In Washington, it was a day about tomorrow – President Trump was going to announce that the United States would withdraw for the Paris Climate Accords – or that the United States wouldn’t. No one knew which it would be, but it would be his decision alone, and everyone would have to wait for that decision. It’s good to be king.
This was a bit upsetting – half of the administration was telling him to stay in. All the big US corporations were telling him to stay in too – even all the major oil corporations. It would best to have a seat at the table – and there would be international repercussions, as 195 nations had signed on. Pulling out would make the United States a rogue nation. We’d stand alone with the only other nations which hadn’t signed on – Syria, because they have more pressing concerns at the moment, and Nicaragua, which says those Paris Accords don’t go far enough. That’s it, and we’d stand against science too. Greg Sargent is good on that aspect of this and Todd Stern good on the other matters – but everyone knew which way the wind was blowing – we’re out.
It’s that America First thing. We take care of our own. The rest of the world can go screw itself. Donald Trump ran on that notion, and won, so America must be with him on this. He sees no downside to pulling out. Everyone will love him. And then of course the EU and China announced that they’d join forces and commit to climate change cooperation – and lead the world. Donald Trump won’t. They’ll stand up for science. They’ll save the world, if they can. Donald Trump won’t, but no one should be surprised by this. In his “American Carnage” inauguration speech Donald Trump declared that he would be President of the United States, not President of the World. He’s keeping his word – even if he might change his mind on the Paris Accords at the last moment.
It doesn’t matter. Stay in, walk away – the damage is done. America is walking away from the world – ceding leadership to others, because world leadership is a bother, and damned expensive, and we do have a lot of coal miners out of work. There was that famous neoconservative Project for the New American Century that gave us the Iraq War and all the rest. Our values won out. In fact it was the end of history – “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” The Soviet Union had collapsed and we were now the sole superpower, representing capitalism and democracy. We’d fix everything.
There’s not going to be a new American century. We already had one anyway, from 1945 until this year. Be satisfied with that, and with nostalgia. The Brits look back to the nineteenth century, when the sun never set on the British Empire. The French look back to the eighteenth century, when their Enlightenment lit up the world. We can look back to the Greatest Generation saving the world and creating a new and better one. London is quaint. Paris is now pretty much a theme park. John Wayne will storm the Sands of Iwo Jima forever, while Tom Hanks saves Private Ryan. That will have to do.
We are left off to the side now – our choice – with a slightly daft king. That was the other news of the day, and Chris Cillizza explains that:
At 12:06 a.m. ET, the President of the United States tweeted this: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”
By 6 a.m., that tweet had been deleted. Shortly after, Trump tweeted this: “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” Enjoy!”
That ate up a lot of air-time on cable news all day – a lot of sympathetic laughter, a lot of ridicule that wasn’t sympathetic at all, and a bit of alarm – but Cillizza tries to be charitable:
This is, on its face, dumb. Trump seemed to be trying to type “coverage” and misspelled it. As he often does. Then he fell asleep and didn’t correct the mistake until he got up in the morning. We’ve all been there…
These things happen, but Cillizza sees more:
While spending time trying, as Trump suggested, to figure out what “covfefe” means is a waste, it’s far more worthwhile to take a big step back and look at the situation that leads to the President of the United States tweeting, poorly, at 12:06 a.m. about the bad press he gets.
What we have today – and, really, what we have had since the day Trump came into the White House – is a deeply isolated President who spends lots of time, particularly at night and in the early morning, watching TV and tweeting.
That lack of discipline reveals that there is simply no one who can tell Trump “no” – or at least no one whom he will listen to.
That’s the worry here:
That’s important. Especially now as speculation runs rampant that Trump is on the brink of a major staff overhaul and in the wake of communications director Mike Dubke resigning on Tuesday.
The animating idea behind many of these staff stories is how the people Trump brings in will affect how he acts and governs on a daily basis. That is a false premise. The simple fact is that no staffer exists on the planet who can tell Trump something he doesn’t want to hear and have him take it to heart.
“Donald Trump doesn’t want a Jim Baker,” CNN’s Gloria Borger noted Tuesday night, speaking of the legendary chief of staff for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. “He’s his own Jim Baker. And he’s his own strategist.”
That’s 100% right. Trump doesn’t think he needs advice. So changing the names of the people giving it to him doesn’t really matter.
And no one knows what to do with a slightly daft king:
Time and time again, Republican elected officials have politely suggested that Trump use Twitter less and differently. Use it to rally his massive online support base behind policy initiatives rather than as a tool to exact revenge on people Trump thinks have wronged him. White House staffers have done the same, occasionally floating the idea that, at one point or another, Trump finally “got it” and was going to tweet differently from there on out.
Of late, as part of a much-promised reboot, there had been talk of a “team of lawyers” vetting Trump’s tweets before he sent them out.
Cillizza says forget that, and consider this:
Trump is neither willing nor able to change his stripes. He is a 70-year-old man (he will be 71 on June 14) who has had much success in his life. And he believes that the way in which he was elected president – against all odds and doing everything traditional politics says not to – is an affirmation that he is the only person who really understands his supporters and the mood of the country.
That assumption is what leads him to ignore advice from advisers about, maybe just maybe, putting down his phone at, say, 10 p.m. – or never picking it up at all. Trump believes in Trump – first, last and always.
Staff will come and go. But to expect anyone to change Trump in any way is to ignore, literally, his entire adult life.
That’s also why everyone knows he is pulling America out of the Paris Accords – unless he doesn’t. He is the only person that really understands his supporters and the mood of the country – unless this was the result of a mini-stroke with more to follow, or the onset of Alzheimer’s – like with Reagan. Reagan apologized for that Iran-Contra scandal – he had had no idea what was going on around him and he was really sorry and it would never happen again. America forgave him. Trump might be that lucky.
On the other hand, Ronald Reagan was a pleasant fellow – later a bumbling pleasant fellow – who kept his mean streak well hidden. Trump’s mean streak is out there for everyone to see. That changes the equation. His base will always cut him some slack. No one else will – and his Russia thing is a far bigger problem than Reagan’s Iran-Contra ever was.
The walls are closing in – Congress investigating another possible Sessions-Kislyak meeting – James Comey to Publicly Testify About Trump’s Pressure to End Russia Probe – House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe – White House will stop taking questions about Trump, Russia investigation – On Kushner There’s No Innocent Explanation – Investigators Are Right To Be Looking at Michael Cohen – all in the same day as the “covfefe” tweet.
Something is up. What is it with Trump and Putin? Why side with the Russians all the time? Trump can’t be that daft. And there’s a second question. Did Putin intentionally create “political bedlam” over here or did he just get lucky?
Isaac Chotiner interviews William Taubman about that. Taubman is an emeritus professor of political science at Amherst and won a Pulitzer Prize for Khrushchev: The Man and His Era – and his new biography of Mikhail Gorbachev is on the way – so he knows a thing or two. He certainly knows the cold war:
I’ve done some thinking about whether or not we are in a cold war, and I think we are. If you ask yourself what are the main characteristics of a cold war, these characteristics are right before us. Each side sees the other as entirely at fault, and sees the conflict as based on ideologically sacrosanct principles rather than geopolitical differences, which might be more readily negotiated. Each side believes the cold war can’t end unless the other side fundamentally changes or collapses. Each side sees any agreements between them as basically tactical or temporary.
If so, perhaps Putin wanted to end that:
I think Putin was looking to ease this new cold war. He doesn’t like the sanctions. He would like Russia to be accepted both as a great power and him as a great leader. He would like to have his cake and eat it, if possible, but have better relations with the West. I think he saw Trump as somebody who, for whatever Trump’s reasons, might play ball. What else did the praise Trump was heaping on him in the campaign mean, and the praise that Putin was heaping on Trump?
If so, this is possible:
I think that some sort of deal between the two of them would have been in the interests of both countries, or could have been in the interests of both countries, and of the world. There was one point when the London Times published I guess as a rumor that there would be an early summit between Trump and Putin, and it would be at Reykjavik. My heart leapt, mainly because of my study of Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik, but also because I was trying to imagine the deal they might make there.
I’m not a policymaker but what I imagined was that part of the deal was that Trump would de facto affirmatively accept the Russian annexation of Crimea, which can’t be altered or reversed anyway I think, and maybe he would begin to ease the sanctions, if he could get the Europeans to go with him, which would probably be all too easy. In return, Putin would back off on Ukraine. Exactly how, I don’t know the terms of that, but in a sense he would let Ukraine be Ukraine, and maybe pull troops out of that part of Ukraine, and pull back from exercises on the Baltic borders.
That would be cool, but then Trump is a bit daft:
It’s hard to imagine Trump thinking through a deal with Putin, thinking through its components, thinking through the pros and cons, weighing the virtues and disadvantages, and proceeding in a rational manner. It’s much more likely he is responding to some vague sense that it’s crazy for Russia and the United States to be at odds when both are threatened by international terrorism, and he may be responding to ways in which the Russians have holds over him.
When I imagine the deal, I have to immediately admit that given who Trump is and what motivates him, the deal was probably doomed from the beginning even if they had met.
Still, look at how Putin sees things:
Putin, if you read his speeches, is constantly talking about the history of American moves since 1991. He goes back to the expansion of NATO in its several stages, first the inclusion of East Germany when Germany reunited – it was allowed by Gorbachev to remain in NATO. Then in 1997, there was the addition of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary – then in 2002, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic States – then the threat in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would also join eventually.
Then of course there is the war in Iraq, which we conducted without the permission of the UN. There’s the bombing of Belgrade as part of our attempt to protect the Bosnians and the Kosovars against Serbia. Then there’s Obama’s conduct in Libya, in which the UN did produce a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone, but we and our allies took it to mean we could eliminate Gadhafi. I could go on. I’m giving you Putin’s case that we were responsible. I agree with him about most of those things. I think they were mistakes.
On the other hand, his response has been in the end to seize Crimea, to invade eastern Ukraine, to conduct military exercises along the Baltics. All of these things were in some ways more serious than what we did, in the sense that, for example, the annexation of Crimea was a move against the very basis of the international order since the end of World War II.
Putin has thought these things through. Trump hasn’t, so there’s this:
You might think of him that way, as somebody who felt cornered by the American actions, who felt betrayed by some of the American actions, and lashed out in the way that he has. But one of the questions I ask myself and that I think we should ask ourselves is that even if we imagine a counterfactual scenario in which the United States avoids doing all of the things like expanding NATO that Putin condemns, would he have found some other reason to feel aggrieved and alienated, and hence to try to lash out at us?
And then there’s this:
I have before me, if I may quote it, his autobiography. It’s called First Person, and it’s very interesting, because there is a passage where the people who put it together interviewed his elementary school teacher. She says, “Volodya never forgives people who betray him or are mean to him.”
I hesitate to go directly from that to his vendetta against Hillary Clinton, for example, but I think we know he felt he felt betrayed by, in his view, her encouraging or even fomenting the demonstrations against those elections in 2011 and 2012, which he helped to rig.
He never forgave her, so the Trump folks didn’t have to collude with the Russians. Putin screwed with our elections. He got his revenge, but then he got Trump:
It’s hard to imagine, shrewd as he is, him imagining the scenario which plays out in the way these first months of Trump have played out. It’s too absurd and complicated for him to have imagined.
The majority of Americans feel the same way, but overall, what Putin tried was a good idea:
I think it’s worth lowering tensions if we can possibly do it. After all, we’re both still armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. We both still face a common enemy. It’s worth doing. It’s important to try to do it, but I certainly don’t imagine an end to this cold war akin to the end of the old Cold War, which Gorbachev achieved together with Reagan and Bush.
Donald Trump isn’t Ronald Reagan, and he is a bit daft:
The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
Trump will have none of that:
Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.
Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.
What the heck – welcome back! With the walls closing in, what was Trump thinking? There was only this concession:
Before making a final decision on allowing the Russians to reoccupy the compounds, the administration is examining possible restrictions on Russian activities there, including removing the diplomatic immunity the properties previously enjoyed. Without immunity, the facilities would be treated as any other buildings in the United States and would not be barred to entry by U.S. law enforcement, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.
That might not satisfy the critics:
Any concessions to Moscow could prove controversial while administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
That’s an understatement:
In late December, after U.S. intelligence said there had been election meddling, and in response to the ongoing harassment in Moscow, Obama ordered the compounds closed and diplomats expelled. “We had no intention of ever giving them back,” a former senior Obama official said of the compounds.
Trump, then at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, appeared to disparage the Obama administration sanctions, telling reporters, “I think we ought to get on with our lives.”
And the daft king tweets on and on. The press covfefe of this will be brutal, not that it matters now. We are left off to the side now – our choice – with a slightly daft king, and our nostalgia.