The Suddenly Shrinking President

Richard Parker wrote Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America back in 2014 and Karen Olsson ended her review of his book with this:

Parker comes across as a kind of affable tour guide at a major attraction, who explains what’s there in front of you without going too deep. His take-home message, that the problems and opportunities in Texas are the nation’s writ large, is reminiscent of an old quip from Molly Ivins. Texas, she used to say, is just like anyplace else in America, only more so.

That may be the problem now, the problem for Donald Trump, because, Parker says, Texas has just become a turning point for Trump, and for the nation:

If consoling the nation in a time of desperate need is a vital and yet simple task of the American presidency, Donald J. Trump failed miserably this week.

From his flight on Wednesday to Dayton, Ohio, to this sprawling high-desert city on the Mexican border, the 45th occupant of the White House not only littered his consolation tour with petty insults – but just to rub salt in the wound, doses of renewed racism. Yet most striking was how alone and outnumbered the president was: rejected, ostracized and told to go home.

The people who streamed the scene of the terrorist attack here – brown, black, white and every hue in between – defiantly defended the nation’s diversity. With no public appearances, the president seemed to shrink, ever more alone as he clung to his white nationalist politics and governance. But he and his supporters were grossly outnumbered.

For perhaps the first time in his angry, racist and cruel presidency, the tables were turned in smoldering, righteous popular anger – and he was on the receiving end.

Parker documents that, in detail, and adds this summary:

Something is shifting. Mr. Trump may not have felt it during his few hours in town, but walking around, you couldn’t miss it. The El Paso massacre brought together the most active of America’s shifting tectonic plates: racism, assault weapons, a national Latino population of 60 million now with a target on its back, Mr. Trump’s white nationalism and his awful manners for a country in mourning.

Another president might have been sensitive enough to sense the shift, and changed course accordingly – played the convener, the unifier. Instead, Mr. Trump displayed just how small he is, no matter how big his mouth or powerful his office. He never once appeared in public. By 6:01 p.m., after just a little more than two hours, he was safely aboard Air Force One again and it was wheels up into the sky.

But he is a shrinking president, stuck in a racist past, flying over a changing America.

And everyone knows this:

President Donald Trump bragged on Twitter about how successful his visits to El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday were, but apparently his own aides thought the whole situation was a mess.

“Does the White House think this visit went well, Maggie?” CNN host John Berman asked New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman on Thursday.

“No, they don’t,” Haberman replied. “Most people, while they would, I suspect, not say it publicly, will privately admit that yesterday was something of a debacle and that these were not the headlines they wanted to see.”

“They wanted him to go in and behave differently,” she continued. “The goal was for him to go in and get out while making as little news as possible.”

But the man is who he is:

Haberman said that Trump “couldn’t stop watching” the news on Wednesday, which caused him to lash out at Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D), 2020 Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke, and various TV reporters on the same day he was supposed to focus on comforting the victims of the weekend’s deadly mass shootings and their families.

He should have known better. Others know better. David Nakamura reports on others who know that something has changed:

Hours after the mass shooting in El Paso last weekend, Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, issued a tweet in the organization’s name denouncing the “tragic” carnage and urging Americans to “stand together against senseless rage and destructive impulses.”

FAIR – a leading proponent of restricting immigration – typically provides its 300,000 followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Facebook with links to studies, news stories and podcasts warning of the economic, public safety and environmental costs of high immigration levels.

But Stein made no mention in his tweet of the online document police believe was written by the alleged killer, Patrick Wood Crusius, which cited many of the same arguments against immigration as a rationale and motivation for the attack that killed 22 people in a predominantly Hispanic city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

He’s no dummy:

Stein’s decision to rapidly issue a statement condemning the El Paso massacre – the group did not comment on the weekend’s other mass shooting, in Dayton, Ohio – reflects a sense of alarm among FAIR and the small cohort of other restrictionist groups about potential political fallout from the massacres.

These groups do need to be careful now:

Long relegated to the fringes of the debate, these organizations have moved center stage under President Trump – helping to provide the intellectual and ideological framework for the administration’s hardline immigration agenda, one that immigrant rights advocates have decried as xenophobic and racist.

In an interview, Stein repeatedly brushed aside connections between FAIR’s ideology and the suspect’s, casting doubt on whether Crusius wrote the document and saying it was unfair to attribute those views as the reason for a deadly rampage.

In short, this had nothing to do with them, but maybe it did:

FAIR, along with two other Washington-based restrictionist groups, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA, have avoided linking their positions to race or ethnicity, but they have pushed similar arguments about the burden that immigrants place on the native-born, and the purported difficulties they pose to assimilation in American culture and society…

All three restrictionist groups were founded by John Tanton, a Michigan doctor who professed support for eugenics, a widely debunked belief that certain beneficial human traits can be made more prominent in a population through selective breeding.

Tanton, who died last month at 85, rejected criticism that his interest in immigration was based on race and ethnicity. But according to a 2011 profile in the New York Times, he wrote to a donor that he was concerned about “the decline of folks who look like you and me,” and he warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Okay, he was a nasty crackpot, but these folks have joined Team Trump:

Top Trump administration aides, including White House adviser Stephen Miller, the man behind some of the administration’s most restrictive policies, have met with the groups and asked them to pass along studies and data.

Jon Feere, a former policy analyst at CIS, now serves as a senior adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Julie Kirchner, who worked at FAIR for a decade, is the ombudsman at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), while two other FAIR alums, Elizabeth Jacobs, a former lobbyist, and Robert Law, who was the group’s government relations director, serve as senior advisers at USCIS.

Their presence illustrates an important distinction. While the president rails most often in public about illegal immigration, the groups are focused more intently on the broader ideological project of slashing legal immigration levels, which the Trump administration has sought to do by limiting asylum seekers, refugee admissions and guest workers.

But things may have shifted. Trump may have overplayed his hand. There may be nowhere to hide now:

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson announced that he is leaving for vacation Wednesday, after his comments about white supremacy being a “hoax” set off a firestorm and garnered the endorsement of David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Fox News claims that the vacation was planned before the controversy unraveled.

Carlson said Tuesday night on his show that white supremacy is “just like the Russia hoax” and that “it’s a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power.”

He made the comments just days after a shooter in El Paso killed 22 people, seemingly motivated by his white nationalist beliefs.

His comments earned approval from Duke, one of the most infamously virulent white nationalists.

People now notice such things:

Fox News and host Tucker Carlson are losing more advertisers.

Long John Silver’s will no longer advertise on Fox News, as confirmed to Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone.

Nestlé and HelloFresh, which have advertised on Carlson’s show in the past, told The Hollywood Reporter they were no longer running ads on the show. Nestlé said it had no plans to do so in the future…

In December 2018, Carlson lost more than 20 advertisers after suggesting that immigrants are making the United States “dirtier.” He never issued an apology and later doubled down on the racist sentiment.

But this time may be different. There really is no place to hide:

The State Department has put on leave an employee of its energy bureau after reports that he has been an active member of a white supremacist group for more than five years, two sources familiar with the situation said on Thursday.

Matthew Gebert, a foreign affairs officer for the department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, was linked to the Washington D.C.-area chapter of a white supremacist organization and published racist propaganda online, according to a report published Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate speech.

In a May 2018 episode of a white nationalist podcast, Gebert, speaking under a pseudonym, called for white people to establish “a country of our own with nukes, and we will retake this thing lickety split,” according to the SPLC report.

“We need a country founded for white people with a nuclear deterrent. And you watch how the world trembles,” the report quoted him saying.

And he’s been there for years:

Former State Department officials expressed surprise that security screenings had not flagged Gebert’s involvement with the hate groups. Gebert would have undergone a routine screening before starting his position and another at his five-year work anniversary, said Amos Hochstein, who served as special envoy and coordinator for the State Department’s international energy affairs from 2014 to 2017 and was Gebert’s boss.

“It is inconceivable he got security clearance twice,” Hochstein told Politico. “If Gebert was Muslim or a person of color, it would have been caught. Neo-Nazis are not all shaved heads and tattoos; they are hiding in plain sight. I’m horrified Gebert worked for me at the State Department.”

Hochstein knows better now. There are horrible people embedded in the government now. And that means, now, some people will have to choose sides:

The top U.S. diplomat to Latin America resigned this week amid tension over President Trump’s immigration policies, the Associated Press reported.

Two officials and a congressional aide who spoke to the AP offered varying rationales for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier’s exit. The two officials said her departure was centered on family issues, but the congressional aide pointed to a difference of opinion on immigration policy on asylum with Guatemala as reason for the exit.

According to the Washington Post, which first reported Breier’s departure, the top diplomat was recently scolded in an email chain by White House policy adviser and unofficial hardline immigration reform champion Stephen Miller. Miller reportedly said Breier was not publicly defending the Guatemala asylum agreement strongly enough. The agreement requires Central American migrants to first seek asylum in Guatemala before they can do so in America.

Breier was also unhappy with the White House’s level of interference on issues related to immigration and trade with Mexico, according to the Post.

She knew the place was being run by ideologically-purist total amateurs. So it was time to bail, although the Post offers telling details:

Earlier in her government career, Breier, who holds degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies, also handled regional issues as a CIA analyst and at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. Immediately before becoming assistant secretary, she handled Latin American issues in the department’s policy planning office…

She is the latest in a steady turnover at the assistant secretary level. Although Pompeo has filled many of the jobs left vacant by his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, a number are still held by acting officials, and at least four have departed this year, including A. Wess Mitchell, the top diplomat in charge of European affairs.

In May, Yleem Poblete, assistant secretary for arms control verification and compliance and a prominent Iran hawk, resigned. Poblete’s views were reportedly more aligned with those of White House national security adviser John Bolton than her direct supervisor at the State Department. Earlier this month, Kiron Skinner, who headed the State Department office of policy planning, was forced out of her job over personnel clashes.

Officials said Breier, a Mexico expert, was not necessarily opposed to administration policies in the region but chafed at the level of control exerted by the White House over immigration and trade-dominated relations with Mexico and other matters.

So the problem was the total amateurs:

One senior administration official said she had been chastised, in a particularly unpleasant recent email chain, by White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, who considered her insufficiently committed to publicly defending last month’s sudden agreement over asylum between President Trump and the government of Guatemala.

The safe-third-country agreement requires Central American migrants to seek asylum in Guatemala and be rejected there before the United States will consider their asylum requests here. Pompeo reportedly objected to the White House-negotiated deal on grounds that Guatemala, one of the world’s most violent countries, was not equipped to provide secure refuge for migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador.

Others in the department – some of whom have circulated for signatures a dissent channel memo on the subject – have also objected to it on the grounds that it violates U.S. asylum law.

Stephen Miller didn’t care, so Donald Trump didn’t care. Mike Pompeo cared, but he always caves to Trump.

But others don’t cave. Chuck Park decided that he’d cave in no more:

I was 26, newly married and more than a little idealistic when I set off for my first diplomatic assignment almost a decade ago as a member of the 157th class of commissioned U.S. Foreign Service officers.

According to a certain type of right-leaning conspiracy theorist, that would make me part of “The Deep State” – a shadowy government within the government that puts its own interests above the expressed wishes of the electorate. Adherents to this theory believe that thousands of federal workers like me are plotting furiously to subvert the Trump administration at every turn. Many on the left, too, hope that such a resistance is secretly working to save the nation from the worst impulses of President Trump.

They have it all wrong.

In fact, they have it backwards:

Like many in my cohort, I came into the government inspired by a president who convinced me there was still some truth to the gospel of American exceptionalism. A child of immigrants from South Korea, I also felt a duty to the society that welcomed my parents and allowed me and my siblings to thrive.

Over three tours abroad, I worked to spread what I believed were American values: freedom, fairness and tolerance. But more and more I found myself in a defensive stance, struggling to explain to foreign peoples the blatant contradictions at home.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, I spoke of American openness and friendship at consulate events as my country carried out mass deportations and failed thousands of “dreamers.” I attended celebrations of Black History Month at our embassy in Lisbon as black communities in the United States demanded justice for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and the victims of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. And in Vancouver, I touted the strength of the United States’ democracy at the consulate’s 2016 election-night party as a man who campaigned on racism, misogyny and wild conspiracy theories became president-elect.

Since then, I have seen Trump assert the moral equivalence of violent white nationalists and those who oppose them and denigrate immigrants from “shithole countries” and separate children from their parents at the border, only to place them in squalid detention centers.

But none of that created a Deep State:

Almost three years since his election, what I have not seen is organized resistance from within. To the contrary, two senior Foreign Service officers admonished me for risking my career when I signed an internal dissent cable against the ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries in January 2017. Among my colleagues at the State Department, I have met neither the unsung hero nor the cunning villain of Deep State lore. If the resistance does exist, it should be clear by this point that it has failed.

The resistance does not exist, but Park says this does:

I am part of the Complacent State.

The Complacent State sighs when the president blocks travel by Muslim immigrants; shakes its head when he defends Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; averts its gaze from images of children in detention camps. Then it complies with orders.

Every day, we refuse visas based on administration priorities. We recite administration talking points on border security, immigration and trade. We plan travel itineraries, book meetings and literally hold doors open for the appointees who push Trump’s toxic agenda around the world.

But something has changed:

We shrink behind a standard argument – that we are career officials serving nonpartisan institutions. We should be named and shamed. But how should we respond? One thing I agree with the conspiracy theorists about: The Deep State, if it did exist, would be wrong. Ask to read the commission of any Foreign Service officer, and you’ll see that we are hired to serve “during the pleasure of the President of the United States.” That means we must serve this very partisan president.

Or else we should quit.

Things changed. The president shrunk. He quit. That’s the new environment:

President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he will name Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting director of national intelligence, following his aborted effort to install a political loyalist.

Maguire is a retired Navy admiral not steeped in the inner workings of the intelligence community, but his appointment was seen as steadying in the middle of a tumultuous shake-up in the top ranks of the country’s spy agencies.

That’s a compromise. He knows nothing. But he’s not a jerk. That will do for now:

As Trump announced Maguire’s appointment, he also said that Sue Gordon, the deputy director of national intelligence, would resign and not serve in the acting role when director Daniel Coats also departs next week.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers had said they wanted Gordon, a career intelligence official, to fill in for Coats. But Trump was reluctant to keep someone with whom he had never formed a close bond. The president and his aides also regarded her as a career official and consequently suspicious, according to officials with knowledge of the president’s views.

That’s a nice way to say that they regarded her as part of the Deep State, that shadowy government within the government that puts its own interests above the expressed wishes of the electorate and wants to overthrow Trump in a coup of some sort – per Fox News most nights. So this was the battle to save democracy or something, or it was just stupid stuff:

Trump had intended to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as the director of national intelligence. But Radcliffe’s potential nomination collapsed amid bipartisan criticism about his lack of national security expertise and allegations that he padded his résumé as a former federal prosecutor.

In her letter of resignation, Gordon emphasized her years of experience and praised intelligence agency employees.

“I am confident in what the Intelligence Community has accomplished, and what it is poised to do going forward,” Gordon wrote. “I have seen it in action first-hand. Know that our people are our strength, and they will never fail you or the Nation. You are in good hands.”

That was a subtle slap-down. She knows what is going on. Others know too:

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Gordon, but didn’t signal that he would oppose Maguire as the acting director.

“Sue Gordon’s retirement is a significant loss for our Intelligence Community,” the senator said in a statement. “In more than three decades of public service, Sue earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues with her patriotism and vision. She has been a stalwart partner to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I will miss her candor and deep knowledge of the issues.”

Why was he insulting the president? He was insulting the president because he could. The president is shrinking. Trump seems to have no idea what to do next:

Current and former intelligence officials were relieved by Maguire’s appointment, although it wasn’t clear whether Trump would formally nominate him as the permanent intelligence director.

Who knows what he’ll do? But others know what he’s doing:

Congressional Democrats said Trump has pushed out Gordon as part of a plan to bring the intelligence agencies to heel.

“President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is seemingly incapable of hearing facts that contradict his own views,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

“The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. Yet in pushing out two dedicated public servants in as many weeks, once again the President has shown that he has no problem prioritizing his political ego even if it comes at the expense of our national security,” Warner said.

“The retirements of Dan Coats and Sue Gordon represent a devastating loss to the Intelligence Community, and the men and women who serve in it,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

“Gordon brought decades of experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the agencies to bear, and her absence will leave a great void. These losses of leadership, coupled with a president determined to weed out anyone who may dare disagree, represent one of the most challenging moments for the Intelligence Community.”

But there’s Richard Burr and other Republican senators like him, saying the same things about this woman. Something may have just changed. This was the week the president shrunk. Let him nominate Ted Nugent or Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson. He may not get what he wants now. Richard Parker may be right. Things did change in El Paso. Texas is just like anyplace else in America, only more so. Some of us now hope so.

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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