Friday and Saturday nights here on the Sunset Strip are as wild as one would expect. The streets and clubs are jammed. Locals hide, and wait for Sunday morning, when the sun comes up over the Griffith Observatory in the distance. Sunday mornings are peaceful. The hipsters are gone. The thick Sunday Los Angeles Times lands outside the front door with a reassuring thud. Pour some coffee. Unpack the thing. The travel section is good, the style (fashion) section always puzzling, the arts section covers the galleries and has book reviews and what’s up on the classical music scene, and more than anyone should know about Hollywood behind the scenes. There’s lots on the California lifestyle too – whatever that is – but then there’s the news too – and the Sunday op-ed pages. Save that for last. Sunday morning will no longer be peaceful.
This week it was a long editorial – a screed actually. The Los Angeles Times has turned on Donald Trump. The newspaper’s editorial board let it rip in a detailed full-page bill of particulars – all those things even his supporters find troubling – and all those things that the rest of us try not to think about, because things couldn’t be this bad. But there they are, all of them lined up in a row. Things are this bad, and one paragraph in particular stands out:
What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality, that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation – these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.
That gets to the heart of things, and can ruin a peaceful Sunday morning. Things aren’t that bad. Things aren’t that bad. Yes, they are. It was impossible to ignore what had happened the day before:
President Donald Trump went after Chuck Todd and NBC News on Saturday morning, asking when they will stop reporting on “the fake Trump/Russia story.”
“When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story,” the president tweeted. Nearly 20 minutes later, he added: “It is the same Fake News Media that said there is ‘no path to victory for Trump’ that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!”
So the Russia story is a scam? Chuck Todd didn’t think so:
On NBC’s “Nightly News” on Friday, Todd discussed the Russia investigation and said Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower created “all of the current problems for this West Wing.”
“I think the biggest problem here is you have the president not wanting to accept the conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the election and that there is going to be an investigation in this, whether he likes it or not,” Todd said. “The source of all of the current problems for this West Wing right now, for this presidency right now, all stems from that tweet where the president accused President Obama of wiretapping him.”
“This has all been self-inflicted. The Russia cloud is dark enough,” Todd continued. “This sort of Nunes Keystone Kop situation has made it that much worse. And again, it all stems from the fact that the president himself will not accept the idea that there is going to be a Russian investigation.”
There are three Russian investigations already – the FBI and the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump’s determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined and his craving for adulation are the duel problems here, of course. It was time to wake up:
Trump has drawn criticism in the past for mocking reporters’ appearances. During the 2016 campaign, Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski, who has a physical disability. Last July, Trump tweeted about Todd, referring to him as “sleepy eyes.”
Todd responded to Trump’s latest tweet, writing Saturday that he “slept well” and didn’t feel “sleepy at all.”
Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd wasn’t asleep. The Los Angeles Times editorial board wasn’t either. They said no one should be, ruining a peaceful Sunday morning, and there was more from the previous day:
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn reported payments of at least $5,000 for a speaking engagement with the Kremlin-funded English language network RT, new documents released Saturday by the White House show, though Flynn didn’t originally include the payment when he first filed his ethics forms in January.
That RT payment and two others from companies with Russian ties – for U.S.-based speaking engagements involving the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Government Security Solutions and Volga-Dnepr Airlines – are listed in an amended financial disclosure form Flynn delivered to the White House on Friday, more than a month after he stepped down from his top post under President Donald Trump.
The amended financial disclosure form actually showed more than a million dollars from the Russians, money that no one knew about:
The disclosures were part of a more comprehensive recounting of his private-sector work and assets that the White House asked for only this week – long after the retired Army general was tapped to be Trump’s national security chief and his subsequent ousting amid controversy over how forthcoming he was with Vice President Mike Pence and other senior aides over his pre-inauguration communications with the Russian ambassador.
The White House just now asked their folks to disclose everything. That hadn’t occurred to them before. Trump liked Flynn. He still does:
Capitol Hill and Justice Department investigators have signaled interest in interviewing Flynn as they probe allegations of ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Earlier this week, Flynn, through his attorney, offered to deliver that testimony in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
On Twitter, Trump wrote Friday that he supported his former national security adviser’s immunity request “in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
On Saturday, the White House referred questions on the matter to Flynn.
In short, Trump told NBC to stop covering the Russia story and start covering the story of how Obama had clearly been wiretapping everything Trump had been doing – almost a direct order to all journalists – and he maintained that Flynn was and is a fine fellow. Forget the big money Russia had paid him. The Russia story was phony. There was nothing to see there.
Journalists don’t like direct orders like that, but maybe there was nothing to see there:
Billionaire Mark Cuban on Saturday went on a tweetstorm explaining his theory about President Trump’s ties to Russia, concluding he doesn’t think Trump was behind any collusion during last year’s presidential race.
“No chance this is a DJT led conspiracy,” Cuban wrote in a series of tweets, referring to Trump’s initials. He argued that Trump “isn’t detail oriented, organized or big picture enough” to pull off any such “conspiracy.”
Instead, Cuban argued in a series of tweets that Russian President Vladimir Putin “recognized Trump’s greed and took advantage by back channeling coordinated misinformation in an attempt to influence voters.”
“Russians have made him a lot of money buying condos and investing in his buildings and hosting his beauty pageant,” Cuban wrote of Trump. “That makes them his friends. He ignored their backgrounds. But that’s not unusual. Starbucks takes anyone’s money and so do most businesses including mine.”
Okay, the guy is not smart enough to plan and execute a conspiracy. That makes sense, and on Sunday morning there was this:
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, insisted Sunday that she’s taking a tough stance on Russia even as President Trump is mired in controversy over the White House’s conduct in the congressional investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the former governor of South Carolina, who was confirmed as ambassador in January, was unequivocal about Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. election.
“Well, certainly, I think Russia was involved in the election,” she told ABC’s Martha Raddatz. “There’s no question about that. And I think when they finish with all of this process, yes, they need to address Russia, they need to act, and they need to make sure they’re loud about it.”
“We don’t want any country involved in our elections ever.”
The Russia story isn’t phony? She’s flying blind:
In her confirmation hearing, Haley said she had starkly different views from Trump, especially on Russia. Trump has said he respects Russian President Vladimir Putin and thinks the latter is a better leader than former president Barack Obama. Trump has called questions about apparent Russian tampering in the 2016 race “fake news” and blamed such allegations on Democrats, who he says are still sore over losing the election. Democrats have retorted that Trump and his tweets are an attempt to distract Congress and the nation from the investigation…
As ambassador, Haley said Sunday, she had no hesitation taking Russia to task on actions with which the United States disagrees – and that she had received no instructions from Trump to pull punches.
She hasn’t been paying attention. Trump has said, repeatedly, that Putin is a better leader than Obama ever was. Trump has said, repeatedly, that all that stuff about Russian tampering in our election is “fake news” invented by the Democrats. He grudgingly admitted, once, that all our intelligence agencies had solid proof of all that Russian tampering, but he also grudgingly admitted, once, that Obama had been born in the United States. His heart wasn’t in it either time. Read that key paragraph from the Los Angeles Times editorial again. He’s petulant and full of blind self-regard and untethered to reality – and of course, during the campaign, he said he “loved” WikiLeaks and once addressed the Russians directly. Keep hacking Hillary Clinton. Find those missing emails. America will thank you for it.
He was leading a revolution, and once again, some historical perspective might help. Perhaps the Russians are now the French of long ago. France helped us win our first revolution. The Russians will help us win this one – to take back America from the wrong sort of people among us – Muslims and Mexicans and gays and whatnot – and to dismantle almost all of government as we know it – no regulation of much of anything, where the good guys with guns will take care of the bad guys with guns and that’s that. The government will do next to nothing. We’ll be free at last. That seems to be the second revolution here. At least that seems to be the general concept. There’s some dispute about the details. Freedom is wonderful. Traffic lights are useful.
As for the parallel to the French, Washington had Lafayette. Trump had Putin – and for those who don’t remember, on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, American Continental Army troops, led by General George Washington, and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau, won the day. Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis surrendered. Britain surrendered. Cornwallis’ movements in Virginia had been shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette. Admiral Comte de Grasse had the French fleet parked out in Chesapeake Bay. The British Navy couldn’t swoop in to save Cornwallis – they had to stand out to sea. The French made the United States possible.
Lafayette became the symbol of that. Of course Putin prefers cyberwarfare, but just as every state now has some town named Lafayette, perhaps, in the future, every state will have a town named Putin. A British military band is said to have played The World Turned Upside Down when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. That happens now and then.
But then there’s Fluoride. During the Red Scare in the fifties, and on into the early sixties, folks on the far edge of the right – the folks William F. Buckley finally forced out of “modern” conservatism – insisted that water fluoridation was part of a master plot to impose a socialist or communist regime on America – so this had nothing to do with your kid’s cavities at all. These guys said this was “another aspect of President Truman’s drive to socialize medicine” and it was the same with mass vaccination and mental health services.
That seems odd, but that worked. Fluoridation stalled. Tooth decay increased. Then in 1964 there was Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – with General Jack D. Ripper pretty much starting a nuclear war to thwart that communist plot to sap the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people – using fluoridated water of course. Peter Sellers plays the befuddled Brit who tries to edge his way out of the room. America edged out that room. Our water is fluoridated now. So is our toothpaste – but the Russians were always the bad guys. They always are. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union that Evil Empire and famously told Gorbachev to tear down that wall – although the two of them ended up getting along quite well. Still, the Russians were always the bad guys. Republicans knew that better than anyone else.
Now the world has turned upside down again, as E. J. Dionne explains here:
It’s true that Moscow’s intervention in Western politics goes back a long way. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets gave strong support to communist parties around the world.
Putin, of course, will lend support to any political movement – right or left, separatist or nationalist – that disrupts the West. But he seems especially interested in creating a new international political alliance focused on conservatives and the far right.
He is casting himself as a strong supporter of religion and conservative values, and as an opponent of gay rights. Late last month, Putin staged a highly public audience in Moscow with Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in this spring’s presidential election in France. Of course Putin denied he was trying to influence French voters.
Putin is active in the U.S., too. In a recent Time magazine article titled “Moscow Cozies Up to the Right,” Alex Altman and Elizabeth Dias reported on Russia’s efforts to build ties with America’s Christian conservatives and the gun lobby.
Putin will be the Lafayette of the far right, with his defenders:
These days, any liberal who raises alarms about Trump’s relationship with Russia confronts charges of McCarthyism, hysteria and hypocrisy. The inclination of many on the left to assail Putin is often ascribed to partisan anger over his success in undermining Clinton’s candidacy.
Putin has become a hero, our Lafayette, but James McAuley reports on what is happening in France:
In the early hours of Nov. 9, Marine Le Pen was the first foreign politician to congratulate the new U.S. president-elect.
In the weeks that followed, the leader of France’s far-right National Front did everything she could to tie her presidential campaign to the upset victory of Donald Trump, claiming that she would be the next chapter in a global populist revolt against the “establishment.”
On the morning after the U.S. election, she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters outside Paris, heralding Brexit and Trump as part of an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon – “democratic choices that bury the old order and steppingstones to building tomorrow’s world.”
This was the second American Revolution and a worldwide revolution, but maybe not:
A month before the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s tone has markedly changed: no more President Trump – at least not for now.
Le Pen – almost certain to qualify for the second and final round of the elections – seems to be keeping her distance from her compadre. The word “Trump” rarely figures in her speeches and rallies these days, and when she squared off against France’s four other presidential candidates in the campaign’s first televised debate March 20, she avoided mentioning him in any policy discussion, despite ample opportunities to do so.
She changed her tune, for good reason:
On a broader level, following the defeat of Geert Wilders in the Dutch elections last month, Le Pen and her aides even have shied away from their frequent forecasts of the populist wave soon to cascade through France and carry them to power. If she wins, she now says, it will be because of France and the French – not because of a seismic shift in geopolitics and the tail wind it would bring.
“I’m counting on you to carry out with me the battle for France!” she said Thursday, speaking at an agricultural fair in rural Brittany.
That might work, also for good reason:
“It’s difficult for Le Pen to use Trump, when she knows that so many French disapprove of him,” said Dominique Moïsi, a political scientist and co-founder of the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations.
According to opinion polls, nearly 8 in 10 French voters harbor strongly negative views of the U.S. president, who has repeatedly insisted – sometimes through the commentaries of a mysterious, unidentified friend named “Jim” – that “Paris is no longer Paris” and that “France is no longer France” in the wake of the terrorist attacks that have claimed 230 lives here since the beginning of 2015.
Yes, Donald Trump has an imaginary friend who has given up on Paris, but there’s more:
In France, where even fringe politicians are expected to dazzle with wit and erudition, the brash and often unscripted public persona of the U.S. president has become something of a liability for his chief French ally, who was spotted in the basement cafeteria of Trump Tower on an impromptu visit in January.
“In France, even if you are of the extreme right, as Marine Le Pen is, you do not have credibility if you do not know how to align a subject, a verb and a complement,” said François Heisbourg, the chairman of the Geneva Center for Security Policy and a former member of a French presidential commission on national security.
It seems that the French will tolerate madmen, but not fools:
If she rarely mentions Trump anymore, Le Pen – who met with Putin in Moscow last month – has no qualms about reminding her supporters at every turn of her plans to deliver on that Russia promise.
In her recent speech in Lille, days after returning from Russia, she called Putin a “real statesman” engaged in the same “fight against terrorism” as France.
The crowd went wild.
Putin will be the Lafayette of the far right over there too. Putin may have captured the United States. He may capture France. The rest of us will be as befuddled as Cornwallis at Yorktown.
At least Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd isn’t asleep. The Los Angeles Times editorial board isn’t either. It’s the forty percent:
The former counsel to President Richard Nixon has lashed out at current President Donald Trump, questioning his sanity and saying he’s “happy every morning when I wake up to see he hasn’t blown up some part of the world.”
John Dean was trying to explain things here to the British people:
In an interview with Sky News, reported by The Independent, attorney John Dean called the nascent Trump presidency an “unfolding disaster” that has baffled voters who can no longer guess what the impulsive Trump will do next.
“As I see it, about maybe half the population right now isn’t sure whether he is insane or if he’s just a totally angry man, they don’t know what he’s doing,” Dean explained. “About 40 per cent seem to be happy with him and approve of his job and another maybe 10 per cent are pretty confused or don’t care, so it’s very strange over here now.”
That won’t reassure the Brits:
Dean admitted that Trump gives him “nightmares,” remarking, “We’ve never had a President like this. I’m kind of happy every morning when I wake up to see he hasn’t blown up some part of the world.”
Now they too feel as Cornwallis at Yorktown, and here, Sunday morning has passed into Sunday evening. There’s no telling what the coming week will bring. This was supposed to be a peaceful sleepy Sunday. There’s no sleeping now.