Generalissimo Trump

Donald Trump is not subtle. Donald Trump does not like “rules” or conventions or niceties or norms or traditions. Fools follow those. Losers follow those. He is neither so doesn’t follow those at all. He won’t be politically correct. He won’t be courteous. He will, in fact, do what no one else will do, and everyone saw that in the last presidential debate:

Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation,” Trump said, “because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.”

Of course he had been saying that for months:

“I will say this, Hillary Clinton has got to go to jail,” Trump told supporters here as he slammed Clinton’s foreign policy speech earlier in the day in which Clinton called Trump dangerous and “temperamentally unfit” to be president.

“Folks, honestly, she’s guilty as hell,” Trump said of the Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

So that led to this at that last debate:

Clinton responded first by calling Trump’s comments about her emails false and then said, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Trump, as if continuing her sentence, added: “Because you’d be in jail.”

After the debate, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta dismissed the remark, telling CNN’s Brianna Keilar that Trump would never get the chance to follow through.

John Podesta was wrong about that, but Trump did not follow through. He didn’t direct Jeff Sessions to get a special prosecutor to begin the process that would end with her in jail for life, or executed for treason, or whatever else Trump’s base thought that they’d heard him say. He let that slide. Perhaps he wanted to appear magnanimous. Perhaps it was an insult – she wasn’t worth the effort – or perhaps he got wind of all the words written about this. Banana republics work that way – despots retain power by jailing their political rivals – and reporters too (he had suggested that too) – and America is not a banana republic. Here, so far, we argue. We disagree. Then we vote, to settle things, and then we do it all again. Our leaders don’t remove those who oppose them. Our leaders convince voters that they have better ideas than that other person. No one goes to jail. No one is “disappeared” like all those pesky people in Chili long ago.

Trump asked why not? At the nomination convention, Michael Flynn led the chants – Lock her up! That was chanted at every rally. It still is – and Flynn is now the convicted felon going to jail. So are Trump’s campaign manager, and that manager’s assistant, and Trump’s personal lawyer, and so on. Trump named Flynn his national security advisor. Flynn lasted twenty-four days. But none of that seems to matter. The core idea here is that you don’t stop when you win. You wipe out those who had challenged you. You punish them for challenging you. Democracy may thrive on the lively or even nasty clash of competing ideas, but there’s a way to bypass that tedious nonsense. Jail those who oppose you. That ends all future argument. Even a credible threat of jail (or worse) does the job. They’ll shut up. You win.

The message is clear. Don’t go up against this guy. If you win he’ll make sure you pay for that – he’ll never forget and he’ll never forgive anything, ever. And if he wins he’ll destroy you anyway, for daring to challenge him in the first place. It’s a message he likes to send to the rest of the world. Raise an issue and your life as you know it is over.

Hillary Clinton is safe. She really doesn’t matter at all now. Something else matters more now. Robert Mueller and all the rest investigated President Trump. Attorney General Barr reviewed their findings. The president is fine – no issues, really – so now it’s time for all of those investigating the president to pay, big time, but not for clearing him of course. They’ll pay for looking into things:

Attorney General William Barr suggested to lawmakers Wednesday that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was spied on, saying he will be looking into the “genesis” of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said, echoing some of the more inflammatory claims lobbed by the President for months, but declining to elaborate on his concerns. “I think spying did occur.”

He did not provide evidence for his claims.

That wasn’t necessary:

The news will likely be viewed as a welcome development to the President, who has regularly called for an investigation and, as recently as last week, told reporters more should be done to examine the origins of the Russia probe.

That was not welcome elsewhere:

Congressional Democrats fumed Wednesday over Barr’s statements, accusing the attorney general of mischaracterizing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in an effort to please Trump.

“I’m amazed that the AG would make that kind of statement, I think it’s in many ways disrespectful to the men and women who work in the DOJ, and it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance on what goes into a counterintelligence investigation,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN.

“These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us,” tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who authorized the subpoena for the Mueller report. “I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately.”

Barr got it and started the walk-back:

“For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said. “I’m not suggesting those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at… I think it’s my obligation.”

He added that he’s not launching a full blown investigation into the FBI and does not view it as a problem that is “endemic” to the FBI, but has in mind some colleagues to help him “pull all this information together, and letting me know if there are some areas that should be looked at.”

So this was a legitimate investigation with a few flaws, but that’s not how Barr’s boss sees it:

Trump said Wednesday morning that Barr was doing a “great job” and “getting started on going back to the origins on where exactly this all started because it was an illegal witch hunt.”

“This was an attempted coup, this was an attempted takedown of a president,” Trump said.

And will Barr now agree with that? Kevin Drum sees this:

What Barr is talking about is normally referred to as “investigation.” The FBI did indeed investigate various members of the Trump campaign, and there has never been the slightest evidence that it was improper. The case was precipitated by a tipsy George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Australians reported the meeting and the FBI began its investigation.

Donald Trump doesn’t see that. He sees an attempted coup. Paul Waldman sees this:

As we now know, in 2016, Russia mounted a comprehensive effort to help get Trump elected president of the United States. That effort included social media propagandizing, outreach to Trump campaign officials and the hacking of Democratic emails.

The FBI began its counterintelligence investigation in the early summer of 2016 when it was alerted that a Trump campaign adviser had bragged that Russia had in its possession stolen Clinton emails that could be used to embarrass her.

And then what should have been straightforward got odd:

That investigation confronted two broad questions: What was the nature of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and was the Trump campaign involved? We can argue about how to interpret everything the investigation eventually uncovered. But the Republican position – and we have to be clear about this, because it’s utterly bonkers – has in effect been that there should never have been any FBI investigation at all into the Russian attack on the U.S. election.

A more sane group of people would say that while of course Russia’s attack on our electoral system was important to investigate, that investigation hasn’t shown criminality by the president and his associates (well, apart from the crimes Mueller found by members of Trump’s inner circle), so in the end, they were vindicated, sort of. We could argue about that conclusion, too, but that’s not the position Republicans are taking. They’re saying the entire investigation was illegitimate from the get-go.

A less ludicrous position might be that though the investigation was legitimate, the particular way it was carried out was problematic. Republicans make arguments on this score as well, but they’re not much more tethered to reality. Their theory is that there was a vast and ruthless conspiracy within the Justice Department and specifically the FBI – just for the record, probably the most politically conservative agency in the entire federal government – to destroy Trump.

And a saner and less ludicrous Republican approach would note this:

There is no genuine evidence that any actions anyone took in the course of the investigation displayed improper anti-Trump bias. Peter Strzok? Nope. Strzok, who had a key role in the counterintelligence investigation of Russian meddling, exchanged text messages in which he disparaged Trump, in what must surely have been the first case in history in which an investigator held one of his targets in low esteem.

Those texts were publicly released by the Justice Department, which is why we know they exist. What we don’t have, for instance, are text messages exchanged by the FBI agents in the New York office who were reportedly consumed with their hatred of Hillary Clinton, because they were not released.

But having established that someone working on the Russia investigation disliked Trump, Republicans spun out a story of a vast conspiracy to destroy the future president running through the government. The only trouble was that they could never find any evidence that such a conspiracy existed.

But they will keep looking, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent will look elsewhere:

Attorney General William P. Barr made the remarkable claim that the Trump campaign might have been the target of “spying” by law enforcement during the 2016 campaign… In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that this claim is nothing short of alarming.

“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.”

It’s unclear what “spying” Barr was pointing to, beyond the fact that law enforcement did undertake an investigation of Russian interference and possible conspiracy with it. Trump has made many extremely lurid variations of the same claim, including suggesting that President Barack Obama ordered his phone tapped.

Things had gotten out of hand, it was Democrats Gone Wild, but it was only Trump:

Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight -the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties – were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.

“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”

“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.

And pleasing the boss is a serious problem in this case:

“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded.

This could presumably include figures such as former FBI director James B. Comey, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic. (In this context, recall that Barr had previously said the fake Uranium One Hillary Clinton scandal was more worthy of investigation than collusion with Russia was.)

“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”

That’s banana republic stuff as is this:

“You can hire an attorney general who has applied for the job by telling you why he thinks the case against you is bogus,” Schiff continued. “That new attorney general can then selectively edit the work of an independent or special prosecutor, and allow the Congress and the public to see only parts of it. And that new attorney general can also initiate inquiries into the president’s political opponents.”

And then you can toss your political opponents in jail. And then you can wear the Generalissimo uniform, with all the braid and the riding crop and the high shiny boots. That might be next, but Donald Trump never was a subtle man.

And this is what the nation walked into. This really is bananas.

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Now the Purge

Donald Trump fired Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, or he forced her to resign, or they mutually agreed she should resign, or she quit because the situation was hopeless. The odd thing is that she did what she was asked to do, as Dana Milbank explains here:

Nobody debased herself quite as often as Nielsen did in her quest to keep the job, defending Trump after the “shithole countries” and Charlottesville scandals, enduring frequent rebukes from Trump and leaks about her imminent firing, embracing his incendiary language and enduring his extralegal instincts, swallowing her moral misgivings to embrace the family-separation policy (while denying any such policy existed), and implausibly claiming that children weren’t being put in cages.

No one should forget the details:

Nielsen had already made her famous counterfactual assertion: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” She later stood next to Trump as he signed an order rescinding the policy they supposedly didn’t have.

When multiple witnesses described a meeting at which Trump said he wanted more immigrants from Norway and called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries,” Nielsen, who attended the meeting, said, “I don’t recall him saying the exact phrase.”

At a hearing, a senator asked her rhetorically, “Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?”

“I actually do not know that, sir,” Nielsen replied, though allowing she could “imagine” that to be true.

She’d “take a bullet” for this president:

Another thing Nielsen professed not to know: the conclusion by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to boost Trump. “I’m not aware of that,” she said…

So dedicated was Nielsen to avoiding any contradiction of Trump that she echoed his view that there were “very fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville. “I think what’s important about that conversation is, it’s not that one side is right, one side is wrong,” Nielsen said of the white supremacists and counterdemonstrators.

No amount of public disgrace could deter her from serving the president’s whims. During the family-separation imbroglio, she dined at a Mexican restaurant, where hecklers pounced. Nancy Pelosi called her actions “morally reprehensible.” Even her high-school classmates called for her resignation.

But that wasn’t enough and Michael Gerson sees this:

In the end, the burnt offering of a staffer’s character is not enough. After trying to enforce and anticipate Trump’s cruel or irrational whims, he or she is generally packed off without ceremony, with diminished professional respect and, presumably, with diminished self-respect. Trump has taken what should be the honor of a lifetime – serving the country at the highest levels of the executive branch – and turned it into a reputational black hole.

This was, however, her choice:

After a career generally characterized by competence, Nielsen chose to reflect Trump’s priorities. Maybe she reasoned to herself that she was implementing the president’s agenda more humanely than others would have done. Aristotle once defined human beings as rational animals. They are, at least, rationalizing animals.

But the separation of crying migrant children from their parents as a deterrent, and the housing of children in prisonlike conditions, will be some of the most enduring political images of the Trump era. It says something about Nielsen that she took part in such practices. It says something about Trump that such actions were apparently too moderate and restrained for his taste.

Of course there’s more to this story, and CNN’s Jake Tapper taps his sources and comes up with this:

Two Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials – including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more – the President, according to one attendee, was “ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue.”

He was saying that the stuff was what actually defines him. Nothing else really does. This was who he was and is. This is all he’s got now, and no one will take that away from him:

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: “I don’t care.”

This was, after all, an existential threat to him – a threat to his reason for living, his “existence” – but this had to be worked out:

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to have been able to talk the President out of closing the port of El Paso. Trump, however, was insistent that his administration begin taking another action — denying asylum seekers entry. Nielsen tried to explain to the President that the asylum laws allow migrants from Central America to come to the US and gain entry. She talked to the White House counsel to see if there were any exceptions, but he told her that her reading of the law was correct.

Trump hated all this, and stewed about all this, and then took a trip west:

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full – can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

They faced the same dilemma Kirstjen Nielsen faced. The president is asking you to break the law. You can choose him or the law. Think this through. That really is the issue now:

Senior administration officials also told CNN that in the last four months or so, the President has been pushing Nielsen to enforce a stricter and more widespread “zero tolerance” immigration policy – not just the original policy started by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and undone by the President once it was criticized – that called for the prosecution of individuals crossing the border illegally between ports of entry, resulting in the separation of parents from children.

According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.

Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they could not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers tried to explain it would be an unmitigated PR disaster.

“He just wants to separate families,” said a senior administration official.

Of course he does. This is who he is – this is what defines him – but there is more to the world than just him:

Nielsen tried to present a path forward that was legal and in compliance with US laws but the President said to her, “This isn’t working.” And Nielsen did not disagree.

“At the end of the day,” a senior administration official said, “the President refuses to understand that the Department of Homeland Security is constrained by the laws.”

But that can be fixed. The Department of Homeland Security can be purged of those who believe that this department is constrained by the laws. Getting rid of Nielsen was just the start:

President Trump moved to clear out the senior ranks of the Department of Homeland Security on Monday, a day after forcing the resignation of its secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, as he accelerated a purge of the nation’s immigration and security leadership.

The White House announced the departure of Randolph D. Alles, the director of the Secret Service, who had fallen out of favor with the president even before a security breach at his Mar-a-Lago club that the agency effectively blamed on Mr. Trump’s employees.

Government officials, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel changes before they were announced, said at least two to four more high-ranking figures affiliated with Ms. Nielsen were expected to leave soon, too, hollowing out the top echelon of the department managing border security, presidential safety, counterterrorism, natural disasters, customs and other matters.

Trump wants something different – something really harsh – and he told his man to make it so:

The shake-up, coming more than two years into Mr. Trump’s term, indicated that he is still searching for a team that will fulfill his desire for an even tougher approach to immigration. It also signaled the enduring influence of Stephen Miller, the president’s hardline senior adviser who has complained about recalcitrant homeland security officials.

He told Miller to take care of all this no matter what anyone thought about this:

Some of the president’s allies complained that he was going too far, taking out subordinates who actually share his goals on immigration at the prodding of White House aides hunting for scapegoats for the failure to control the border as he has promised to do.

Of course the failure to control the border as he has promised to do, as he had shouted he would do at countless rallies, might be his own failure, but since he cannot or will not fire himself, other heads will roll:

The latest shuffle came just a day after Mr. Trump pushed out Ms. Nielsen for not doing enough in his view to secure the border and three days after Ronald D. Vitiello, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was told to step aside so the administration could go in a “tougher direction,” as Mr. Trump put it…

Officials said they expect to see the departures of L. Francis Cissna, the head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, one of his top deputies; and John Mitnick, the department’s general counsel and a senior member of Ms. Nielsen’s leadership team. All of them were said to be viewed by Mr. Miller as obstacles to implementing the president’s policies.

Miller came up with the enemies list, Trump shrugged and gave the nod, and they’re gone, with this wrinkle:

The White House is also pressing for the resignation of Claire Grady, the acting deputy secretary, who under law would normally fill in for Ms. Nielsen. Mr. Trump has already announced that he will install Kevin K. McAleenan, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner, as Ms. Nielsen’s acting replacement, which he cannot do if Ms. Grady remains in place.

That’s a minor detail, because this was mostly about settling scores:

The latest moves appeared to be a housecleaning of officials associated with John F. Kelly, the president’s former chief of staff and his first homeland security secretary, who was pushed out at the end of last year after months of tension with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Alles, a retired Marine major general who served with Mr. Kelly in the military and goes by “Tex” was the first person from outside the Secret Service to head the agency in more than a century and some administration officials said he had a hard time fitting in…

Mr. Trump, who talks with members of his own Secret Service detail, had soured on Mr. Alles a while ago, convinced that as an outsider he was not popular among the agents, officials said. The president even made fun of the director’s looks, calling him Dumbo because of his ears.

The ears did it, and now the place has been hollowed out:

The latest departures, along with previous vacancies, will leave the Department of Homeland Security without a permanent secretary, deputy secretary, two undersecretaries, Secret Service director, Federal Emergency Management Agency director, ICE director, general counsel, citizenship and immigration services director, inspector general, chief financial officer, chief privacy officer and, once Mr. McAleenan moves, Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

That puts no one in charge of most everything there, and there will be no one to tell Trump that this or that is illegal or really dumb or quite repulsive. They’d have to tell Miller anyway, not Trump – Miller is his man on this. It’s a worry:

“The purge of senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security is unprecedented and a threat to our national security,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, complained about “congressional dysfunction” in addressing border security, but added, “I am concerned with a growing leadership void within the department tasked with addressing some of the most significant problems facing the nation.”

Trust Miller. Trump does. Alex Shephard does not:

In a White House defined by dysfunction and turnover – the departments of justice, defense, and veterans affairs are all led by acting directors – Miller is the thriving cockroach. It’s no secret why: He has shown an unwavering commitment to Trump’s toxic immigration agenda, perhaps even more so than the president himself. Miller’s expanding influence and seemingly permanent tenure suggest that Trump’s immigration policies will become even more radical than those he implemented during his first two years in office.

Shephard calls this the Miller Presidency:

Prematurely balding, with a somewhat vampiric face, Miller is an experienced troll after Trump’s own heart. In high school, he would try to own his liberal classmates by railing against feminism and bilingualism, and in college he accused Maya Angelou of exhibiting “racial paranoia.”

That would be Santa Monica High School out here – he hated the multicultural California idea – and Duke University in the middle of North Carolina – he hated the multiracial New South too. He hates lots of things:

Over the past two years, he has been one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders, shouting at any TV host who dares to criticize the president… Just days after Trump’s inauguration, he and then-adviser Steve Bannon crafted an executive order that banned travel into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, resulting in massive protests across the country. Over the next two years, Miller would play a prominent role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Homeland Security’s child separation policy, and the GOP’s racist midterm message.

This is a matter of what seems to work best:

Miller has defended this approach on political grounds. “You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border,” Miller told The New York Times. “And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit.”

And then there were those midterm elections. He was wrong about all of this, but Donald Trump believes he was right, and that’s what matters here, right?

Max Boot extends that thought:

It is time to end the charade. Trump is agitated that Nielsen was not barbarous enough for his depraved tastes. She still retained some vestigial loyalty to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Given that we are in a time of purported emergency, we can no longer afford such sentimental attachments. Rather than appoint another outsider who will never live down to his expectations, Trump should nominate as her successor the actual mastermind of the administration’s immigration policies: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

This is the 33-year-old wunderkind who orchestrated the Muslim travel ban, vast reductions in refugee admissions, efforts to build the wall, attempts to deport the “dreamers,” the deployment of troops to the southern border, and, of course, the family separations policy – along with the accompanying hysteria about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He even went so far as to deny that the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – represents the spirit of America. Miller has further ambitions such as ending “birthright citizenship” and slashing legal immigration. He should assume formal, legal responsibility for this un-American approach.

So go for it:

Stop trying to put a civilized face on an uncivilized policy. Trump should have the courage of his racist convictions: nominate Miller as secretary of homeland security and let the puppet master come out from behind the curtain. Or is Trump afraid that even a Republican-controlled Senate wouldn’t confirm this nativist fanatic?

If an honest defense of the administration’s heartless and vindictive approach to immigration won’t survive the light of day, perhaps that should be an indication to the president that the real problem is not personnel but policy.

And the real problem is him, not anyone else. No purge will fix that. But an enema might help.

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Just Not Radical Enough

Donald Trump has had border problems. Mexico was never going to pay for that wall. When he had majorities in both the House and Senate, his own party told him American taxpayers weren’t going to pay for that wall either. Privately they told him that his sea-to-sea giant wall just couldn’t be built – the topography made that impossible, and grabbing the land that was needed for what was possible, from his own supporters using eminent domain law – was going to make some folks very angry. Okay. But then he had to talk about how his sea-to-sea giant wall wasn’t that at all. That’s not what he meant. But a lot of wall would be built. In fact, a lot of wall was being built. People pointed out that no, it wasn’t, and that made him very angry. No one shows him up, but nothing was going right. When families, with children, crossed the border, he had his folks grab their kids and put the kids in detention centers and then send them off to foster homes or wherever. There was no plan to reunite the families, ever. That would stop all these people from showing up and turning themselves in and asking for asylum. He couldn’t change the law – that’s how our asylum system works. Show up. Turn yourself in. Ask. But this would slow these people down. Take their kids from them. Let them know they’d never see their kids again. Then all of this would stop.

That didn’t work. There’s something about the government grabbing kids from desperate and confused parents and putting those kids in cages for later disbursement that just didn’t sit right with at least some of the American public and most everyone else in the world. The idea that these were criminals and the United States government grabbed the kids from these nasty criminal parents, for the kids’ own good, really, was a bit of a stretch. Few parents bought that idea. Fox News did what it could, but this seemed reprehensible, at least to parents. There are a lot of those around.

Then there were the caravans. These people were forming caravans and that effort was financed by George Soros and one particular Jewish Relief agency. And these caravans were not all mothers and children but rapists and murderers and drug dealers and gang members, and Islamic terrorists, and all of them had leprosy and other diseases – and this was really an invasion. Or it was an “infestation” to be stopped – but the damned lying media – but not Fox News – kept showing footage of women and children, and interviewing them. That was the run-up to the midterm elections. Trump and the Republicans shouted STOP THE CARAVANS! Democrats talked about health care and jobs, and won forty more seats in the House and took it back from the Republicans. This wasn’t working and the guy killing all those people in that Pittsburgh synagogue – because he had heard those folks supported the one particular Jewish Relief agency that supported the “invasion” – didn’t help matters either. And now Trump couldn’t count on the House to help him with any of this border stuff.

This new House said no money for the wall, again, so Donald Trump declared a national emergency. He’d take money that Congress had appropriated for other things and spend that money on his wall. Congress does not get to say where and when and how the government’s money is spent, if there’s an emergency. He’d take money for military schools and FEMA and whatnot and spend it on his wall. Congress said no – this is not an emergency and he cannot do that. They passed that legislation. He vetoed it and they didn’t have quite enough votes to override his veto – so he is moving funds around. Congress no longer has the “power of the purse” – it’s his government now, not theirs. But nothing is better on the border.

People keep showing up and asking for asylum. He’s toyed with the idea of getting rid of all those immigration judges. Those people cannot ask for asylum, in court, if there’s no court – but that was just a random thought. The big idea was shutting down the entire southern border – maybe “next week” – so nothing moves in and out of the country anywhere down there. Then the Mexicans would have to do something, or face economic collapse. They’d make sure no one from anywhere got anywhere near our southern border.

A few weeks of that, or a few months of that, would do the trick – but every Republican and most of the business community said that WE would face economic collapse too. The two economies are interlocked. Don’t even think about it. So Donald Trump had to back down again. Mexico now has one year to stop each and every asylum seeker – and all the drug traffic too – or else he’d pull the trigger, in one year, but he might just impose massive tariffs on their cars first – on the Ford Fusion, all RAM trucks, and the Chevrolet Silverado. The three major auto makers here have a year to discuss this with him.

But he’s angry, damn it! He has announced he will cut off all aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the nations all these asylum seekers are fleeing. He’ll punish those nations. Things will be even worse there, even more unbearable. That’ll teach them something or other. And of course more people will now flee those three countries. Diplomats weep.

Nothing is working. It might be time to rethink all this, or rather than facing the shame and humiliation of admitting he might have been wrong about some of these things, it might be time to find someone else to blame for this mess. He’s Donald Trump. As the team at the New York Times reports, his claim is that all of this was not his fault:

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, resigned on Sunday after meeting with President Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure in charge of the border security agency that had made her the target of the president’s criticism.

“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

That was defining the problem. There is Donald Trump. There is his temper. There are the problems on the border. There are the laws. Something’s gotta give. It might as well be the laws we have, and that is what this seems to have been about:

Ms. Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Mr. Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the president.

Mr. Trump in recent weeks had asked Ms. Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Ms. Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Mr. Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it.

He said ignore the law, she said she really shouldn’t, nor should he, and he got angry, and she gave up, because this wasn’t going to work out, and she should have gotten the hint:

The move comes just two days after Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly expressed anger at a rise in migrants at the southwestern border, withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.

No one knew what the hell that was about, no one really objected to that guy, so that must have been a warning, to everyone, and to her, because Trump is all-in now:

Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his anti-immigration message in recent months as he seeks to galvanize supporters before the 2020 election, shutting down the government and then declaring a national emergency to secure funding to build a border wall, cutting aid to Central American countries and repeatedly denouncing what he believes is a crisis of migrants trying to enter the country.

He took aim again Sunday night after announcing Ms. Nielsen’s departure, tweeting, “Our Country is FULL!”

That may be his new campaign slogan, and those four words would fit on a red hat as well as the other four did last time around too, but this won’t be easy:

The president said in a tweet that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would take over as the acting replacement for Ms. Nielsen, who became the sixth secretary to lead the agency in late 2017. But by law, the undersecretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary. The White House will have to fire her to make Mr. McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Ms. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for Mr. McAleenan.

Does this administration think anything through? Of course not:

The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.

Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further. The president’s fury erupted in the spring of 2018 as Ms. Nielsen hesitated for weeks about whether to sign a memo ordering the routine separation of migrant children from their families so that the parents could be detained.

She came around and did sign that memo, but she wanted to follow the law, and perhaps some principles of common decency, or at least, for political purposes, the appearance of some principles of common decency, but there’s the young zealot from Santa Monica and the old man from Fox:

Mr. Trump and Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser, have privately but regularly complained about Ms. Nielsen. Lou Dobbs, a Fox News host who is one of the president’s favorite sounding boards, has also encouraged Mr. Trump’s negative views of her handling of the migrant crisis.

She had scruples. She came around and supported the president, every time, but she hesitated too often. Those two guys did her in, and the writing was on the wall:

Multiple White House officials said she had grown deeply paranoid in recent months, after numerous stories about her job being on the line. She also had supported the Immigration and Customs Enforcement nominee Mr. Trump withdrew, Ronald D. Vitiello, and her support for him was described as problematic for her with the president. Mr. Trump felt Mr. Vitiello did not favor closing the border, as the president threatened again to do in a tweet on Sunday night.

And this sort of thing buried her:

In early 2019, as the number of migrant families from Central American countries surged, the president’s fury at Ms. Nielsen did, too. He repeatedly demanded that she cut off foreign aid to Central American countries even though the funding was the responsibility of the State Department. She repeatedly deflected his demands.

One day after Ms. Nielsen traveled to Honduras to sign a regional compact with officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Mr. Trump cut State Department funding for the countries. And in recent days, the president made public moves to undercut her authority, leaking news that he might nominate an “immigration czar” to assume oversight of the issue at the heart of Ms. Nielsen’s department.

She wouldn’t do what she couldn’t do and Donald Trump was going to humiliate her for that, but this was never going to work:

Ms. Nielsen never learned how to manage Donald Trump, people familiar with their discussions said. He often felt lectured to by Ms. Nielsen, the people familiar with the discussions said.

And his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was not an admirer of Ms. Nielsen, several administration officials said. That came to a head recently as Mr. Kushner had inserted himself into immigration discussions.

She argued the law in this White House. She was doomed.

Dara Lind puts that this way:

Nielsen, the sixth head of the Department of Homeland Security and Trump’s second appointee (she was confirmed in December 2017 after John Kelly left to become White House chief of staff), has arguably been the most aggressive secretary in the department’s short history in cracking down on immigration – with her legacy likely to be defined among progressives by the “zero tolerance” prosecution policy of late spring and early summer 2018 that resulted in the separation of thousands of families at the US-Mexico border.

None of it appears to have been enough for Trump…

With nearly 100,000 migrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border in March, Trump is yet again ruminating angrily and obsessively over immigration, riffing in speeches about telling migrants “we’re full” and “go back.”

Nielsen couldn’t make that happen, because no one could, because it’s impossible. The US can’t – even with a wall – physically prevent the entry of unauthorized immigrants onto US soil. And once on US soil, they have certain rights – including the right to request asylum.

Some things are impossible, and Stephen Collinson sees this:

The forced resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is not just the usual story of an administration racked by chaos and the short shelf life of almost everyone who works for an imperious and grudge-bearing President.

Nielsen was hardly a moderate out of step with President Donald Trump on his signature issue of immigration. She became the administration’s public face of the zero-tolerance policy that caused widespread outrage after hundreds of migrant children were separated from their parents.

But she is nonetheless paying the price for a crisis exacerbated by the President’s decision-making amid a major surge in migrants crossing the border.

And others have paid that price for the odd decision-making here:

It’s a sign of a government stocked with acting secretaries and hampered by thin personnel benches, stretched beyond functionality by Trump’s impulses and the most prodigious staffing burn rate of any modern President.

Nielsen’s ouster fits with a pattern of Trump forcing out officials who have pushed back against his more radical instincts or been unable to carry them out, or who have earned his ire for being unwilling to match his defiance for governing practice and convention. They include former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former chief of staff John Kelly.

But this time Collinson sees more:

Nielsen’s demise is the clearest indication yet of the impossibility of reconciling Trump’s ideological and emotional instincts on immigration – which helped make him President – with legal, humanitarian and international realities.

Nielsen “believed the situation was becoming untenable” with Trump “becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests,” a senior administration official told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.

The border mess really got to Trump, but he’s easy to get to:

Her departure mirrors that of former Defense Secretary James Mattis last year, whose authority was shredded by a sudden and apparently spontaneous announcement of a Syria withdrawal by the President, but who had gradually grown apart from his boss.

In both cases, the complexity of serious policy problems, often in life or death situations, clashed with the political instincts of a President who abhors detail and prefers to govern from the gut, while ignoring conventional expertise – even from subordinates that in no way could be considered moderates.

And the man does seem unhinged at times:

Last week, he was forced to climb down on a public threat to close the southern border after officials, business groups and political leaders warned of a pending economic disaster if he went ahead.

He covered his blushes by going on a tear on immigration, with some of the most unconstrained rhetoric on the issue ever heard by an American president that was scorching even by the standards of Trump himself.

“Can’t take you anymore. Can’t take you. Our country is full … Can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry. So turn around. That’s the way it is,” Trump said in a message to asylum seekers during a trip to the border on Friday.

A day later, Trump mocked those fleeing persecution seeking a better life in the United States, portraying asylum seekers as criminals and gang members, rather than the families Nielsen described in a CNN interview last week.

“‘I am very fearful for my life,'” Trump said mockingly during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday. “I am very worried that I will be accosted if I am sent back home. No, no, he’ll do the accosting!”

“Asylum, oh give him asylum! He’s afraid!” Trump said.

That’s fairly disgusting, but possibly effective:

Attempts at reaching a broad political solution on the border have been complicated by Trump’s choice to use immigration as a rallying call for his base and his adoption of rhetoric that stains any political common ground.

He has several times pulled out of immigration deals with Democrats that might have helped mitigate the situation at the border apparently because he feared a backlash from his most fervent supporters and cheerleaders in conservative media.

Democrats complain that the so-called master of the art of the deal wants to win on all his immigration priorities while offering nothing in return — for example a path to legal status for people brought to the US illegally and who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

They also argue that his rhetoric is incompatible with the founding principles of a nation built on immigration.

“When even the most radical voices in the administration aren’t radical enough for President Trump, you know he’s completely lost touch with the American people,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday, remarking on Nielsen’s departure.

But he’s not lost touch with all of the American people. There’s still his base, and they’re as angry and impulsive as he is. And no one is radical enough for them. No one is nasty enough for them. And the president was angry and embarrassed, so someone was going to get fired. That’s just another day at the White House.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Running on Resentment

From 1969 to 1971 CBS had a big hit with Hee-Haw – which was a slap-back at Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – the “irreverent” hit show for the hip antiestablishment counterculture. Laugh-In was urban and almost urbane – the product of smart and witty people in New York and Los Angeles. Those from anywhere in-between, from the fly-over states, might not get the jokes. They weren’t supposed to. It’s almost as if they didn’t matter, and they resented that, so CBS created a show for them – the real folk, the simple unsophisticated but good folks, the rural folks, the folks who drove pick-up trucks. Buck Owens and Roy Clark hosted the new show from Nashville. Hee-Haw was country music and rural Southern stuff the folks in the city just wouldn’t get. They weren’t supposed to. Now THEY were the real outsiders. This was war, even if a war of lame jokes. And that war continues to this day. Save the Electoral College. Otherwise the Laugh-In crowd will take over the country. The Hee-Haw crowd would be exterminated.

Once again they’re playing victim, but they’ve always loved playing victim. If you’ve heard one my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song you’ve heard them all, and Donald Trump fits right into that world. His whining self-pity turns into defiant anger every single day. Only the issues change. And he’s got the worldview right – everyone is out to get him and it’s just not fair. And sometimes he seems like a walking-talking my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all.

Donald Trump rode that pony to the presidency. When whining self-pity turns to deep resentment and then white-hot anger anything is possible. Donald Trump can become president – and then what? Whining self-pity and deep resentment and white-hot anger look backward. They’re self-limiting. Donald Trump was bound to hit a wall, or several walls, and Politico reports that is just what he has done:

It was just last week that President Donald Trump and his allies euphorically celebrated what they called Trump’s exoneration after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The apparent absence of proof that Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with the Kremlin produced talk of a fresh start for Trump’s presidency ahead of the 2020 election.

But misfortune and mayhem almost immediately began piling up. Trump unleashed two new political crises – one on health care, one on the Mexican border – and then retreated on both of them. A brief lull in House Democratic oversight action ended abruptly when House investigators demanded his tax returns.

Nothing was working out and things got worse:

News reports revealed that Mueller’s soon-to-be-released findings may be far more damaging than Attorney General William Barr has publicly indicated, suggesting that the Russia scandal is hardly in the president’s rear view window.

The action reached a crescendo on Thursday when Trump backed down from days of threats to “shut down” the U.S.-Mexico border in response to what he calls an illegal immigration and drug-trafficking crisis. Facing intense opposition from congressional Republicans, business groups and his own senior aides, Trump said he would give Mexico a “one-year warning” to stop the flow of drugs into the United States.

He has said he always wins but this wasn’t that:

While Trump added a new threat to slap tariffs on cars manufactured in Mexico, he was effectively backing down for the second time in a week on an issue he had elevated. Trump overruled senior members of his administration last week and took legal action to invalidate Obamacare. Days later – again under pressure from members of his own party – he deferred any new action on health care reform until after the 2020 election, leaving fellow Republicans bewildered and fearing the political fallout over an issue that has proven toxic for the GOP.

But wait, there’s more:

Meanwhile, the White House has been responding to a seemingly nonstop parade of setbacks. On Thursday, the House approved a Senate measure cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, a plan the White House opposed. (Trump has vowed to veto the measure.)

A day before, the House released information that showed Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was denied a security clearance last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct. The weekend arrest of a Chinese woman carrying a malware-laced device into Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, only added to the growing questions about presidential information security.

The hits kept coming, and so did the spin:

David Bossie, a Trump confidant who worked on his 2016 campaign, dismissed reports of bad news, insisting nothing has changed for Trump since Mueller’s report was concluded last month. He said mounting Democratic oversight requests are nothing new for the White House.

“They hate this president and they are trying to delegitimize him and impeach him,” he said. “Nothing’s changed.”

But the former aide, who requested anonymity to speak freely about internal West Wing dynamics, said the White House is eagerly counting down the days until Congress leaves for its two-week recess when Trump can be the only megaphone in Washington.

But that’s in the future:

Until then, the president will be saddled with problem after problem, most of them emanating from Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, House Democrats demanded six years of Trump’s tax returns from the IRS and a decade of Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm. They also green-lighted a subpoena for the full Mueller report.

The actions came amid reports that Mueller’s team was frustrated that Attorney General Bill Barr didn’t accurately portray their findings in his four-page summary released last week. Outside the White House Thursday afternoon, about 300 people, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, gathered to push for the release of Mueller’s report, one of 300 such “Nobody is Above the Law” protests that took place across the nation.

And things were going so well…

They were never going well. They will never go well. No government can run on resentment and nothing but resentment. Steven Benen sees where this is headed:

With no plan or strategy for success, the president thought it’d be a good idea to threaten to shut down the border between the United States and Mexico this week unless his demands were met.

Who, exactly, the president was threatening was a little murky. The Republican initially said Mexico had to satisfy his unspecific demands or he’d close the border. He then said Congress had to give him what he wants or he’d close the border. All of this, Trump said, would unfold over the next few days.

That is, until this morning. Neither Mexico nor Congress made any meaningful effort to meet the Republican’s demands, but Trump backed down anyway.

That went like this:

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would give Mexico one year to stop the flow of illegal drugs entering the U.S. before imposing tariffs or closing the southern border, backing down from previous warnings that a border closing was imminent.

“We’re gonna give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to close the border.”

He added, “You know I will do it. I don’t play games.”

Benen rolls his eyes:

Everyone, here and around the world, knows Trump does play games. He makes threats, he thumps his chest, and he insists that we all marvel at his toughness – right before the president backs down and quietly slinks away.

It was just four days ago when White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News, in reference to Trump’s threat to close the border, “It certainly isn’t a bluff. You can take the president seriously.”

Really? How’s that quote holding up?

The same day as that interview, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said it would take “something dramatic” for Trump to back down from his threat. Four days later, nothing dramatic happened, and the president retreated anyway.

Benen notes the obvious pattern here:

If this were the first time Trump bluffed badly and lost, it would be a milder embarrassment. But this same dynamic has become a staple of his presidency.

Trump bluffed during his government shutdown. He bluffed during the fight over health care. He bluffed with North Korea. He tried bluffing with James Comey. He bluffed with China – more than once.

As a Washington Post analysis added in January, “Though the president routinely touts his abilities as a dealmaker, he often gives in when pressed…. From the war in Afghanistan to his family separation policy to threats to close the southern border, Trump will often float policy proposals with little strategy for how to implement them, and then surrender when the proposals flounder.”

The irony is, the White House goes out of its way to pretend this reality doesn’t exist. When Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran for reasons that never really made any sense, he declared, “The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.”

And the whole world shrugged. He will eventually back down, and say he didn’t back down, but he will back down.

It was a day for backing down. The Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez had the details:

Facing widespread opposition, President Trump backed down Thursday from his threat to close the southern border, instead giving Mexico a “one-year warning,” but also leaving his administration with no clear path to deal with a record surge of migrant families.

Trump had issued an ultimatum on Twitter late last week that he would move to seal the border to trade and travel if Mexican authorities did not halt illegal immigration.

The president’s pronouncement, coming amid reports that U.S. Border Patrol was at the “breaking point,” surprised White House aides and sparked fear among Republican allies and business leaders over the potentially devastating economic impact of closing the 2,000-mile border with the nation’s third-largest trading partner.

In the days after his tweet, Trump and his senior advisers issued conflicting signals about his intentions, with some aides privately expressing befuddlement over his strategy. The president offered no public details, and aides worked behind the scenes to craft a plan that would satisfy Trump but minimize the economic harm.

Those aides had a hard job, to come up with something that would assuage Donald Trump’s seething resentment and, at the same time, offer a sensible solution to the immediate problem, one which would allow all parties to calm down and work things out. And of course that was impossible. Seething resentment always wins out:

Those efforts were rendered moot Thursday when Trump, in an exchange with reporters at the White House, suddenly shifted gears, saying that if Mexico does not stem the flow of drugs and migrants into the United States within the next year, he will impose first tariffs on cars and then, possibly, close the border.

Those miserable Mexicans had better do what HE wants for a change, but then there was this:

Later in the afternoon, ahead of a trade meeting with Chinese officials, Trump praised Mexico for “doing a very good job in the last three or four days since we talked about closing the border,” even though Mexican authorities have said they have not altered their enforcement policies.

That was his usual flourish – his seething anger and seething resentment had cowed the other party into total submission to his will. They suddenly did do exactly what HE told them to do, quivering in fear and awe. And then the other party shrugs. They hadn’t changed anything. But they’re not going to argue about it. They’ll cede his fantasies to him. Those fantasies keep him happy, and they keep him quiet. Toyota will tell him they built that assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1986, because he told them last week that they had to build that plant, in the United States, right now, or else. He’ll claim victory. They’ll shrug. They’ll play along, to keep him out of their hair. Let him think that his anger and resentment can move mountains and alter time and space.

That’s harmless enough, but this isn’t:

Critics have said that Trump’s policies have failed to address the complex factors that have sparked the influx of migrant families, mostly from Central American nations, and adequately respond to the mounting humanitarian crisis. Trump this week announced that his administration would cut off some foreign aid money to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a move that analysts said could make the migration problem worse by hurting their economies.

Here his angry spasm of resentment makes matters far worse. Resentment is a lousy organizing principle for any government’s foreign policy. And that applies to closing down the entire border, because that cannot be done:

Although Trump said his threat to close the border aimed to put economic pressure on Mexico, experts said it would do little to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom cross between legal ports of entry and seek to surrender to authorities in hopes of winning asylum protections.

Here his angry spasm of resentment fixes nothing much at all, or fixes nothing really, and then there’s this:

Trump’s threats also exacerbated tensions with Mexico at a time when officials from that country have been trying to work with the administration to persuade Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that the president announced last year.

That deal includes provisions that would spare the U.S. neighbors from new auto tariffs.

Trump wants that new treaty – NAFTA tweaked a bit and renamed – ratified right now. There will be no auto tariffs from now on – but there will be tariffs, damn it, because he’s angry.

None of this makes much sense, but Donald Trump ran for the presidency on whining self-pity and deep resentment and white-hot anger. He ran on resentment. He won on resentment. And now he has tried to govern on resentment alone. It’s all payback all the time.

That’s no way to govern. None of his looks forward and his presidency seems to have turned into one of those my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country songs. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. Hee-Haw is back, live from the White House!

Posted in The Politics of Resentment, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watching the Inevitable Unfold

Some things just have to happen. Paris ran off with Helen of Troy and her husband was angry. So the Trojan War had to happen – and so did the First World War. Nations were armed to the teeth and alliances were set, so any assassination would do to set things off. The one in Sarajevo did the trick, and the Second World War had to happen. The treaty that ended the first war humiliated Germany and was designed to keep Germany humiliated. Some sort of Hitler was inevitable. Germany was desperate for someone who could convince them that he would Make Germany Great Again. And the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and Iraq and Afghanistan, were also inevitable, in retrospect. And the election of Barack Obama and then the election of Donald Trump were both inevitable too. The nation alternates between generosity, and hope, and anger and better resentment. The one is as inevitable as the other.

And with Donald Trump, the man who knew nothing about government and who even now doesn’t really want to know anything about government, things that simply had to happen are now happening. There are no surprises. He is the only one who is surprised. A friend put it this way:

He reminds me of when we were little kids and we asked each other, “If you were president, what would you do?”, and I answered, “I’d have everyone stop having wars!”, and you’d say, “I’d make sure everyone had good healthcare”, and Trump answered, “I’d put all my enemies in jail, and then punish the countries that didn’t do what I told them to do, and then I’d drop H-bombs on all of them, and nobody could stop me!”

That’s not how things work. Any president can be stopped in all sorts of ways. Donald Trump may hate it, but this was inevitable:

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS on Wednesday for six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request with which the president immediately said he was not inclined to comply.

The committee chairman’s letter to the Internal Revenue Service – and Trump’s immediate and public response – set up what is likely to become an intense and drawn-out court fight as Democrats push to see tax records they think can shed light on numerous aspects of Trump’s business dealings and Trump resists their demands.

Resistance may be futile:

The IRS was given until April 10 to respond. The panel’s chairman was able to make the request because of a 1924 law that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee broad powers to request and receive the tax returns of any American.

This is an old law but it’s a simple law:

“Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans – including those elected to our highest office – are complying with those laws.”

Trump will have to claim a special exemption to this law, so he tried this, again:

“We are under audit, despite what people said, and working that out – I’m always under audit, it seems, but I’ve been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name, you’re audited,” Trump said. “But until such time as I’m not under audit, I would not be inclined to do it.”

His inclinations may not matter here, and there’s no reason tax returns under audit cannot be appropriately disclosed. And no one knows if he’s being audited anyway. He says he is. No one has verified that. So this is bullshit. And he knows it:

Privately, Trump has told White House advisers that he does not plan to hand over his tax returns to Congress – and that he would fight the issue to the Supreme Court, hoping to stall it until after the 2020 election, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversations. Treasury officials will not comply with the request until they are compelled to do so, the officials said.

The plan is to lose in court, but to lose a few years later, when this doesn’t matter at all, but it does matter now:

Neal’s request, which was made in a two-page letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, seeks broad details about Trump’s personal tax returns from 2013 to 2018 – including whether the returns are or have been under audit.

Neal also sought information from entities within Trump’s sprawling business empire.

One of them, the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, is an umbrella entity that controls more than 100 other businesses, including his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. Some of those businesses also own a variety of Trump’s homes, hotels, golf clubs, his properties in Scotland and his namesake hotel in downtown Washington.

This is comprehensive. Who has been lending him hundreds of millions of dollars to build his empire? His sons have both said it was the Russians, but then they both said they never said any such thing. This or that Saudi prince has bailed out Trump over the years – buying the Plaza Hotel after he drove it into bankruptcy and his giant yacht that was about to be repossessed. All of this is in the tax records, which will show his net worth too. That may worry him too, and Neal is being annoyingly careful too:

Neal’s letter was carefully worded. Democrats had obsessed for weeks over the language because they thought it would need to stand up to a court challenge. The letter attempted to explain that the information requests were squarely within Congress’s legal authority.

It said Neal’s committee was “considering legislative proposals and conducting oversight related to our Federal tax laws, including, but not limited to, the extent to which the IRS audits and enforces the Federal tax laws against the President.”

So the inevitable will happen:

The request poses a major test for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who becomes the first Cabinet member in modern history tasked with deciding whether to turn over his boss’s tax returns to the opposition party.

It is unclear what legal argument Mnuchin could make to refuse the request, as the tax records would be unlikely to be considered protected under “executive privilege” because they do not pertain to Trump’s actions during his time in the White House.

The law that allows Neal to request the returns says the treasury secretary “shall” turn over the relevant records. It does not appear to give Mnuchin much wiggle room.

No one has any wiggle room now:

The senior White House official whose security clearance was denied last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct is presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with documents and testimony provided to the House Oversight Committee.

Kushner was identified only as “Senior White House Official 1” in committee documents released this week describing the testimony of Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower in the White House’s personnel security office who said she and another career employee determined that Kushner had too many “significant disqualifying factors” to receive a clearance.

Their decision was overruled by Carl Kline, the political appointee who then headed the office…

No one was surprised. Everyone from the FBI to the CIA said do NOT give this guy security clearance. Trump, as is his right, told Kline to give him that clearance, and that’s the problem:

Security clearance experts said the issues raised in Kushner’s background investigation were significant.

“It’s a big deal,” said David Kris, a senior Justice Department official during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and a founder of the consulting firm Culper Partners.

“The kinds of concerns that she mentioned are very serious,” he said. “Senior staff at the White House – and particularly relatives of the U.S. president – are incredibly attractive targets for our adversaries seeking to gather intelligence or exert covert influence.”

And of course everyone knows this:

Kushner, who is a senior adviser to Trump and married to his daughter Ivanka, was unable to obtain a permanent security clearance for more than a year as his background investigation dragged on – a situation that troubled senior White House officials.

Newbold told the House Oversight Committee that Kushner’s background investigation raised concerns about foreign influence, outside business interests and personal conduct, according to a document released by the committee.

The specific issues flagged in his background check remain unknown. But the Washington Post reported last year that foreign officials had privately discussed ways to try to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.

Among the nations that discussed ways to influence Kushner were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, current and former officials said.

The NSA is good at signal’s intelligence. They had the intercepts of those discussions. Everyone knew this guy:

Kushner also came to his post with complex business holdings and a family company facing significant debt, including more than $1 billion owed on a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue.

In 2016, at the same time Kushner was helping to run Trump’s presidential campaign, he and company officials spoke with potential foreign investors about becoming partners in the building, including investors in China and Qatar.

Those deals never materialized. In August, Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian company, announced it was purchasing the office tower.

Qatar may have given Brookfield Asset Management the funds for that purchase. Kushner had backed the puzzling Saudi total blockade of Qatar. No one knew what the hell that was about. Trump told Rex Tillerson to back off and ask no questions. Qatar then may have coughed up the cash to save the Kushner family business. Reporters are still tracking down the details. This sort of thing worries the intelligence community, but at least 666 Fifth Avenue didn’t ruin the Kushner family. But there is the basic gripe:

As president, Trump has the authority to grant such clearances. But congressional Democrats have raised questions about the risks that could be overlooked by such a decision.

“It shows a disregard for the national security of the country if the professionals in the intelligence community believed Jared Kushner shouldn’t get a security clearance, and the president overrode that decision to give him one,” said House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.).

Yeah, well, go pound sand:

The White House has said that the Oversight Committee has no authority to question the president on security-clearance matters and has refused to provide the committee with documents.

That, of course, won’t be the end of this, a scandal just waiting to happen, like this one:

Presidents used to vacation in seclusion – at a ranch in Texas or a beach house in Hawaii. Screening their visitors was relatively simple: The only people who came were friends and staff.

President Trump has added vast new complications by choosing to spend his weekends with his customers.

Trump stays at the Mar-a-Lago Club, a busy beachfront resort where his quarters are a short distance from the pool, the ballroom, and the “six star” seafood buffet. That decision – to use his Palm Beach, Fla., club as both a presidential retreat and a moneymaking resort – brings hundreds of members, overnight guests and party-going strangers into the president’s “Winter White House” every weekend.

This was a disaster just waiting to happen:

To protect the president, that requires the Secret Service to screen hundreds of would-be visitors against preapproved lists. But to protect his business, it has also required the Secret Service to defer to Mar-a-Lago staffers and allow in some visitors who are not on the list.

Last weekend, that complex system of lists and exceptions broke down.

When a visitor approached the club, officers found she was not on the approved list – but let her in anyway after a Mar-a-Lago staffer suggested she might be the relative of a club member. The woman, identified as Yujing Zhang, a Chinese national, was later arrested inside the club’s main building. Authorities said she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and a thumb drive with malicious software.

She’s in jail now, but that was a lucky break:

“I’m surprised that she got in. But then again, I’m not surprised,” said Shannon Donnelly, the longtime society columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News who has covered Mar-a-Lago for years.

She described a situation in which the Secret Service is dealing with two missions, to keep the president safe and to keep his customers happy.

“It’s bound to happen” that people will slip through, Donnelly said. “There’s hundreds of people coming and going when there’s an event, and half of them are members – they’re not used to being stopped.”

But there is no problem:

On Wednesday, Trump said he had a brief meeting about the incident but said he was not concerned about potential espionage efforts aimed at Mar-a-Lago. He praised the Secret Service as well as the receptionist who first noticed something was amiss with Zhang.

“We have very good control,” he told reporters at the White House. “The person at the front desk did a very good job, to be honest with you.”

His employee, that receptionist at the front desk, had this covered. People worry too much:

On Wednesday, three top Senate Democrats asked FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to investigate whether foreign spies could exploit weaknesses at Mar-a-Lago to steal classified information.

But no one at all is going to cooperate with any such investigation:

Bernd Lembcke, Mar-a-Lago’s longtime managing director, did not respond to questions about the club’s security procedures, including whether members are checked to see whether they might be foreign agents. Neither did Trump Organization executives in New York.

But this is an odd situation:

“The president has no idea who most of the people around him at the club are,” said another White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. “You pay and you get in.”

Intelligence officials have said, a foreign spy might find Mar-a-Lago a gold mine – even if the spy never laid eyes on Trump. The club is full of Trump’s friends, aides and hangers-on; it could be bugged, or its computers hacked, if someone could get in the door.

In the case of Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested on Saturday, she arrived at the first security checkpoint, in the parking lot across the street, and said she was headed to the club’s pool. She was not on the list. According to charging documents, a Mar-a-Lago staffer still allowed her in because the club “believed her to be the relative” of a club member whose name was also Zhang, prosecutors said.

So the inevitable happened, and Slate’s Fred Kaplan sees this:

It is a fair bet that undercover foreign spies have long been making it their business to secure a membership at President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort. Though the $200,000 fee is steep, intelligence agencies might consider it a bargain. Where else could their spies mingle with the American president and his family, overhear his conversations, maybe strike up chats with his associates – or at least boast to their superiors back home that they’ve been doing so? On the night of April 6, 2017, when Trump dined there with Chinese President Xi Jinping and, at one point, ordered a cruise missile strike on Syria, the entire spectacle unspooled within sight and earshot of club members and guests at nearby tables.

That’s a worry, but all of this was inevitable:

The Mar-a-Lago incident is but the latest sign, in a long trail of evidence, that Trump doesn’t give a hoot about keeping national security secrets secure.

Take the case, also late last month, of Tricia Newbold, the White House whistleblower who testified that senior Trump administration officials had granted security clearances to at least 25 people whose applications had been denied by career gatekeepers for “disqualifying issues” that put national security at risk.

In an unintentionally comical sidebar, Republican lawmakers issued a statement depicting Newbold’s concerns as partisan and overblown, adding that, of the 25 individuals on her list, “only” three were “senior-level” White House employees and “only” four or five prompted “very serious reasons.”

The New York Times indicates that the three individuals were Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, who are also special advisers, and John Bolton, the national security adviser.

But wait, there’s more:

Another ongoing source of anxiety to many in the intelligence community is Trump’s use of his personal cellphone to make calls and to tap out tweets. When Barack Obama became president, he told the Secret Service that he wanted to keep his Blackberry, in order to stay in touch with a few trusted friends. So the National Security Agency built him a one-of-a-kind device, which was stripped of almost all functions (no phone, no apps, etc.) and heavily encrypted, with codes and passwords altered routinely. Trump’s phone has no such features. Specialists say it should be assumed that everything he says and does on the phone is intercepted by any of a dozen foreign governments.

The New York Times also recently reported that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have used the private messaging service WhatsApp for official communications. Though WhatsApp is encrypted, cybersecurity specialists say it can easily be hacked by professionals.

So some things just have to happen:

The Trump White House is a clover field for spies, and Mar-a-Lago is its lushest garden. Whoever sent Yujing Zhang to Palm Beach would do better, next time, to apply for club membership in advance. It’s unlikely that Trump would care. He would probably welcome receiving the fee.

And now we watch the inevitable unfold. All of this had to happen. This is what the nation chose.

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Noticing the Clown

Carl Sagan more than once quipped that they all laughed at Christopher Columbus, and they all laughed at Einstein, and they all laughed at Thomas Edison… but they also all laughed at Bozo the Clown. Then he’d pause and let that sink in. He who breaks all the rules and introduces something entirely new is not necessarily a genius. He may be a fool. Don’t be fooled by the chatter and hype. Don’t make snap judgments. Wait. These things will sort themselves out. Wait for the genius. Or wait for the fool. Be patient.

The wait is over. Republicans waited for Donald Trump’s genius to emerge. They wanted Donald Trump’s genius to emerge, and told the nation that Donald Trump’s genius would be obvious soon, or pretty soon, or soon enough. Now they know they didn’t get Einstein. They got Bozo the Clown:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told President Trump in a conversation Monday that the Senate will not be moving comprehensive health care legislation before the 2020 election, despite the president asking Senate Republicans to do that in a meeting last week.

McConnell said he made clear to the president that Senate Republicans will work on bills to keep down the cost of health care, but that they will not work on a comprehensive package to replace the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is trying to strike down in court.

McConnell told him that joining the court fight to immediately eliminate all of the Affordable Care Act without a plan for what comes next was not a stroke of genius. That was political suicide, and he and the rest of the Republican senators were not feeling particularly suicidal. Democrats control the House. The math is all wrong now. And Trump finally got that last part:

After getting the message from McConnell, Trump tweeted Monday night that he no longer expected Congress to pass legislation to replace ObamaCare and still protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, the herculean task he laid before Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting last week.

“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare,” Trump wrote Monday night in a series of tweets after speaking to McConnell. “In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare. Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”

The Republicans will not win back the House. He’s off the hook. Even if the courts strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, not likely but quite possible, he can say it’s not his fault the Republicans have no plan for what comes next. Why would they even bother? Those damned Democrats would shoot it down anyway. But of course all of this makes Trump and the Republicans look like jerks. Republicans are now hoping the court challenge fails. Trump may hope it fails too. They have no replacement plan now and won’t have one for almost two years from now, if they come up with one of them at all. At the moment they plan to have a plan.

That’s Bozo the Clown territory, and it all started with this stroke of genius:

Trump blindsided GOP senators when he told them at last week’s lunch meeting that he wanted Republicans to craft legislation to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The only heads-up they got was a tweet from Trump shortly before the meeting, saying, “The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!'”

What? They panicked, but now they’ve fixed that problem. But they do have a clown on their hands:

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is “100 percent” prepared to shut down the U.S. border with Mexico to block an influx of migrants.

“If we don’t make a deal with Congress, the border’s going to be closed,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “100 percent.”

At almost the same time, less than two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that might be a financial disaster for Americans.

“Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country, and I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing,” McConnell said, noting that he agrees with the president that there is “a border crisis.”

But still, Trump will see reason here, as he does now and then:

McConnell also said Tuesday that he and Trump now see eye to eye on waiting until after the 2020 election to work on health care legislation following Trump’s promise to move earlier. McConnell had balked at that idea. And last week, Trump quickly retreated on two of his own budget proposals – cuts for the Special Olympics and Great Lakes restoration – after hearing criticism from GOP members of Congress.

Don’t worry. The many good and sensible Republicans will keep Trump from doing anything too stupid. But that was hard work:

President Donald Trump’s senior economic aides are scrambling to impress upon him the potentially dire economic costs of his threat to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Both Kevin Hassett and Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic advisers, have shared papers and data with Trump over the last 36 hours, illustrating the way economic growth could slow even if the president shut down the border for just one day – not to mention the effect on the flow of goods, raw materials and the U.S. supply chain.

Inside the White House, officials frantically spent the day searching for ways to limit the economic impact of shuttering the border, according to two senior administration officials and one Republican close to the White House. One possibility involved closing the border to cars but allowing commercial trucks to continue to pass through. Officials stressed, however, that no final decisions have been made.

The White House resident genius is still working on all of this, with friendly reminders:

The U.S. auto industry is particularly concerned, facing not only the prospect of a border closure, which would limit the import of essential automobile parts, but also potential tariffs on foreign car imports.

“Within a week, we’d have most of the U.S. auto industry shut down,” said Kristin Dziczek, an expert on the economics of the auto industry at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit think tank based in Michigan.

Everyone wants to say something about this:

Senior officials at Trump-aligned outside industry groups have also privately reached out directly to the White House to stress their concerns, according to a person familiar with the matter. They’ve encouraged White House officials to make the case directly to the president that a border closure could undermine the positive economic headwinds that are so central to Trump’s reelection message.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the business group was among those who had expressed concern directly to the White House about Trump’s threat to close the border.

Trump hears it all, but he’s found a way to ignore it all:

The president put the onus on Congress to reach an immigration deal. “If we don’t make a deal with Congress, the border’s going to be closed, 100 percent,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.

And that will be their fault and not his fault at all. Everyone knows this.

No one knows this. He does keep being a Bozo:

More than 18 months after a devastating hurricane slammed into Puerto Rico, President Trump continues to publicly attack the island’s leaders and oppose federal aid efforts, a fixation that could hurt his reelection chances in Florida.

On Tuesday, Trump accused Puerto Rican politicians of gross incompetence and corruption, saying on Twitter that they “only take from the USA.” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley echoed those comments during an interview with MSNBC, referring to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, as “that country.”

Trump’s attacks are likely to get the attention of thousands of Puerto Rican voters whose growing numbers in Florida could be pivotal in 2020, said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist.

“This is a state where elections turn on less than one-half of 1 percent,” she said. “And the largest cache of new voters is in that community. Why is he picking this fight now?”

This is not genius:

Trump’s path to reelection would narrow significantly if he does not win Florida, home to more than 1 million U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican population, which is heavily concentrated in Central Florida, has grown significantly in recent years, as the island has been hit with a one-two punch of economic turmoil and debilitating hurricanes.

What was he thinking? That question comes up more and more often now. Aaron Rupar reported this:

During an Oval Office event with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump either lied or got confused about where his father was born, admitted that closing the border with Mexico will be economically harmful to the US (but threatened to do it anyway), pushed a baseless conspiracy theory, and repeatedly struggled to say the word “origins.”

Oh, and he urged Congress to “get rid of judges” who are making it harder for his administration to summarily deport migrants – a position in tension with the idea that the United States is a nation of checks and balances that respects the rule of law.

Even by Trump’s standards, it was a troubling performance.

A lot of it was nonsense too:

Trump began by threatening to close the border with Mexico as soon as this weekend, but urged Congress to “meet quickly and make a deal” before he has to do it.

“What we have to do is Congress has to meet quickly and make a deal. I could do it in 45 minutes,” he said. “We need to get rid of chain migration, we need to get rid of catch and release, and visa lottery, and we have to do something about asylum, and, to be honest with you, we have to get rid of judges.”

No one knew what he was talking about. He was just talking. And there was this:

When a reporter got around to asking Trump about NATO, the president launched into his usual talking points about how Germany doesn’t spend enough on defense. But in a ridiculous twist, Trump suggested he has warm feelings for the country because his father, Fred Trump, was born there.

“My father is German, was German,” Trump said. “Born in a very wonderful place in Germany.”

Fred Trump was born in New York City in 1905 and pretended he was Swedish. That’s all on record. That was odd, and there was the conspiracy. Trump rambled on and on about the Mueller investigation. He’d been set up. He’d been set up from the beginning and Mueller should have looked into that. Someone should look into that now. This had been a plot to bring him down, so look at the “oranges” of the investigation. He meant “origins” not “oranges” and used the one word for the other again and again.

Kevin Drum saw this:

Today President Trump tried three times to say the word “origins” but instead said “oranges” and said that his father was born in Germany, not New York City, and complained, in a speech being televised on CSPAN, that he had to be careful because someone was probably going to leak what he said to the media. In the same speech, he warned Republicans to be “more paranoid” because he “doesn’t like the way the votes are being tallied.” And he said about wind farms, “They say the noise causes cancer.”

But don’t worry. His mental state is just fine – nothing to see here.

Right! He’s a genius and all this has been carefully planned and flawlessly executed, in order to… something. Don’t ask. Whatever it is must be pure genius too. Or, alternatively, he’s now searching for words, and now he cannot remember simple facts about his own family and his own life – what he said and deeply believed a week ago, that he now says he doesn’t believe, and denies he ever said, even just a week ago, and sometimes an hour or so ago. His cognitive functions are failing – the Alzheimer’s thing of course. But there is a third possibility. They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, and they all laughed at Einstein, and they all laughed at Thomas Edison… but they all laughed at Bozo the Clown too. Which is it? We may have the clown.

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Cancel the Tour

We were warned by the Rolling Stones back in the summer of 1966, that sunny summer after freshman year at whatever college. On the radio their hit song opened ominously – “What a drag it is getting old.”

That was the warning, and maybe Mick and the guys were onto something – but we weren’t going to get old. We knew that. The sixties were exploding in wonderful ways, and surely the Stones song was about pathetic old folks who just didn’t get it, mocking them for being left behind. After all, Bob Dylan, two years earlier, had been singing about how the times, they were a-changing – and they were. It wasn’t just the civil rights movement – the fall of a whole way of thinking, confirmed by legislation on voting rights and fair housing and employment and all the rest. It was also the long hair and flower power and the sexual revolution and the new music – with sitars no less. The drugs were a bit of a bother, but at least weed turned out to be harmless enough. The old men at the country club could get all bleary-eyed and maudlin and bitter sipping their liver-destroying scotch, but that was their problem. They had been left behind.

It was good to be young. There was Ernest Hemingway – “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” If you were lucky enough to have lived through the sixties as a young man (or woman) then that too stays with you for the rest of your life – the sixties are a moveable feast too.

And then things happen:

The Rolling Stones’ tour postponement, officially attributed last week to an unspecific health concern for Mick Jagger, is due to the need for heart surgery for the singer, according to multiple reports.

Jagger, 75, is set to have heart valve replacement surgery Friday in New York City, with the expectation of a full recovery that will allow him to resume touring as soon as this summer, according to the Drudge Report. Rolling Stone reported that it had confirmed the details published by Drudge.

Questions about the seriousness of his condition grew among fans even as a relaxed-looking Jagger was photographed playing with his son in the surf in Miami Beach over the weekend.

That was deceptive. The man is seventy-five years old. He’s worn out his body and may have worn out his welcome. Pop music has changed again and again since 1966 and he hasn’t. The Stones are still wonderful, but so are many other young groups. Mick Jagger is loved and respected, but he’s a man from a different age. He’s a good man from long ago, but this isn’t long ago. This is now. Honor him but move on. Respect him but listen to the new guys. Mick Jagger is Joe Biden.

That’s because something is wrong, although that’s hard to define, as Politico’s Alex Thompson shows here:

Longtime Democratic donor Susie Tompkins Buell, 76, has met Joe Biden several times over the years and says he’s a hand-holder and a hugger; physically, but innocently, affectionate.

“He’s just like a friendly grandpa, what can I say,” Buell said.

Lucy Flores, 39, a former Nevada assemblywoman and 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor, described her interaction with Biden – his kissing her on the head – as uncomfortable and unacceptable.

“He needs to have awareness and – after all of those years where he was acting inappropriately – someone around him should have said to him, ‘Joe Biden, stop doing that,” Flores said.

This seems to be a generational thing and a problem for Biden:

What’s creepy to one person is welcome, or at least not bothersome, to another. The discussion of inappropriate touching, however, comes just as Biden is preparing to announce whether he’ll enter the 2020 field against a historically diverse roster of Democrats. It’s the latest sign of a new playing field to which the 76-year-old Biden must adapt, even as factions within the party have expressed a hunger for fresh faces.

“I come from a different generation, people were really friendly and were not afraid to show it,” Buell, who supports Kamala Harris in the Democratic primary, said. “He’s a hand-holder; he’s appreciative of people who’ve done good things. And if he appreciates you, he likes to show it. He’ll hold your hand, he’ll hug you. I hate to see that being chased off.”

But that will be chased off:

Massachusetts Democratic Party vice chairwoman Deb Kozikowski described a deep disconnect between generations, to the point where she said she feels the need to have a broader discussion about today’s rules of conduct. In her view, some of the complaints today are of behavior she’s long considered acceptable.

“All I know is if you can’t touch someone without their permission anymore, then put my picture on the wall at the post office,” Kozikowski, who is neutral in the Democratic primary, said…

Nelini Stamp, a 31-year-old director of strategy and partnerships for the Working Families Party, said she was disappointed that those who reacted to Flores’ statement by saying they always felt comfortable around Biden didn’t get the “nuance” that younger progressives do.

“I do think that there is a generational divide. This is about the future of not just the Democratic Party but our community at large that wants to see a world in which we have no tolerance for inappropriate behavior and sexual assault,” Stamp said. “The point is that Lucy did feel uncomfortable. This is not about negating your experience [with Biden] but about elevating hers.”

That may be hard to do – one of the two parties has things all wrong here – and Biden is the one in trouble:

The difference in perception presents a strategic challenge to Biden as he weighs a presidential bid and whether he can push back against a “creepy Joe” labeling along with a montage of photos of Biden plastered across social media. A conversation about how to characterize Biden’s past interactions with women raged across social media and cable news after Flores and a second woman from Connecticut said he touched them in a way that was unwanted and made them feel uncomfortable.

“Anyone who knows Biden knows that he is a very warm and tactile personality. There are a million examples of it,” says David Axelrod, longtime adviser to Barack Obama. “It’s not lasciviousness. It’s just his style. The problem he has is that these gestures, which he and most of the recipients viewed as benign, are now being judged in a different time and through a different lens.”

That leaves Biden few options, so he chose to say he’s still learning:

“The Vice President has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand, given or received a hug, or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support, or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort. He has said that he believes that women who have experience any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen,” said Biden spokesman Bill Russo.

In short, he’s not defensive, and he’s not angry. He wants to know how this new world works, and he’s willing to do the new right thing in this new young world. He’s listening, but that may not be enough:

Alyssa Miller-Hurley, a Democratic operative from South Carolina, said the stories about Biden’s interactions – and how they’re being perceived by people of different generations – calls attention to his age. That’s not necessarily a good thing for him, since Democrats generally want in a potential president a fresh face talking about the future.

“It just brings the two sides to what is inevitably going to be a clash between those who want something comfortable and something they know and something they’ve seen win, versus folks who want something new and [someone] that looks more like them and has had experiences that are closer to what their experiences in the White House,” she said.

Miller-Hurley added, “People love him. I love him. But a lot of folks don’t want him to run for the same reasons they don’t want to vote for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They don’t want octogenarians representing them.”

People love Mick Jagger too, but they may not want to see him on stage any longer. It’s the same sort of thing with Biden. His time came and went.

Michelle Goldberg examines what that means now:

On Friday, Lucy Flores, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada, accused Joe Biden of touching her inappropriately as they waited to take the stage at a 2014 election rally. He put his hands on her shoulders, she said, and then nuzzled her hair and kissed the back of her head. She didn’t accuse Biden, who is reportedly close to announcing his presidential candidacy, of sexual harassment or assault, just of making her uncomfortable. “I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end,” she wrote.

So there was nothing even vaguely illegal here. It’s simply time to educate Biden and well-intentioned old men like him, but gently, or maybe not:

Amy Lappos, a former aide to the Democratic congressman Jim Himes, told The Hartford Courant that Biden pulled her toward him to rub noses during a 2009 fund-raiser. “There’s absolutely a line of decency,” Lappos said, adding: “Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It’s not cultural. It’s not affection. It’s sexism or misogyny.”

Which is it? Goldberg wonders about that:

There are countless photos of Biden behaving in the ways that Flores and Lappos describe: squeezing women, rubbing their shoulders, leaning in too close. All this was open, not furtive, presumably because it never occurred to Biden that he was doing anything untoward.

I don’t necessarily blame him. In the past few years, women have been calling out daily indignities that previous generations grew up quietly tolerating: lingering hugs from a boss, embarrassing intimate questions, crude office jokes. Individually, these are small acts, and most men probably don’t understand how cumulatively draining they can be. Women, after all, have only recently begun to articulate it.

That’s bad news for Biden:

I don’t think Biden’s avuncular pawing is a #MeToo story. (Lappos specifically said the way he grabbed her “wasn’t sexual.”) But if Biden was more oblivious than predatory, his history still puts him out of step with the mores of an increasingly progressive Democratic Party. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that some Democrats are bracing “for an extended reckoning about Mr. Biden and gender if he enters the race.” The inevitably of such a reckoning should make Biden reconsider getting in.

But it’s more than that, because Goldberg remembers the past:

Biden’s issues with gender, after all, go far beyond chronic handsiness. His waffling on reproductive choice troubles many feminists; as the New York Times reported last week, Biden’s “back-and-forth over abortion would become a hallmark of his political career.” He was the chairman of the hearings on Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination, where Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, was demeaned and dismissed. Though Biden has expressed sorrow for how Hill was treated, he’s never directly apologized to her.

Beyond gender, on issue after issue, if Biden runs for president he will have to run away from his own record. He – and by extension, we – will have to relive the debate over the Iraq war, which he voted to authorize. He’ll have to explain his vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which, by lifting regulations on banking, helped create the conditions for the 2008 financial meltdown. (Biden has called that vote one of the biggest regrets of his career.) In 2016, Hillary Clinton was slammed for her previous support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which contributed to mass incarceration. Biden helped write the law, which he called, in 2015, the “1994 Biden crime bill.”

That’s a lot to explain, but Goldberg also sees this:

None of this means that Democrats need to disavow Biden. He is by most accounts a man of great personal decency. As vice president, he pushed Barack Obama’s administration in the right direction on issues including gay marriage and campus sexual assault. It’s not surprising that he leads most polls of 2020 Democrats; he is well known and well loved.

Sure, but on the other hand:

Still, the widespread assumption that Biden would pose the strongest challenge to Donald Trump is unwarranted. In recent years, neither party has done well when they’ve chosen candidates who were meant to appeal to some elusive cadre of swing voters but lacked a robust grass-roots base. On paper, the war heroes John Kerry and John McCain looked electable; Obama and Trump did not. To those desperate to unseat Trump, the centrist, establishment Biden might seem like the safest choice, but it would actually be risky to pick a candidate who will need to constantly apologize for himself.

There’s too much, over all the long years, for which an apology, or at least a detailed explanation, is necessary. And even then the apologies and explanations are about the distant past. And the past is boring. Ask anyone. Everyone wants to move on. Goldberg sees this:

No one should judge the whole span of Biden’s career by the standards of 2019, but if he’s going to run for president, it’s fair to ask whether he’s the right leader for this moment. He is a product of his time, but that time is up.

Cancel the tour. No, wait, that’s Mick, not Joe. Karen Tumulty has a suggestion. Joe Biden needs to cut it out and so does the mob that is after him:

The former vice president – and presumed front-runner-to-be in the 2020 Democratic primary – has a long history of putting his hands all over pretty much anyone who comes within reach. Women. Men. Children. Longtime friends. Perfect strangers.

He calls it the trait of a “tactile politician.” Longtime aides say it is simply “Biden being Biden.” But a quick Google search of “creepy Uncle Joe” finds an avalanche of video proof that his space-invading overtures are not always received with delight.

Fine, but everyone should calm down:

What we all are learning, we should hope, is that we should respect women who have the courage to come forward about their experiences with unwanted physical contact. They deserve the benefit of the doubt both about their versions of events and about how they were made to feel.

But it is also important – and a sign that a social movement is maturing into a social norm – to recognize that not every offense is of equal severity.

Also worth factoring in is whether an alleged perpetrator was acting with malevolence or just cluelessness. Flores indicated that she believed Biden’s actions were demeaning and disrespectful, but not violent or sexual. Nor does it sound like a power move on Biden’s part.

So step back and think about this:

To lose that sense of proportion is to dishonor the victims of the worst kinds of sexual abuse, and to abandon any hope that there can be a path to redemption for those who commit lesser ones and grow to understand the hurt they have caused.

That’s fine, but who has time for that? Joe Biden is a product of his time, a time long ago – just like Mick Jagger. Honor their amazing lives, and move on. The times they are a-changing. They always are.

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