Okay. The Super Bowl is over. The New England Patriots won. Of course they did. They (almost) always do – and this time they came back from being down by three touchdowns, tying the game at the last second, and then suddenly winning the game in overtime. Of course they did. The owner is a close personal friend of Donald Trump. The coach is a big fan of Donald Trump. Their amazing quarterback, Tom Brady, is a Trump guy, although he recently stopped saying that. Perhaps his agent was whispering in his ear. Donald Trump isn’t all that popular. He’s by far the least popular president ever at the start of his first term, which might be his last. Those who want to sell shoes and breakfast cereal might not want a Trump guy endorsing their products – but the Patriots did win. They started out looking incompetent and foolish, then they drew even, and then they won. It was Trump and Hillary Clinton all over again. America will have to get used to this sort of thing. Donald Trump will probably tweet about it for days.
Getting used to Donald Trump, however, is another matter. There’s the Super Bowl interview. The network with the broadcast rights to each Super Bowl now interviews the president as a sort of sidebar to the main event – a new tradition – a bit of filler and a nod to the real world that’s still out there, and this year it was Fox News acting as a subsidiary of Fox Sports. The talk isn’t about football, and that was the problem:
In a Fox News interview, Trump, who during the campaign repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, again said that he respected the Russian leader and hoped to get along with Moscow, and he seemed to equate the United States with its adversary when pressed by host Bill O’Reilly, who said: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump said in the interview, which aired Sunday before the Super Bowl. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
What? The guy has his opponents, and pesky journalists, murdered. No one can prove that, but Putin controls the judicial system over there. There will be no investigations. Everyone knows that, and those pesky folks all do end up mysteriously quite dead. Putin shrugs. These things happen.
They don’t happen here – unless they do. Donald Trump implied that they do, or he was just saying stuff – stuff about how it’s a nasty world and we’re as nasty as anyone else – always were and always will be. Wake up, folks. Get real.
One worry is that what he said might be preemptive justification for future actions – Katy Tur at MSNBC and a few reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post might want to think about that. He has called the media the “opposition party” more than once. He respects Putin. It’s a nasty world out there. These things happen.
That’s fair warning, but this was just odd:
Trump’s comments came even as his U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, on Thursday condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine and as both the Senate and House intelligence committees launched investigations into alleged hacking by Russia of the U.S. election that the intelligence community believes was intended to benefit Trump.
The issue of Russia dogged Trump’s presidential campaign – including after a news conference at which he suggested that Russia hack Hillary Clinton’s emails – and his latest comments left Capitol Hill Republicans scrambling to distance themselves from the president and his unusually friendly stance toward Putin, who has praised the president as a “smart” man.
Trump seems to be all over the place on this, but perhaps, this time he went too far:
In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), called Putin “a former KGB agent” and “a thug,” and he rejected any comparison between the two nations, citing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its incursions into Ukraine and its interference in the U.S. presidential election.
“I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way that the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does,” McConnell said.
The senator added that while he hoped not to “critique the president’s every utterance,” he found significant differences between the two nations. “I do think America is exceptional. America is different,” McConnell said. “We don’t operate in any way the way the Russians do. I think there’s a clear distinction here that all Americans understand, and no, I would not have characterized it that way.”
He wasn’t alone:
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was similarly wary. “Speaker Ryan has consistently and frequently spoken out on Russia and Putin and made his opinions well known, including the need for continued sanctions,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Sunday.
She pointed to Ryan’s comments last month at a CNN town hall broadcast, during which he called Russia a “global menace” and said that Putin “does not share our interests; he frustrates our interests.”
“Let me put it this way: The Russians are up to no good. We all know that,” Ryan said, responding to a question about Russia’s election meddling. “We’ve got to make sure going forward that we do everything we can on cyber, on all of the other things to make sure that they can’t do this again.”
And then there was the daughter of Darth Vader:
Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of former vice president Richard B. Cheney, also took to Twitter to say that Trump’s “statement suggesting moral equivalence between Putin’s Russia and the United States of America is deeply troubling and wrong.”
It is hard to get used to Donald Trump, but he has his in-house clean-up man:
Appearing on four Sunday news shows, Vice President Pence rejected the notion that Trump had equated Russia to the United States.
“I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments,” Pence said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “There was no moral equivalency. What you heard there was a determination to attempt to deal with the world as it is – to start afresh with Putin and to start afresh with Russia.”
Pressed by John Dickerson, the show’s host on whether he believed the United States was morally superior to Russia, Pence repeatedly dodged the question, instead finally saying, “American ideals are superior to countries all across the world.”
Mike Pence has a hard job. He wouldn’t commit to maintaining sanctions against Russia if it continues to violate a cease-fire agreement in Ukraine either. He wouldn’t commit to anything:
“There’s a new style of leadership, not just a new leader in the White House. President Trump is bringing a very candid – and direct type of leadership to the White House. And in conversations with leaders around the world, frankly, I think they all find it very refreshing.”
Trump hung up on the prime minister of Australia. Mexico’s president canceled his meetings with Trump – they will NOT pay for his damned wall. Neither said that was refreshing. Mike Pence does have a hard job, one that’s getting harder:
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who ran against Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries, issued a sharp rebuke on Twitter. “America has been a beacon of light and freedom,” he wrote. “There is no equivalence with the brutal regime of Vladimir Putin.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for an investigation by the FBI into Trump’s financial, personal and political connections to Russia.
“I want to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We want to see his tax returns so we can have truth in the relationship between Putin, whom he admires, and Donald Trump.”
No one is getting used to Donald Trump, and there was this too:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s positions on Russia, voter fraud and the travel ban, while criticizing the president for attacking a federal judge.
“It is best not to single out judges,” McConnell told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union. “We all get disappointed from time to time. I think it is best to avoid criticizing them individually.”
McConnell was asked about Trump’s tweet on Saturday calling the George W. Bush-appointed judge who temporarily halted his travel ban a “so-called judge.”
The Kentucky Republican said he wouldn’t consider legislation to implement the travel ban, instead leaving it to courts to determine the legality of Trump’s executive order.
The courts are fine with Mitch, but not with Donald:
The president resumed his tweeting on Sunday afternoon. He tweeted, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in! Bad!,” followed a few minutes later by: “I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!”
These two see things differently, and that includes this:
McConnell, while saying that voter fraud does exist, also impugned Trump’s false assertion that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election and opposed Trump’s call for a federal investigation into voter fraud.
“There is no evidence it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election,” McConnell said. “And I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that. I think the states can take a look at this issue.”
In short, Donald is on his own here, and on his own on this:
On Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, McConnell commended the nominee as “outstanding” but sidestepped Trump’s suggestion that the Senate should eliminate the filibuster if needed to overcome Democratic opposition… McConnell concluded: “If we have to get 60 votes, I’m confident that we will.”
CNN rejected the White House’s offer to interview adviser Kellyanne Conway.
That last bit is odd, but she lies a lot – she wasn’t worth the trouble. She’s not worth getting used to.
Ned Resnikoff adds a bit more:
When This Week host George Stephanopoulos asked Pence about Trump’s remarks on Sunday, the vice president’s reply boiled down to the following: No biggie.
“Is it right for the President to say ‘so-called judge’?” asked Stephanopoulos. “Doesn’t that undermine the separation of powers in the Constitution, written right next door?”
“I don’t think it does,” said Pence. “I think the American people are very accustomed to this President speaking his mind, and speaking very straight with them.”
The vice president then acknowledged that the judiciary does, in fact, have the authority to order a halt on the Muslim ban.
This is serious stuff, no matter what Mike Pence says:
“As far as I know, no president has publicly challenged the integrity of a judge who has ruled against him,” said University of Chicago law school professor Eric Posner in an op-ed for the New York Times. “Mr. Trump, as in so many other cases, has broken new ground.”
That op-ed is here and Will Baude, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and federal courts, just as Barack Obama once did, adds more detail:
Consider two different ways that an executive official can criticize a federal court.
One is to criticize the court’s decisions. That is, to say that the court got the law wrong, got the facts wrong, or generally didn’t rule the right way. These criticisms can have stronger and weaker forms, but they are relatively common. After all, every government decision to appeal a federal court ruling entails saying that the court got something wrong.
A second way is to criticize the court’s authority. That is, to say that the court didn’t or shouldn’t have the power to decide the case at all. Again, these criticisms can take different technical forms, such as to claim a lack of jurisdiction, an improper appointment, etc. This form of criticism is much less common. After all, federal courts still have authority in many, even most, of the cases they decide, even when they decide them wrongly… the judicial power is the power to issue judgments that bind regardless of whether they are right or wrong…
And while the difference between the two is sometimes fuzzy, and may seem minor, it is deadly serious.
That means that one should not get used to Trump’s tweets:
If the court has authority, then the parties are legally required to follow its judgment: even if it is wrong; even if it is very wrong; even if the President does not like it. But if the court does not have authority, then perhaps it can be defied. So the charge of a lack of authority is a much more serious one…
This distinction is why the epithet “so-called” in “so-called judge” raises such a red flag. Judge Robart was appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate in 2004, and I bet there is a commission on the wall of his chambers that proves that he has been vested with the judicial power. But to call him a “so-called” judge is to hint that he is not really a judge, that he lacks judicial power. It is just a hint, but it flirts with a deadly serious issue.
Take the hint, or like Adam Gopnik, see the bigger issue:
Regimes with an authoritarian ideology and a boss man on top always bend toward the extreme edge, because their only organizational principle is loyalty to the capo. Since the capo can be placated only by uncritical praise, the most fanatic of his lieutenants end up calling the shots. Loyalty to the boss is demonstrated by hatred directed against his enemies.
Yet what perhaps no one could have entirely predicted was the special cocktail of oafish incompetence and radical anti-Americanism that President Trump’s Administration has brought. This combination has produced a new note in our public life: chaotic cruelty. The immigration crisis may abate, but it has already shown the power of government to act arbitrarily overnight – sundering families, upending long-set expectations, until all those born as outsiders must imagine themselves here only on sufferance of a senior White House counsellor.
There’s no reason to get used to that:
Some choose to find comfort in the belief that the incompetence will undermine the anti-Americanism. Don’t bet on it. Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organization work smoothly. The chaos is characteristic. Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card – or, no, now we won’t take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.
This seeming confusion is actually fundamentally dangerous:
This is radical anti-Americanism – not simply illiberalism or anti-cosmopolitanism – because America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people – in establishing a “multiplicity of interests” to go along with a “multiplicity of sects.” The idea doesn’t reflect a “weak” desire for niceness. It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: “Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves.”
There is an alternative view, one long available and articulated, that America is not an idea but an ethnicity, that of the white Christian men who have dominated it, granting a grudging or probationary acceptance to women, or blacks, or immigrants. This was the view of Huck Finn’s pap, as he drank himself to death; of General Custer, as he approached Little Big Horn; of Major General Pickett, as he led the charge at Gettysburg. Until now, it has been the vision of those whom Trump would call the losers.
And now those former losers are the new winners, and we all lose, unless we stop getting used to such nonsense:
As the official ideology of the most powerful people in the White House, can that vision of America win? With the near-complete abdication of even minimal moral courage in the Republican Party, and the strategic confusion of the Democrats, all that Americans can turn to is the instinct for shared defiance, and a coalition of conscience, the broader the better, to counter the chaotic cruelty. (If the Koch brothers have some residual libertarianism left in them, let them help pay for it.) Few events in recent years have been more inspiring than the vast women’s marches that followed the Inauguration, few events more cheering than the spontaneous reactions to the executive order on immigration, such as the cabbies’ strike staged after Kennedy Airport seemed to have been turned into a trap for refugees.
Such actions are called, a little too romantically, “resistance,” but there is no need, yet, for so militant a term. Resistance rises from the street, but also from within the system, as it should, with judicial stays and State Department dissenters. Opposing bad governments with loud speech, unashamed argument, and public demonstration is not the part that’s off the normal grid: it’s the pro-American part, exactly what the Constitution foresees and protects. Dissent is not courageous or exceptional. It is normal – it’s Madisonian, it’s Hamiltonian. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
Resistance rises from the street. That’s what we’re supposed to do? Actually, that’s what we do:
Returning home on Saturday night after a dinner in Manhattan with some longtime friends, Gregory Locke boarded a No. 1 subway train and was confronted with an ugly sight.
The car’s windows and posters were covered in anti-Semitic graffiti, according to accounts from Mr. Locke and another passenger in the car, Jared Nied. Messages like “Jews belong in the oven” and “destroy Israel, Heil Hitler,” had been written over subway maps, as shown by photographs taken on the train. Swastikas were drawn in black marker on the doors and windows.
Mr. Locke, 27, a New York lawyer, said in a phone interview that his first reaction was shock, “especially once I realized how many instances of graffiti were on the train car.”
“But the shock quickly subsides and turns into a sort of a realistic horror,” he said. “You realize it’s appalling but it’s also not surprising at the same time.”
Neither man reported the graffiti to the police. And neither the New York Police Department nor the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had a record of any report.
Steve Bannon does not like Jews – so this was inevitable – but something else was inevitable:
Mr. Nied, 36, was returning home from his work as a sous-chef around 7 p.m. and boarded the train at 42nd Street. He said in a phone interview that his reaction to the graffiti, which he noticed immediately, must have been written on his face, and he soon attracted the attention of another commuter.
“There was a lady sitting across from me under the map, and she said, ‘Oh that’s absolutely horrible,'” he said. “‘Do you think there’s any way we can erase it?'”
Mr. Nied had many times used a Sharpie when he had meant to use a dry-erase marker, and he knew from experience that alcohol would work to erase the graffiti.
“A light bulb went on, and I just asked, ‘Does anyone have hand sanitizer?'” he said.
Mr. Nied and several other commuters began to wipe away the graffiti, their actions captured in photographs taken by Mr. Locke, who wrote on Facebook about his experience. By late Sunday afternoon, more than 518,000 people had reacted to the post on Facebook, and the post had been shared more than 354,000 times.
There were all those passengers cleaning the train:
On Saturday night, Mr. Nied sent a text to his wife, Jacquline, and to a friend with a photograph of the graffiti, but he did not consider the prospect that someone else might have taken photos. He said it had not even crossed his mind until more than an hour later, when his wife looked at her phone.
“She said, ‘Dude, you’re going viral,'” he recalled.
He added: “It was a very New York moment in that we all came together, we all teamed up, and then we settled back down. I don’t think any of those people really spoke, truth be told. Everyone kind of just did their jobs of being decent human beings.”
These things happen too, no matter what Donald Trump says about how nasty the world is, and E. J. Dionne carries that further:
The movement that Donald Trump’s presidency has inspired against him is broad, passionate, engaged and determined. Its prospects depend upon highlighting a set of principles that can unite an American majority already appalled by what Trump is doing to our country…
The obligations that ideology should not encumber include speaking out against the blatantly anti-Muslim character of Trump’s travel ban: Those who defend religious liberty must also fight religious discrimination.
There ought to be solidarity in condemning an approach to Europe that is pushing away the United States’ longtime democratic allies and currying favor with the autocrat in Moscow.
A disorganized, slapdash and careless approach to policymaking that turns chaos into an achievement rather than a problem should horrify Americans regardless of whom they normally vote for. It is dangerous and also disrespectful of the responsibilities power imposes.
Party loyalty should not get in the way of insisting upon a respect for fact and evidence – or of calling out lies. Consider that when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his department’s employees that “honesty will undergird our foreign policy,” his words could be seen, whether intentionally or not, as a rebuke to an administration that touts “alternative facts.”
There can be agreement here, because there are things one should not get used to:
Trump’s critics don’t have to agree on a single policy to bemoan his crude and sloppy use of language and to see this as a genuine obstacle to honorable politics and a well-functioning government. He doesn’t just want to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which bars religious organizations from getting involved in elections. He wants to “destroy” it. He lightly threatens war with Mexico to go after “bad hombres” and undermines our relationship with Australia by recklessly accusing one of our very closest friends of wanting to export the “next Boston bombers.”
The “so-called judge” comment and the comment about Killer Putin fit into this too:
As George Orwell taught us, how people talk offers a clue about how they think and what they value. Our language, he wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He added: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Pretending that there is something “brilliant” or “populist” about how Trump communicates is one of the worst forms of elitism because it demeans ordinary citizens who have always appreciated eloquence, as our greatest leaders knew. And please don’t compare George W. Bush to Trump on this score. We poked fun at Bush’s ability to mangle sentences, but he respected the need to find words that could move and unite the nation.
Finally, we must resist a bad habit infecting political commentary that sees Trump’s irresponsibility, bigotry and casual cruelty as a heroic form of “disruption” aimed at bringing down “the establishment.”
In short, Mike Pence has it wrong and the people in the streets (and on that subway) may have it right:
They are standing up for humane principles that Trump is threatening: democracy over authoritarian nationalism; religious pluralism over bigotry; clarity of thought, speech and action over a self-involved indiscipline; civil rights and civil liberties over their unchecked abuse; and a basic decency toward each other over a political approach devoted to disparaging and bullying adversaries.
The democratic left and the democratic right will continue to disagree on many things. But these commitments should transcend all of our divides.
Yep, don’t get used to this guy. Oh, and by the way, it’s okay to despise the Patriots too. They do play good football, but they’re a smug, sneering bunch. There’s no need to get used to that.