There’s Les Jeux Sont Faits – Jean-Paul Sartre, from the mid-forties – a dismal tale about what you can do to make things better in this world. There’s nothing you can do. This is about how things in this life are already in motion, and always have been, and you can’t go back and fix a thing. Maybe you never could. There was never one clean moment of decision. Sartre was an existentialist. He and Camus kind of invented that. Freedom is illusory – you do what you can to make the best of things. That’s the only honorable option.
Of course there’s not much of anything you can do. The “plays” have already been made – that’s what the words mean in French. Things had been set in motion long ago. In fact, the two main characters in Sartre’s story are slow to understand that they’re actually dead, meeting for the first time in the afterlife – where each finally realizes the game was over long ago.
No one reads Sartre for fun, but that’s what that odd little man with his pipe was getting at. Others rolled the dice, or someone did, or maybe no one did – but they rolled long ago. Snakes-eyes or seven-come-eleven, you have to deal with the outcome now. No one is playing any grand game. The “game” was over long ago.
Donald Trump doesn’t read Sartre. Donald Trump doesn’t read. Donald Trump once said that he doesn’t have to – because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I already had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.” And he recently said this – “You know, people don’t understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person. You know, the fact is I think – I really believe – I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”
Donald Trump should read Sartre, because others see the real person:
More than twice as many Americans approve as disapprove of special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds, indicating that the conservative effort to discredit the probe has fallen flat as the case has progressed toward its first public charges…
A similar 49 percent think it is likely Trump himself committed a crime in connection with possible Russian attempts to influence the election, although more say this view is based on suspicion rather than on hard evidence…
An 82 percent majority of Republicans say it is unlikely that Trump himself committed a crime, although half of independents and 74 percent of Democrats say that is likely. Among the public overall, 19 percent think there is “solid evidence” Trump committed a crime, while 30 percent say that is merely their suspicion.
The press didn’t create a different image of Donald Trump than the real person. There’s a growing sense that this game may already be over. This is the real person. The dice were rolled long ago, and the walls are closing in:
Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page privately testified Thursday that he mentioned to Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign – as new questions emerge about the attorney general’s comments to Congress about Russia and the Trump campaign.
During more than six hours of closed-door testimony, Page said that he informed Sessions about his coming July 2016 trip to Russia, which Page told CNN was unconnected to his campaign role. Page described the conversation to CNN after he finished talking to the House intelligence committee.
Sessions’ discussion with Page will fuel further scrutiny about what the attorney general knew about connections between the Trump campaign and Russia – and communications about Russia that he did not disclose despite a persistent line of questioning in three separate hearings this year.
And there was this:
Standing before reporters in February, President Trump said unequivocally that he knew of nobody from his campaign who was in contact with Russians during the election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate the same thing.
Court documents unsealed this week cast doubt on both statements and raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions could be called back to Congress for further questioning.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, unsealed his first charges Monday in a wide-ranging investigation into Russian attempts to disrupt the presidential election and whether anyone close to Mr. Trump was involved. Records in that case show that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser, had frequent discussions with Russians in 2016 and trumpeted his connections in front of Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions.
For months, journalists have revealed evidence that associates of Mr. Trump met with Russians during the campaign and the presidential transition. But the court documents represent the first concrete evidence that Mr. Trump was personally told about ties between a campaign adviser and Russian officials.
The game here was already over:
Democrats in the Senate said on Thursday that they would push to have Mr. Sessions return to the Judiciary Committee for further questioning.
“He now needs to come back before the committee, in person, under oath, to explain why he cannot seem to provide truthful, complete answers to these important and relevant questions,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who is on the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat on the committee, pointed out that Mr. Sessions’ testimony was under oath and “wasn’t just some random comment he made in passing on the street.”
And it only gets worse:
The case against Mr. Papadopoulos was unsealed at the same time as an unrelated indictment against two other former campaign advisers, Paul J. Manafort and Rick Gates. Taken together, the three charges sent a foreboding message to a fourth adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, Michael T. Flynn.
White House officials and others in the case are bracing for charges against Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star general who had a short and tumultuous tenure as national security adviser. Mr. Mueller is investigating Mr. Flynn for not disclosing his Russian contacts or his foreign lobbying work.
Mr. Manafort was indicted on seldom-used charges of concealing foreign lobbying, as well as for lying on federal documents – the same activities for which Mr. Flynn is being investigated.
“It’s a bad sign,” said Paul Krieger, who until recently was the top federal fraud prosecutor in Manhattan. “It shows that the special counsel’s office will not hesitate to charge individuals connected to the administration or campaign with obstruction-like offenses.”
And there was this:
The White House had no idea that Sam Clovis testified before the grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, ABC News reported late Thursday.
ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the probe, that the White House learned Clovis had met with the grand jury from media reports rather than from Clovis himself.
Clovis was a co-chair on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on the campaign. Court documents unsealed on Monday revealed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.
Trump is that Sartre character that didn’t know he was already dead:
Clovis, a non-scientist, was the senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Trump’s former pick to serve as the department’s chief scientist.
He withdrew his nomination for the latter on Thursday after unsealed court documents revealed his correspondence with Papadopoulos during the campaign. Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to do so.
Clovis did not cite Papadopoulos’ guilty plea or those emails in a letter withdrawing his nomination, instead blaming “the political climate inside Washington.”
And there was this:
Jared Kushner has turned over documents in recent weeks to special counsel Robert Mueller as investigators have begun asking in witness interviews about Kushner’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, CNN has learned.
Mueller’s investigators have expressed interest in Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, as part of its probe into Russian meddling, including potential obstruction of justice in Comey’s firing, sources familiar with the matter said.
Their questions about Kushner signal that Mueller’s investigators are reaching the President’s inner circle and have extended beyond the 2016 campaign to actions taken at the White House by high-level officials.
This is serious too:
Two separate sources told CNN that investigators have asked other witnesses about Kushner’s role in firing Comey. Investigators have also asked about how a statement was issued in the name of Donald Trump Jr. regarding a Trump Tower meeting and about the circumstances surrounding the departures of other White House aides, according to one source. Kushner attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top Trump campaign officials and a cadre of Russian figures, including some with links to the Kremlin. It was arranged after Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government wanted to pass along damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as part of its pro-Trump efforts. The meeting was also attended by Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman.
This was all in one day, the result of this or that person placing their bets and rolling the dice long ago. Donald Trump may not realize the “game” here was over long ago, but in the afternoon he told a right-wing radio host that he’s sorry he can’t personally direct the DOJ and FBI to “go after” Hillary Clinton. That’s a different game, and he said this to Larry O’Connor:
The saddest thing is that because I’m the President of the United States I’m not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI, I’m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things I would love to be doing and I’m very frustrated by it. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with the dossier and the kind of money…?
He trailed off wistfully, and Josh Marshall was a bit amazed:
It’s not like you or I can tell the DOJ or the FBI to persecute people we hate. Even Senators can’t do that. Actually, no one can do it. It may happen in practice sometimes. But even the Attorney General is not allowed to use the Justice Department as his personal gang or army. That’s why they call it the “rule of law.”
Marshall sees a man who doesn’t know that the game is already over:
What is most striking to me about these comments is how natural it all seems to him, how frank he is about it. It seems like the most logical thing in the world to him that he should be able to tell the FBI who to ‘go after’ Secretary Clinton. And I think he’s being very genuine about this. It’s both childish and childlike, in addition to being profoundly predatory.
That’s why he fired James Comey. At the most basic level he sees the US government as his company. It goes without saying that Trump would fire an employee who wasn’t following direction or wasn’t loyal, let alone one who he believed might be working against him. They’re “my generals” remember.
But the game is over:
After James Comey was fired and they brought in reasonably professional lawyers, it’s been made clear to President Trump that he can’t be directly interfering with the investigation or using the DOJ as his personal police force. John Kelly is likely a key part of this imperative as well. At the moment at least he’s following this advice. Thus his frustration – but he’s also being pushed by the Roger Stones and Steve Bannon types to go to war with Mueller, perhaps fire him.
It’s too late for that. Like Nixon with Archibald Cox, Trump would be impeached, but Trump might do that. He is who he is. He too placed his bet and rolled the dice long ago. Jill Filipovic – the author of The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness – says that Trump placed his bet and rolled these dice:
Donald Trump is a new kind of old-school American man. In some ways, he’s a throwback to days when authority and power were exclusively white and male by definition, when displays of masculine entitlement were overt and unapologetic. But he’s also a thoroughly modern man-child, the kind of overgrown adolescent you expect to find on internet forums dedicated to video games or anti-feminism: a tweeter of juvenile threats, a crass name-caller, an id unrestrained.
That’s the bet that was supposed to win him everything, but in this context:
American manhood is reshaping itself in two opposing directions, and both archetypes are ones we’ve never seen before. If Barack Obama embodied the new ideal of the progressive man – a hands-on dad and a self-identified feminist married to a high-achieving woman who was once his boss, who is also well mannered and protective of his family – then Mr. Trump is his antithesis, an old-school chauvinist embracing a new code of adolescent anarchy. He is a paradigm of feckless male entitlement, embracing male power while abnegating the traditional masculine requirements of chivalry, courtesy and responsibility.
It was a grand game, but a losing game:
Almost a year ago, he won the presidential election by presenting this version of aggrieved manhood in opposition to Hillary Clinton’s hand-raising Hermione Granger feminism. White American men loved it.
This happened while, in homes across America, the Obama model of manhood had increasingly taken root. Yes, powerful men do abuse their positions to extract sexual services from women or to remind us that no matter how mighty and successful we are, we can be reduced to simple objects of predatory male sexuality. The past few weeks have been a stark reminder that these abuses don’t fall along partisan lines, with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and stories across industries and continents still unfolding in their wake.
Yes, men like Trump are losing this game, because that game was already over:
In much of America, men’s and women’s lives look more similar than they ever have: Women do more work for pay, and men do more care work than they previously have done. Feminists have insisted that women and men alike can and should embody the characteristics we positively associate with both masculinity (power, respect, dependability, providing) and femininity (caregiving, devotion, compassion), and many of our lives have crept closer to this ideal.
To Mr. Trump and many of his increasingly nihilistic supporters, this is a threat to their fantasy of masculinity.
That, in turn, means that Trump speaks only to those who have already lost:
Mr. Trump knows how to speak to them, and he adopted the modern man-child’s medium. When he tweets insults about the stature of those who challenge him – “Liddle Bob Corker” and “Little Marco” Rubio – he’s not just emasculating his tormentors by suggesting that manly authority is tied to height (although he’s doing that, too); he’s adopting the ad hominem rhetorical tactics that are a staple of angry men on Twitter and Reddit.
That leaves him, as they say, stuck on stupid:
A desire to reclaim this psychic masculinity is why Mr. Trump fetishizes a specific (and specifically white) kind of rough-hewed American maleness while embodying an envy-inducing lack of obligation. The white working men of Trump speeches have the kind of dirty-fingernail jobs so revered in the American imagination: coal miners, firefighters, autoworkers. In real life, more Trump voters work in cubicles than in coal mines. But the point was never Trump’s understanding of reality. It was his grasp of white male aspiration and identity.
Mr. Trump’s own life and actions paint an appealing picture of masculine entitlement for those who want power without the shackles of responsibility. He may not be the smartest or most qualified guy in just about any room, but his money allowed him to marry and reproduce with a succession of models, star in a reality television show, live in vulgar gold-plated glory, say whatever offensive thing danced through his brain and still make a successful run for president. It was a plus that in the three Trump marriages, there have been no “power couple” partnerships of equals, just Mr. Trump on “The Howard Stern Show” talking about his wife’s breasts and bragging that he never changed a diaper.
Most American men are unable to actually achieve this level of authority minus accountability; as a result, admiration for men like Mr. Trump gets paired with “if I can’t have it, no one can” nihilism.
If so, America got this:
The president is a perfect figurehead for this bizarre moment: a man who carries all of the negative characteristics of stereotypical masculinity while adopting almost none of the virtues, occupying the most powerful and exclusively male seat of power in the nation (and perhaps in the world), who ascended in large part because a yawning fear of female power kept one of the best-qualified candidates in history out of office. He is ego unchecked, narcissism in place of dignity.
Filipovic then adds this:
In a 1961 essay for Vogue, Joan Didion wrote that people with “self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things.” The piece went on to say, “In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character.” Character, she wrote, is “the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life.”
If so, America’s problem with Russia isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s Donald Trump. He doesn’t accept responsibility for much of anything.
Eugene Robinson puts that this way:
Trump has picked fights that portray white Americans as besieged, offended or disadvantaged by dark and alien others. Rather than embrace the nation’s multicultural diversity, he blames it for a host of problems – crime, terrorism, drug abuse, economic stagnation. He encourages whites to fear the coming day when they are no longer a racial majority. He stokes anxiety by dividing the country into “us” and “them.”
And Trump does all of this cyniclly and deliberately. He saw a handful of black National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem and recognized an opportunity. With a campaign of demagoguery on Twitter, he provoked many more players into joining the protest. But I’m confident he saw that result as a victory, not a failure, because it allowed him to portray a bunch of African American men as unpatriotic for exercising their right to free speech.
Trump is even less inhibited in displaying contempt for Muslims. His repeated attempts at imposing a travel ban covering majority-Muslim countries is not about terrorism; it would do nothing to deter legal-resident or homegrown “lone wolf” attackers, such as the man who allegedly drove a truck down a Manhattan bike path Tuesday and killed eight people. Rather, the call for some sort of draconian religion-based ban is a naked appeal to white Christian nativism.
That may be the grand game here:
Making whites feel embattled and aggrieved is central to the Trump presidency. It is what makes him different from all other recent presidents, perhaps going back as far as Woodrow Wilson, who imposed Jim Crow segregation on the federal workforce. It is what makes Trump so corrosive to the national fabric.
But that grand game is over, isn’t it? Other than a small subset of aggrieved white men, is there anyone who wants to fight the Civil War again? That’s over and the South lost – and the Russia business is over. This or that person, probably including Donald Trump, placed their bets and rolled the dice long ago. There was never one clean moment of decision. The game is over. One should have the courage of one’s mistakes. Do what you can to make the best of things. That’s the only honorable option. Sartre said so. Donald Trump really should do some reading.