“The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” ~ Walker Percy
Perhaps it was reading too much Walker Percy in college and grad school – as an escape, not because it was assigned by anyone. It was that despair in the everydayness of life. Everyone feels that now and then, or sooner or later – it’s the same damned thing day after day after day. That day-after-day everydayness might be pleasant enough, but sooner or later it kills the soul. The next smile is forced. A little Southern existential whimsy can lift that despair a bit, for a time. Read Walker Percy. Pretend to be onto something. That’ll fix things, but the “search” is another matter. Pretending to be onto something is internal. That’s passive. There’s also the possibility of the search, which would be active, if undertaken – and things might go terribly wrong. But that’s better than despair, so almost forty years ago it was off to California. Teaching was cool, but one more year of dragging those prep school kids through Hamlet’s woes, to their eventual odd delight, would be deadly. The search was on.
Nothing went terribly wrong. Aerospace was hiring – that was the beginning of the Reagan years. They needed people in management training. Any competent English teacher could do that, so there would be no more exploration of Hamlet’s woes. Those guys at Northrup had a cool wind tunnel, and there was visiting the production line over on Aviation Boulevard where they built the fuselage for their F-18 – a nifty fighter plane, years ahead of anything the Soviets had. There were big American flags hanging from the rafters. This was being onto something. This would do. Rent a place at the beach. Drive up to Hollywood now and then. Cool.
Things worked out. Yes, the search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life, and not to be onto something is to be in despair – which is probably why Donald Trump will be the next president. Just enough voters in just the right places seem to have felt the same way. Obama fixed the economy. He saved the auto industry. Unemployment is at historic lows. Obamacare did what it was supposed to do – almost twenty million Americans who could never get health insurance have that now. We got out of Iraq and didn’t start another major war anywhere for no good reason. Obama’s approval rating is at sixty percent – higher than ever – but something wasn’t right. That day-after-day everydayness might be pleasant enough, but sooner or later it kills the soul – and Donald Trump was onto something. It might have been nasty, or stupid, but he was onto something. He said so. There would be no more existential despair.
The search was on and things might go terribly wrong, but that’s better than existential despair, until things go wrong, with one tweet:
Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!
What? That damned plane is forty years old, although now that Boeing slaps them together each version is better than the one before – but it has no stealth capabilities and never will. It always was a sitting duck, but Trump thinks he’s onto something, even if he may not be:
Trump’s remarks followed his meeting with Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson, who called their discussion “productive.”
“The F-35 is a critical program to our national security and I conveyed our continuing commitment delivering an affordable aircraft to our U.S. military and our allies,” she added in a statement to Time.
Israel just took delivery of their first squadron of them – they’re happy with them – so this just gets odd:
Trump last week blasted Lockheed’s F-35 program and its cost as “out of control,” adding “billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases” following his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The head of F-35 Joint Program Office, however, flatly rejected Trump’s assessment of the project Tuesday.
“This program is not out of control,” Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told Business Insider. “Since 2011 we basically have been on schedule, since 2011 we basically have been on budget, we are delivering now today 50-plus airplanes a year that when in the hands of the warfighter makes a huge, huge difference.”
Yeah, well, Trump knows more than the Pentagon, with all their facts and stuff, and Trump thinks he’s onto something else:
Trump also met with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg Wednesday after deriding the price of its Air Force One project earlier this month.
“I think so,” Muilenburg responded after meeting Trump when asked if their conversation would lead to a cost decrease.
“We’re going to make sure that he gets the best capability and that it’s done affordably,” he added of Air Force One during an earlier huddle with reporters.
The Boeing CEO decided to humor him. The cost will be the cost, given the extraordinary requirements for this plane and its back up, but there are other costs. Immediately after that short tweet Lockheed stock fell two percent. Boeing’s stock jumped. Anyone who knew that tweet was coming could have made a ton of money – quickly short one and buy the other. As Walker Percy said, it’s good to be onto something, although Percy might not have had insider trading in mind. Insider trading is still illegal, by the way, for now. Trump is onto something else. Financial regulation is strangling the economy. End it.
Everydayness is disappearing. There’s a danger, however, in pretending to be onto something, and at the Washington Post, Karen DeYoung covers the day’s other big dangers created by the man who impulsively tweets:
Before lunchtime Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump said he would expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, upending a reduction course set by presidents of both parties over the past four decades, and called for the United States to veto a pending U.N. resolution that criticized Israel’s settlements policy.
The policy prescriptions, communicated in morning tweets, followed calls since last month’s election to reconsider the arms-length U.S. relationship with Taiwan and to let China keep an underwater U.S. vessel seized by its navy. Trump declared within hours of this week’s Berlin terrorist attack that it was part of a global Islamic State campaign to “slaughter Christians” and later said it reaffirmed the wisdom of his plans to bar Muslim immigrants.
Many agree with Obama, and the second Bush, that talking about the global Islamic State campaign to “slaughter Christians” is a bad idea. A worldwide religious war, pitting Islam against Christianity, would be a bit unpleasant, and the Jews would feel left out. Don’t go there, but Trump’s new national security advisor, the rather mad former general who was fired from his last job, Mike Flynn, has said that Islam is a political ideology disguised as religion, and he knows he’s onto something:
His staff got so used to him believing things that were obviously false that they began referring to them as “Flynn Facts.” Nevertheless, he had a complete certainty in his own rightness. At one meeting, “Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his.” Furthermore, “Some also described him as a Captain Queeg-like character, paranoid that his staff members were undercutting him and credulous of conspiracy theories.”
Trump blows off the Presidential Daily Briefings from the intelligence agencies. He says Flynn keeps him informed. This is a worldwide religious war, pitting Islam against Christianity. Trump tweets what he knows, what he’s onto that no one else is. Others have to deal with that:
Ultimately, the nuclear statement was tempered by a Trump spokesman. And the likely fallout from a tentative decision by the Obama administration to break years of precedent and abstain on the Israel resolution was avoided when Egypt, its sponsor, abruptly postponed it just hours before a scheduled Security Council vote.
Others will keep us safe from the man who tweets, but everydayness is long gone:
The president-elect’s pronouncements have privately riled a White House that has repeatedly insisted in public that the transition has been smooth sailing.
Asked last week whether he was trying to help Trump, a professed admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, understand Russia’s responsibility for the civil-war carnage in Aleppo, Syria, President Obama said he would “help President-elect Trump with any advice, counsel, information that we can provide so that he, once he’s sworn in, can make a decision.”
“Between now and then,” Obama said firmly, it was up to him to decide what to do. “These are decisions that I have to make based on the consultations that I have with our military and the people who have been working this every day.”
Obama says he is still the president, which does seem to be the case. The White House held its tongue on this madness, but others were a tad upset:
Trump provided no details in his tweet calling for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” But “if he means what he says,” said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a Washington-based security foundation, “this could be the end of the arms-control process that reduced 80 percent of our Cold War arsenal.”
Former congressman John Tierney (D-Mass.), executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said in a statement, “It is dangerous for the President-elect to use just 140 characters and announce a major change in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, which is nuanced, complex, and affects every single person on this planet.”
Under New START, the treaty negotiated by Obama with Russia and ratified by the Senate in 2010, the United States and Russia by February 2018 must have no more than 1,550 strategic weapons deployed. While there is widespread agreement that the U.S. deterrent must be modernized, little enthusiasm has been expressed elsewhere for increasing the number of nuclear warheads.
Actually, these treaties stretch back to the Nixon years. Do we break all of those and arm up with thousands of new warheads? Maybe, or maybe not:
Trump spokesman Jason Miller later said that was not precisely what Trump meant. Rather than calling for more nuclear weapons, Miller told Yahoo News, he was referring to “the threat of nuclear proliferation” and “the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability.”
That is NOT what Trump said in the tweet, and Philip Bump suggests something else:
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech Thursday in which he praised his country’s military operations on behalf of the government of Syria and made a case for how Russia could become stronger.
“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” he said, according to an Agence France-Presse translation, “especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” In other words, Russia needs to ensure that its arsenal of nuclear weapons can avoid interception by the enemy.
The primary enemy that might intercept those missiles is, of course, the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The language echoes old Cold War rhetoric: Our missiles must be able to serve as a deterrent to usage, by existing as a threat to enemies. If NATO and the United States felt confident that Russia’s incoming nuclear weapons could be stopped before reaching their targets, the weapons do not hold the same power for Russia.
You can’t have a new nuclear arms race, of course, without someone to run against. Enter President-elect Donald Trump.
So, this wasn’t an impulsive tweet out of the blue. This was an impulsive “bring it on” tweet in an alpha-male dominance stand-off. His junk is bigger that Vladimir’s junk, and he isn’t afraid to whip it out:
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted about how he “met some really great Air Force GENERALS and Navy ADMIRALS,” a conversation during which the subject of nuclear weapons may have come up. It seems more likely, though, that Trump or someone on his team saw the Putin speech or was briefed on it, and Trump chose to respond…
This worries a few people:
Allowing Trump access to the country’s nuclear arsenal was a key rhetorical point used by those who opposed his candidacy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) repeatedly said that Trump was too “erratic” to be allowed access to the nuclear codes. Hillary Clinton used the same point in an attempt to leverage voters’ concerns about Trump’s temperament to her advantage.
That’s the risk of Russia and the United States having more robust nuclear arsenals, of course: that those weapons might someday be used.
“Look, nuclear should be off the table,” Trump said during a town hall on MSNBC earlier this year. He then added, “But would there be a time when it could be used, possibly, possibly?”
As Gizmodo’s Matt Novak noted on Twitter, a recently declassified 1982 briefing given to President Ronald Reagan estimated that 80 million Americans could be killed in a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.
That’s something to consider, and there’s that other matter with Israel:
The president-elect’s U.N. tweet was more explicit and more immediate. “The resolution being considered should be vetoed,” he said in a pre-dawn tweet referring to the Egyptian measure. The resolution condemned “the construction and expansion of settlements” in the West Bank and mostly Palestinian East Jerusalem, along with “the transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”
Saying the settlements have “no legal validity,” it demanded that Israel “immediately cease all settlement activities.”
Although consideration of such a measure has been circulated at the United Nations for weeks – and similar measures have for years brought a consistent U.S. veto – it was not until Wednesday night that word began to circulate that the United States might abstain and allow it to pass.
There’s a reason for that:
While successive administrations have considered the settlements an impediment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Obama administration has grown increasingly irate over what it feels is Israel’s flouting of its concerns.
Over the past six months, Israel has announced plans to add hundreds of units to existing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A July announcement that 770 new homes were to be built in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo drew particularly sharp U.S. criticism.
At the same time, right-wing voices in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are pushing for legislation that would legalize settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land. The “legalization bill” stems from a court-ordered demolition of the Amona settlement, which sits on land owned by a Palestinian farmer.
Amona was meant to be demolished next week, but on Thursday it received an additional month of reprieve from the court. Residents brokered a deal with the government to move their homes to a nearby location, essentially creating a new settlement.
It’s complicated, but the UN and international law are on one side and Israel and the United States on the other. It’s that simple, and every Muslim-majority nation in the world watches this as it plays out year after year after year. Obama, like presidents of both parties before him, doesn’t want this to get out of hand – but Trump thinks he’s onto something:
During the campaign, Trump frequently criticized what he described as the administration’s failure to fully support Israel. Last week, he named David Friedman – a New York bankruptcy lawyer who has given strong financial support and other backing to the Israeli settlement movement and has said Trump supports Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory – as his ambassador to Israel.
David Friedman was the bankruptcy lawyer who got Trump out of those failed casinos in Atlantic City with a profit, not a loss, and he’s far to the right of even Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump really does want to piss off the Arab-Muslim world. What could go wrong? But he has the military dictator in Egypt on his side:
During the campaign, Trump also charged that Obama had helped promote terrorism by supporting “the ouster of a friendly regime in Egypt” – that of long-standing autocrat Hosni Mubarak – and more recently by failing to fully back the military government that overthrew Mubarak’s elected replacement.
In an interview last weekend with a Portuguese news agency, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said that Trump “has shown deep and great understanding of what is taking place in the region as a whole and Egypt in particular. I am looking forward and expecting more support and reinforcement of our bilateral relations.”
Military dictators are good. They like us. We like them. Everydayness is disappearing, so this played out:
Once it became clear late Wednesday that the settlements vote was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, Trump officials said the transition gave the administration a “heads-up” that the president-elect was going to publicly call for a U.S. veto.
At the end of the day Thursday, it was not entirely clear what led Egypt to withdraw the resolution. At the State Department, spokesman John Kirby said that Egypt had pulled it back in order to have “discussions with its Arab League partners” over the wording of the text.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who supported an abstention and was clearly expecting to deliver a pre-vote speech announcing it, along with an outline of future prospects for Middle East peace, canceled his plans. Elsewhere within the administration, officials said Israel had twisted Egypt’s arm and threatened to work against its interests in Congress.
Several Arab officials said they were convinced that the United States had pressured Egypt to postpone the vote.
That might not be the case:
In Israel, where a late-night cabinet meeting was convened Wednesday to consider the possibility of a U.S. abstention, Netanyahu sent out a dead-of-night tweet calling for a U.S. veto. It was quickly followed by Trump’s own, near-identical tweet.
Netanyahu and Trump ganged up on Obama with almost identical tweets and Trump ran with that, or at least delegated that:
Deriding “the imposition of terms set by the United Nations,” Trump said in a later statement that passage of the resolution would put Israel “in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
After initial hesitation on whether Trump should weigh in, the statement was written late Wednesday by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an influential adviser to the president-elect, and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, according to two people briefed on the deliberation who were not authorized to speak publicly. They said that Kushner and Bannon consulted with several allies in Israel and the United States but declined to name them.
The effort represented perhaps Kushner’s most significant foray to date into foreign policy and the Middle East, where Trump has said he would welcome his son-in-law’s involvement.
Trump has actually said that his son-in-law really could do what no world leader or master negotiator has ever been able to do, work out a permanent and wonderful peace between Israel and the Palestinians where everyone is happy, finally ending the unpleasantness that started in 1946 or so. Why not? His son-in-law is pretty cool. Like Trump, he’s onto something.
That’s what people believed. That’s why they voted for him. Donald Trump was onto something. It might have been nasty, or stupid, but he was onto something. He said so. There would be no more existential despair, but there are things worse than existential despair. Sometimes being sunk in the everydayness of one’s own life isn’t that bad. No one dies.