can be healed by the rising wages of a manufacturing revival, the dissolution of the business councils deals his agenda a double blow.

It’s all going bad:

The demise of the two panels is just one element of the latest self-inflicted crisis for the White House. Pundits have for months wondered what would happen when Trump encountered a genuine crisis that was not of his own making, and Charlottesville helps to clarify: As usual, he finds a way to make it harder for himself.

One bright spot for Trump is that, despite the horror with which his comments on Charlottesville have been received, he has yet to have a single Cabinet member or high-profile aide resign in protest. While there’s been lots of staff turnover at the White House, those who have left have either been fired or pushed out in internal power battles. Reports pop up from time to time of top aides who are angry, but none of them has actually quit or said publicly that they could not tolerate the president’s words or actions.

Wait for it. Andrew Ross Sorkin will turn it into high drama, but until then, Politico’s Josh Dawsey tells another tale:

Trump’s temper has been a constant force in this eight-month-old White House. He’s made policy decisions after becoming irritated with staffers and has escalated fights in the past few weeks with everyone from the Senate majority leader to the volatile dictator of North Korea.

The controversy over his response to the Charlottesville violence was no different. Agitated about being pressured by aides to clarify his first public statement, Trump unexpectedly unwound the damage control of the prior two days by assigning blame to the “alt-left” and calling some of the white supremacist protesters “very fine people.”

“In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong,” one adviser to the White House said on Wednesday about Charlottesville. “This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn’t realize how bad this is getting.”

This then is another “how to manage the mad king” tale:

For Trump, anger serves as a way to manage staff, express his displeasure or simply as an outlet that soothes him. Often, aides and advisers say, he’ll get mad at a specific staffer or broader situation, unload from the Oval Office and then three hours later act as if nothing ever occurred even if others still feel rattled by it. Negative television coverage and lawyers earn particular ire from him.

White House officials and informal advisers say the triggers for his temper are if he thinks someone is lying to him, if he’s caught by surprise, if someone criticizes him, or if someone stops him from trying to do something or seeks to control him.

He does seem quite mad – no one knows when he’ll suddenly get white-hot angry and then entirely forget he was angry in the first place, unless he remembers, and that leads to this:

The majority of Trump’s top aides, with the notable exception of Steve Bannon, had been encouraging Trump to put to an end this damaging news cycle and talk that makes him seem sympathetic to groups that widely decry Jews, minorities and women. But the president did not want to be told what to do and seemed in high spirits on Tuesday evening, even as headlines streamed out about his seeming overtures to hate groups, according to one White House adviser who spoke to him.

The president “thinks he’s right. He still thinks he’s right,” an adviser said.

But in this White House, Trump’s anger isn’t just a side detail for stories about the various warring ideological factions, or who’s up and down in the West Wing. Instead, that anger and its rallying cry helped to fuel his rise to the White House, and now Trump uses it as a way to govern, present himself to the American public and even create policy.

Governing the nation by means of sudden fits of anger, that may pass and that he may forget an hour later – that’s an interesting concept, but that’s the concept:.

In one stark example, the president’s dislike of being told what to do played a role in his decision to abruptly ban all transgender people from the military: a move opposed by his own defense secretary, James Mattis, and the head of the Coast Guard, who vowed not to honor the president’s decree.

The president had grown tired of White House lawyers telling him what he could and could not do on the ban and numerous other issues such as labor regulations, said one informal White House adviser. While multiple factors were in play with the transgender ban, Trump has grown increasingly frustrated by the lawyers’ calls for further study and caution, so he took it upon himself to tweet out the news of the ban, partly as a reminder to the lawyers who’s in charge, the adviser said.

“For Trump, there came a moment where he wanted to re-establish that he was going to do what he was going to do,” said the adviser, who knows both the president and members of the staff. “He let his lawyers know that it’s his job to make decisions and their job to figure out how to implement it.”

That transgender-ban may have been a dumb idea, and offensive to just about everybody, but it was HIS idea, damn it!

It also should have been expected:

The outbursts extend back to Trump’s campaign days when he could become irritated about expenses and money, according to a senior campaign official.

Some aides and advisers defended the president’s temper by chalking it up to part of the deal of working in a demanding environment for a high-profile boss, a situation that could easily be replicated in Wall Street or Hollywood.

“When the president is upset and people are in the room, it does not mean he is necessarily upset with them,” one close adviser to the White House said. “Often, he is upset with the direction of where the situation was going.”

Nor is Trump’s anger omnipresent. It does not always appear in traditionally stressful situations such as during personnel changes, or responding to a major threat or incident. Instead, the president’s temper flares when he feels personally wronged, or controlled, or as if someone is not being loyal to him, aides and advisers say.

They’ve learned to tip-toe around the White House – that’s just part of the job – but the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Robert Costa cover the resistance to that:

As the new White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly routes all calls to and from President Trump through the White House switchboard, where he can sign off on them. He stanches the flow of information reaching the president’s desk. And he requires that all staff members – including Trump’s relatives – go through him to reach the president.

But none of those attempts at discipline mattered this week. Instead, Kelly stood to the side as Trump upended his new chief of staff’s carefully scripted plans – pinballing through an impromptu and combative news conference in New York in which he inflamed another self-inflicted controversy by comparing the actions of white supremacist groups at a deadly rally in Charlottesville last weekend with the counter-protesters who came to oppose them.

The uproar – which has consumed not only the White House but the Republican Party – left Kelly deeply frustrated and dismayed just over two weeks into his job, said people familiar with his thinking. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that even a four-star general faces in instilling a sense of order around Trump, whose first instinct when cornered is to lash out, even self-destructively.

It’s hard to deal with a mad king:

By Wednesday, Trump, back at his New Jersey golf club, was further isolated and the White House was again under attack. Some aides and confidants privately described themselves as sickened and appalled, if not entirely surprised, by Trump’s off-the-cuff comments. And the president watched, furious, as a cascade of chief executives distanced themselves from him, prompting the dissolution of his major business advisory councils.

General Kelly is failing:

Kelly allies say the former homeland security secretary came into the West Wing job clear-eyed and practical, with the goal of implementing discipline on the staff and processes of the White House, not controlling the president.

“It’s clear Kelly is having a stabilizing and organizing influence on the White House,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), an informal Trump adviser. But, he added, “He will gradually have an impact on Trump but it won’t be immediate. There are parts of Trump that are almost impossible to manage.”

That’s just how it is:

Another Republican operative and unofficial White House adviser was more definitive, saying that no matter how respected or talented Kelly may be, his first 2½ weeks on the job demonstrated an essential truth about the Trump White House: The president will act as he so pleases, even despite – and sometimes to spite – the efforts of his aides.

“The Kelly era was a bright, shining interlude between failed attempts to right the Trump presidency and it has now come to a close after a short but glorious run,” the operative said. “Like all people who work for the president, he has since experienced the limits of the president’s promises to cooperate in order to ensure the success of the enterprise.”

That’s the sad tale that ends with this:

Within the West Wing, Kelly remains popular. Late last week in Bedminster, he gathered at Trump’s clubhouse restaurant for a relaxed, social dinner with the senior staff members. The group included Ivanka Trump, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hicks, Nielsen and others. The president also came by, staying for the full meal.

As they reminisced about the campaign and told jokes, Kelly offered a quip. “The best job I ever had was as a sergeant in the Marine Corps,” he said with a laugh, “and after one week on this job, I believe the best job I ever had is as a sergeant in the Marine Corps.”

Okay, when Andrew Ross Sorkin writes the definitive book about all of this, and co-produces the inevitable movie, William Hurt can play General Kelly. William Hurt does personal agony well, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan adds additional characters:

In a stunning bit of news, the chiefs of all four U.S. military services – Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines – have issued statements this week condemning racism in all its forms. This can only be seen as a rebuke to President Trump’s equivocating statements on last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia – i.e., as a rebuke to their commander in chief.

If we lived in a different sort of country, this could fairly be seen as the prelude to a military coup – and a coup that many might welcome.

The United States is not that sort of country. The principles of civilian control and an apolitical military are hammered into every officer’s sensibility in every forum of education and training. Yet, at the same time, so are principles of equality and nondiscrimination – enshrined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and bolstered by the military’s heritage as a spearhead of racial integration shortly after World War II, long before other segments of American society followed along.

The chiefs’ statements amount to a reaffirmation of those latter principles.

This is high drama too:

The top brass are putting up an explicitly united front against what they see as a threat to their ethos. The remarkable thing is that, though they don’t say so, the threat is coming from the top of their chain of command.

If we’re not headed toward a coup, what is going on? What does this looming tension signify about our security policy and the shape of our politics?

It seems that governing the nation by means of sudden fits of anger, that may pass and that the president may forget an hour later, just won’t do:

The United States, right now, has no coherent security policy – either toward particular countries or in general. Is it American policy to aid and support democracy, adhere to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, oppose (or even acknowledge) Russian interference in Western politics? What is our stance on the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, or eastern Ukraine? How are we managing the balance between conflict and cooperation with the rising power of China? The answers depend on who you believe is speaking on behalf of the United States. The secretary of defense, secretary of state, national security adviser, and other officials have made statements on all these issues that differ from those of the president. For that matter, the president has made statements that differ from other statements he’s made. We have no policy, we have no principles; neither allies nor do adversaries have a sense of what we might do under certain circumstances.

This is one reason the nation’s top military officers feel obligated to speak their minds on matters that generally don’t require – or call for – their commentary. There is a vacuum – a miasma of confusion and chaos – at the top of the civilian command. This gives the officers no comfort. They really don’t like being put in this sort of spot. But when the vacuum of authority is so palpable, when the president makes statements so at odds with fundamental principles, then they feel a duty to speak out – if just to remind the men and women under their command that those principles still hold, regardless of whatever signals they might glean from the commander in chief.

That’s where the real drama is:

Officers have an obligation to obey a commander’s (including the president’s) “lawful orders” and most officers want to fulfill this obligation. But what are Trump’s real orders? What are his priorities and policies? Nobody knows, not even those around him, perhaps not even he himself. Yet Trump has the constitutional authority to order troops into combat and to launch nuclear missiles toward their targets.

Is that drama enough? The reporting has shifted to tales of vivid complex characters dealing with crises that, in the end, are personal – about values and integrity – about saving their businesses, or the economy, or the country, but are really tales about saving their souls. They are also tales from the crypt – horror stories about a dead presidency, or what may be a dead country.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Birth of a New Nation

It’s happened before. In 1915, the first motion picture, ever, was screened at the White House – D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – starring Lillian Gish as the sweet young (white) thing menaced by stupid and sexually aggressive thuggish black men (played by white actors in blackface) and saved by the heroic Ku Klux Klan. They were the good guys. Woodrow Wilson loved it. The film inspired the formation of the “second era” Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, down in Georgia, the same year. The NAACP mounted a failed campaign to ban the film, but that only pissed off Griffith. He released Intolerance the next year – so there was a time when a sitting US president openly sided with white supremacists, a time when calling them out was considered an act of intolerance. Their views were valid too, if not heroic. Narrow-minded people couldn’t see that.

It happened again. Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman do the reporting:

President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations – equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.

There were cheers:

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after Mr. Trump spoke.

Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist leader who participated in the weekend’s demonstrations and vowed to flood Charlottesville with similar protests in the coming weeks, was equally encouraged. “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth,” Mr. Spencer tweeted.

There were boos:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a Democrat, wasted little time in accusing the president of adding to the divisions that put an unwanted spotlight on the normally peaceful college town.

“Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism, and two of our finest officers were killed in a tragic accident while serving to protect this community. This was not ‘both sides.'”

There was despair:

Members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private. The National Economic Council chairman, Gary D. Cohn, and the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again engulfed a White House in disarray.

There was Trump:

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” Mr. Trump told reporters, who interrupted him repeatedly when he seemed to equate the actions of protesters on each side.

He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.” And of the demonstrators who rallied on Friday night, some chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, he said, “You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”

There was context:

Since the 1960s, Republican politicians have made muscular appeals to white voters, especially those in the South, on broad cultural grounds. But as a rule, they have taken a hard line on the party’s racist, nativist and anti-Semitic fringe. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush roundly condemned white supremacists.

In 1991, President George Bush took on Mr. Duke, who was then seeking the governor’s seat in Louisiana, saying, “When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society.”

There was a very angry man:

Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly said he is not prejudiced, has been equivocal in his public or private statements against white nationalists and other racist organizations.

On Saturday, in his first comments on Charlottesville, Mr. Trump blamed the violence on protesters from “many sides.”

After a storm of criticism over his remarks, Mr. Trump’s aides persuaded him to moderate his message by assigning explicit blame for the violence on far-right agitators, which led to a stronger denunciation of hate groups – emailed to reporters and attributed to an unnamed “spokesperson.”

When that failed to quell the controversy, aides, including Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, pressed him to make another public statement. Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, urged him to take a more moderate stance, according to two people familiar with the situation. But as with so many other critical moments in Mr. Trump’s presidency, the two were on vacation, this time in Vermont.

Grudgingly, Mr. Trump agreed.

That was a disaster – Trump looked like a hostage woodenly reciting words that were not his own – because they weren’t his own – but he would not be a hostage any longer:

No sooner had he delivered the Monday statement than he began railing privately to his staff about the news media. He fumed to aides about how unfairly he was being treated, and expressed sympathy with nonviolent protesters who he said were defending their “heritage,” according to a West Wing official.

He felt he had already given too much ground to his opponents, the official said.

That’s who he is:

Mr. Trump prides himself on an unapologetic style he learned from his father, Fred Trump, a New York City housing developer, and Roy Cohn, a combative lawyer who served as an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump attracted a significant following of white supremacists, expressed sympathy with white southerners fighting to preserve monuments for Confederate icons and was slow to distance himself from racists like Mr. Duke.

The president’s fury grew Monday as members of a White House business council began to resign to protest his reaction to Charlottesville. As usual, Mr. Trump found his voice by tweeting angrily about the news media.

By Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Trump’s staff sensed the culmination of a familiar cycle: The president was about to revert to his initial, more defiant stance. As Mr. Trump approached the microphone in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday, aides winced at the prospect of an unmediated president. With good reason.

A typical reaction was this:

Eric Cantor, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who was a member of Republican leadership, was horrified by what took place in Charlottesville, and said the president needed to have spoken out earlier.

“It really did demand a statement at the very beginning,” said Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish. He added that efforts by the president to equate the actions of the counter protesters, however violent they may have been, with the neo-Nazis and the driver of the car that murdered a protester were “unacceptable.”

“There’s no moral equivalence,” Mr. Cantor said.

There’s some irony there. Eric Cantor had been the House Majority Leader and in June, 2014, in his bid for re-election. Cantor lost the Republican primary to economics professor Dave Brat – a Tea Party absolutist – and then announced his early resignation as House Majority Leader, and then announced his resignation from Congress. He’s nobody now, and he’s Jewish anyway. Those neo-Nazis would laugh at him if they had heard what he said here – but no one pays attention to Eric Cantor anymore.

Cantor may not matter, but Rod Dreher at The American Conservative makes some obvious points:

The President of the United States cannot control himself. I know, this isn’t really news, but good grief! It is hard to imagine a president who does more damage to himself by not being able to handle his own temper. Even if he 100 percent believed the things he said today, he ought to have enough sense than to say them publicly. If I worked for this administration, I would send my resume out tonight – if not out of a sense of self-respect, then out of a sense of self-preservation. Trump’s temperament is going to bring his presidency crashing down. It has already started.

And this:

There really are very fine people who are opposed to taking down Confederate statues. I know some of them. Their kind would not have gone anywhere near that far-right event in Charlottesville… The rally was called “Unite the Right,” so named by organizers because they wanted to bring together all the far-right groups. If you went down to that protest this weekend and marched alongside neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen, you deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

This should not be difficult for the President of the United States to do. But it is, because that’s the kind of man he is.

And this:

Trump has definitively made his brand pure poison. Anybody who stands by him going forward is going to suffer for it… There are going to be some prominent people who will not recover from their embrace of Donald Trump.

And this:

The nation is at an extraordinarily weak moment. Nearly two out of three Americans disapprove of the president. That’s bad news for any president, but in Trump’s case, it’s worse, because he’s so polarizing. If this country were to face a serious crisis – a war, in the worst case – do you really see the nation uniting around Donald Trump? If I were an enemy of America, I would see this as an opportunity.

That’s a worry, but Josh Marshall is not surprised by any of this:

This is Trump, a man whose deepest political impulses are tied to racial grievance and a desire for revenge, a desire to place the deserving and white back at the top of the racial hierarchy. People get caught up on whether or not people are willing to call Trump a ‘racist’. Of course, he’s a racist. But that doesn’t tell us enough. Lots of people dislike blacks or Jews and don’t want to live near them, etc. But many, likely most with racist attitudes, do not embrace a politics driven by racial grievance. Trump’s politics are about racial grievance. It’s not latent or peripheral but rather central. That’s different and it’s worse. It is one of the few consistent themes in his politics going back many, many years…

We can infer what stands behind a person’s public statements if we’ve seen them enough, under different pressures and in different contexts. Trump’s repeated expressions of sympathy for racist activists, refusals to denounce racist activists, coddling and appointments of racist activists can only really mean one thing: that he instinctively sympathizes with them and indeed is one. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 80 million times and I need to seriously consider what the fuck is wrong with me.

So there is nothing new here:

I confess I had a small degree of surprise that the events of the weekend – as horrifying and tragic as they are – have had quite the effect on people they seem to have had. This is not to diminish them. It is only to say that I do not think they should be so surprising. I don’t think they should amount to a revelation that shifts our basic understanding of things. We have if not a growing white supremacist movement in the US at least an increasingly vocal and emboldened one. They both made Trump possible and have in turn been energized and emboldened by his success. He reacts this way because he is one of them. He is driven by the same view of the world, the same animus and grievances. What we’ve seen over the last five days is sickening and awful. The house is on fire. But it was on fire a week ago. It’s been on fire since November. The truth is indeed unimaginable and terrifying. But we need to accept the full truth of it if we are going to be able to save our country.

Jennifer Rubin offers a bit more detail:

The Washington Post reported: “First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.”

When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them – neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing Tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens – didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. (“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible,” he said. “And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”) But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.

But he did somehow intuit that not all the people marching with neo-Nazis and white supremacists were bad guys. “I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know – I don’t know if you know – they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”

Really, which of the Confederate and Nazi-flag bearers were innocent, peaceful and just good people?

And this:

To top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned…

How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. Fox News’s Kat Timpf declared, “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.'”

As one of those Never Trump conservatives, she’s had it:

Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) re-upped their condemnation, but mere words fall on deaf ears. Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.

She’s also not changed her mind, not now:

We should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, to borrow a phrase. Third, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have no excuses and get no free passes. They are as responsible as anyone by continuing to enable the president. Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.

That’s unlikely, and Evan Hurst looks back:

We know, we know, we know. Hillary Clinton is a terrible rage-harpy who should abandon public life forever and probably stop showing her lady face anywhere outside her house, because she ran such a BAD CAMPAIGN and offered NO VISION for solving Regular (White People’s) Problems, despite how she talked about those things constantly and her website was full of solutions and plans to make all Americans’ lives better, even the lives of the literal tens of thousands of white people in the Rust Belt who, with the help of Russia, propelled Donald Trump to the most historic negative three million popular vote U.S. American presidential victory in all of world history.

MAYBE if she had talked about those things in her 33,000 missing EMAILS, you know? Ever think about that, Hillghazi? And MAYBE if she hadn’t run around hurting Real America’s feelings all the time by saying lots of Trump supporters belonged in something called the Basket of Deplorables – such a divisive asshole, that Hillary! – then we wouldn’t be sitting here witnessing the aftermath of an actual act of detestable terrorism committed by economic insecurity actual Nazis.

Oh wait, sorry, what we meant to say is that maybe if fuckers had LISTENED TO HER when she committed the crime of saying something very true about how Donald Trump was enabling, encouraging and emboldening a certain group of racist neo-Nazi white supremacist Fuckhead-Americans, and maybe if folks on MANY SIDES had pulled their thumbs out of their assholes and voted for the only fucking qualified AND VIABLE opponent to Trump and everything he represents, we wouldn’t have the actual Basket of Deplorables partying its way through the streets of Charlottesville like it’s Germany, 1936.

Well, she did say this:

Everywhere I go, people tell me how concerned they are by the divisive rhetoric coming from my opponent in this election. It’s like nothing we’ve heard before from a nominee for President of the United States.

From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties.

His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous. In just the past week, under the guise of “outreach” to African Americans, Trump has stood up in front of largely white audiences and described black communities in insulting and ignorant terms: “Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing. No homes. No ownership. Crime at levels nobody has seen… Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”

Those are his words.

Donald Trump misses so much. He doesn’t see the success of black leaders in every field…The vibrancy of black-owned businesses or the strength of the black church… He doesn’t see the excellence of historically black colleges and universities or the pride of black parents watching their children thrive…And he certainly doesn’t have any solutions to take on the reality of systemic racism and create more equity and opportunity in communities of color.

It takes a lot of nerve to ask people he’s ignored and mistreated for decades, “What do you have to lose?” The answer is everything!

Trump’s lack of knowledge or experience or solutions would be bad enough. But what he’s doing here is more sinister. Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters. It’s a disturbing preview of what kind of President he’d be.

This is what I want to make clear today:

A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military. If he doesn’t respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?

Now, I know some people still want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. They hope that he will eventually reinvent himself – that there’s a kinder, gentler, more responsible Donald Trump waiting in the wings somewhere. After all, it’s hard to believe anyone – let alone a nominee for President of the United States – could really believe all the things he says.

But the hard truth is, there’s no other Donald Trump. This is it.

And America shrugged. They didn’t know they were about to see the birth of a new nation – or a reprise of that D. W. Griffith movie from so long ago, the movie that Woodrow Wilson liked so much, when a sitting US president openly sided with white supremacists and calling them out was considered an act of intolerance. Their views were valid too, if not heroic. Narrow-minded people couldn’t see that.

We’ve seen this movie before. It seems we’ll have to work things out again, if we can this time.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump Held Hostage

Mondays are always problematic, but this one was more so:

A disturbing hostage video surfaced on Monday showing an American man woodenly reciting words that were not his own.

The video, which was broadcast on all the major news networks, raised concerns for the man, whose robotic performance indicated that he was reading a prepared statement under duress.

While the man appeared well fed and, to a certain extent, healthy, his facial expressions and body language convinced experts that the act of reciting the prepared text was an extraordinary ordeal for him.

There were giveaways:

Harland Dorrinson, a forensic psychologist, compared the man’s performance with hours of earlier footage of him and said that the man had “never expressed these sentiments before.”

“He did not seem to understand what he was saying,” the psychologist said. “At times, he appeared to be reading these words phonetically.”

Additionally, Dorrinson said, the man’s speech patterns in the hostage video were strikingly different from those in earlier videos of him. “From the moment he began speaking, the subjects in his sentences agreed with the verbs,” he said. “That set off alarm bells.”

That was Andy Borowitz of course. That was satire. That’s what he does, but Slate’s Katy Waldman prefers irony:

On Saturday, President Donald Trump responded to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a prepared statement that condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” He then appeared to ad lib that nullifying qualifier into a refrain: “on many sides.”

Like so many others, Republicans and Democrats and former English teachers, she was not impressed:

Along with being awful, the president’s original speech was notable for its absence of Trumpian rhetoric. Whereas he usually spins division into political gold, this time Trump preached a kind of horrifying togetherness. The address, tiptoeing instead of name-calling, politely declined to address the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who’d marched through Virginia. Trump didn’t just come down softly on fascist terrorists. What made Saturday’s address so remarkable was that he bent so many of his own rules to do so.

In short, he said nothing, and then on Monday he said something or other:

On Monday, the president went back to normal. Or at least, he displayed all the now-familiar tics of a man allergic to accountability and desperate for praise, a man delighted to accept our congratulations on the sagacity of his responses to horror. After a few minutes of throat-clearing about his feats on behalf of the American worker, Trump reiterated, almost word for word, his language from the weekend. “As I said on Saturday,” he told reporters, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence.” Trump then continued: “And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin,” we all “salute the same great flag. … Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”

It was a neat substitution: Instead of “on many sides,” the president offered another seemingly inconsequential phrase – “as I said.” Over the weekend, Trump failed, resplendently, to denounce the gun-waving race vigilantes who instigated a riot in Charlottesville, one that ended in the death of a woman who was run over by a white supremacist. On Monday, he strode up to the podium and pretended that he’s not the kind of guy who’d embolden and encourage the alt-right. If you haven’t heard him declaring racism is evil, he said, that’s because you haven’t been listening.

Waldman doesn’t like flimflam:

Trump’s contempt for reality is such that he is not content to mislead the American people in the moment. He compounds the lie by telling us, in direct contradiction to what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, that he has always been doing whatever it is he wants to have been doing. No universe exists in which any Trump response could have possibly been inadequate or wrongheaded. Over the weekend, Trump delivered the perfect address to salve Charlottesville’s wounds and fire up its moral conscience. On Monday, he just repeated it for all us dummies who missed it the first time.

This insta-revisionism calls to mind the Lost Cause romanticism that insists slavery was always ancillary to the Civil War. Neither Robert E. Lee nor the statues cast in his image were ever really “about” white supremacy, we’re told, often by the same people who want to absolve Trump from his complicity in a fascist movement. Asked why he did not condemn hate groups by name over the weekend, the president replied, “They have been condemned.” Slavery, too, has been condemned, though not always all that vociferously by those who defend monuments to the Confederacy. Condemnations were made, is the point. Why do the work when you can simply steal the credit?

Waldman is scathing, but the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush is more measured:

President Trump is facing a crossroad in his presidency – a choice between adopting the better-angels tone of a traditional White House or doubling down on the slashing, go-it-alone approach that got him elected in 2016.

On Monday, he tried to walk both paths – and satisfied neither supporters nor critics.

So, Andy Borowitz was right:

Mr. Trump, bowing to overwhelming pressure that he personally condemn white supremacists who incited bloody weekend demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., on Monday labeled their views as racist and “evil” after two days of issuing equivocal statements.

“Racism is evil,” said Mr. Trump, delivering a statement from the White House at a hastily arranged appearance meant to halt the growing political threat posed by the unrest. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

But before and after his conciliatory statement – which called for “love,” “joy” and “justice” – Mr. Trump issued classically caustic Twitter attacks on Kenneth C. Frazier, the head of Merck Pharmaceuticals and one of the country’s top African-American executives.

It’s always something:

Mr. Frazier announced Monday morning that he was resigning from the American Manufacturing Council – the first of three chief executives who quit the advisory panel on Monday – to protest Mr. Trump’s initial equivocal statements on Charlottesville.

“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” the president wrote at 8:54 a.m., as he departed his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., for a day trip back to Washington.

Someone had to say the obvious:

“It took Trump 54 minutes to condemn Merck CEO Ken Frazier, but after several days he still has not condemned murdering white supremacists,” Keith Boykin, a former aide to President Bill Clinton who comments on politics and race for CNN, wrote in a tweet.

Oh, he got around to that, but he wasn’t happy about it:

Shortly before leaving the capital, Mr. Trump attacked the news media for blowing the episode out of proportion.

“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied… truly bad people!” he wrote Monday evening.

Others thought he was the bad person here:

Even Mr. Trump’s allies worried that his measured remarks, delivered two days after dozens of public figures issued more forceful denunciations of the violence in Virginia, came too late to reverse the self-inflicted damage on his moral standing as president.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump said the rioting was initiated by “many sides.” His comments prompted nearly universal criticism and spurred several of his top advisers, including his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to press the president to issue a more forceful rebuke.

Even after a wave of disapproval that included a majority of Senate Republicans – and stronger statements delivered by allies, including Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump – Mr. Trump seemed reluctant to tackle the issue head-on when he appeared Monday before the cameras.

He was been held hostage, by General Kelly and others, and this was getting serious:

Some human rights activists, skeptical that Mr. Trump’s latest remarks on the issue represented a change of heart, called on him to fire so-called nationalists – a group of hard-right populists led by Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist – working in the West Wing.

“The president should make sure that no one on his staff has ties to white supremacists,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a telephone briefing on Monday afternoon. He added, “Nor should they be on the payroll of the American people.”

He said that the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics should “do an investigation and make that determination” to see if anyone in the White House has had links to hate groups.

On the other hand, this wasn’t serious.

Far-right leaders, including Richard B. Spencer, who attended the Charlottesville rally, said they did not take the president’s remarks seriously.

“The statement today was more ‘Kumbaya’ nonsense,” Mr. Spencer told reporters on Monday. “He sounded like a Sunday school teacher.”

“I don’t think that Donald Trump is a dumb person, and only a dumb person would take those lines seriously,” Mr. Spencer said.

Spencer had reason to think so:

As Mr. Trump was delivering the kind of statement his critics had demanded over the weekend, Fox News reported that the president was considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., a political ally who has been accused of federal civil rights violations for allegedly mistreating prisoners, many of them black and Hispanic.

The timing of the interview was especially striking, given that it came at the height of the controversy over his tepid remarks about Charlottesville.

“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said in the interview on Sunday, speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot, and I hate to see what has happened to him.”

Joe Arpaio is a strange fellow – he’s still certain that Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery, and says he can prove it, even if Donald Trump begrudgingly gave up on that last year – but the real problem is this:

Arpaio was a defendant in a decade-long racial-profiling case in which a federal court issued an injunction barring him from conducting further “immigration round-ups” that targeted Hispanics. A federal court subsequently found that after the order was issued, Arpaio’s office continued to detain “persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed.” In 2016, Arpaio was held in civil contempt of court, and the following year, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for “willfully” violating the order.

In November 2016, Arpaio lost re-election to a damned Democrat, of all things, so he can no longer make Hispanic detainees – who have committed no crime and may turn out to be US citizens after all – wear pink underwear in the hot sun in his desert prison camps – but he was all-in for Trump from the beginning. That, it seems, makes him a patriot. That, it seems, also makes Richard Spencer happy. Trump’s second try at cleaning up his Charlottesville remarks should not be taken seriously.

And there was this:

Andrew Anglin, founder of neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, called Trump’s remarks the statement equivalent of saying “meh, whatever.”

“He waited to respond because his first response was accurate,” Anglin wrote in a post, calling Trump’s remarks “half-assed” and prompted by the “whining Jew media.”

“Trump only disavowed us at the point of a Jewish weapon,” he continued. “So I’m not disavowing him.”

Andy Borowitz was right, this was a hostage thing, and only those CEOs took Trump seriously:

Mr. Frazier’s exit from the business council marks a mini-exodus of business leaders from presidential advisory councils as a result of Mr. Trump’s stances on social issues and the environment. His recent decision to leave the Paris climate accord prompted Elon Musk of Tesla to resign, as did the chief executive of Disney, Bob Iger.

Additionally, the chief executives of athletic clothing line Under Armour and Intel announced they too would step down from the American Manufacturing Council – the same panel from which Mr. Frazier resigned.

Kevin Plank, the head of Under Armour, said he was resigning to focus “the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion.”

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich said he would be willing to serve in the government again when “those who have stood up for equality” are honored. “I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them,” Mr. Krzanich said in a statement.

Trump will now destroy them all with tweets. That, however, is unlikely:

President Donald Trump’s approval rating hit an all-time low amid violent clashes in Charlottesville over the weekend, according to Gallup’s daily polling average released Monday.

According to Gallup, 34 percent Americans said they approve of Trump’s performance in office, while 61 percent disapprove.

The more he tweets, the lower the numbers. Alexandra Petri, who writes a regular column for the Washington Post “offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day”, has decided she cannot be light about this:

There should be no real difficulty in condemning Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. They are, for God’s sake, Nazis and white supremacists. This should not require moral courage. This is obvious. This is the moral equivalent of the text you type to prove you’re not a robot.

President Trump is always, terminally, at a loss for words, but it would be hard to think of worse words at a more vital time than his speeches in the aftermath of the racist, terrorist violence in Charlottesville on Saturday – first, Saturday’s mealy-mouthed speech about “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.” And then Monday’s halting, teleprompted follow-up, in which (two days later) he barely managed to acknowledge that, well, racism and bigotry have no place here.

This was awful from the start:

On many sides.

It is important when you consider the situation of a man whose face has been crushed by a boot to wonder if any damage might have been done to the boot.

One man’s life has been threatened, but on the other hand, another man’s property has been threatened. You must consider and weigh these two things against one another. The North showed considerable aggression against the South, you could say.

This is not good enough. At what point can we stop giving people the benefit of the doubt? “Gotta Hear Both Sides” is carved over the entrance to Hell. How long must we continue to hear from idiots who are wrong? I don’t want to hear debate unless there is something legitimately to be debated, and people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not among those things. They are self-evident, or used to seem so.

And then there was Charlottesville:

What did they think the mob was doing, gathered with torches?

Of course they gathered with torches, because the only liberty they have lost is the liberty to gather with torches and decide whose house to visit with terror. That is the right that is denied them: the right to other people’s possessions, the right to be the only person in the room, the right to be the only person that the world is made for. (These are not rights. They are wrongs.) You are sad because your toys have been taken, but they were never toys to begin with. They were people. It is the ending of the fairy tale; because you were a beast, you did not see that the things around you were people and not objects that existed purely for your pleasure. You should not weep that the curse is broken and you can see that your footstool was a human being.

And then there was Trump’s hostage speech:

Here we are in the year of our lord 2017 and the president of the United States lacks the moral courage to condemn Nazis and white supremacists. And they are not even making it difficult. They are saluting like Nazis and waving Nazi flags and chanting like Nazis and spewing hatred like Nazis. Maya Angelou was not wrong. When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Especially if what that person is telling you is “I am a Nazi.”

Barely, after two days, he has managed to mumble that their ideology has (should have) no place in our society. Silence sells hats, I guess.

She does have some questions for Donald Trump:

What could it be that we are doing wrong as a country? What is it exactly that has allowed these horrible ideologies to come out of the shadows, waving Tiki torches and bringing terror with them? Could it be, Donald, something you’ve said? Could it be the silence that has greeted all your statements, so far past the pale of acceptable discourse that you can’t even see acceptable discourse from where you’re standing? Could it be the refusal to name a campaign that began with rants about “rapists” and promises of a wall and a Muslim ban, and continued with sexist taunts and promiscuous retweets of conspiracists for the horror that it was? It was silence then from people who wanted to win that got us to where this can happen – this attack and this president, who won’t denounce even the most egregious of groups at the time when they have been responsible for a hideous act of terror.

She is not happy:

There is nothing more pathological than the desire to be liked by everyone all the time. If you are continually attracting Nazis and white supremacists, you shouldn’t say, “WOW, everyone LIKES ME! Great!” you should ask yourself, “Where in my life have I gone seriously wrong?”

Who would stand over the body of someone who died protesting a hateful, violence, racist ideology and say that “we have to come together”? That we have to find common ground? I am sure there is common ground to be found with the people who say that some are not fit to be people. The man who thinks I ought not to exist – maybe we can compromise and agree that I will get to exist on alternate Thursdays. Let us only burn some of the villagers at the stake. We can eat just three of the children. All ideas deserve a fair hearing. Maybe we can agree that some people are only three-fifths of people, while we are at it – as long as we are giving a hearing to all views.

Only someone with no principles would think that such a compromise was possible. Only someone with no principles would think that such a compromise was desirable.

Perhaps so, but Greg Sargent says there’s something else going on here:

I’d like to suggest an additional reason for Trump’s reticence… Trump does not recognize that his service as president confers on him any obligations to the public of any kind. This does not supplant Trump’s racism as an explanation. It throws its potential effects going forward into even sharper, more alarming relief…

Trump’s resistance appears rooted in part in an instinctual sense that so doing would constitute some form of capitulation. In his remarks, Trump repeated the phrase “on many sides” in a pointed tone, as if to signal that he will not be bullied by any objection to his false equivalence or any pressure to single out anti-black racism.

That’s trouble:

The message that Trump surely received – one he surely continues to believe – is that there is no reason for him to capitulate to politically correct demands that he explicitly condemn racism toward any minorities. But this raises a profound problem. It is likely that Trump views this whole affair as being all about him – that is, as all about whether he will surrender to his foes. He seems incapable of grasping that amid such crises, his office carries with it certain very grave responsibilities to the American people.

There is a reason we generally want our presidents to speak out against racism against African Americans amid outbreaks of racial strife and violence. They are well positioned to remind the nation of our founding creed, and of our most conspicuous betrayal of it – of the historically unique experience of African Americans as targets of centuries of violent subjugation, as well as sustained domestic terrorism and deeply ingrained racism, which continues today.

Well, forget that:

The rub here is that Trump clearly recognizes no obligation to the broader public of any kind as a function of the office entrusted to him. This isn’t just racism. It’s also his megalomaniacal inability to envision that his role might require duties above and beyond his desire to deepen his bond with certain supporters (which of course is all about him) or the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen surrendering in some vague sense…

In this sense, there is a direct line that leads from this abdication to Trump’s serial degradation of the presidency and our institutions on many other fronts: the continuing refusal to release his tax returns and use of the presidency to enrich his family; the nonstop lies about illegal voting in 2016, which undermine faith in our democratic system solely to aggrandize him; the blithe admission that he fired his FBI director because of the Russia probe; the rage at his attorney general for failing to protect him from that investigation; and the constant claims that the Russia story is a hoax, even though it’s about actual sabotage of our democracy, in addition to his role in it.

Even if Trump does say the right thing it will only come after intense pressure to do so – and will be born of an instinct toward self-preservation – because he has zero sense of any obligation to the public, of any kind.

That leaves two things –  never capitulate to politically correct demands, or any demands, and then be held hostage, because the job is no more than a series of quite legitimate demands from the public, who expect the guy they elected to respond to obviously legitimate demands, for leadership. Reading a prepared statement under duress isn’t leadership. Suddenly, Andy Borowitz isn’t funny.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Job at Hand

Everyone should read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine for a sense of what summer used to be like in 1928 in small-town America – “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

Bradbury captures it all, and the adventures, and the discoveries, of a twelve-year-old boy long ago, but Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois, was fictional. So was Grover’s Corners – another look back at the “real” America, before things got all messed up.

Maybe such places never existed, but things did get messed up. This summer is not Bradbury’s summer. President Trump seems to be threatening nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, or he’s bluffing to shame that Kim Jong Un fellow, to make him back off and whimper in submission, in the fetal position. No one knows which it is, but everyone agrees that this won’t end well. We seem to be on the brink of nuclear war, and there are Nazis matching the streets, American Nazis, many in full battle gear. Somewhere, someone may be bottling dandelion wine for the long winter ahead – a bit of summer in the first sip – but Bradbury never imagined a mid-August like this.

At least the circus is in town – a long line of elephants, all in a row, with that poor guy with a shovel and a pail cleaning up after them:

White House officials, under siege over President Trump’s reluctance to condemn white supremacists for the weekend’s bloody rallies in Charlottesville, Va., tried to clarify his comments on Sunday, as critics in both parties intensified demands that he adopt a stronger, more unifying message.

A statement on Sunday – issued more than 36 hours after the protests began – condemned “white supremacists” for the violence that led to one death. It came in an email sent to reporters in the president’s traveling press pool, and was attributed to an unnamed representative.

It was not attributed directly to Mr. Trump, who often uses Twitter to communicate directly on controversial topics. It also did not single out “white supremacists” alone but instead included criticism of “all extremist groups.”

As with Vladimir Putin, he’s not, personally, going to say one bad word about these white-supremacist-neo-Nazi-KKK folks either:

The email was sent “in response” to questions about Mr. Trump’s remarks, in which he blamed the unrest “on many sides” while speaking on Saturday before an event for military veterans at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., where the president is on vacation.

A generalized email would do, but it wouldn’t do:

The president’s reluctance to speak out with force and moral indignation against the white nationalists who incited the most serious racial episode of his presidency elicited deep feelings of disappointment spanning the ideological spectrum, and a spreading sense that he had squandered a critical opportunity to empathize, unite and move beyond the acrimony that has engulfed the White House and country.

“I think what you saw here was a real moment in our nation for our leaders to deal with this moral issue as one country, as people all over the world watched,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said, speaking on a cellphone outside the home of one of the two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash monitoring the melee on Saturday.

Mr. Trump’s “words were not – not – what this nation needs,” Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, said, his voice breaking with emotion. “He needs to call out the white supremacists; he needs to call out the neo-Nazis to say these people should not be in our country. I do think it’s the president’s responsibility to take leadership on this. It’s what any American would do. Now is the time to step up.”

Others were willing to cut him some slack:

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican and a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, cautioned against reading too much into the president’s initial response but called for the White House to use the episode as an opportunity to convene “a national discussion” on race, prejudice and community policing.

“There are a lot of people who are just not comfortable with the issue; perhaps they are afraid it would aggravate their base,” Mr. Kasich said, adding, “I think a president can always provide some leadership on a subject like this.”

In short, give him some time to get comfortable with all this, or not:

The criticism of Mr. Trump intensified on Sunday, with lawmakers from both parties calling on him to explicitly condemn the role of white racists and agitators affiliated with the fringe movement known as the alt-right, some of whom brandished pro-Trump banners and campaign placards during violent protests over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a Charlottesville park.

And there was this:

As the White House shifted its message, the Justice Department opened a hate crimes inquiry into the violence, which included the death of a 32-year-old woman.

James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio was charged with second-degree murder, accused of running down her and others in a car. Nineteen other people were injured in the episode, which Mr. McAuliffe called “murder, plain and simple.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed during his confirmation hearings early this year about how he might handle such a case, and many on Sunday said they saw the Charlottesville investigation as a test for him.

In a statement late Saturday, Mr. Sessions went further than the president had in his remarks, condemning not just the violence and deaths in Charlottesville but adding that “when such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

It was unclear on Sunday what the specific scope of the investigation was.

Jeff Sessions needs some time to get comfortable with all this too, but there’s not much time:

As the gravity of the events on Saturday became clearer, the pressure on Mr. Trump to make a stronger statement came from his innermost circle of advisers and family.

“With the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out,” Anthony Scaramucci, an ally of Mr. Trump who served briefly as White House communications director last month, told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t have recommended that statement,” added Mr. Scaramucci, whose abbreviated tenure was characterized by a pledge to let Mr. Trump express himself without interference from staff members. “I think he would have needed to have been much harsher.”

Still, the tone and tenor of the president’s comments on Saturday – noticeably less fiery than what he has had to say on Twitter and in public settings about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell – reflected Mr. Trump’s own thinking.

This item, from Glenn Thrush of the New York Times, goes on to discuss how Trump sees this as a law-and-order issue, not a racial issue at all, but there was this:

The episode again proved the limitations of Mr. Trump’s family, which was once expected to exert a moderating influence on his presidency. Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, used Twitter early Sunday to denounce the violence in Charlottesville, becoming the highest-ranking administration official to condemn the protesters on the record.

“There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis,” she wrote Sunday.

Her father may have to talk to her about that, but David French concentrates on what actually happened:

The car rammed the crowd at speed, backed up, and sped away. This horrific incident capped a day of street brawls after hundreds of alt-right activists, neo-Confederates, and outright Nazis marched together to express and defend their “blood and soil” white nationalism. It was a disgusting and reprehensible display.

It would be much easier to write off this small band of racists if they weren’t also part of a larger alt-right movement that was responsible for an unprecedented wave of online threats, intimidation, and harassment throughout the 2016 campaign season.

That has a source:

Key elements of the Trump coalition, including Trump himself, gave the alt-right movement aid and comfort. Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, proclaimed that his publication, Breitbart.com, was the “the platform for the alt-right,” Breitbart long protected, promoted, and published Milo Yiannopolous – the alt-right’s foremost “respectable” defender – and Trump himself retweeted alt-right accounts and launched into an explicitly racial attack against an American judge of Mexican descent, an attack that delighted his most racist supporters.

In other words, if there ever was a time in recent American political history for an American president to make a clear, unequivocal statement against the alt-right, it was today. Instead, we got a vague condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This is unacceptable, especially given that Trump can be quite specific when he’s truly angry. Just ask the Khan family, Judge Curiel, James Comey, or any other person he considers a personal enemy.

In short, the job at hand for this president is making a clear, unequivocal statement against these folks, but James Fallows notes the complications:

A disproportionate amount of what we remember about presidents has to do with how they respond to the unforeseen – either instinctively, as with Reagan’s jaunty joking as doctors tried to save him from John Hinckley’s attempted assassination, or with thought-out deliberation, as with Johnson’s (positive) decision to use the tumult of the mid-1960s as propulsion for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, or his (negative) step-by-step immersion into the disaster of the Vietnam war. The best testament to Kennedy’s intelligence and character was the period of greatest danger to the world: the nearly two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev jointly prevented their nations from destroying each other, and the world.

The unexpected will happen, but the job at hand his to step up to the unexpected:

Presidents have a particular burden, and responsibility, when the nation as a whole has suffered a shock, wound, or shame. Franklin Roosevelt responded to one such emergency in 1941, with his “date which will live in infamy” address after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Reagan did so with an address from the Oval Office soon after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. One of the finest moments of George W. Bush’s presidency (and I say that as someone who doesn’t think there were a lot of fine moments) was his address to Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks, which was strong on national resolve and free of build-up for an impending invasion of Iraq. (“This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.”) Barack Obama rose to this challenge with his “Amazing Grace” address in Charleston, after the racist murder of church-goers there.

The specific duty of a president in these moments is to: reflect awareness of the grief, shock, fear, uncertainty that people of the country may be feeling on a wide scale; to emphasize the values that the country as a whole is supposed to represent; to define, express, and channel the country’s desire to understand why a tragedy or challenge has occurred…

And, finally, it is the responsibility of a leader in time of crisis to give an indication of what people should do: Hold their heads up; be brave rather than afraid; support their neighbors; live the example they would like others to follow.

Many state and local and national figures, from both parties, bore their parts of this duty yesterday. Those with the most serious burden, the president and vice president, utterly failed.

Mike Pence was vague, but Trump was worse:

He mildly condemned extremism and violence “from many sides.”

I lament the “violence from many sides” that resulted in Emmett Till’s lynching, or the burial under an earthen dam of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Or the “violence from many sides” witnessed at My Lai in 1968, at the Birmingham church bombings in 1963, or the Tulsa race riots of 1921, or other “who  can explain?” outbreaks of unfortunate violence.

The Daily Stormer, modern voice of the Nazis, understood exactly what Trump’s “on many sides” meant.

The Daily Stormer posted this:

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.

He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides!

So he implied the antifa [the people protesting the White Supremacists] are haters.

There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.

He said he loves us all.

He also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.

No condemnation at all.

When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.

Really, really good.

God bless him.

James Fallows sees what’s going on here:

Fair or unfair, one of the burdens on modern leaders is the expectation that they will give a shape to the arc of distressing events, or at least will try to. Come to think of it, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to place on them, for the enormous power they can wield at their whim.

Donald Trump had an opportunity yesterday to show that he was more than the ignorant, impulsive, reckless opportunist he appeared to be during the election. To show, that is, that the  burdens and responsibilities of unmatched international power had in fact sobered him, and made him aware of his obligations to the nation as a whole.

Of course, he failed.

And those who stand with him, now, cannot claim the slightest illusion about what they are embracing.

David Frum extends that argument:

President Trump made two big political decisions over past half-week, and both are already proving disasters.

The first decision was to cut himself loose from the Republican leadership in Congress. Trump blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a sequence of tweets fixing blame on McConnell – and thereby absolving himself – for the failure of Obamacare repeal.

The second decision was to issue a statement condemning “many sides” for the confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend—and adhering to that policy of pandering to white nationalism even after the ramming death of a counter-protester and the injury of many more.

Frum sees those as interrelated bad moves:

The Trump team may be trying to replay Bill Clinton’s triangulation of 1995-96, when Clinton won re-election by positioning himself as a moderate centrist between the extremes of the congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats. And maybe Trump could have executed a blue-collar version of that strategy by joining cultural conservatism to a free-spending populism of infrastructure spending and the defense of Medicare and Medicaid. Instead he’s positioned himself in such a way that other political actors can triangulate against him: congressional Republicans, by rejecting Trump’s indulgence of murderous racism; congressional Democrats, by fastening Trump to the widely disliked Ryan-McConnell policy agenda.

It’s probably impossible for a man of Trump’s psychology to process how much legal jeopardy he and his family may be in – and how utterly he depends on Republicans in Congress to shield him. President Bill Clinton faced down scandal politics in his second term because his party united to support him, a decision politically vindicated by the strong Democratic showing in 1998, the best sixth-year election performance in modern history. Trump, by contrast, is doing his utmost to persuade congressional Republicans that it could well be less disastrous to face the voters in 2020 under Mike Pence than Donald Trump. Mike Pence apparently thinks so, too. Pre-Charlottesville, that remained a tough sale. Post-Charlottesville, things look different.

Trump now stands not between the parties, or above the parties, but beyond the parties – in some strange political twilight zone where neo-Nazis are seen as a constituency not to be insulted.

That’s a bad place to be:

Trump and his white-nationalist advisers seem determined to corroborate their critics’ accusation that enforcement is concerned not with protecting the wages and working conditions of legal residents of the United States – part of a pro-worker agenda that also could include a big investment in construction, trust-busting of college tuition, and a defense of existing social-insurance programs – but instead as a component of a white-nationalist agenda that also includes attacks on minority voting rights, a rollback of affirmative action, and compliments to authoritarian leaders worldwide.

The conventional wisdom is that dissension is a party killer; safer to stay united around even a low-polling president than to act against him. But what if it is the president who is fomenting the dissension, because his ego requires that every failure be blamed on somebody else? What if the president is polling so low that he splashes his party with his own odium? What if he is branding his entirely flag-waving party with the flags not of the United States but of Russia, the Southern Confederacy, and now amazingly even Nazi Germany?

Frum says it’s time for all Republicans to abandon this sinking ship.

E. J. Dionne extends that argument:

It should not have taken the death and injury of innocents to move our nation toward moral clarity. It should not have taken President Trump’s disgraceful refusal to condemn white supremacy, bigotry and Nazism to make clear to all who he is and which dark impulses he is willing to exploit to maintain his hold on power…

Advisers to the president tried to clean up after this moral failure, putting out a statement Sunday morning – attributed to no one – declaring that “of course” his condemnation of violence “includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.” But if that “of course” is sincere, why didn’t Trump say these things in the first place? And why hang on to the president’s inexcusable moral equivalence by adding that phrase “and all extremist groups”? This was simply a weak philosophical cover-up for a politician who has shown us his real instincts throughout his public life, from his birtherism to his reluctance to turn away 2016 endorsements from Klansmen and other racists.

It may be time to take sides:

More Republicans than usual broke with Trump after his anemic response, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was especially poignant in offering historical perspective on this episode: “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

But that so many others in the party preferred to keep their discomfort on background was itself a scandal.

Still, if Trump won’t do the job at hand, others might:

The proper response is for Democrats and Republicans willing to take a stand to force a vote in Congress condemning the president for his opportunistic obtuseness and making clear where the vast majority of Americans stand on white supremacy. This is important for many reasons, but especially to send a message to America’s minorities that whites are willing to do more than offer rote condemnations of racism.

For make no mistake: No matter how accurate it is to say that neo-Nazis and Klansmen represent a repugnant fringe, the fact that our president has consistently and successfully exploited white racial resentment cannot help but be taken by citizens of color as a sign of racism’s stubborn durability.

That might be necessary:

As is always true with Trump, self-interest is the most efficient explanation for his actions: Under pressure from the Russia investigation, he is reluctant to alienate backlash voters, who are among his most loyal supporters.

The rest of us, however, have a larger obligation to our country and to racial justice.

Someone has to do the job at hand, but Josh Marshal notices something else:

In addition to going out of his way not to denounce the white supremacist and neo-Nazi marchers yesterday, for those primed to hear it (which is the point) the President made a point of calling out and valorizing the marchers. In his at length on-camera comments, in addition to bromides and calling for people to love each other, Trump noted that we must “cherish our history.”

That’s telling:

This is an explicit call-out to the white supremacist and neo-Confederate forces at the march whose calling card is celebrating Southern ‘heritage’ and America’s history as a white country. Zero ambiguity or question about that. And they heard the message. White supremacist leaders cheered Trump’s refusal to denounce them and his valorization of their movement.

That was also entirely predictable:

Where does this come from? Who knows who wrote this text for Trump? But many of Trump’s most important speeches were written by white nationalist aide Stephen Miller, who came from Jeff Sessions’ senate office. Miller literally worked with Alt-Right leader (he coined the phrase) Richard Spencer on racist political activism when he was in college at Duke (Spencer was a grad student at the time). This isn’t some vague guilt by association. He’s one of them.

When Gabriel Sherman asked what he identifies as a ‘senior White House official’ why the White House didn’t denounce the Nazis in Charlottesville, he got this: “What about the leftist mob? Just as violent if not more so.”

Maybe I’ve missed some other background comments out of the White House. But I haven’t heard anything that approaches that level of venom about the Nazis or white supremacists. When the top ideologues at Trump’s White House look at yesterday’s spectacle, they instinctively see the counter-protestors as enemies.

Was that official Miller? Who knows? It could have been Bannon or Gorka or frankly a number of others. There are plenty to choose from.

That’s the point. This wasn’t resistance to making a conspicuous denunciation or being cute. Those were Trump’s supporters. He recognizes them as supporters, indeed as part of his movement. And he supports them. This is probably largely instinctive on Trump’s part. It’s more ideological and articulate on his aides’ part.

He’s one of them. Let’s stop pretending.

Okay. Let’s stop pretending. And let’s consider the end of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

And they left the mellow light of the dandelion wine and went upstairs to carry out the last few rituals of summer, for they felt that now the final day, the final night had come. As the day grew late they realized that for two or three nights now, porches had emptied early of their inhabitants. The air had a different, drier smell and Grandma was talking of hot coffee instead of iced tea; the open, white-flutter-curtained windows were closing in the great bays; cold cuts were giving way to steamed beef. The mosquitos were gone from the porch, and surely when they abandoned the conflict the war with Time was really done, there was nothing for it but that humans also forsake the battleground.

The final night of summer has come. It’s going to be a long cold winter.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Meanwhile, Elsewhere

President Trump seems to be threatening nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, or he’s bluffing to shame that Kim Jong Un fellow, to make him back off and whimper in submission, in the fetal position. No one knows which it is, but everyone agrees that this won’t go well. This is the only issue at the moment – for good reason. If the United States launches a massive preemptive strike against North Korea, because Donald Trump has had enough mockery from that Kim Jong Un fellow, Seoul will be gone a few hours, North Korean missiles will drop on Tokyo, and the Chinese will jump in too – to keep what’s then left of the Korean peninsula from becoming fully aligned with the United States. No one knows what Russia would do. No one wants to know – but in the end, with millions dead, the United States would become a pariah nation. On the other hand, no one would ever make fun of Donald Trump’s tiny hands ever again. That may be what is driving this.

That’s the worry – Donald Trump’s tiny hands driving world events – but it’s not just North Korea. The week ended with the South American parallel:

President Donald Trump said Friday that he wouldn’t rule out military action against Venezuela in response to the country’s descent into political chaos following President Nicolas Maduro’s power grab.

Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, Trump bemoaned the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table – including a potential military intervention.

“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump volunteered, adding, “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

No one knew what the hell he was talking about. What sort of military operation, with what objective? He didn’t say – but he has a military he can use, somehow. It’s just that this was new to everyone:

Trump’s comment mark a serious escalation in rhetoric for the U.S., which has up until now stressed a regional approach that encourages Latin American allies to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime. Hours before Trump’s comments, a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity stressed that approach while briefing reporters on Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming trip to the region later this week.

Mike Pence will just have to change his plans, or at least his talking points, now, but that won’t go well:

Venezuela’s defense minister called Trump’s talk of a military intervention an act of “craziness” and “supreme extremism.”

Gen. Vladimir Padrino, a close ally of Maduro, said “With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the U.S., who knows what will happen to the world?”

The White House later released a statement saying it had rejected a request from Maduro to speak by phone with Trump. The statement said, “Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

That’s it, restore democracy or die? It seems that the man so insecure about his tiny hands is frustrated again:

The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former Venezuelan officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a constitutional assembly charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

But even as the list of targeted individuals has grown longer, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by U.S. oil companies over the likelihood that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela – the third-largest supplier to the U.S. – would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs.

Mike Pence will have to clean this up:

Trump’s comments are sure to focus new attention on Pence’s upcoming six-day tour of the region, which will include stops in Cartagena, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City. Pence is set to arrive in Colombia on Sunday and is expected to meet with each of the countries’ leaders, deliver a major speech on U.S.-Latin American relations and tour the newly-expanded Panama canal.

The trip was already sure to be dominated by discussion of Venezuela, with Pence expected to call on the leaders to continue to pressure the Maduro government and encourage others in the region to do the same.

But Trump’s comments are likely to upend the conversations, with leaders potentially pressing Pence for reassurance that Trump won’t go through with his military threat.

Others will have to clean this up too:

Trump’s threat of military intervention in Venezuela also seems to contradict the advice of his top national security adviser. Citing the resentment stirred in Latin America by the long U.S. history of military interventions in the region, General H.R. McMaster said he didn’t want to give Maduro any ammunition to blame the “Yankees” for the “tragedy” that has befallen the oil-rich nation.

“You’ve seen Maduro have some lame attempts to try to do that already,” McMaster said in an interview that aired last Saturday on MSNBC.

Rather than send in the Marines, McMaster said it was important for the U.S. and its neighbors to speak with a single voice in defense of Venezuela’s democracy.

What was McMaster saying, don’t pay attention to this president we have up here? It may be too late for that:

In eastern Caracas, the center of months of deadly anti-government protests, residents reacted with a mix of disbelief and frustration with Trump’s remarks, which they fear will embolden the weakened Maduro and distract attention from his abuses.

“Of course we don’t support violence, but look at all the violence we’re already suffering,” said Irali Medina, an office administrator, pointing to the spot where a university student was killed recently by a tear gas canister fired by national guardsmen controlling protesters.

In short, don’t send in the Marines, but there was that late July election:

The legitimacy of Sunday’s election to overhaul Venezuela’s Constitution was under threat as many voters avoided the ballot box, nations across the region rejected the predetermined result and the streets erupted in the deadliest day of unrest in three months.

President Nicolás Maduro had ordered a rewriting of the Constitution. The election on Sunday was simply to pick the members of the constituent assembly that will carry it out; there was no option to reject the process.

By evening, electoral officials announced the winners of the vote, a list of leftist stalwarts including Diosdado Cabello, a powerful politician who once participated in a failed coup attempt, and Cilia Flores, Mr. Maduro’s wife. The result effectively liquidates the Venezuelan political opposition and leaves the left with complete control over a country that remains deeply divided.

That’s the end of democracy, and Josh Keating covered the following morning:

It’s hard not to notice that the Trump administration is a bit selective when it decides to care about human rights and democratic norms: Leftist authoritarian governments in Cuba and Venezuela get sanctioned; authoritarian governments in the Middle East get arms deals.

At a press conference Monday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was asked by a reporter why Maduro is so much worse than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who received a personal congratulatory phone call from Trump after his own controversial referendum in April.

McMaster responded that “one difference is that you see the end of the constitution in Venezuela,” before comparing Maduro to Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-un, and Bashar al-Assad. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that what Erdogan did, arresting his political opponents and holding a disputed election to amend the constitution to grant himself broad powers, is pretty comparable to what Maduro is being sanctioned for.

That rigged Turkish referendum ended democracy too. The legislature became “advisory” to Erdogan. Erdogan now decides what the laws are. The courts became “advisory” to Erdogan. Erdogan now decides what’s constitutional. A lot of journalists are now in jail. Erdogan has banned the teaching of evolution in their schools. Erdogan received a personal congratulatory phone call from Trump. Trump was impressed. End democracy by going far right and you’re a hero. End democracy by going far left and we’ll send in the Marines.

There are alternatives to sending in the Marines. Nations can advance their geopolitical interests with the use of something as mundane as money:

Venezuela’s unraveling socialist government is increasingly turning to ally Russia for the cash and credit it needs to survive – and offering prized state-owned oil assets in return, sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.

As Caracas struggles to contain an economic meltdown and violent street protests, Moscow is using its position as Venezuela’s lender of last resort to gain more control over the OPEC nation’s crude reserves, the largest in the world.

No shots were fired:

Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), has been secretly negotiating since at least early this year with Russia’s biggest state-owned oil company, Rosneft – offering ownership interests in up to nine of Venezuela’s most productive petroleum projects, according to a top Venezuelan government official and two industry sources familiar with the talks.

Moscow has substantial leverage in the negotiations: Cash from Russia and Rosneft has been crucial in helping the financially strapped government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro avoid a sovereign debt default or a political coup.

Rosneft delivered Venezuela’s state-owned firm more than $1 billion in April alone in exchange for a promise of oil shipments later. On at least two occasions, the Venezuelan government has used Russian cash to avoid imminent defaults on payments to bondholders, a high-level PDVSA official told Reuters.

Rosneft has also positioned itself as a middleman in sales of Venezuelan oil to customers worldwide. Much of it ends up at refineries in the United States – despite U.S. sanctions against Russia – because it is sold through intermediaries such as oil trading firms.

Russia just won a war over Venezuela we hadn’t even begun yet – without firing a shot.

That seems to be happening a lot. There are alternatives to sending in the Marines. The Los Angeles Times has published a series of items on how we have already lost Africa:

Although StarTimes – a privately owned, Beijing-based media and telecommunications firm – is virtually unknown in the West, it has been sweeping across Africa since 2002, overhauling the continent’s broadcast infrastructure and beaming Chinese content into millions of homes. It has subsidiaries in 30 African countries, including such war-torn states as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

“Our aim is to enable every African household to afford digital TV, watch good digital TV and enjoy the digital life,” StarTimes Vice Chairman Guo Ziqi told China’s official New China News Agency in December.

But there’s a catch. StarTimes has substantial backing from the Chinese state – and an explicit political mandate.

This is their alternative to sending in their Marines:

China’s relationship with Africa – for decades defined by resource-for-infrastructure deals – is evolving, as Africa becomes wealthier and China’s foreign policy objectives grow more ambitious.

Beijing has invested billions of dollars into “soft power” campaigns aimed at convincing the world that China is a cultural and political success story…

StarTimes signals a change in tack, one that highlights the depth and complexity of Beijing’s efforts to win hearts and minds – with much of that effort now being directed at Africa, one of the world’s great emerging media markets.

Of course there’s a bit of trouble here and there:

China’s footprint across Kenya spreads far beyond access to the airwaves. As in the rest of Africa, China has been investing heavily in infrastructure. But as China’s impact deepens, Kenyans have often reacted with suspicion. They blame China for stealing local jobs. They fear that China – Kenya’s largest creditor – is saddling the country with unmanageable debt, and that Chinese infrastructure projects are endangering the country’s pristine national parks, some of the world’s most biodiverse.

In late May, a Kenyan delegation signed a $2-billion deal with a Chinese firm for a 1,050-megawatt coal-fired power plant about 13 miles north of Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa. Critics say the project could pollute the air, damage fishing grounds and push hundreds of residents off their land. Locals were outraged that the Chinese company, China Power Global, would import 40% of workers on the project from China.

No war, even a “soft” war, goes smoothly, but meanwhile, elsewhere, there is this:

Africa’s past is the mildewed train station in central Addis Ababa, where locomotives sit gutted and rusted tracks vanish in the grass. The line was once the greatest in Africa; built by France in the 1910s, it ran more than 450 miles northeast to neighboring Djibouti, where the desert meets the sea.

Africa’s future is the new station a short drive away, a yellow-and-white edifice with grand pilasters, arched windows and a broad flagstone square. It’s connected to a $4-billion, 470-mile-long rail line, the first electrified cross-border rail system in Africa.

The new rail network was built by China’s state-owned rail and construction firms, which were eager to promote their investment in Africa’s future. Red banners running down the towering facade of the new train station declare, in bold Chinese characters, “Long live Sino-African friendship.”

We’re losing this war too:

China has described its railroad adventures in Africa as an exercise in altruism. Yet for China, investing in Ethiopia – one of the world’s poorest countries – is more strategic than philanthropic. With U.S. engagement on the continent at a low ebb, economically and politically, China sees an opportunity to improve transportation through the Horn of Africa and make itself the dominant economic partner on a continent that is about to see an explosion of new cheap labor, cellphone users and urban consumers.

For several decades, China’s African investments were aimed primarily at creating political allies across the continent. Beijing invested heavily in hearts-and-minds projects such as soccer stadiums and hospitals. But a significant change is underway. China now sees Africa as an important economic opportunity. It has been pouring money into infrastructure across the continent, and this week it opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

That’s not us:

The Chinese march through Africa has come as U.S. engagement on the continent has been dialed down to its lowest level in years. President Trump has barely mentioned Africa in his public statements, and his “America first” rhetoric, some Africa experts say, is pushing the continent further into China’s embrace.

The rhetoric has shifted:

“My vision is, by 2020, Ethiopia’s economy will be among the world’s mid-level economies,” said Mekonnen Getachew, a project manager at the Ethiopian Railways Corp., which oversees the rail line. “The rail will make every economic activity easier. Our economy will boom. This railway is making Ethiopia great again!”

Yes, he said those words:

Western companies have often been reluctant to participate in African infrastructure projects for fear of overwhelming maintenance costs. In many cases, they could simply build new projects more cheaply.

“Americans still see Africa as a place where there are a lot of presidents for life, wars and famines,” said Reuben Brigety, dean at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union. “They don’t understand what’s happening on the continent economically and demographically.”

In Ethiopia, the country’s rail executives said China seems more attuned to Africa’s needs.

“China doesn’t give simple aid,” Getachew said. “They do give loans. You work, and you return back. That’s a good policy. Aid is just making slavery.”

Nations can advance their geopolitical interests other ways:

Here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, China is driving an urban renaissance. It has built whole neighborhoods, a $475-million light-railway system and even the African Union headquarters, a $200-million complex that dominates the city’s skyline. In the country’s hinterlands, it has constructed several industrial parks, anticipating a manufacturing boom…

China stands to gain tremendously from its investments. Chinese businesses, hampered by slowing growth at home, are increasingly treating the continent as a major overseas market.

In Beijing, the political will driving such projects extends to the top. Through the “Belt and Road Initiative,” launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China is funding $1 trillion of infrastructure and trade projects throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

We spent more than twice that amount on building a new Iraq through a war and a long occupation. There were alternatives, and consider this:

In a Chinese-built industrial park along the new rail line, in a Chinese-run factory, thousands of employees of Huajian Shoe Co. – all of them Ethiopian – work 13-hour days gluing, inspecting and boxing women’s shoes. Above them hang propaganda posters in Chinese, English and Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language, imploring workers to “win honor for the country” and to “absolutely obey.”

Zhang Huarong, the company’s chief executive, wandered through the immaculate rows of workers on an inspection tour, a crowd of subordinates trailing behind him. “Africa is too poor,” he said. “It needs entrepreneurs like me to balance out the global economy, so that more people can live a happy life.”

Zhang was proud of his Ethiopian investments. The new rail will knock shipping prices from $5,000 per container to $3,000, he said. And for the cost of one Chinese worker, Zhang can hire five Ethiopians. He plans to employ 50,000 within eight years.

They won’t be joining ISIS either, and there’s this:

Every pair of shoes produced in Huajian’s factories, in China and Ethiopia, is exported to the U.S.; its clients include the labels Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and Lucky.

As the sun set at the factory, about a dozen Ethiopian workers lined up in formation, closing out the workday. An Ethiopian manager waved his arms, as if conducting a choir, and together they sang a Chinese military anthem from the 1950s.

“Unity is strength. Unity is strength,” they sang in Mandarin. “Open fire on the fascists. Bring death to all nondemocratic systems.”

Okay, we lost the war for Africa too, that we hadn’t even begun yet, but consider the budget Trump proposed in March:

President Donald Trump’s vow to put “America first” includes a plan to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID, according to an internal budget document and sources.

The administration’s March budget proposal vowed to slash aid to developing countries by over one-third, but contained few details. According to a detailed 15-page State Department budget document obtained by Foreign Policy, the overhaul also includes rechanneling funding from development assistance into a program that is tied closely to national security objectives.

Such a move would not be unprecedented. In 1999, the U.S. Information Agency, which funded information and cultural programs abroad, was closed down and many of its programs folded in the State Department. But shutting down, or even just scaling back, an agency dedicated to issues like disease prevention and food security could prove far more polarizing.

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and for cuts in spending as well.”

The idea was to be very un-Chinese about this:

Senior USAID officials have told staff that the agency is attempting to cope with the steep cuts by prioritizing its field offices abroad over its offices in Washington. Nonetheless, the agency still anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. USAID currently operates in about 100 countries.

“What you’re basically doing is eviscerating the most important tool of American influence in the developing world, which is our development program,” said Natsios. “I don’t think they understand what the role of USAID is, what USAID’s mission directors are. USAID’s mission directors are among the most influential foreigners in the country.”

In addition to closing missions, global health funding is also targeted, with 41 countries facing cuts. While the Trump budget has committed to maintaining funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. initiative that combats HIV/AIDS internationally, the State Department’s budget indicates that health programs abroad are set to take an approximately 25 percent hit in funding.

This is not a way to win hearts and minds:

“I’ve seen firsthand how U.S. development money saves millions of lives” said Tom Kenyon, the CEO of Project Hope, a global health nonprofit. “There’s just no question people would die from this.”

The administration’s cut to global health funding could also put Americans at risk in the event of a major epidemic…

Other programs and offices that are on the chopping block include the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

Maybe we’ll send in the Marines instead, after we nuke North Korea. Russia won Venezuela. China won Africa. Maybe we’re now doing this all wrong. Someone tell the president.

No, he won’t listen, and he’s a bit sensitive about those tiny hands.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Cosmic Roll of the Dice

Americans are optimistic can-do folks. Things will always work out, one way or another. Only fools panic. Americans are pragmatic. There’s a solution out there to every problem. Wait. Cooler heads will prevail.

Americans may have to give up their optimism now. No-Drama Obama – the coolest of cool heads – perhaps too unemotional and passive from some – is long gone. Americans elected a hothead this time. Cooler heads won’t prevail. That was obvious on the Thursday of the week America headed for war. The New York Times’ Peter Baker tells the tale:

President Trump escalated his war of words with North Korea on Thursday by declaring that his provocative threat to rain down “fire and fury” might not have been harsh enough, as nuclear tensions between the two nations continued to crackle.

Rejecting critics at home and abroad who condemned his earlier warning as reckless saber-rattling, Mr. Trump said North Korea and its volatile leader, Kim Jong-un, have pushed the United States and the rest of the world for too long.

“Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” he told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

There will be little or no waiting now:

Mr. Trump noted that North Korea, which has made significant progress toward developing long-range nuclear weapons, responded to his original warning by threatening to launch a missile strike toward the Pacific island of Guam, an American territory and strategic base. “If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before, what will happen in North Korea,” he said.

Asked if that was a dare, Mr. Trump said: “It’s not a dare. It’s a statement. Has nothing to do with dare. That’s a statement. He’s not going to go around threatening Guam and he’s not going to threaten the United States and he’s not going to threaten Japan, and he’s not going to threaten South Korea. No, that’s not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact.”

It’s not a dare. It’s a statement. That’s grade-school playground talk, but Donald Trump was on a roll:

He assailed Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, for not passing his legislative priorities, calling it “disgraceful” that the party’s health care plan failed by one vote and hinting that the leader should step down if he cannot do better. Mr. Trump also said he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency and defended his decision to bar transgender people from the armed forces, saying he was “doing the military a great favor.”

He was swaggering:

In his first response to Russia’s decision to force the United States to slash its diplomatic staff in half, the president said he would thank President Vladimir V. Putin for helping him trim payroll costs. Mr. Trump expressed sympathy for his former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, whose house was raided last month by law enforcement agents as part of an investigation into Russia ties, calling him “a very decent man.” He said he was not considering firing Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

After nearly a week of his working vacation here, the president was in an expansive mood and seemingly eager to talk and take on all issues.

There’s a lot there, but it came down to him saying that everyone else, including those damned congressional Republicans, was a fool. He wasn’t – but that sanctions comment was curious. He had ripped into Congress for passing that bill that imposed new sanctions on Russia, almost unanimously in both the House and Senate, so they could override any veto. He had to sign it, and it stipulated, by law, that he could not end those sanctions without their permission. That made him angry, so he lauded Vladimir Putin for imposing sanctions on the United States.

What? Michael McFaul, the former Ambassador to Russia under President Obama, tore into him:

Our diplomats, professional staff, and military serving in Russia provide Washington with invaluable information about Russia. Imagine wanting to know less about Russia’s military modernization! That’s what Trump praised today.

Imagine wanting to know less about Russian foreign policy intentions and plans! That’s what embassy personnel reductions will do.

Imagine wanting to have less capability to gather data about dangerous transnational diseases originating in Russia! Trump seems to want that.

Imagine dissing Americans – patriots serving our country under difficult conditions in Russia – to praise Putin. Our president did today.

McFaul is under the impression that Trump might care about these things. He doesn’t. He was just swaggering, and that stuff is now a minor matter:

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea has reached a level that has alarmed allies in Asia and many Americans at home. Investors were unnerved on Thursday by the increasing tension. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell by 1.45 percent as investors sold out of highflying stocks such as Amazon, Facebook and Netflix. It was the sharpest daily decline in the benchmark S&P 500 since May 17.

Democrats complained that the president was inflaming the confrontation and called for diplomacy instead. “President Trump’s escalatory rhetoric is exactly the wrong response to dealing with North Korea’s provocative behavior,” said Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia Subcommittee. “It unnecessarily heightens the risk of miscalculation and creates the very fog that can lead to war.”

More than 60 House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson asking him to restrain the president. “These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda, which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people,” the letter said.

Trump just smiled. Let them write their letter to Tillerson. No one is going to restrain this president:

He was vague about exactly where the line would be if North Korea did not back down, and refused to say whether he would consider a pre-emptive military strike without an attack by Pyongyang.

Asked what would be “tougher” than “fire and fury,” he demurred. “Well, you’ll see, you’ll see.”

He’s in charge. No one else is. Everyone will just have to wait, and there was this:

A White House aide, meanwhile, said no one should listen to Mr. Tillerson on military matters related to North Korea after the secretary of state said he saw no imminent likelihood of war and urged Americans to sleep soundly.

“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, told BBC Radio. “It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options.”

That drew a sharp retort from Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman. “He’s a cabinet secretary,” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters. “He’s fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.”

No, he doesn’t. There’s only one big stick, and he does what he feels like doing, even if others say it makes no sense, or because others say it makes no sense. He seems to like to piss people off. It amuses him, but sense might matter here. Yun Sun, a senior associate with the East Asia program at the Stimson Center, points out the danger now:

It’s clear that the military option comes with significant risk. A U.S. preemptive strike, namely a targeted nuclear attack to take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons, would invite all-out retaliation by North Korea against South Korea, Japan, and U.S. troops in the region. With the massive conventional artilleries deployed near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, North Korea would inflict major casualties on the South.

If the U.S. resorts to a preemptive strike on North Korea without consultation and agreement from Seoul, the costs to South Korea would have a critically damaging effect over the U.S.-South Korea alliance, even possibly lead to its dissolution. Considering President Moon Jae-in’s interest in engagement with North Korea, it would be highly unlikely for South Korea to support a U.S. decision to launch a targeted nuclear attack on the North.

A U.S. preemptive strike on North Korea would also likely invite Chinese intervention. The Sino-North Korea Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance Treaty commits China to North Korea’s defense in the event of foreign aggression. Although the validity of the 56-year old treaty is constantly debated, few doubt that China would intervene to defend its perceived national interests in the Korean Peninsula, including the preservation of a North Korean state and the prevention of a South Korea-led unification. It would put U.S. and China directly on a collision course and could lead to another Korean War.

David Ignatius says it’s worse than that:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has defiance in his blood. It’s said his grandfather once asked what would happen if the United States defeated North Korea in war, to which his father answered: “If we lose, I will be sure to destroy the Earth. What good is the Earth without North Korea?”

President Trump has decided to confront what’s probably the most reckless, risk-taking regime on the planet. His hope for a diplomatic solution depends on convincing North Korea and China that he’s ready for the “fire and fury” of nuclear war should negotiations fail. If Hollywood were pitching the story, it would be “The Art of the Deal” meets “Dr. Strangelove.”

Cooler heads should prevail:

Despite Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric this week, the path ahead is really about finesse: Both the military and diplomatic paths require close cooperation with regional partners. The United States can’t go it alone in Korea, in either war or peace. The danger is that Trump’s rhetoric could destabilize partners more than adversaries.

Robert Work, a deputy defense secretary in the Obama administration who stayed on and just left the Pentagon, explains: “A preemptive war to protect our homeland from future attack is an option, but the major risks would be borne by South Korea and Japan, which face the threat of missile attacks today.”

But wait, there’s more:

Significant civilian casualties would be inescapable if war comes. North Korea has thousands of artillery tubes just across the Demilitarized Zone. If attacked or threatened with decapitation, the regime could launch a barrage. The Pentagon estimates that on the first day, North Korea could fire up to 100,000 rocket and artillery rounds.

To protect the estimated 300,000 American civilians in Seoul from this artillery inferno, the Pentagon plans to stage “noncombatant evacuation operations.” Organizing planes and ships for so many people would be a nightmare, as would the chaos among those left behind. Analysts estimate that an additional one million non-Koreans may live in the country, including many Chinese. How would they get out? China might help in an evacuation, but at what political price?

The United States could try a lightning strike to preempt a North Korean attack, perhaps using cyber and other exotic weapons. But the Pentagon cautions policymakers that there isn’t a way to guarantee that North Korea couldn’t launch a nuclear missile in response to such an attack. It would be a cosmic roll of the dice.

It’s all a cosmic roll of the dice, but Fareed Zakaria notes that Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life:

The United States is not going to launch a preventive nuclear war in Asia. Trump’s comments have undoubtedly rattled Washington’s closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. Empty threats and loose rhetoric only cheapen American prestige and power, boxing in the administration.

So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats – and rarely delivered on any. When he was in business, Reuters found, he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984. Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

He’s no different now:

In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster. In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing. During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, make Mexico pay for a border wall and initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada. After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded. He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Even now, as he deals with a nuclear crisis, Trump has made claims that could be easily shown to be false. He tweeted that his first presidential order was to “modernize” the United States’ nuclear arsenal. In fact, he simply followed a congressional mandate to authorize a review of the arsenal, which hasn’t been completed yet. Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

Kevin Drum does wonder about that simple review of the arsenal:

Let’s consider the possibilities:

Trump knew it was false, but he said it anyway. He lied.

Trump literally doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He continues to consider his lies to be “truthful hyperbole,” the term he applied to generalized puffery during his real estate career.

Trump is delusional. He thinks that ordering a review magically makes things happen.

Trump is surrounded by sycophants who have assured him that the US nuclear arsenal is stronger than it was six months ago. He believes them.

Trump is losing control of his faculties. He vaguely remembers some kind of nuclear order and figures it must mean that our nukes have gotten better.

None of that is good:

There’s literally nothing that’s actually happened to our nuclear arsenal since January that he could have misunderstood as modernization. So that’s not an option. He was either lying or else the explanation is something worse.

Personally, I think it’s some of both. He was lying, but he’s also starting to lose control of his faculties. Not a lot, maybe, but enough to make him kinda sorta believe his own lies. This is not good. This is something to take seriously.

He’s either lying, or else his mind is declining. We’d best figure out soon which it is.

Dan Lamothe points out that it may be too late for that:

The dueling threats issued by President Trump and the North Korean military have prompted questions about U.S. procedures to launch a preemptive nuclear attack. The answer is stark: If the president wants to strike, his senior military advisers have few options but to carry it out or resign.

The rules are the rules:

A December 2016 assessment by the Congressional Research Service stated that the president “does not need the concurrence of either his military advisors or the U.S. Congress to order the launch of nuclear weapons.” Additionally, the assessment said, “neither the military nor Congress can overrule these orders.”

The reason is simple: The system is set up for the United States to launch an attack within minutes, so that if the United States is under a nuclear attack, it can respond almost instantly, said Bruce Blair, a former nuclear watch officer. Trump would presumably meet with Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, before launching a preemptive attack, but it would “really be uncharted territory” if they sought to stall or slow down an order from the president, Blair said.

Under the existing War Powers Act of 1973, the president also is not required to seek congressional approval for any military action until 60 days after the start of a war. Two lawmakers, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), sought to stop the president from launching a first-strike nuclear attack until Congress declares war, but the effort hasn’t gone anywhere and is unlikely to with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress.

This is a problem:

Steven F. Hayward, a conservative policy scholar, said that if Trump’s senior military advisers stood united against carrying out a preemptive nuclear strike, the “real remedy would be resignation.” Hypothetically, doing so might trigger impeachment proceedings, Hayward said, but it isn’t clear whether it would be quick enough to stop the president from launching an attack.

“It could happen,” Hayward said. “It would be pretty dramatic and it would be very unclear what would happen, but it could happen. We’re really in uncharted waters here.”

But there’s a reason the president gets to roll the cosmic dice:

Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, said that the principle of civilian control of the military also looms large – “even when the civilian in control is as unpredictable and belligerent as President Trump.” Latin American nations have modeled their constitutions along American lines, and their experiences suggest that terrible consequences follow when generals defy their presidents, even under compelling circumstances.

“Worse yet, once the principle is violated, it becomes a precedent for future generals to take the law into their own hands,” Ackerman said. “We cannot allow this dynamic to take hold here. If Trump’s team can’t convince him, they should obey the orders of their commander in chief.”

What’s that classic line in all those teenage goofball movies? We’re screwed? That seems to be the case here, and the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher and David Nakamura add the necessary detail:

A military confrontation with North Korea may now be “inevitable,” says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) The United States is “done talking” about North Korea, tweets U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. President Trump threatens “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” then says maybe his language “wasn’t tough enough.”

The North Koreans return verbal fire, talking of using “absolute force” to hit the U.S. territory of Guam and even “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war.”

In this moment of heated, belligerent rhetoric, planners in and out of government are diving into decades of plans and projections, playing out war games, engaging in the macabre semi-science of estimating death tolls and predicting how an adversary might behave.

It is macabre:

In hundreds of books, policy papers and roundtable discussions, experts have couched various shades of Armageddon in the dry, emotion-stripped language of throw-weights and missile ranges. But the nightmare scenarios are simple enough: In a launch from North Korea, a nuclear-tipped missile could reach San Francisco in half an hour. A nuclear attack on Seoul – South Korea’s capital of 10 million people – could start and finish in three minutes.

Well, now we must think about such things:

At this volatile intersection, alternatives to war are at least as much the focus as preparation for battle. Luring the North Koreans to the negotiating table is perhaps the most popular pathway among many experts, who advocate a “freeze-for-freeze” option, in which the United States might promise to restrict military exercises in the region or eschew new sanctions against Kim’s regime, in exchange for North Korea agreeing to halt expansion and testing of its nuclear capabilities.

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, for example, has suggested promising not to seek regime change in North Korea in exchange for Kim committing to a cap on his nuclear program.

However, Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the Trump administration rejects the idea of freeze-for-freeze, calling it a false moral equivalency.

We’re screwed, but there are other voices:

Accepting North Korea into the world’s nuclear club is a hard step for many politicians, but maybe not quite as hard as it once was. Now, it’s not so much a step as an acceptance of the status quo.

“I don’t think we’re going to get denuclearization,” said Richard Nephew, a scholar at Columbia University who was a sanctions coordinator in President Barack Obama’s State Department. “So we might want to accept them and depend on deterrence theory. There’s a reason North Korea has not invaded South Korea: They fear overwhelming response from the United States.”

But if North Korea won’t negotiate, or if the Trump administration decides against making concessions that might lure the Kim regime to the table, a military confrontation remains “a very plausible path,” Nephew said. “It’s a very tempting idea to solve this problem once and for all.”

The Trump administration suddenly deciding to make concessions is a long shot of course, so there’s only this:

Most of those who have considered the merits of launching a limited attack on the North – say, to destroy nuclear capabilities – have concluded that what Americans might see as limited could well be interpreted by the Kim regime as an invitation to all-out conflict.

North Korea might even respond with force to the ongoing U.S. show of strength in its neighborhood. American ships, planes and troops have been on maneuvers nearby as part of annual exercises, and the United States sent B-1 bombers stationed in Guam over the Korean Peninsula last month.

The North could also launch its own provocation – an attack on Guam, a cyberattack on Japan or a skirmish on the boundary between the two Koreas, the planet’s most heavily armed border.

That’s what we face:

In a conventional war, heavy casualties would likely result as North Korean troops poured into the South, using tunnels the North is reported to have built under the demilitarized zone between the countries. In addition, North Korea is believed to have a stockpile of several thousand tons of chemical weapons, according to the International Crisis Group, which studies global conflicts.

In war games played out at Washington policy institutes, even minor confrontations have led to a nuclear exchange. In one model, a single nuclear device deployed against Seoul would result in 180,000 deaths and 160,000 additional injuries, along with a near-total collapse of civil order, including a mass exodus from the city leading to gridlock and a paralyzed health-care system.

Even without using nuclear weapons, the North could sow panic and perhaps force a shift in U.S. policy. North Korea might attempt to spread fear through an act of terrorism, said Patrick Cronin, an Asia-Pacific security expert at the Center for a New American Security. “A few grenades in downtown Seoul will absolutely close down the city out of fear,” he said.

Even without nuclear force, North Korea might seek to divide the United States from its allies. How, for example, would regional Asian powers react if North Korea shot a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse over Tokyo, temporarily turning off the lights in the Japanese metropolis?

In that instance, some experts concluded, Japan might join with some neighbors to urge Washington to cut a deal with Kim, averting further military conflict by accepting North Korea as a nuclear power.

And there’s that wild card:

Many scenarios exploring how a U.S.-North Korea conflict would unfold founder on uncertainties about what Kim really wants. Despite the country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, “the regime does not have regional ambitions,” concluded Robert Carlin of Stanford University and Robert Jervis of Columbia in a paper that studied how North Korea might use its new status.

“The most likely scenario,” they wrote, “is for Pyongyang to remain tightly focused on its domestic situation, especially on its economy, and on ways to loosen or blunt the pressures from its neighbors and the United States.”

Still, they said, “we could well enter the danger zone of North Korean fatalism, in which a decision to use nuclear weapons, especially against Japan – the historic enemy – would rise on the list of ‘patriotic’ options.”

The North Korean leadership, they warned, “might become fatalistic and decide that death with ‘glory’ is preferable to defeat.”

That’s okay. Donald Trump seems to feel the same way, and that’s how the age of American optimism ends. Americans are pragmatic. There’s a solution out there to every problem. Wait. Cooler heads will prevail – but we don’t have any of those anymore – not in the government we just elected. He’ll roll those dice. The rest of us will duck and cover.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment