Things go right when everything goes wrong. That’s what happened in 1945 with Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend – Ray Milland as the alcoholic writer who loses everything, and Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s first wife, as the good woman who tries to save him from himself. (She does.) This was film noir at its most noir – darker than dark – and it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four – Best Picture and Best Director and Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. It shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival too. People do love seeing everything go wrong. It doesn’t even matter that the alcoholic writer promises to go sober. That’s tagged on at the end of the movie. The audiences came to watch the good stuff. They came to watch everything go wrong. They came to watch Ray Milland disintegrate. That was cool.
That’s not so cool in real life. This was Donald Trump’s lost weekend. He disintegrated, and it wasn’t just the loss of the House in the midterm elections. Other things were going wrong. There was another mass shooting. A former Marine shot and killed eleven college kids in a country and western bar out here in Thousand Oaks, just northwest of Los Angeles, and shot and killed one of the police – a good guy who had rushed in to save the day – and then shot and killed himself. There wasn’t much to say. There wasn’t much to tweet. Who could he be mad at about all this? This was a week after that “nationalist” out to save the nation from that caravan of asylum seekers in Mexico, those invaders, shot and killed all those people at that Pittsburgh synagogue, who he thought were helping the invaders, two days after that white guy in Kentucky decided he’d execute random black folks at the local Kroger store, and did. Things seem to be falling apart. Donald Trump was not going to call for gun control – he thinks that’s stupid and dangerous – but he really couldn’t claim that everyone should now be heavily armed at all times. That would be even more stupid and more dangerous. Even the NRA had fallen silent.
This was not the time to say anything at all – but then, out in Thousand Oaks, a brush fire got out of hand. Within a day a hundred squares miles had burnt to the ground, all the way out to the Pacific, all the way out to Malibu. And things were worse in northern California. The town of Paradise was gone.
That was it. That was something to tweet about. He could be outraged at that. Someone was to blame, and it wasn’t him, but by the end of the weekend, as Politico notes, that was going all wrong:
California Gov. Jerry Brown, now seeking a “major disaster declaration” from the White House to bolster the emergency response to three catastrophic wildfires, warned Sunday that those who deny climate change “are definitely contributing to the tragedy” of what he predicted could be years of damaging firestorms due to rising temperatures and increased drought conditions in his state.
“Things like this will be part of our future… things like this, and worse,” warned Brown at a Sunday press conference, flanked by fire and emergency officials delivering an update on three major fires still raging through the state which have killed 25 to date. “That’s why it’s so important to take steps to help communities, to do prevention and adaptation.”
Jerry Brown was not impressed with the man who had claimed all of that climate change stuff was a hoax cooked up by the Chinese to ruin our economy, or by all the world’s scientists to ruin our economy, because scientists hate capitalism. Jerry Brown was not impressed with what this man had tweeted:
Brown’s remarks came after a tweet by Trump on Saturday in which the president argued: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
This was Jerry Brown’s fault! No more money for him or his state!
“Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change – and those that deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedy,” Brown said. “The chickens are coming home to roost. This is real here.”
Brown’s comments came at the site of a state operations center coordinating the response to three major fires in Butte County, as well as Ventura and Los Angeles counties, which have destroyed over 6,700 structures and forced the evacuation nearly 150,000 residents, with 25 dead and 100 still missing. More than 3,000 firefighters from seven states were battling the blazes whipped up by winds as high as 40 mph in some regions Sunday, officials said.
Trump didn’t seem to care, because this is California:
In August, Trump criticized California wildfire management and threatened to cut off federal aid, inaccurately suggesting that the state was allowing millions of gallons of water to flow to the sea rather than using the water for fighting fires.
The president, who polls show is historically unpopular in the state, has called Brown “Moonbeam,” slamming the governor’s position to limit the role of National Guard troops along the border with Mexico. His latest tweets also came during the same week Republicans suffered big losses in the midterm elections, which could end up with the state’s GOP caucus in the House withering to eight out of 53 members when the full vote count is finished.
During the election cycle, the president also jabbed at Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, calling him a “clown” as he endorsed Newsom’s unsuccessful Republican rival, John Cox, for governor.
Okay, we all called Jerry Brown “Governor Moonbeam” the first time he was governor forty years ago – he was dating Linda Ronstadt and doing the peace-and-love thing, being a social justice Jesuit fellow at the time. Now the state runs a surplus and everything works just fine, and the problem is President Moonbeam:
Trump’s critical comments over the weekend sparked a blistering response from Brian Rice, head of the 30,000-member California Professional Firefighters organization, who called the president’s attack “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to victims and to our firefighters on the front lines.”
Rice directly refuted Trump’s assertion of mismanagement as “dangerously wrong,” noting in a statement that “nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another one-third under private control.” He charged that “it is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”
Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, reacting to Trump in a statement, said, “Our focus is on the Californians impacted by these fires and the first responders and firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property – not on the president’s inane, uninformed tweets.”
This was not going well:
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) also angrily tweeted to Trump: “What is wrong with you? Disaster victims deserve help and sympathy. Oh, and guess who owns much of the forest land in CA? Your federal agencies! CA only owns 2%. Guess who cut funding to forest management in the budget? YOU DID!”
And Rep. Adam Schiff, another California Democrat, slammed Trump’s response on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, saying: “People are losing their lives, losing loved ones, losing their homes. For the president, at a time when people are facing utter disaster, to be making a statement like this, making a threat like this, this just goes to show how little he understands the job he has.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) echoed the California Democrats’ concerns, telling “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to threaten funding. That’s not going to happen. Funding will be available. It always is available to our people wherever they are, whatever disaster they are facing.”
So, the Republican senator here said Trump was all bullshit – don’t take him seriously – but that doesn’t change this:
Three fires are blazing through the state. In Northern California’s Butte County, the Camp fire has destroyed more than 6,700 structures and left 23 people dead, making it the state’s most destructive fire. More than 250,000 have been evacuated – and two have died – in the wake of the Woolsey fire, which has raced through Malibu, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks in Southern California, destroying homes and continuing to threatening parts of Simi Valley and West Hills. The Hill fire burned more than 4,000 acres in canyons near Camarillo Springs and Cal State Channel Islands, west of Thousand Oaks.
A state of emergency has been declared in Los Angeles, Ventura and Butte counties because of multiple fires, and late last week California secured direct federal assistance to further support the affected communities, Brown’s office said.
Yes, Trump released the funds. It was all bluster. But that is who he is:
Trump did not visit California after deadly fires in Santa Rosa and Redding over the summer caused billions of dollars in damage – a decision that many Democrats in the state saw as an intentional slight that contrasted dramatically with the president’s visits to red states like Florida and Texas, which have suffered hurricane damage.
That was an intentional slight – the Republican Party has all but died in California and the state went for Hillary Clinton last time around – two to one. Screw them.
It’s not just them. Jonathan Swan reports this:
President Trump doesn’t want to give Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria, White House officials have told congressional appropriators and leadership. This is because he claims, without evidence, that the island’s government is using federal disaster relief money to pay off debt.
Trump also told senior officials last month that he would like to claw back some of the federal money Congress has already set aside for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery, claiming mismanagement.
No, he can’t do that:
Trump won’t be able to take away disaster funds that have already been set aside by Congress, and sources close to the situation tell me the White House hasn’t asked Republican lawmakers to do so. But Trump could refuse to sign a future spending bill that would make more money available for Puerto Rico’s recovery.
It seems he can only do future damage, and of course this too was a misunderstanding:
In late October, Trump grew furious after reading a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Wirz, according to five sources familiar with the president’s reaction. The article said that “Puerto Rico bond prices soared after the federal oversight board that runs the U.S. territory’s finances released a revised fiscal plan that raises expectations for disaster funding and economic growth.”
President Moonbeam mistook things getting a bit better for a scam:
Sources with direct knowledge told me Trump concluded – without evidence – that Puerto Rico’s government was scamming federal disaster funds to pay down its debt.
On Oct. 23, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico’s “inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
At the same time, White House officials told congressional leadership that Trump was inflamed by the Wall Street Journal article and “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills,” according to a congressional leadership aide. “He was unhappy with what he believed was mismanagement of money,” the aide said. A second source said Trump misinterpreted the Journal article, concluding falsely that the Puerto Rican government was using disaster relief funds to pay down debt.
A third source said Trump told top officials in an October meeting that he wanted to claw back congressional funds that had previously been set aside for Puerto Rico’s recovery. “He’s always been pissed off by Puerto Rico,” the source added.
He’s always been pissed off by California too. He’s always pissed off. He may not be Ray Milland drinking himself into oblivion, but this was a lost weekend.
In fact, Donald Trump was lost in Paris. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Alissa Rubin cover that:
Dozens of leaders from around the globe marched in the soaking rain down the Champs Élysées on Sunday, expressing solidarity for an international order that had its origins in the end of a world war 100 years ago, an order now under increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic.
Only after these leaders arrived by foot at the Arc de Triomphe did President Trump show up, protected from the rain as he made an individual entrance. A few minutes later, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia did the same.
Baker and Rubin think that was unintentionally symbolic, but it was symbolic:
No one has done more to break up the postwar global system in the last couple of years than Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. As the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I was commemorated on Sunday, Mr. Trump’s brand of “America First” nationalism was rebuked from the podium while he sat stone-faced and unmoved, alienated from some of America’s strongest allies, including his French hosts.
That was a bit brutal:
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a speech at the Arc de Triomphe, welcoming the leaders and extolling an old system now under siege. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?'”
Recalling the forces that led to World War I, Mr. Macron warned that “the old demons” have been resurfacing and declared that “giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error that future-generations would, very rightly, make us responsible for.”
Mr. Trump, who recently declared himself “a nationalist,” appeared grim as he listened to the speech through an earpiece and clapped only tepidly afterward. He had no speaking role and made no mention of the issues Mr. Macron raised during an address later at a cemetery for American soldiers killed in the war.
He had, after all, already had his say:
Mr. Trump seeks to rewrite the rules that have governed the world in recent decades. He has abandoned international agreements on trade, nuclear proliferation and climate change, and disparaged alliances like NATO and the European Union.
On the campaign trail this fall, Mr. Trump railed against what he called the “rule of corrupt, power-hungry globalists,” as he put it at a rally in Houston. “You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is? A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that.”
But perhaps we can have that:
Mr. Macron has now, in effect, given a rebuttal. In addition to the speech, he also used an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN that aired Sunday to define himself as “a patriot” rather than a “nationalist.”
“I do defend my country,” Mr. Macron said. “I do believe that we have a strong identity. But I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody, where the nationalists are sometimes much more based on a unilateral approach and the law of the strongest, which is not my case.”
Ah, but not everyone agrees:
Mr. Trump’s views have been embraced by other Western leaders, some of whom, like Viktor Orban in Hungary, have made an anti-immigrant stance the keystone of their policy.
“He’s not isolated,” said Bruce Jentleson, a scholar at Duke University, citing nationalist politicians across Europe. “They’ve all benefited from him as precedent.” Other leaders have even adopted and adapted Trump phrases like “fake news” and “America First” for their countries.
But, Mr. Jentleson said, it “mostly gives him second-tier players like Poland, Hungary, Italy, and not the big guys like Germany and France.”
Trump has made us some strange allies, which may create problems:
Even some of those nationalists do not favor unraveling the world order entirely so much as changing the rules, as with President Xi Jinping of China or the Europeans who want better arrangements within the European Union, not a departure from it.
Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for Europe, said Mr. Trump’s nationalism did not reflect a consensus even within his own administration, which still has senior officials with a more traditional internationalist outlook.
“The danger to the world is not that Trump will lead the nationalists, sweeping them to remake the world in an ugly, pre-1914 image or a dystopian counter-world of the U.S. siding with the fascists in World War II,” he said. “The danger is that Trump may take the U.S. out of the game – à la the interwar period – long enough for one of the serious nationalists, Putin or Xi, to do major damage.”
That is an issue, but there were minor issues too:
Mr. Trump’s two-day visit to Paris was marred by his decision on Saturday to scrap a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought. Aides cited the rain in canceling a helicopter flight, but it went over badly in Europe.
Christopher Dickey comments on that:
Using a little rain (very little) as an excuse, Trump blew off a long-planned visit to the graves of more than 1,000 U.S. Marines killed in the ferocious fight for Belleau Wood in the bloody spring of 1918. No other heads of state failed to make their appointed rounds at battlefield cemeteries. But ironically it seems that Marine One, the presidential helicopter, was deterred by drizzle.
Even Trump’s most credulous supporters must find that hard to believe. And one would like to know what his two most important enablers, the former four-star Marine generals Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, think of the way Trump disrespected those brave members of that proud corps. Probably we will have to wait for their memoirs, but, of course, those will just be part of history.
The truth is, Trump never wanted to be here in the first place, and his performance on Saturday reflected his trademark truculent petulance. He wanted to be in Washington reviewing a massive military parade all his own, like the one he saw in Paris on Bastille Day 2017 — the same one put on every year here in France — which he had taken to be, yes, somehow about him as well.
There was no parade. He was grumpy. He sent Kelly to go stand in the rain, and then, the next day:
Sunday’s event was, as long planned, an assembly of more than 60 heads of state and government, a total of some 90 delegations, who do remember the history of a worldwide war in which millions of people died and the future of humanity was forever altered. But Trump said that attendance was up because the United States (that is, Trump) decided to come.
Maybe Trump’s die-hard American supporters believe this stuff. But the rest of the world sees it as ludicrous and contemptible.
Baker and Rubin then cover Sunday:
Mr. Trump had another chance to pay respects to the war dead on Sunday at the Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris, where 1,565 American soldiers are buried. Speaking in a drenching rain, Mr. Trump paid tribute to the soldiers and praised Franco-American relations, largely sticking to his prepared text without responding to Mr. Macron.
“The American and French patriots of World War I embodied the timeless virtues of our two republics – honor and courage, strength and valor, love and loyalty, grace and glory,” he said after visiting a field of white crosses. “It is our duty to preserve the civilization they defended and to protect the peace they so nobly gave their lives to secure one century ago.”
In contrast to the stiff interactions with the American president, Mr. Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, representing two nations that were once bitter enemies, demonstrated the close friendship that has emerged from the rubble of war. In appearances over the weekend, the French and German leaders – who are facing their own political struggles at home – appeared affectionate, and Mr. Macron on Saturday posted a picture of the two holding hands along with the single word “Unis,” or “United.”
Mr. Putin, on the other hand, seemed focused on Mr. Trump, approaching him at the Arc de Triomphe, shaking his hand and giving a friendly pat on the arm.
And then it was over:
After the ceremony and subsequent lunch, Mr. Macron opened the Paris Peace Forum, a three-day conference to discuss fostering multilateralism. “History will retain an image – that of 84 chiefs of state and of governments united,” he declared.
“What is uncertain for the future is how this image will be interpreted,” he continued. “Will it be a ringing symbol of a durable peace among nations or the photograph of the last moment of unity before the world goes down in new disorder?”
Mr. Trump was not there to help answer that question. He skipped the forum and headed back to the United States.
That was a lost opportunity at the end of a lost weekend, and Max Boot puts this in perspective:
One of the best new histories of the outbreak of World War I, by the Cambridge University historian Christopher Clark, is called “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.” One cannot help thinking of the present day when Clark writes of “monarchs and statesmen” such as Kaiser Wilhelm II who “were positively obsessive about the press and spent hours each day poring through cuttings.” Sound like anyone we know? So, too, we can hear contemporary echoes when Clark describes “aggressive ultranationalist organizations whose voices could be heard in all the European capitals,” even though they “represented small, extremist constituencies.” Their aggressive ideology was the kindling that ignited when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.
There are similar ultranationalist organizations today, and their constituencies are no longer so small. They include the Law and Justice party (the ruling party in Poland), Jobbik (the ruling party in Hungary), United Russia (the ruling party in Russia), the League (one of the ruling parties in Italy), the Freedom Party (one of the ruling parties in Austria), the Alternative for Germany (Germany’s second-most popular party) and the National Rally in France (which is ahead of Macron’s party in a recent poll for European Parliament elections). They are all promoting the kind of nativism and nationalism that was widespread in Europe before World Wars I and II.
But once, long ago, we fixed that:
After 1945, the United States tried to curb the forces of nationalism and encourage international cooperation. President Harry S. Truman, who as a captain in the field artillery served in France in 1918, summed up the American achievement in his 1953 Farewell Address: “After the First World War we withdrew from world affairs – we failed to act in concert with other peoples against aggression – we helped to kill the League of Nations – and we built up tariff barriers that strangled world trade. This time, we avoided those mistakes. We helped to found and sustain the United Nations. We have welded alliances that include the greater part of the free world. And we have gone ahead with other free countries to help build their economies and link us all together in a healthy world trade.”
Boot says that unlike Truman, Trump knows nothing of war, or of history – but then Trump knows nothing of brush fires and forest management – or climate change – or economics as it pertains to bond prices in that Puerto Rico matter. He does, however, despise Puerto Rico and California too – because no one there recognizes his awesomeness. And where is his parade, damn it!
At the end of Billy Wilder’s movie, Ray Milland drops a cigarette into a glass of whiskey to make it undrinkable. There will be no more lost weekends. Fade to black. Roll the credits.
Donald Trump doesn’t smoke. Donald Trump doesn’t drink. There will be more lost weekends like this. But things don’t go right when everything goes wrong. This isn’t a movie.