Present at the Destruction

The world is changing. Donald Trump is a symptom of that change, not the change itself. Canada did toss out the fusty and mean conservative Stephen Harper and elected the progressive and humane and whip-smart young Justin Trudeau. Canadians like him, and in spite of Trump’s sneers so do most Americans – and France did reject the ethno-nationalist Marine Le Pen, publicly supported by Vladimir Putin and informally supported by Donald Trump. Her father, the Holocaust denier, had been banned from French politics for a time. She wanted to “purify” France. She was more of the same. They went with Emmanuel Macron, the young socially progressive technocrat. Obama endorsed him in a video.

Spain just elected a socialist to run things – an atheist who took the oath to protect their constitution without a bible or crucifix anywhere in sight – but Italy just elected a Mussolini wannabe – another ethno-nationalist, or populist as they’re called now, who wants Italy out of the EU and NATO and who just turned away a ship full of refugees – which Spain gladly accepted. Both sides are claiming the moral high ground – but there’s no question in Austria. Sebastian Kurz is a bit of a Nazi – or a national populist – and our ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, is in a bit of hot water for publicly saying he’s wonderful and Angela Merkel is a bit of a loser. The Germans would like another ambassador, but Grenell was a commentator on Fox News and a longtime spokesman for John Bolton, Trump’s new national security advisor, another former commentator on Fox News.

The Germans won’t get another ambassador, and in Britain, Theresa May is in trouble. She didn’t like that whole Brexit thing, but the people voted for it and she’s trying her best to get Britain out of the European Union gracefully, with the least possible damage. Now it seems a good part of the Brexit movement was financed by the Russians – complicating matters quite a bit – and she really doesn’t like Donald Trump and he certainly doesn’t like her. Most of the British people despise Trump. On the other hand, Trump loved the whole Brexit thing, and so did they. Now it seems that was Putin’s idea. She’s in a fix. Trump would like to see her gone. Putin got what he wanted – and our ambassador to Germany is part of the effort to make Angela Merkel go away. There seems to be no effort to get rid of Emmanuel Macron, yet – one thing at a time.

The world is changing. People around the world are choosing sides. Donald Trump is part of this, on one side, the populist side, but he’s not all of this. He just happens to be the biggest part of this, because the United States is now the biggest part of this. The United States is still the only superpower left of what was, that world that is fast disappearing.

George Packer explains what was:

Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State, called his autobiography “Present at the Creation.” The title referred to the task that confronted American leaders at the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, which was “just a bit less formidable than that described in the first chapter of Genesis,” Acheson wrote. “That was to create a world out of chaos; ours, to create half a world, a free half, out of the same material without blowing the whole to pieces in the process.” A network of institutions and alliances – the United Nations, NATO, the international monetary system, and others – became the foundation for “the rules-based international order” that the leaders at the G7 meeting in Charlevoix saluted. It imposed restraints on the power politics that had nearly destroyed the world. It was a liberal order, based on cooperation among countries and respect for individual rights, and it was created and upheld by the world’s leading liberal democracy. America’s goals weren’t selfless, and we often failed to live up to our stated principles. Power politics didn’t disappear from the planet, but the system endured, flawed and adaptable, for seventy years.

And then it was gone:

In four days, between Quebec and Singapore, Trump showed that the liberal order is hateful to him, and that he wants out. Its rules are too confining, its web of connections – from trade treaties to security alliances – unfair. And he seems to find his democratic counterparts distasteful, even pathetic. They speak in high-minded rhetoric rather than in Twitter insults, they’re emasculated by parliaments and by the press, and maybe they’re not very funny. Trump prefers the company of dictators who can flatter and be flattered. Part of his unhappiness in Quebec was due to the absence of President Vladimir Putin; before leaving for the summit, Trump had demanded that Russia be unconditionally restored to the G7, from which it was suspended over the dismemberment of Ukraine. He finds nothing special about democratic values, and nothing objectionable about murderous rulers. “What, you think our country is so innocent?” he once asked.

And that explains this:

Kim Jong-Un is Trump’s kind of world leader. Instead of condemning Kim’s brutal consolidation of power, Trump admires and identifies with it, as if Kim were the underestimated scion of a family real-estate business that has quickly learned the ropes. “When you take over a country – a tough country, with tough people – and you take it over from your father,” Trump told Fox News, “if you can do that at twenty-seven years old, I mean, that’s one in ten thousand that could do that. So he’s a very smart guy.”

And that was that:

Trump, with his instinct for exploiting resentments and exploding norms, has sensed that many Americans are ready to abandon global leadership. The disenchantment has been a long time coming. Barack Obama saw that the American century was ending and wanted to reduce U.S. commitments, but he tried to do so within the old web of connections. In pulling back, he provided Trump with a target. Now Trump is turning retrenchment into rout.

So the world is changing:

What would it mean for the United States to abandon the liberal order? There’s no other rules-based order to replace it with… The alternative to an interconnected system of security partnerships and trade treaties is a return to the old system of unfettered power politics. In resurrecting the slogan “America First” from prewar isolationists who had no quarrel with Hitler, Trump was giving his view of modern history: everything went wrong when we turned outward.

Packer’s 2013 book is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America – “Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward.” That was five years ago. Packer saw this coming. Trump was inevitable. Trump is both a symptom and the disease itself.

Everything went wrong when we turned outward. That seems to be the key operating principle here. That may explain what The New York Times’ Peter Baker reports is happening now:

Leading figures of both parties demanded on Sunday that President Trump halt his administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the border, as the issue further polarized the already divisive immigration debate in Washington.

Republican lawmakers, the former first lady Laura Bush, a conservative newspaper and a onetime adviser to Mr. Trump joined Democrats in condemning family separations that have removed nearly 2,000 children from their parents in just six weeks. The administration argued that it was just enforcing the law, a false assertion that Mr. Trump has made repeatedly.

Trump’s argument is simple. This is not his fault. He didn’t write the law. He is powerless to do anything at all about any of this. Change the law, but the fact-checkers at the New York Times note that’s not quite so:

Mr. Trump has steadfastly tried to deflect blame for the separation of children from their parents, consistently dissembling about why it is occurring. His comments are the latest example of his asking the public to discount what it sees with its own eyes and instead believe his own self-serving version of reality. They also reflect how politically poisonous the issue has become, as photographs and news articles circulate about the effects of the practice.

In fact, there is no law that requires families to be separated at the border. There is a law against “improper entry” at the border, as well as a consent decree known as the Flores settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time that migrant children may be held in immigration detention, which a federal judge ruled in 2016 also applies to families. A 2008 anti-trafficking statute – signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush – also requires that certain unaccompanied alien minors be transferred out of immigration detention in 72 hours. None of those laws or precedents means that children must be taken away from their parents.

It is the Trump administration’s decision this year, to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals, that has forced the breakup of families; the children are removed when the parents are taken into federal custody. While previous administrations have made exceptions to such prosecutions for adults traveling with their minor children, the Trump administration has said it will not do so.

Perhaps that’s too technical, and Baker reports on what is not technical at all:

The issue took on special resonance on Father’s Day as Democratic lawmakers visited detention facilities in Texas and New Jersey to protest the separations and the House prepared to take up immigration legislation this week. Pictures of children warehoused without their parents in facilities, including a converted Walmart store, have inflamed passions and put the administration on the defensive.

Mr. Trump did not directly address the family separations on Sunday, saying only that Democrats should work with Republicans on border security legislation. “Don’t wait until after the election because you are going to lose!” he wrote on Twitter.

And then the Slovenian Sphinx spoke:

Melania Trump weighed in, saying she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together.” Mrs. Trump “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart,” the first lady’s office said in a statement.

By laying responsibility for the situation on “both sides,” Mrs. Trump effectively echoed her husband’s assertion that it was the result of a law written by Democrats. In fact, the administration announced a “zero tolerance” approach this spring, leading to the separations.

She wasn’t helpful:

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, deplored separations on Sunday, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason.

“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said on Face the Nation on CBS. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”

Former President Bill Clinton likewise spoke out, suggesting that Mr. Trump was using the widely denounced practice to leverage Democrats into accepting immigration limits in legislation they would otherwise oppose.

“These children should not be a negotiating tool,” he wrote on Twitter.

That was the general idea, but there was this:

While the president has blamed Democrats, his senior adviser, Stephen Miller, told The New York Times last week that it was “a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period.”

Okay, Trump was just following the law, but even that is complicated:

Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, rejected responsibility for the separations in a series of tweets on Sunday. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she wrote. “Period.”

She distinguished between asylum seekers who try to enter the country at designated points of entry and those who arrive at other parts of the border. “For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law,” she wrote.

But there have been reports of people arriving at the ports of entry asking for asylum and being taken into custody, and some of the designated ports are not accepting asylum claims. In those cases, migrants sometimes cross wherever they can and, because it is not an official border station, are detained even though they are making a claim of asylum. Many would-be asylum applicants do not know where official ports of entry are.

Many of those are detained even though they are making a claim of asylum. That makes sense if everything went wrong when we turned outward. This country will make seeking asylum as difficult as possible, but that leads to things like this:

Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director for President George W. Bush, posted a picture of a Nazi concentration camp on Saturday and wrote, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”

Sebastian Kurz in Austria, a bit of a Trump administration favorite, is a bit of a Nazi. Trump, like everyone else in the world, is choosing sides, or maybe not:

The furor over the separation policy seemed to grow even as the president planned to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday in advance of votes on immigration legislation that has divided his party. Two competing bills are headed to the floor, a hardline immigration measure that is expected to go down, and a compromise version crafted by the House Republican leadership.

Mr. Trump has confused his allies in the House with conflicting signals about his preferences. At one point on Friday, he said he would not sign the “moderate” bill embraced by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, only to have the White House later contradict that by saying the president had been confused.

Things are a mess when the White House says the president had been confused, but they settled that later. The president will sign some sort of bill stopping his people from ripping children from their mothers, as long as that bill contains complete funding for his wall – every single mile of it – right now – take it or leave it. Otherwise, the children die, or something.

He now has leverage, or maybe not:

“President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and often an ally and golfing partner of the president’s, said on CNN on Friday. “I’ll go tell him. If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS stop doing it.”

Anthony Scaramucci, who served briefly as White House communications director last year, said separating children from their families is not “the Christian way” or “the American way,” and made clear he thinks Mr. Trump can end it on his own. “The President can reverse it and I hope he does,” he wrote on Twitter.

The conservative editorial page of The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, agreed on Sunday. “It’s not just that this looks terrible in the eyes of the world,” it wrote. “It is terrible.”

There’s a worldwide surge in national populism. Everyone is choosing sides. Some don’t want to do that.

There’s a reason for that:

President Donald Trump’s policy of taking immigrant children from their parents at the southern border may have been designed to push Democrats to the negotiating table in Congress – but it could end up costing Republican lawmakers…

Anxious Republican lawmakers fear voters may see their party as heartless on immigration and punish them for it in November. And Democrats are driving home that message in emails to supporters and by organizing trips to detention centers.

The issue will “absolutely” be a factor in the midterm elections this fall, said a GOP operative working to elect Republicans to Congress, adding that “the images are devastating” for the GOP.

Forget the children for a moment. This is about retaining control of the government, and there’s a precedent:

Trump tried a similar tactic last year related to the so-called Dreamers, revoking an executive order that granted them protections in an attempt to force Congress to pass legislation that included the border wall he ran on as a candidate. But the effort backfired when federal courts stepped-in and restored the protections for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients.

With the Dreamers taken care of – for now – Democrats no longer had any reason to meet Trump’s demands. A similar scenario is playing out now in that Democrats have managed, despite Trump’s efforts, to place the blame for the border crisis squarely at his doorstep.

Republicans get it:

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he’s not comfortable with children being separated from their families and he added that it “needs to be addressed” with legislation. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said that he is “100 percent supportive of keeping families together.”

Meadows added, “Most of my constituents are pro-family constituents who believe keeping a family unit together is always best.”

A second Republican strategist said, “The media will broadcast these images of brutality and chaos and the public will associate them with the Republicans that run the House and the Senate – but most of all with President Trump.”

Democrats will make this about choosing sides:

Democrats are organizing their supporters around the issue. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who is up for re-election in 2018, sent an email to supporters asking them to sign a petition to stop the “callous, unconscionable, and downright un-American” actions at the border by the administration.

A group of House Democrats of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Pelosi are traveling to the border on Monday to raise attention to the issue.

Democrats insist legislation is not necessary because the actions at the border are the administration’s prerogative, not something required by law, as Trump has claimed. But they have united behind the Keep Families Together Act that says the government is “prohibited” from separating families at the border unless the child is being abused or is being trafficked. Thirty-nine Democrats in the Senate have signed onto the measure in the Senate and a companion version supported by Democrats in the House.

“This is really about our values as a country. It’s who we are as a country,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “And we’re here to say this is just simply wrong and we’ve got to put an end to the taking of minor children from their parents at the border.”

In short, everything did NOT go wrong when we turned outward, but there’s this:

The president incorrectly blames his administration’s policy on Democrats, but regardless of his attempt to pass the responsibility, self-identified Republicans have his back, according to a new Ipsos poll done exclusively for The Daily Beast.

The poll of roughly 1,000 adults aged 18 and over, and conducted June 14-15, asked respondents if they agreed with the following statement: “It is appropriate to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children when they cross the border in order to discourage others from crossing the border illegally.”

Of those surveyed, 27 percent of the overall respondents agreed with it, while 56% disagreed with the statement. Yet, Republicans leaned slightly more in favor, with 46% agreeing with the statement and 32 percent disagreeing.

Self-identified Republicans have chosen sides, and Fred Hiatt notes who won here:

He was fired 10 months ago, but Stephen K. Bannon has won. Truculent, anti-immigrant nationalism; disdain for the “deep state”; disparaging democratic allies while celebrating dictators: These are now the pillars of President Trump’s rule. In his administration’s policy, foreign and domestic, and in the compliant Republican Party, Bannonism is ascendant…

Now, any hint of compromise with Democrats has been purged. The White House defines itself and prepares to motivate its voters by the “enemies” it constantly creates, refines and rediscovers, including African American athletes, the press (“Our Country’s biggest enemy,” in a recent Trump tweet), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“very dishonest and weak”), and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (directing a “Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats”). Also: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Democratic leaders in the Senate and House, former FBI director James B. Comey, his own attorney general, his deputy attorney general… The list will never end.

And that’s that:

Bannonism is not just a snarling attitude. It encompasses contempt for democracy and a respect for authoritarianism. When Trump refused to sign a statement of solidarity with the world’s other six leading industrial democracies and then proceeded to slather praise on North Korea’s dictator (“a tough guy, a very smart guy”), this was not just a sign of personal pique or favoritism: The U.S. president raised questions in the minds of other leaders about whether the concept of the West itself can survive his presidency.

Forget the children for a moment. Can the concept of the West itself survive this presidency? Donald Trump is a symptom of that change, not the change itself – that’s worldwide – but he’s doing what he can. Dean Acheson was present at the creation. All of us are now present at the destruction.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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