The Sausage Factory

You really don’t want to know how sausages are made and you can blame Upton Sinclair for that. It was his 1906 novel The Jungle that changed everything. This was a tale of the miserably hard life of immigrants in Chicago at the time, but that’s not what people remembered. His novel was set in the meatpacking industry in Chicago – “Hog Butcher to the World” as Carl Sandburg called the city – and soon everyone knew what filth and nasty stuff went into their morning sausage. Oops. As Sinclair later said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” – but that led to the Meat Inspection Act the next year, and all food-safety inspection since, so it all worked out. And a cliché was born – you really don’t want to know how that sausage was made. As for Upton Sinclair, he was sometimes a Socialist and sometimes a Democrat, and in 1934 he ran for governor out here in California. He lost.

That’s a bit of a shame, because our government – as things have worked out – is a bit of a sausage factory. You really don’t want to know how a bill becomes law. The folks on your side of things give up concessions that would appall you – the folks on the other side do the same – and no one is supposed to know about those nasty parts. Each side gets to claim victory. No one’s the wiser – and the same thing happens with major appointments. Lincoln assembled his famous “team of rivals” to get things done. They may not have been the best men for the job, but each had a constituency. He could play them off against each other, and Kennedy really didn’t like Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson didn’t like him, but Johnson could help Kennedy carry the South, and Johnson was a master at twisting arms in the Senate, in his own crude way. He was useful, and he was a counterweight to the dashing young urbane (and urban) Kennedy and his ethereally elegant wife, who spoke French of all things. Johnson would do. Kennedy would make do.

Will Donald Trump make do? He seems to be considering Mitt Romney as his pick for secretary of state, and the two have come to loathe each other. Romney famously and publicly declared Donald Trump unfit for the presidency. He’d never vote for him. His comments were blunt and extensive. He didn’t vote for him. Trump was outraged and hit back. Romney was a loser. He “choked” and lost to Obama in 2012 – he was a total loser, but Romney has thought long and hard about foreign relations. He knows the territory. He’s sober and serious and careful. He’s a counterweight to Trump in a way that Rudy Giuliani, the other likely option, isn’t. Giuliani is rabidly loyal to Trump, but that’s the problem. Giuliani hasn’t aged well. He rants, and he hasn’t thought long and hard about anything in decades, if he ever did. And he doesn’t know the territory. He’s not a statesman. He never was – and then there’s Bob Corker, the present chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He’s safe. He’s also dull. Trump has no tolerance for boring people.

Of course there’s someone else. Charles Krauthammer is excited about that someone else:

But I do think we should keep our eye on a third possibility… and that would be David Petraeus, who to the world represents America at its strongest and most decisive. He is the guy who saved the Iraq War, and is a man who has written and thought deeply about the new kind of warfare that we are involved in. And that, I think, would be a spectacular choice.

Kevin Drum isn’t so sure about that:

Krauthammer, of course, was part of the chorus claiming that Hillary Clinton had betrayed the republic as Secretary of State because she occasionally discussed the administration’s drone program over unclassified email. The emails were all carefully worded; there weren’t very many of them; everything in them had almost certainly been widely reported already; there’s no evidence that anyone ever hacked them; and James Comey said clearly that it wasn’t even a close call to determine that Clinton had done nothing illegal. Nonetheless, she had endangered the country and was obviously unfit to hold office.

But David Petraeus – that’s a different story. Petraeus was head of the CIA; he got smitten by an attractive woman; he knowingly and deliberately passed along classified information to her; he tried to hide the email trail; and he was eventually convicted of mishandling classified information as part of a plea deal. For all I know, he may literally be unable to get a security clearance any longer.

But he would be a “spectacular” choice for Hillary Clinton’s old job. Good God.

Drum then adds this:

Of course, Krauthammer was also one of the conservatives who embraced the conspiracy theory that Obama used Petraeus’s affair to blackmail Petraeus into giving favorable testimony on Benghazi. So who knows what really goes through that head of his.

No one knows, but David Petraeus is a long-shot here. Donald Trump loves generals – he wishes he’d have been one, like Patton or MacArthur – so he’s met with David Petraeus. It could be Petraeus, or maybe not. Donald Trump likes to stir up trouble, but Petraeus may be more trouble than he’s worth. Explaining that the email thing with his mistress, and his resignation from the CIA with his admission of guilt, and the plea deal, was not nearly as bad as what Hillary Clinton did… well, that may not fly. Charles Krauthammer and the whole crew at Fox News would back Trump on Petraeus. But it’s likely that no one else would. Everyone else would laugh at Trump. He hates that. Petraeus is out, maybe.

Welcome to the sausage factory. In fact, let Michael Shear and Maggie Habermann take you on a walk through the sausage factory that is Donald Trump’s mind:

Kellyanne Conway, one of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s senior advisers, was about to board a flight back to New York on Monday morning when she caught a glimpse of the headline crawling across television screens in the terminal.

“SOURCES: TRUMP ‘FURIOUS’ OVER CONWAY COMMENTS ABOUT ROMNEY,” screamed the headline on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

Ms. Conway quickly dialed Mr. Trump, as well as Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and confidant, seeking reassurance that the headline was wrong.

She got it.

Ah, it’s a bit of a game:

Ms. Conway, the Republican pollster and strategist who managed Mr. Trump’s improbable campaign, said the president-elect was neither surprised nor angered by her public excoriation a day earlier of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a top prospect for secretary of state in the Trump administration.

“When he’s upset with someone, they know it,” Ms. Conway said in a telephone interview late Monday afternoon. While her public display may have bothered some members of Mr. Trump’s transition team, by all accounts, her close relationship with the next occupant of the Oval Office remains secure.

Mr. Trump, in a statement emailed Monday evening by his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said: “Kellyanne came to me and asked whether or not she could go public with her thoughts on the matter. I encouraged her to do so. Most importantly she fully acknowledged there is only one person that makes the decision. She has always been a tremendous asset and that will continue.”

That’s because she helps him make trouble:

To those on the outside of the Trump transition, her remarks on Sunday had all the hallmarks of a political staff member gone rogue. Amid reports of intense closed-door deliberations over who should be secretary of state, Ms. Conway had seemed intent on committing a heretical political act by an aide: boxing in her boss. She wrote on Twitter about a “deluge” of concerns from conservatives and appeared repeatedly on television, insisting that a Romney appointment would be seen by Mr. Trump’s supporters as a “betrayal.”

But little in Mr. Trump’s universe is simple. In fact, people familiar with the dynamic inside Trump Tower – who were granted anonymity to discuss the unusual process that Mr. Trump has allowed for his transition – said Ms. Conway had been neither insubordinate nor acting directly on the president-elect’s instruction.

By denouncing Mr. Romney even as Mr. Trump was preparing for their second meeting, this time over dinner on Tuesday, Ms. Conway was simply doing what she knows Mr. Trump likes: encouraging a public airing of conflicting views when he is unsure of what path to take.

So this was no big deal:

What some saw over the weekend as an act of political defiance by Ms. Conway – undermining a potential cabinet nominee – was seen by Mr. Trump as a demonstration of loyalty, according to people who had talked to him. Her criticism of Mr. Romney articulated a view her boss had at times expressed: that Mr. Romney had tried to “hurt” him during the campaign and had yet to fully acknowledge it or apologize.

This demonstration of loyalty is what really mattered, even if it confused the hell out of everyone:

Mr. Trump made clear throughout the campaign when he was unhappy with those speaking for him on television. Some cable bookers have been quietly told not to refer to someone as a “surrogate” for the campaign on a given day if the person has fallen out of favor.

On a conference call with top supporters at one point, Mr. Trump denounced some of his own aides and said they did not speak for him.

That is not a problem that Ms. Conway has encountered.

Still, everyone was confused:

Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host whose show is closely watched by Mr. Trump, accused Ms. Conway of trying to “intimidate the president-elect,” adding that “now all world leaders will be watching to see if a President Trump can be bullied by his staff.”

Ms. Conway responded to Mr. Scarborough on Twitter by saying, “Repeating 100th time decision is his & I’ll respect it,” and adding, “I already have the job I want.”

Again, welcome to the sausage factory, although Josh Marshall has a different take on this:

It would be entirely normal for someone like Mitt Romney, who had excoriated the incoming president in such blistering and personal terms, to be passed over when it came to putting together a new administration. Some criticisms and breaches are just too hard to get past. But the current drama over Mitt Romney’s possible nomination to be Secretary of State points to something quite different: the ritual humiliation of opponents, critics and all who have resisted that Trump yoke that is central to the Trump world. We saw it repeatedly during the campaign and it continues into the transition.

So, how does the best man for the job of secretary of state get the job? Ritual humiliation is the answer:

Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State – almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle. More pointedly, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway – now some sort of senior advisor to the transition – has repeatedly said in public that if Trump chooses Romney it would be a betrayal of Trump’s supporters. She said this most recently and floridly this morning on the CNN Sunday morning show.

Pundits are now debating whether Conway is actually being so audacious as to box Trump in by whipping him publicly on the issue or whether this is just stagecraft and Kabuki theater orchestrated from above to drag out Romney’s public humiliation. I have no idea which it is. My best guess is that it’s more organic or tacit than orchestrated. Dignity is the kryptonite of the Trump world. The dignity wraiths that have bowed down to Trump, and given him their all, instinctively look to destroy anyone who hasn’t. Like a mob capos that appear more eager to defend the boss’s honor and power than the boss himself.

That’s a hell of a way to make sausage:

Competence certainly – but also worldview seem largely irrelevant to Trump’s personnel deliberations. Loyalty is the only criteria. Conway seemed to state this explicitly in her comments on CNN: “There are concerns that those of us who are loyal have [about Romney].” This is of a piece with the central role of Trump’s children, his son-in-law and the open effort to turbocharge Trump’s licensing, management and construction business with the presidency. The entire presidency looks set to be personalized, with the difference between the president’s personal and public interests not a matter of conflict but simply an irrelevance.

Public policy means nothing when the presidency is wholly personalized, and a day later, Marshall considers another aspect of that:

Donald Trump craves acceptance and adulation. Much of his 45 year history at the literal and figurative center of Manhattan has been driven by a profound drive to be accepted as a peer by the city’s money elite and his general failure to achieve that. The drives the convoluted mix of neediness and populist, anti-elite grievance and grandstanding we associate with him. That’s the most salient thing about Trump’s candidacy. Even though Trump is a thoroughly New York creature, an elite of elites and a plutocrat, someone with virtually no connection to the people he energized to the polls, he had nevertheless an experience of anti-elite grievance that made the connection possible and galvanizing.

That’s why he’s talking to Romney:

Mitt is the widely respected elite who looked at Trump, regarded him as trash and told him so. For all the difference, for all the non-New York-ness of Mitt, it’s the kind of rejection and insult that we can see as formative and driving influence on Trump’s life.

Mitt is the real thing. Many of us see him as a touch dorky or square. But Mitt is widely respected even among political opponents. He has political pedigree, great success in business. I think there’s part of Trump – a big part – that, as much as he’d like to humiliate Romney, would really like him to join him, join his team, to accept him.

That’s because he’s not at all like Rudy Giuliani, not like what Marshall calls the Trump’s loyalists.

They are virtually all has-beens, unknowns, hotheads who the media and the political party elites see as embarrassments or jokes. Now, maybe Trump saw something in them these guys didn’t. He won the election after all – so maybe so. But still, they’re desperadoes and has-beens and unknowns. This applies to [Paul] Manafort (cashed out long ago, damaged goods), [Cory] Lewandowski (ne’er-do-well in the business), Conway (was a big deal in the 90s), and all the various press spokespeople and handlers. In a different way it applies to Rudy, Newt, and Huckabee. To paraphrase Trump, when they were sending Trump loyalists and surrogates, they weren’t sending their best.

The desire to humiliate is probably much the stronger with Trump. But I think Trump would like Mitt to validate him too.

So THAT’S how the sausage is made. If Marshall is right, Trump is a rather pathetic needy person, desperate for acceptance, while at the same time, eager to publicly humiliate anyone who won’t accept him, if he can get away with it. Dignity is the kryptonite of the Trump world. It takes away Superman’s amazing powers – or something.

That, of course, leads to things like this:

A member of the Electoral College representing Texas, Art Sisneros, wrote on Saturday that he will resign as an elector because he refuses to cast a vote for Donald Trump.

Sisneros had previously spoken out against Trump, telling Politico in August that he was considering voting against Trump even if he won the Electoral College. But in a blog post on Saturday, Sisneros wrote that he does not want to be a “faithless” elector and cannot bring himself to vote for Trump, so he decided to resign from his role as an elector.

The odd thing is that this is a religious act:

“I do not see how Donald Trump is biblically qualified to serve in the office of the Presidency. Of the hundreds of angry messages that I have received, not one has made a convincing case from scripture otherwise,” he wrote on his blog “The Blessed Path.” “If Trump is not qualified and my role, both morally and historically, as an elected official is to vote my conscience, then I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump for President. I believe voting for Trump would bring dishonor to God.”

Any mention of God, of course, adds some of that dangerous dignity to this act, but it is a civic act too:

“Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector,” Sisneros continued. “This will allow the remaining body of Electors to fill my vacancy when they convene on Dec 19 with someone that can vote for Trump. The people will get their vote. They will get their Skittles for dinner. I will sleep well at night knowing I neither gave in to their demands nor caved to my convictions. I will also mourn the loss of our republic.”

He won’t be alone. Upton Sinclair ruined everyone’s breakfast. Donald Trump ruined everything else.

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Built on Sand

The election of Donald Trump tore the country apart, because about half the country decided the country should be torn apart. The issue was big government that didn’t respond to the little guy – too many out-of-touch fat cats running things for their own benefit. The answer was to elect a vulgar and vindictive billionaire who would appoint other billionaires to all key cabinet posts, which would somehow “drain the swamp” – whatever that meant – because they would know nothing about how the government runs, or even what it does. They’d bring “fresh eyes” to everything, and they were “winners” – so they would make America “win” again. That might have been the top-level argument for a Trump presidency.

The second-level arguments were a bit more troubling. Muslims were ruining America, or the whole world, actually. Or it was Mexicans, or maybe all Hispanics, that were ruining America. Or it was the Black Lives Matter folks who hate the police who keep us all safe, particularly from them – or maybe it was all black folks, who still whine about unfairness even after they got their black president for eight years. Or maybe it was gays and urban hipsters who mocked Real Americans, as Sarah Palin once called those who live in small towns and on farms, away from the cities and coasts, those quiet straight white Christians into country music and whatnot. Perhaps the gays and urban hipsters weren’t mocking anyone, but they seemed to, by being who they are. Or it was all of those Asian tech CEOs in California, or California itself, or the Jewish bankers. Or it was women who didn’t know their place. Or it was political correctness – a white guy couldn’t call anyone a nigger anymore – no one was allowed to mock the disabled – no one could say what they wanted to say, even Merry Christmas. Of course anyone can say Merry Christmas any time they want, but no one wanted to feel guilty about it, even if no one told them to feel guilty. Or it was Obamacare – but not Medicare or Social Security. Or maybe it was Hollywood.

The list seemed endless. It all came into play. Donald Trump used it all. He said, over and over, that only he could fix all this. All it took was one strong leader willing to say the words that made him famous – “You’re fired!”

He’d say those words. He’d build that wall. He’d deport those eleven million people. He’d tear up all our treaties – no Paris climate deal – Iran could go back to building their bomb and we’d wipe them out – NATO and Japan and South Korea, if they wanted our protection, could pay us big bucks or forget about it. NAFTA would be gone. If Mexico and Canada wanted to trade with us, now they’d have to pay big bucks for that privilege and do what we want – period. And he’d jail Hillary Clinton.

As many have said, except for the alarmist press, no one took him literally. Unless he dissolved Congress and shut down the Supreme Court much of this could not be done. But people did take him seriously. Somehow he’d take care of what was ruining America. That would be gone. “They” would be gone. Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” message wasn’t what people wanted to hear. People didn’t want to be “together” – not with those other folks. They’d had enough of that.

That’s what tore the country apart. That’s what Donald Trump tapped into. In his Thanksgiving message – not a national address, just a YouTube video – he said he wanted to be a president for “all” Americans. No one believed that for a moment. Who was this man, and what had he done with Donald Trump? This was just something someone had told him he should say. He looked bored.

It was too late for that. The damage had been done:

After a bruising presidential election featuring the two least liked major-party candidates in recent history, more than 8-in-10 Americans say the country is more deeply divided on major issues this year than in the past several years, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And more than half say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the US.

The poll’s findings, released Sunday, also suggest a sizable minority personally agree with both parties on at least some issues, and nearly 8-in-10 overall hope to see the GOP-controlled government incorporate some Democratic policies into its agenda.

A sizable minority is still a minority, and the hope of that eighty percent is just hope, based on nothing anyone has seen so far:

The percentage in the CNN/ORC poll saying Republicans ought to incorporate Democratic policies into their agenda is lower than the percentage who thought the Democrats ought to do the same in 2008 when they took control of the White House and both houses of Congress. That’s largely because Republicans now are less likely to think their party’s leaders ought to work with the Democrats than Democrats were in 2008 to say that their leaders should bring in GOP policies (55% of Republicans say so now vs. 74% of Democrats who said so in ’08).

In fact, the country has been torn apart:

The sense that the country is sharply riven is near universal, with 85% saying so overall, including 86% of independents, 85% of Republicans and 84% of Democrats. It’s also sharply higher than it was in 2000 when the nation last elected a president who did not win the popular vote (64% thought the nation more sharply split then).

The share that sees deeper divides now tops 8-in-10 across gender, racial, age and educational divides. The biggest difference on the question comes across ideological lines, with 91% of liberals saying the country is more divided on top issues compared with 80% of conservatives.

Okay, Donald Trump “broke” America, but maybe it had all been built on sand all along. In July, there was Brexit – Britain voted to leave the European Union. They didn’t want to be together with “those” people anymore, no matter what economic devastation followed. There were similar movements all across Europe, with votes still pending, even if the whole idea of a European Union was based on the idea that those two World Wars had been a bad idea. An economic union, possibly followed by a political union, would end that nonsense. “Stronger Together” – that was the idea.

That notion didn’t work for Hillary Clinton. That didn’t work on the other side of the pond either, perhaps because the peace and prosperity after 1945 had also been built on sand. That’s what Josh Marshall argued at the time:

Autocracy is government based on fear, domination and insecurity. It is of course billed as the opposite. But it is born of these three horsemen and in turn breeds them. One of the shaping thoughts of the generation of actors and thinkers who emerged from the Second World War was the seared perception that stability, trust, peace and virtuous cycles of all sorts are not natural phenomena or human norms. In fact, they are brittle creations and perhaps abnormal in human affairs. Of course, these beliefs and the ambitions and goals which grew out of them led to their own follies. One can jump from 1945 to 1965 and see the wisdom of this recognition leading the same luminaries to walk into a folly of an entirely different kind. The men who built much of the world we live in today also built a world that was perpetually on the brink of cataclysmic nuclear annihilation. Their creation, let us say with some understatement, had real shortcomings.

And yet, for all that complicated history and all that human folly, basic realities they understood remain. Democracy, borders that are peaceful rather than armed and bloody … none of these things are natural states of being like a rock that rolls to the bottom of a hill and then stays there until some greater force than gravity and friction pushes it along or hauls it back up the hill.

So a stable post-war Europe was a brittle creation and perhaps abnormal in human affairs, built on sand with lots of nasty stuff underneath, ready to shift violently. Virtuous cycles are not natural phenomena or human norms. The same might be said of America:

In the United States we have Donald Trump, a man of erratic impulses and petty but intense grievances who has, like all demagogues, ripped at the existing fissures of our society in order to grasp political power. American institutions have preserved political order and domestic peace for going on a quarter of a millennium with the very notable and brutal exception of four years of civil war 150 years ago. Those institutions can in all likelihood weather four years of his mental instability and toxic incitement. But not necessarily. Britain’s exit from Europe, Scotland’s exit from the United Kingdom, the increasingly militarized border between ‘Europe’ and Russia can likely all be managed. But maybe not. Violence and instability can build quickly on themselves.

I believe generally in what Democrats believe in rather than what Republicans believe in. It informs almost everything I’ve written in almost twenty years as a professional writer about American politics. But both have been able to govern the country within a broad consensus of what we consider acceptable behavior.

Trump represents something quite different. The kind of menace he represents is amplified by the rise of complacent instability and reckless behavior we see today in Europe, in the conflagration in the Middle East and the still distant but rising specter of great power confrontation on the borders of Russia and in East Asia. The belief that we can roll the dice with no consequences, that we can provoke and act out with no consequences, is a dangerous illusion. We are indulging that illusion along with many other peoples across the globe. But there are consequences. They can come upon us suddenly, like a mugger in the dark and then multiply and spin out of control.

That may be where we are. There is no broad consensus of what we consider acceptable behavior any longer. Trump has shattered that, for better or worse, and now the whole idea of our election process is crumbling:

Donald Trump on Sunday used the platform of the presidency to peddle a fringe conspiracy theory to justify his loss of the popular vote, claiming without evidence that millions of people voted illegally Nov. 8.

Trump’s tweets marked an unprecedented rebuke of the U.S. electoral system by a president-elect and were met with immediate condemnation from voting experts and others. And they offered a troubling indication that Trump’s ascension to the highest political office in the United States may not alter his penchant for repeating unproven conspiracies perpetuated by the far-right.

The man likes to break things:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote on Twitter. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim and PolitiFact ruled it false.

Several hours later, he added more specifics, but again without any evidence: “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California – so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias – big problem!”

Nope:

Election law experts quickly rejected Trump’s claims as farfetched.

“There’s no reason to believe this is true,” said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the University of California, Irvine. “The level of fraud in US elections is quite low.”

Hasen added, “The problem of non-citizen voting is quite small — like we’re talking claims in the dozens, we’re not talking voting in the millions, or the thousands, or even the hundreds.”

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research and a former senior trial attorney in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, agreed that widespread fraud was unlikely.

“We know historically that this almost never happens,” he said. “You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a non-citizen voting.”

Yeah, well, watch out for that shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning, but that’s not the point:

A source close to the president-elect said he felt piqued by the Wisconsin recount demand of Green Party nominee Jill Stein, which Hillary Clinton’s campaign said it will participate in, so he hit back. Even though he’s won and it shouldn’t matter, he isn’t letting it go, the source said.

That’s just who he is and what folks love about him, but there’s a backstory:

The claims of voter fraud appear to have gained traction in conservative circle after Infowars, the conspiracy theory-laden website, published an article on Nov. 14 under the headline, “Report: 3 million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.”

The story cites an analysis by Gregg Phillips, who claims to be the founder of a voting app named VoteStand and who was previously associated with Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future super PAC. Phillips has declined to provide any evidence to PolitiFact or reporters to support his assertions of fraud. But he tweeted Sunday evening that he would “release a comprehensive research study to the public, Attorney General [nominee Jeff] Sessions and all interested parties.”

Don’t expect that:

Radio host Alex Jones, who runs Infowars, has faced criticism for promoting unsubstantiated – and often bizarre – conspiracy theories, including that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which resulted in the death of 20 children, is a hoax, and that Hillary Clinton is a “demon from Hell.”

Trump called Jones just days after the election to thank him for his support.

There is no broad consensus of what we consider acceptable behavior any longer:

The president-elect has a long history of pushing debunked conspiracy theories, including the false claim that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and that the election was “rigged” by global elites to assure Hillary Clinton’s victory.

And now he’s angry:

Hillary Clinton is now ahead in the popular vote by about 2.2 million votes, though Trump won the Electoral College by beating Clinton in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.

Trump said on Twitter Sunday that he could have won the popular vote.

“It would have been much easier for me to win the so-called popular vote than the Electoral College in that I would only campaign in 3 or 4 … states instead of the 15 states that I visited. I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten)!” he wrote.

To bolster his claims, Trump has cited a 2014 blog post in The Washington Post by the authors of a disputed study that estimated that “6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.” That study has faced intense scrutiny from election experts, with one analyst telling factcheck.org earlier this year, “Their finding is entirely due to measurement error.”

Trump’s critics have argued that Clinton’s popular vote victory raises questions about whether Trump has a solid mandate to govern.

That seems to be the real problem here, but not the only problem:

Presidential historians said Trump’s comments have little precedent.

“Trump is the first winning candidate to question the legitimacy of the process that gave him the White House,” said Timothy Naftali, a history professor at New York University.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer noted that in 1876, both candidates for president – Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes – claimed voter fraud. “But in that case, there was evidence of fraud and corruption in certain areas,” he said in an email.

“In this case, we see the victor making blanket accusation of fraud to delegitimize 2.5 million votes,” Zelizer said. “Given there is no evidence to support the claim, this is simply stunning and troubling as a sign as to what he will do as president.”

Kevin Drum puts that this way:

It’s just twisting Trump’s guts that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for him. And this whole recount thing in Wisconsin seems to have driven him bananas. The result is a tweet alleging that the Clinton campaign orchestrated millions of illegal votes in 2016… This message went out to all 16 million of his followers, who will surely pass it along to another 16 million or so – and then the media will pass it along to yet millions more.

This is an obvious lie, and it will probably take a few hours for Trump’s TV shills to figure out how to defend it. That’s how it worked with the “thousands of Muslims celebrating on 9/11” thing. But eventually his spear carriers dug up a few internet factoids that provided them with a way to claim that Trump was right, and away they went. I’m sure the same thing will happen this time. I can’t wait to see how many will join in and exactly what dreck they’ll dredge up to justify it.

Alternatively, they could just admit that the Republican president-elect is an epically insecure liar who will say anything when his fragile ego is bruised. That’s not a very appealing alternative, is it?

And then there’s Michael Tomasky:

Let’s review: We have a president-elect who:

  1. Will end up having received around 2.5 million fewer votes than his main opponent.
  1. Whose campaign benefited, almost no one now disputes, from the help provided him by Russian intelligence agencies and other even more shadowy Russian actors – which is to say that foreign agents, whether Russian or any nationality, sought to influence this election to an unprecedented degree.
  1. Who is so tied up in compromises and conflicts because of his business dealings that past White House ethics lawyers, including at least one Republican one, say he will be in violation of the Constitution from his first day in office and argue that the Electoral College must not seat him.
  1. Has already told the American people that, with respect to number 3, his attitude is precisely that of Richard Nixon, back when Nixon declared the president to be by the very nature of the office above the law. Trump said that the president “can’t have a conflict of interest” – meaning, presumably, that it can’t happen simply because he’s the president.

This is a bit absurd:

Want to imagine any one of the above four statements applying to any Democrat, but especially to Hillary Clinton? Think about what we’d be hearing right now from Republicans if Clinton had won a substantial Electoral College victory but lost the popular vote by five more than Al Gore’s margin in 2000. Five hundred thousand was close, but 2.5 million isn’t, out of 137 million. It’s almost 2 percent. That’s a narrow win, yes, but a clear one – well above the threshold, for example, that triggers an automatic recount in the 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) that set such thresholds, which is most typically .5 percent or even .1 percent, but never more than 1 percent.

At the very least, we’d be hearing the right-wing radio people, some Fox hosts, and a fairly large number of prominent Republican senators and House members carrying on about the illegitimacy of Clinton’s victory. Recall back in 1992 when on election night itself, GOP Senate leader Bob Dole said Bill Clinton had no mandate because he didn’t win a majority of the vote. Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the vote, which was nearly 6 percent more than George H. W. Bush, and a whopping 370 electoral votes. But to Dole – and through him, to all Republicans, really, since he was the country’s top-ranking Republican at the time, and others echoed him – Clinton had no mandate.

So if Clinton had no mandate, does Trump?

That’s a good question. Who does? There is no answer. Virtuous cycles are not natural phenomena or human norms. The same might be said of America and its elections. Everything is built on sand, although Tomasky doesn’t want to believe that:

I hate to hear myself saying things like the electors shouldn’t vote for the person who did win under the rules. I don’t know if I can quite endorse that, yet. But by all means, these recounts should be pursued – whatever Jill Stein’s motives here, she’s stumbled into doing something right for once. Democrats from Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on down should be raising every question they can about Trump’s legitimacy and conflicts.

Three simple points: He was not the choice of the people; he prevailed with the help of a foreign power, a power to which he will clearly be indebted; and he tells us straight up that he will do as he pleases with his business and that he is above the law.

The Democrats ought to be able to stand up and oppose that – not in the name of party, but in the name of country. The press ought to, too – not in the name of “liberalism,” but in the name of the values we purport to defend. We are in a crisis. The next few weeks will show us who’s up to recognizing and acting on it.

And who would do that? Who would dare? The nation is divided as it never has been divided before. There’d be riots in the street. Putin would laugh his ass off. The next few weeks might show us that Donald Trump actually broke America. It was all built on sand anyway.

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The Holiday Pause

Just Above Sunset is going dark for a bit – Thanksgiving weekend with family, far from Hollywood. Expect the next bit of analysis and commentary late Sunday evening. Much will happen. It can wait. There are more important things.

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Skipping the Boring Parts

America’s new president is really new. We’ve never elected a president who has never held any public office before, one who never even ran for public office before. He has no government experience – he doesn’t even seem to know how the government is structured – what the various agencies do and how they do it – and what they can and cannot do. He cannot ring up the Justice Department and have them arrest Hillary Clinton. And of course he has no diplomatic experience. He hasn’t been following which Kurds are fighting with us in Iraq against ISIS and which Kurds are fighting in Turkey to mess up our off-and-on ally, and would just as soon fight us too. A senator on a foreign-relations committee would know about such things, and about our treaties and agreements, some problematic, some not. Joe Biden knew about such things. John McCain knows about such things. Hilary Clinton had been secretary of state. She certainly knew about such things. Donald Trump is a former real-estate magnate, who turned to branding to make his fortune larger. He doesn’t know about such things, and of course he has no military experience, other than the military academy he was sent to after he punched out his eighth-grade music teacher. He skipped that whole Vietnam thing – a deferment for bone spurs – he doesn’t remember which foot. But he kept shouting out “I know more about ISIS than the generals, believe me!”

Enough people believed him. No one in the military believed him, but that didn’t matter. There weren’t enough of those folks to make a difference, and they wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either. You don’t play fast and loose with classified documents. Many of them sat it out. They were never a factor. America decided to take a flier on the guy who knew nothing but had what many thought was the right attitude. Well, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by two million votes, so America didn’t decide that. That also didn’t matter. Enough people in just the right places decided that. That’s the system. There’s not much anyone can do about that now.

But we did get a guy who knows next to nothing. It was right out there in the open. In July, Marc Fisher had offered this:

As he has prepared to be named the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday.

He has no time to read, he said: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”

Trump’s desk is piled high with magazines, nearly all of them with himself on their covers, and each morning, he reviews a pile of printouts of news articles about himself that his secretary delivers to his desk. But there are no shelves of books in his office, no computer on his desk.

Presidents have different ways of preparing to make decisions. Some read deeply, some prefer to review short memos that condense difficult issues into bite-size summaries, ideally with check-boxes at the bottom of the page. But Trump, poised to become the first major-party presidential nominee since Dwight Eisenhower who had not previously held elected office, appears to have an unusually light appetite for reading.

He reads about himself. That’s it, but he has his reasons:

He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I already had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”

Trump said he is skeptical of experts because “they can’t see the forest for the trees.” He believes that when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do: “A lot of people said, ‘Man, he was more accurate than guys who have studied it all the time.’ ”

Perhaps people voted for him as a matter of wish-fulfillment. Everyone wants to skip the boring parts, the hard work. Who needs that crap? Everyone has said that in high school now and then, or said it all the time, and everyone is in some way obsessed with what others think of them. This guy skipped the boring parts and was always right about everything. It would be cool to be like that. America should have a president like that. America wanted to be like him, but Fisher also noted the cost of that:

Trump’s approach goes beyond the chief executive manner of Reagan or the younger Bush. “We’ve had presidents who have reveled in their lack of erudition,” said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University, citing Warren Harding and Lyndon Johnson as leaders who scoffed at academics and other experts. “But Trump is really something of an outlier with this idea that knowing things is almost a distraction. He doesn’t have a historical anchor, so you see his gut changing on issues from moment to moment.”

That just happened in that New York Times interview:

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday tempered some of his most extreme campaign promises, dropping his vow to jail Hillary Clinton, expressing doubt about the value of torturing terrorism suspects and pledging to have an open mind about climate change.

Those were three of many reversals in that interview – his gut was changing on issues from moment to moment, and will continue to change. He’s not grounded, as they say, perhaps because he doesn’t read and then think about what he’s read. He’s better than that. He’s above all that, but now that has serious implications:

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower – at least so far – than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Donald Trump has no time for that boring stuff, and there are two ways to look at this:

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

That dismissive indifference might be a problem:

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

That’s okay, because he talks to people:

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a senior member of Trump’s transition team, dismissed the issue, saying that Trump has devoted significant attention to security matters even while meeting with world leaders and assembling his administration.

What does he talk to them about when he doesn’t know what’s really going on? It seems he wings it. He trusts his gut, not this:

The President’s Daily Brief, as the classified document is known, is designed to provide a summary of key security developments and insights from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as an update on covert programs being run overseas by the CIA. It is typically delivered each morning by intelligence analysts selected because of their experience and expertise for the prestigious job.

The contents are among the most closely guarded secrets in Washington, but it is likely that recent versions of the brief covered developments including the resumption of Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria and the disruption of an alleged Islamic State terrorism plot in France.

That sort of thing might be good to know:

“The last three presidents-elect used the intelligence briefings offered during the transition to literally study the national security issues that they would be facing and the world leaders with whom they would be interacting as president,” said Michael Morell, former deputy CIA director, who supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

“The president-elect is missing out on a golden opportunity to learn about the national security threats and challenges facing our nation,” Morell said, “knowledge that would be extremely valuable to have when he takes the oath of office and when he steps into the Situation Room for the first time.”

Oh well – the guy prefers to trust his gut – he’s always right after all, when everyone else gets it wrong – so this isn’t surprising:

Trump has yet to meet with Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. or other top intelligence officials – aside from an unofficial meeting with embattled Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, who is rumored to be a top candidate to replace Clapper. Trump has greeted a parade of other officials auditioning for Cabinet positions, but also met with Indian business partners, television news anchors and figures in the entertainment industry.

That’s what we took a flier on, perhaps because that’s so cool, although Greg Jaffe reports on how, in military matters, Trump may hit a wall:

At least six former generals are being considered for as many as four top positions in a Trump administration – a concentration of military brass that foreign policy experts said is unprecedented in the recent history of the United States. In their charcoal-gray suits and short haircuts, they look like any other business executives. But these former officers, most of whom have spent their adult lives in the military and much of the past 15 years at war, are unlike the people Trump has encountered in corporate boardrooms. They are also unlike the politicians and political operatives who have dominated his life since he declared his intention to run for the White House more than a year ago.

That’s the wall:

“He’s going to find them a strange and alien life form,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “They are motivated by different things. They have their own ethos that is different from business executives or entertainment people, and right now I think he’s entranced by that.”

The generals enjoy enormous public respect, and their plain-talking style and deep overseas experience could help add luster to Trump’s Cabinet. But the generals, if chosen for top jobs, could quickly feel put out by Trump’s sometimes chaotic style, his tendency to repeat untruths and his controversial views on Islam, torture, America’s treaty obligations and the laws of war.

In short, they may think he’s a fool, and he hasn’t helped matters:

When Trump talked about generals on the campaign trail, it was often to disparage them as political pawns of President Obama. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” Trump said in September, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

In other moments he has lavished them with over-the-top praise. “They’re so much braver than me,” he said at a rally last fall in North Carolina. “I wouldn’t have done what they did. I’m brave in other ways. I’m financially brave.”

It’s a good thing that generals are trained not to laugh out loud at absurd civilian politicians. Being financially brave doesn’t cut it, nor does misunderstanding the job:

The president-elect’s ideal of generalship frequently seems frozen in amber, harking back to his high school days at New York Military Academy. He regularly heralds the toughness of such World War II luminaries as Gen. George S. Patton and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, both of whom suffered major career setbacks for bucking authority.

Both were assholes who were removed from power. Eisenhower sidelined Patton after he slapped that shell-socked soldier in that hospital in Italy. Truman dumped MacArthur for mouthing off and suggesting that, if we weren’t such cowards, we’d nuke the Chinese to fix things in Korea. That wasn’t his call. Do your job well – duty, honor, country, and that’s it. Self-discipline is everything.

Trump doesn’t think that way:

There are many reasons – both practical and political – that Trump finds generals so attractive. His focus on senior officers to fill out top foreign policy positions, such as director of national intelligence and secretary of defense, reflects the president-elect’s finely tuned understanding of the country and his base. “Trump loves generals so much because America loves the generals,” said Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Even if he doesn’t pick any of them, just meeting with them in public reflects glory on Trump.”

Think of those short pudgy guys who interview star athletes on ESPN – they shove a microphone in the guy’s face and ask him to explain how he got to be so wonderful. Those short pudgy guys couldn’t make the softball team in eighth grade. They’re wannabes who get to hang around the real men now, and later talk about how manly and awesome those big guys are. It’s a bit pathetic. Those short pudgy guys are called jock-sniffs. That’s Trump, but Trump likes the smell of gunpowder and testosterone. He wants to hang with the generals. People might think he’s one of them. That would be so cool. Maybe they’ll invite him to one of their parties.

They won’t:

Despite the military’s appeal, Trump may be surprised by the generals on matters of style and policy. Some of the fiercest resistance to enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, came from the military during the Bush administration. Trump has said he backs such measures and admitted in a Tuesday interview with the New York Times that he was taken aback when [General “Mad Dog”] Mattis disagreed with him.

There will be more of that:

Trump’s campaign trail talk of temporarily banning Muslims or forcing them to register with the U.S. government is certain to draw resistance from most senior military officers, including those who have cycled through interviews with Trump in recent days. Although retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has described Islam as a threat to the United States, his views have alienated him from most generals and many of his former military mentors.

“I don’t think a single one of the generals, with the exception of Flynn, will buy into Trump’s view of the Islamic world,” Barno said. “All of them will reject the notion that Islam is the problem or that Muslims are the problem.”

Flynn has said that Islam is a political movement disguised as a religion. Say that often enough and it will be. There’s a reason he lost his job, but that’s also the reason that Flynn got so angry at the two Trump security briefings so far, telling the analysts in the room that they were full of shit about everything – he knew better. Flynn and Trump were made for each other.

There’s been a misunderstanding here:

Trump’s vision of ruthless battlefield commanders pursuing an implacable foe misses a lot about the modern general. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have certainly involved a lot of fighting and killing, but generals have also spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about winning over civilians, wooing fickle tribal elders and managing sensitive allies.

They view alliances, such as NATO, as sacrosanct. Trump has said that the United States may not defend NATO allies who do not “pay their bills.”

“War involves fighting, but so much more,” said retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces in Baghdad from 2007 to 2008.

But it’s more than that:

The biggest difference between Trump and his generals could come in the realm of managing risk. Most generals spent decades methodically working their way through a massive bureaucracy with its own unique set of politics, customs and byzantine policies. They survived and in many cases thrived in a culture that rewards conformity over the brash, go-it-alone approach that has characterized Trump’s career.

“There are a lot of bold and bright colonels who never made general,” one former military officer said.

It pays to know how things work, and then there is the matter of civilian control of the military:

For years, top U.S. officials have been pushing allies where the military dominates the highest levels of government, such as Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, to cede more authority to civilians.

A general-heavy Trump administration could undermine that message. “This is a way that less-democratic governments conduct themselves,” said Kathleen Hicks, a senior official in the Obama administration and the Pentagon and an adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

It also upends decades of tradition. “Civilian control is so fundamental to the character and the way we think about the United States,” said Jim Thomas, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration. “It’s something that should be preserved at all costs.”

We don’t want to be just like Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey. Trump needs to read up on those military governments and how problematic they are. He might want to read up on how we’ve discouraged that sort of thing and why. It’s all in those daily top-secret security briefings he’s been blowing off.

But that’s not how he rolls:

President-elect Donald J. Trump moved swiftly on Wednesday to diversify his cabinet and try to heal lingering rifts in the Republican Party, reaching out to Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina and Betsy DeVos, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, both of whom opposed him during the campaign, as well as Ben Carson, who challenged Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.

Ms. Haley, who was named ambassador to the United Nations, and Ms. DeVos, who was named education secretary, would be the first women in Mr. Trump’s cabinet. Mr. Carson, whose selection as secretary of housing and urban development is expected to be announced on Friday, would be the first African-American.

Nikki Haley has no experience in international diplomacy – she knows nothing about it. Betsy DeVos has been working for years to phase out public schools in favor of a voucher system where parents get a bit of money to send their kids to private schools, Christian schools. This is a Christian nation, after all. The public should pay for Jesus-only education. Ben Carson had already said he was unqualified to run a giant bureaucracy. He’d never done anything like that in his life. He’d never run anything – but Trump seems to have talked him into it. How hard can it be?

That’s the question that Trump asked America. We’re about to discover the answer.

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Ask No Questions

Fox News’ Roger Ailes is out of a job at the moment. The sexual harassment charges piled up. All of them were slowly substantiated. A few of them turned into lawsuits. His boss, Rupert Murdoch, tossed a lot of money at Ailes and told him to go away. Ailes went away. He hooked up with Donald Trump, a close friend for many years, as an informal advisor in the summer before the election, but nothing much came of that. Ailes was an old man with a lot of amazing war stories from long ago, but no one wanted to hear them. That was then. This was now.

Still, Ailes had been central to American politics. He was in at the beginning of today’s modern conservatism, and that began with Tricky Dick. In 1967, Ailes, who was producing the Mike Douglas Show, had a long side-discussion about television in politics with one of the guests, Richard Nixon, who thought television was a gimmick. Nixon, however, listened carefully and then asked Ailes to serve as his Executive Producer for Television. Maybe there was something to this television thing. Nixon’s 1968 election might have been Ailes’ doing – he worked hard to make the very odd Nixon more likable and “accessible” and maybe even cool in his own way. Later, Ailes worked with Lee Atwater on the Willie Horton ad that sunk Michael Dukakis. Somehow, the bland and uninspiring George H. W. Bush was the good guy.

That was impressive. This guy knew how to use the media, so in February 1996, Roger Ailes left America’s Talking (now MSNBC) to start the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. The job was the same – make the angry conservative stiffs the good guys again. Ailes could do that, he’d done it twice before, and Fox News launched on October 7, 1996, and they’ve been working on that ever since. They were pretty good at that – and then it all went south. Donald Trump was the problem. He skipped one of their debates because he was mad at Megyn Kelly – she had trapped him with embarrassing questions about all the nasty things he had said about women over the years. He couldn’t forgive that, and really, he didn’t need Fox News or any other news channel. He didn’t need reporters asking questions. He had Twitter.

That’s why Roger Ailes’ brief time as an advisor to Trump was no more than a courtesy to an old friend – let the old guy, the dinosaur from another age, reminisce about the good old days. It was a gesture of respect. He earned his nostalgia. Let him tell those war stories – then get back to the business at hand. Tell the story of Trump in the new way. The press lies. Even Fox News lies. Reporters are disgusting liars – they’re awful people. The truth lies elsewhere. The truth is on Twitter. Maybe it’s not entirely on Twitter, but no one should turn to the “news” for the truth.

Fox News is having a bit of a problem with that:

Fox News’ Shepard Smith said Tuesday that he would not play a YouTube video of President-elect Donald Trump laying out his agenda on air, saying Fox News had a policy against showing such statements where journalists hadn’t been allowed to ask questions.

That seems a quaint notion now. The guy won the presidency by convincing half of America that all journalists are crooked liars in a rigged system. There’s a way around that. He simply bypassed them – no news conference – just a YouTube video, perhaps because Twitter only allows 140 characters at a time. And of course that allows no questions. That’s the whole point. One doesn’t answer questions from crooked liars in a rigged system. When they write things up they’ll just twist the truth.

Smith seems bitter about that:

In his discussion of the video, which Trump released Monday afternoon to outline several plans for his first 100 days in office, Smith put it in the context of several other statements from the President-elect and his team that have come out since it was released, all of which offered news consumers varying interpretations of what actions Trump actually plans to take as President.

Smith first focused on a “Morning Joe” report that Trump would not seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. That was a reversal from his pledge during the presidential campaign to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. Then, Smith continued, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted that Trump said in a meeting with the paper that he would not take the possibility of an investigation “off the table.”

“Anything you want to happen to Secretary Clinton on any of those matters is now available to you, almost officially, almost from the now President-elect’s mouth. But we have all of them. So whichever one you like, you may have it,” he said.

And there was this:

The same applies to climate change, he continued: Trump had previously said that it was a hoax. But Haberman tweeted that Trump told Times brass “there is some connectivity” between human beings and climate change.

“Which could make it not a hoax, so if that’s what you prefer, that is also now available to you,” he said.

And this:

Then, Smith turned to the so-called “alt-right,” which has become a euphemism for white nationalism. Trump’s former CEO and now chief strategist, Steve Bannon, ran a website that he bragged was “the platform for the alt-right,” but Trump told the assembled Times reporters that he did not “want to energize the group.”

“All of those positions are now available,” Smith said.

Perhaps someone should ask a few questions, and ask why, this time, Trump never mentioned building a wall on the Mexican border or repealing Obamacare – but there will be no questions. Trump has not held a news conference since July. No one really expects one ever again. He sees no point in those, as they involve reporters, those crooked liars in a rigged system. Perhaps there will be no daily press briefings when he takes office, for the same reason. He’ll tweet. He’ll release a YouTube video now and then. That way no one can twist the truth.

This has nothing to do with freedom of the press of course. Folks can say what they want in print or on air, but he doesn’t have to cooperate in messing up the truth – at least that seems to be the thinking here. America doesn’t need the press, but if what is published or broadcast amuses people, let them have their fun. He’ll be president. They’ll do their thing. He’ll do his. We’ve moved beyond the Age of Ailes.

The press is still trying to figure out how to deal with this, and so is Donald Trump. It would be nice to have the press on his side – they could still destroy him. The obsessive investigative reporting of Bernstein and Woodward did take down Nixon. The release of that tape where Mitt Romney talked about the forty-seven percent of Americans who were useless leaches may have destroyed Romney – David Corn, one of those crooked liars in a rigged system, was given that tape and ran with it. That sort of thing is always a worry.

It might be wise to talk to the press now and then, to answer a few questions that they might have, to keep them from nosing about on their own, out of your control – but that too has to be controlled. An open free-wheeling press conference is too dangerous. Trump understands this, and that’s why he agreed to sit down with the New York Times to answer a few questions – sort of off the record – no tape, no video. He’d be open. He’d answer their questions. But there’d be no audiovisual record. There’d be nothing that could come back and bite him in the ass. They could say he said something. He could say no, he never said that. Their transcript was wrong.

That was the deal. He agreed, and then he didn’t, and then he did:

Three people with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s initial decision to cancel the meeting said that Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, had been among those urging the president-elect to cancel it, because he would face questions he might not be prepared to answer. It was Mr. Priebus who relayed to Mr. Trump, erroneously, that The Times had changed the conditions of the meeting, believing it would result in a cancellation, these people said.

David Kurtz was amused:

So Priebus feeds bad info to Trump knowing he’ll react in the way Priebus wants him to? Am I reading that right?

Let’s not gloss over the fact that Priebus undertook this apparent sleight of hand because he wasn’t confident the President-elect could withstand a round with New York Times reporters.

That is a worry, but not unreasonable:

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday tempered some of his most extreme campaign promises, dropping his vow to jail Hillary Clinton, expressing doubt about the value of torturing terrorism suspects and pledging to have an open mind about climate change.

But in a wide-ranging hour-long interview with reporters and editors at The New York Times – which was scheduled, canceled and then reinstated after a dispute over the ground rules – Mr. Trump was unapologetic about flouting some of the traditional ethical and political conventions that have long shaped the American presidency.

He said he had no legal obligation to establish boundaries between his business empire and his White House, conceding that the Trump brand “is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.” Still, he said he would try to figure out a way to insulate himself from his businesses, which would be run by his children.

He defended Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, against charges of racism, calling him a “decent guy.” And he mocked Republicans who had failed to support him in his unorthodox presidential campaign.

That’s the executive summary. He was all over the place:

He displayed a jumble of impulses, many of them conflicting. He was magnanimous toward Mrs. Clinton, but boastful about his victory. He was open-minded about some of his positions, uncompromising about others.

The interview demonstrated the volatility in Mr. Trump’s positions.

He said he had no interest in pressing for Mrs. Clinton’s prosecution over her use of a private email server or for financial acts committed by the Clinton Foundation. “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” he said.

But he could. The president can order the arrest and trial of anyone the president wants. He can also decide that perhaps they shouldn’t be arrested. It’s like being a Roman emperor – thumbs up, thumbs down – life or death. Someone will one day explain to him that’s not how our system works. The folks at the New York Times let that one pass. Everyone on the right was outraged that Trump would give Clinton a pass – that’s his problem, not theirs. This was not the time for a civics lesson about the enumerated powers of the president.

There were other surprises to deal with:

On the issue of torture, Mr. Trump suggested he had changed his mind about the value of waterboarding after talking with James N. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, who headed the United States Central Command.

“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terrorism suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.'”

“I was very impressed by that answer,” Mr. Trump said.

Torture, he said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”

Reince Priebus was probably tearing his hair out at that point. That’s a total reversal, but of course, in a week, Trump can say he never said that, but there was this:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

What? He was just kidding all along? Who can now believe anything he says? And there was this:

Despite his frequent attacks against what he has dubbed the “failing New York Times,” Mr. Trump seemed to go out of his way to praise the institution, which he called “a great, great American jewel, world jewel.” He did, however, say he believed The Times had been too tough on him during the campaign.

Pressed to respond to criticism in other areas, he was defiant. He declared that “the law’s totally on my side” when it comes to questions about conflict of interest and ethics laws. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said.

Okay, the New York Times is actually wonderful, and on that conflict of interest thing, when a president does it, it’s legal, because the president does it. Yes, Richard Nixon said the same thing, and look what good that did him. Reince Priebus wept. And there was this:

Mr. Trump rejected the idea that he was bound by federal anti-nepotism laws from installing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in a White House job. But he said he would want to avoid the appearance of a conflict and might instead seek to make Mr. Kushner a special envoy charged with brokering peace in the Middle East.

“The president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he or she wants, but I don’t want to do that,” Mr. Trump said. But he said that Mr. Kushner, who is an observant Jew, “could be very helpful” in reconciling the longstanding dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Kushner “would be very good at it” and that “he knows the region.”

Okay, his son-in-law, with no diplomatic experience, and no government experience at all, will be the one who will finally arrange total and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, where all others since 1947 have failed – and Donald Trump will be a hero for making it so. Reince Priebus was right. This never should have happened. Twitter and YouTube – that’s what works for this guy.

But why did this odd bunch of reversals happen? Frank Bruni was there, and he explains why:

I had just shaken the president-elect’s normal-size hand and he was moving on to the next person when he wheeled around, took a half step back, touched my arm and looked me in the eye anew.

“I’m going to get you to write some good stuff about me,” Donald Trump said.

It’s entirely possible. I keep an open mind. But I’m decided on this much: Winning the most powerful office in the world did nothing to diminish his epic ache for adoration or outsize need to tell everyone how much he deserves it.

It’s that almost pathological insecurity again, and pathological insecurity makes for strange interactions with the press:

He sat down for more than an hour with about two dozen of us at The Times on Tuesday afternoon, and what subject do you suppose he spent his first eight minutes on? When the floor was his, to use as he pleased?

The incredibleness of his win two weeks ago.

“A great victory,” he said as he went back, unbidden, through all the Trump-affirming highlights: the size of his crowds; the screens and loudspeakers for the overflow; the enthusiasm gap between his rallies and poor Hillary Clinton’s. It’s a song I’ve heard so often I could sing it in my sleep.

He volunteered that, until he came along, Republican presidential candidates had been foiled in both Michigan and Pennsylvania for “38 years or something.” The “something” apparently covered the actual figure, 28.

He said that he got close to 15 percent of African-Americans’ votes, though exit polls suggest it was just 8 percent, and he asserted that their modest turnout was in fact a huge compliment to him, demonstrating that “they liked what I was saying” and thus didn’t bother to show up for Clinton.

He mentioned the popular vote before any of us could – to let us know that he would have won it if it had mattered and his strategy had been devised accordingly.

“The popular vote would have been a lot easier,” he said, making clear that his Electoral College triumph was the truly remarkable one.

The assessment:

For Trump, bragging is like breathing: continuous, spontaneous. He wants nothing more than for his audience to be impressed. And when his audience is a group of people, like us, who haven’t clapped the way he’d like? He sands down his edges. Modulates his voice. Bends.

But that raises obvious issues:

Will he tilt in whatever direction, and toward whichever constituency, is the surest source of applause? Is our best hope for the best Trump to be so fantastically adulatory when he’s reasonable that he’s motivated to stay on that course, lest the adulation wane?

That might be so:

The Trump who visited The Times was purged of any zeal to investigate Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation, willing to hear out the scientists on global warming, skeptical of waterboarding and unhesitant to disavow white nationalists. He never mentioned the border wall.

He more or less told us to disregard all the huffing and puffing he’d done about curtailing press freedoms, and he looked forward to another meeting – a year from now – when we’d all reunite in a spirit of newfound amity to celebrate his administration’s uncontroversial accomplishments. I could see the big group hug. I could hear “Kumbaya.”

This is not good:

There was a lesson here about his desire to be approved of and his hunger to be loved. There was another about the shockingly unformed, pliable nature of the clay that is our 70-year-old president-elect.

His reservations about waterboarding, he said, arose from a conversation he’d just had with James Mattis, a retired Marine general under consideration for secretary of defense. During that talk Mattis had bluntly questioned waterboarding’s effectiveness – and so, now, did Trump.

It was as if he’d never really thought through the issue during that endless campaign, and it suggested that the most influential voice in Trumplandia is the last one he happened to listen to. That’s worrying, because some of the voices he has thus far put closest to him – those of Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions – aren’t the most constructive, restrained, unifying ones.

Okay – keep this guy away from press conferences. Ask no questions. He never really thought through any of the issues that were central to his campaign. Do we really need to know that? It’s too late now to do anything about that anyway. He’s what we’ve got. Sometimes it’s best not to ask questions. The answers are too painful. Our mistake cannot be corrected.

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

Speaking German

Everyone knows that Yoda, in those Star Wars movies, is German. He always puts the verb at the end of the sentence. “Defeat the Dark Side we will.” In agglutinated languages, like German, word order doesn’t matter – the form of the words, those long compound words and declensions and so on, carries the meaning. Slap on the verb at the end of things – it doesn’t matter – its location doesn’t change the meaning. In synthetic languages, like English, meaning is carried in word-order. Dog bites man – man bites dog – the same words, completely different meanings. So Yoda is obviously German – he speaks English but he doesn’t “get” English. This is supposed to make him seem wise and a bit mysterious. German is like that. It provides English speakers with a bit of schadenfreude – smug satisfaction that they know more than others – smug satisfaction that they were right all along.

Schadenfreude is a word we’ve borrowed from German, used by the highly-educated smug, but everyone’s speaking a bit of German now. In late October it was this:

An anti-media smear favored by the Nazis and the alt-right wormed its way into headlines after a Trump rally on Saturday: “Lügenpresse.”

The slur, shouted at BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray by two unidentified men at Trump’s rally in Cleveland, pre-dates the Nazis and was used at first by the German government during World War I to designate foreign writing as propaganda, according to the Washington Post.

Hitler used the term to describe the “apparatus” of his political critics, the East German government used it to decry capitalist influence, and as recently as 2015, anti-migrant organizers in Germany have used it to notify each other that members of the media were in attendance at their meetings, according to the newspaper.

That last usage won the recognition of a panel of German linguists, who called “lügenpresse” – literally, “lying press” – the “non-word of the year” for its increasingly sinister and xenophobic usage in the country…

Everyone wants to be the wise and mysterious Yoda now, sounding a bit Germanic, or in this case speaking actual German – but it is an old Nazi favorite and that’s a bit disturbing. Still, it may be Donald Trump’s favorite new word:

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday told a group of about 25 television executives and anchors that he wants a “cordial” and “productive” relationship with the media, according to one source in the room, but he still aired some grievances during the off-the-record gathering in Trump Tower.

The source said the meeting started with a typical Trump complaint about the “dishonest media,” and that he specifically singled out CNN and NBC News for example as “the worst.”

He also complained about photos of himself that NBC used that he found unflattering, the source said.

Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment.

He was really pissed off that they caught him at an angle that showed his double chin? It seems so. At least he didn’t shout “Lügenpresse!”

Actually he did, more or less, as the New York Post reports here:

“It was like a fucking firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.

“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.

A second source confirmed the fireworks.

Trump was doing his Nazi thing:

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate – which was Martha Raddatz who was also in the room.”

Lügenpresse! They didn’t expect this:

The stunned reporters tried to get a word in edgewise to discuss access to a Trump Administration.

“[CBS Good Morning co-host Gayle] King did not stand up, but asked some question, ‘How do you propose we the media work with you?’ Chuck Todd asked some pretty pointed questions. David Muir asked ‘How are you going to cope with living in DC while your family is in NYC? It was a horrible meeting.”

It was for them, but only for them:

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told reporters the gathering went well.

“Excellent meetings with the top executives of the major networks,” she said during a gaggle in the lobby of Trump Tower. “Pretty unprecedented meeting we put together in two days.”

This unprecedented meeting also put the press in its place. President Trump will always call them all liars. They’d better get used to it, because there’s nothing they can do about it. His chief of staff Reince Priebus, his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, were all there to reinforce that message. The lügenpresse is the enemy.

That was said a lot a long time ago in a country far away, by some rather unsavory people, but that cannot be repeating itself here again, right? That doesn’t seem to be the case:

To celebrate Donald Trump’s presidential victory, dozens of white nationalists descended on the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C. on Saturday to share glasses of wine and make Nazi salutes for the cameras.

The event, organized by the white nationalist National Policy Institute, was part of the movement’s ongoing effort to normalize their brand of “pro-white,” anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant nationalism.

Here we go again, and the New York Times has the details:

By the time Richard B. Spencer, the leading ideologue of the alt-right movement and the final speaker of the night, rose to address a gathering of his followers on Saturday, the crowd was restless…

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room – it was not clear who – shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

They’re back:

These are exultant times for the alt-right movement, which was little known until this year, when it embraced Mr. Trump’s campaign and he appeared to embrace it back. He chose as his campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon, the media executive who ran the alt-right’s most prominent platform, Breitbart News, and then named him as a senior adviser and chief strategist.

Now the movement’s leaders hope to have, if not a seat at the table, at least the ear of the Trump White House.

But maybe they’re not Nazis:

While many of its racist views are well known – that President Obama is, or may as well be, of foreign birth; that the Black Lives Matter movement is another name for black race rioters; that even the American-born children of undocumented Hispanic immigrants should be deported – the alt-right has been difficult to define. Is it a name for right-wing political provocateurs in the internet era? Or is it a political movement defined by xenophobia and a dislike for political correctness?

At the conference on Saturday, Mr. Spencer, who said he had coined the term, defined the alt-right as a movement with white identity as its core idea.

“We’ve crossed the Rubicon in terms of recognition,” Mr. Spencer said at the conference, which was sponsored by his organization, the National Policy Institute.

Okay, they’re into white identity. Perhaps that’s only ethnic pride, but it is a bit German:

Mr. Spencer’s after-dinner speech began with a polemic against the “mainstream media,” before he briefly paused. “Perhaps we should refer to them in the original German?” he said.

The audience immediately screamed back, “Lügenpresse,” reviving a Nazi-era word that means “lying press.”

Mr. Spencer suggested that the news media had been critical of Mr. Trump throughout the campaign in order to protect Jewish interests. He mused about the political commentators who gave Mr. Trump little chance of winning.

“One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem,” he said, referring to a Jewish fable about the golem, a clay giant that a rabbi brings to life to protect the Jews.

Okay, this is getting serious, and there’s more:

Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Spencer said, was “the victory of will,” a phrase that echoed the title of the most famous Nazi-era propaganda film. But Mr. Spencer then mentioned, with a smile, Theodor Herzl, the Zionist leader who advocated a Jewish homeland in Israel, quoting his famous pronouncement, “If we will it, it is no dream.”

That was a bit odd, but then he returned to his main theme:

“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

But the white race, he added, is “a race that travels forever on an upward path.”

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” he said.

More members of the audience were on their feet as Mr. Spencer described the choice facing white people as to “conquer or die.”

Is anyone worried yet? What has Trump unleashed with Bannon as his Karl Rove and Jeff Sessions as his pick for attorney general? A Mother Jones item has more detail:

Spencer also spoke approvingly of Sessions, who made a name for himself as the top foe of immigration in Congress. Sessions is also known for allegations that he made racist comments when he was an attorney in Alabama – charges that derailed his 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship and will come up again in his confirmation hearings to become attorney general. When Mother Jones asked at the press conference whether Spencer agreed with the neo-Nazi writer Andrew Anglin, who on Friday said the appointments of Sessions and Bannon meant that he was getting everything he wanted from Trump, the crowd at the conference began to cheer at the mention of Sessions. “It’s getting what is realistically possible,” said Spencer. “Jeff Sessions, again, is someone who is not alt-right but who seems to see eye to eye with us on the immigration question. I think Jeff Sessions might very well resonate with something like a long-term dramatic slowdown of immigration.”

Spencer said Sessions would roll back the Obama administration’s enforcement of civil rights laws as the head of the Justice Department. “The fact that he is going to be at such a high level, I think, is a wonderful thing,” he said. “What he is not going to do in terms of federally prosecuting diversity and fair housing and so on I think is just as powerful as what he might do. So it’s about Jeff Sessions setting a new tone in Washington. I think that’s a good thing.”

He’s happy, because these folks have their priorities:

Spencer’s top priority for the Trump administration is to change the country’s immigration laws to stop not just undocumented immigration but also legal immigration, with the goal of making sure the United States remains a majority-white country. “I think a goal would be net-neutral immigration with a primary emphasis on Europeans who want to immigrate to the country,” he said. Peter Brimelow of the anti-immigrant website VDare.com later explained that the policy would mean removing immigrants currently in the country and allowing Europeans to take their place. Spencer said he believed passing such a policy through Congress would be easier than the press might think.

When a reporter asked what the movement’s top priority for Trump was, the room began to chant “build the wall.” Spencer agreed that immigration should be Trump’s “primary objective.”

“This is why he was elected,” Spencer said, “because he was the identity president.”

Things have changed in America, even if some folks get caught in the middle:

A restaurant in Northwest Washington issued an apology Monday after hosting an alt-right, white nationalist event whose participants offered praise of Adolf Hitler.

The dinner, held Friday at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Friendship Heights, was sponsored by the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization that supported President-elect Donald Trump in the election and held a conference in the District to celebrate his victory. Protesters tried to confront those attending the dinner Friday, but were forced out by police.

On Monday, Maggiano’s apologized, saying that it was “the inadvertent site” of the protest and that it closed the restaurant for the safety of its staff and guests.

“This was a last minute booking made Friday afternoon, and the reservation was made under a different name, therefore we were not aware that NPI was dining with us or what the group represents,” Steve Provost, the president of the 51-restaurant chain, said in a statement posted to Facebook…

The statement said Maggiano’s would donate $10,000, the profit from its Friday restaurant sales, to the D.C. office of the Anti-Defamation League, “which for decades has been working to bring people together in peace and understanding.”

It may be too late for that:

Civil rights groups called on President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday to publicly condemn extremist movements that are espousing racism in his name after hundreds of white nationalist sympathizers spent the weekend in Washington debating ways to preserve white culture.

Mr. Trump has been accused of fanning the flames of hate groups with his hardline positions on immigration, his hesitance to denounce the former Klansman David Duke and his occasional promotion of white nationalist accounts on Twitter. While Mr. Trump has called for an end to hate crimes and said he wants to bring the country together, he has not been full throated on expressing disapproval of the alt-right, a rebranded white nationalist movement.

“We would like him to stand up and denounce these folks,” Heidi Beirich, who tracks hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said of Mr. Trump. “It’s inexplicable. The longer it goes on, the more you have to wonder if it’s not intentional.”

That has occurred to others:

Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Mr. Trump should not be blamed for every hate group that invoked his name, but that he should be doing more to discredit people using his election to make prejudice mainstream.

“To have a group like this convening steps away from the White House proclaiming that what happened two weeks ago was a great victory for them and their ideas, there is value for the president-elect stating clearly that these are not American values, that their ideology is in conflict with American ideals,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

After Hillary Clinton gave a major address attacking the alt-right over the summer, Mr. Trump said that he had never heard of the movement and that “nobody even knows what it is.”

And then Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, said that he disapproved of all hate groups – there was nothing more to say – this was just another one of those.

Brendan O’Connor argues that may not do, as there’s something special here:

This weekend, members of the so-called “alt-right” movement gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Donald Trump’s electoral victory and their ascendance as the “intellectual vanguard” of the Trumpist movement. Media coverage of the event has largely focused on their appearance and struggled to find the vocabulary to accurately describe, at least in shorthand, who these people are and what they believe.

Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute and coiner of the term “alt-right,” is described in a recent Mother Jones profile as “an articulate and well-dressed former football player with prom-king good looks and a ‘fashy’ (as in fascism) haircut.” His aim, the piece describes, is to “make racism cool again.”

And these were the cool people:

Attendees at this weekend’s NPI-hosted conference, the Los Angeles Times reported, “more resembled Washington lobbyists than the robed Ku Klux Klansmen or skinhead toughs that often represent white supremacists, though they share many familiar views.”

They seem quite normal, and that’s the problem:

“This is how you sneak these ideas into the mainstream,” the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich told the Los Angeles Times after this weekend’s conference. “The guys in the suits are the ones we have to worry about.”

That’s what we said back in the sixties. That’s still true, but these folks really aren’t bent on genocide:

Members of the movement have described to me their support for white separatism, as well – basically, a reinstatement of the doctrine that the races should be “separate but equal.” This idea, articulated in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson, was overturned by the Court in 1954, with Brown vs. the Board of Education.

They’d like that overturned once again, and Amanda Taub provides some background on that:

Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at Birkbeck University in London, has spent years studying the ways that ethnicity intersects with politics. While most researchers in that field focus on ethnic minorities, Professor Kaufmann does the opposite: He studies the behavior of ethnic majorities, particularly whites in the United States and Britain.

White nationalism, he said, is the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.

So, like white supremacy, white nationalism places the interests of white people over those of other racial groups. White supremacists and white nationalists both believe that racial discrimination should be incorporated into law and policy.

But they’re not the same:

Some will see the distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy as a semantic sleight of hand. But although many white supremacists are also white nationalists, and vice versa, Professor Kaufmann says the terms are not synonyms: White supremacy is based on a racist belief that white people are innately superior to people of other races; white nationalism is about maintaining political and economic dominance, not just a numerical majority or cultural hegemony.

It’s just that it’s easy to get the two mixed up:

For a long time, he said, white nationalism was less an ideology than the default presumption of American life. Until quite recently, white Americans could easily see the nation as essentially an extension of their own ethnic group.

But the country’s changing demographics, the civil rights movement and a push for multiculturalism in many quarters mean that white Americans are now confronting the prospect of a nation that is no longer built solely around their own identity.

For many white people, of course, the growing diversity is something to celebrate. But for others it is a source of stress. The white nationalist movement has drawn support from that latter group. Its supporters argue that the United States should protect its white majority by sharply limiting immigration, and perhaps even by compelling nonwhite citizens to leave.

That would mean VERY separate, but actually equal:

Several studies of other countries have found that a desire to protect traditional values and culture is the strongest predictor of support for the sort of populism that propelled Mr. Trump to power in the United States.

Many of those voters would not think of themselves as white nationalists, and the cultural values and traditions they seek to protect are not necessarily explicitly racial. However, those traditions formed when national identity and culture were essentially synonymous with whiteness. So the impulse to protect them from social and demographic change is essentially an attempt to turn back the clock to a less-diverse time.

All of this is, then, quite understandable, but time doesn’t flow backwards, so in the end this becomes a matter of geography, and Garrison Keillor addresses that:

So let’s talk about dividing the country. Why spend four years glaring at each other? A house divided against itself cannot stand, so let’s make a duplex. The experiment lasted for 150 years after Appomattox and in the end it failed. So let’s bind up our wounds and have an amicable divorce.

Democrats get the Northeast and the West Coast, plus a few miscellaneous states, and the Democratic cities – the District, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, Cleveland, and so forth. Call it the “Union.” Our capital will, of course, be New York City.

Trump takes the former Confederacy and the Corn Belt, and his capital is the bunker deep under the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where the federal government planned to go in the event of a catastrophe, which is basically what we have now. Call that country “Trump Country.”

Divvy up the military. Equal access to holy sites – they can come to Arlington Cemetery, the Reagan Library and Trump Tower. We get to go to wildlife refuges, Gettysburg and the birthplaces of authors. We’ll sell the White House for a hotel and make the Capitol a museum, and rent out the office buildings. You take your Supreme Court justices, we’ll take ours.

You can have the flag since you invested so much in flag pins and decals. We’ll make a new flag, blue, with the planet Earth on it.

That might work, and then we’ll see what happens:

Our country believes in competition and free enterprise and now it’s time to create a competition between the Union and Trump Country to see which offers the better life to its people. My money is on the young people flocking to the cities, the centers of economic hustle and bustle such as Seattle, Boston, Washington and Austin, where people seem to thrive on ferment, divergence, multiplicity and a culture of mutual respect and toleration.

But I could be wrong about that. Hitler led Germany out of the confusion of democracy, created good jobs, built up the military and united the country as never before. Germany had lost a war and Hitler made it great again. When he staged Kristallnacht in November 1938 and went after the Jews, it was a huge success, on time and under budget. When he wanted to take over Czechoslovakia, he just went and did it. No problem… The United Nations could meet in a breakfast alcove. No journalists present, just three men making deals. Very simple. Tremendous efficiency. Just tremendous. Totally. You better believe it.

But they have to speak German, with those long compound words and declensions and all the rest. Like Yoda, they’ll have to put the verb at the end of the sentence – but they’re halfway there already. Maybe, finally speaking German, they’ll seem wise and mysterious. On the other hand, maybe they’ll just seem short, green, and grumpy. There’s that too.

Posted in Uncategorized, White Nationalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Small Greedy Man

There are things that don’t matter anymore. Professional boxing was once a big deal – in the twenties and thirties Americans were glued to their radios to listen to the blow-by-blow as Max Schmeling beat the crap out of Joe Louis and then Joe Louis returned the favor. Boxing was still a big deal well into the fifties and sixties, on television, until Muhammad Ali hung up his gloves. Then no one cared. Television networks couldn’t find advertisers. Boxing moved to pay-for-view and to the third or fourth page of the next day’s sports section – and now the NFL is beginning to worry about the same thing – their ratings are dropping like a rock. No one knows why. Perhaps the game has become tedious – too hyper-technical – or perhaps every time-out shouldn’t be four and a half minutes long to accommodate all the thirty-second spots they’ve sold to finance the edifice they’ve built. They think their new deal with Twitter might help. It won’t. Who cares? Voters in San Diego just rejected a proposal for a new football stadium. The Chargers will leave. That’s fine. The Rams finally returned to Los Angeles. Los Angeles yawned.

The same thing happened to Broadway musicals. They were everything in the twenties, and then silent movies became talkies and there were the movies about Broadway musicals – Ruby Keeler in “42nd Street” and that sort of thing – and finally Broadway musicals only mattered when they were made into extravagant movies – “South Pacific” to “West Side Story” to “Les Misérables” and all the others in between. Few knew what was happening on Broadway otherwise. Few cared. Broadway was not central to American life anymore, if it ever was.

And then, suddenly, it was. A small man made a small part of American life big again:

A surprising confrontation erupted on Saturday between President-elect Donald J. Trump and the cast and creators of the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” setting off furious debate over American principles like free speech, respect and the ability to challenge authority in the Trump era.

President-elect Trump demanded an apology from the cast for making a rare, politically charged appeal from the stage on Friday night to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience, urging him and Mr. Trump to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.”

Mr. Trump’s response significantly escalated an unusual protest inside a theater into a furor on social media and cable news.

Mr. Trump, who has stirred bipartisan concern over his habit of attacking those who challenge him, said on Twitter that the actors had “harassed” Mr. Pence, and he issued a battle cry to his supporters by saying that the musical’s cast had criticized “our wonderful future VP Mike Pence.” He continued to assail the show on Twitter on Saturday night, writing that the actors had been “very rude and insulting” to Mr. Pence and claiming that they “couldn’t even memorize lines” – though he offered no evidence and then deleted the message…

Mr. Trump framed the cast’s appeal as a violation of “a safe and special place” – borrowing a favored phrase of the left and of campus protesters; it was not clear whether he did so derisively or in earnest.

This was a small man lashing out. Mike Pence later said he wasn’t offended. He listened. He nodded. This sort of thing comes with the job. There’s no safe and special place for sensitive souls who either weep or rage at any criticism – not in politics. Take positions, deal with the consequences. That’s the way an open democracy works.

Pence should probably have a chat with Trump, because Trump is stirring up trouble:

His maneuver, in two posts to Twitter early Saturday, stunned the cast members and, judging by social media, jolted many Americans who are worried about the president-elect’s tolerance for dissent after a campaign in which he was criticized for inflaming racial tensions. But it also touched off reaction among other Americans who treasure the traditions of, and respect for, the office of the presidency, and viewed the statement – and the booing of Mr. Pence by some theatergoers before the performance – as out of line.

On Saturday, one supporter of Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that the “Hamilton” statement was “a staged hit job.” Another wrote that actors should never “humiliate a member of the audience.”

Some disagreed:

Many theater artists cheered the “Hamilton” cast on Saturday. “The theater will always be a place that encourages self-expression and free thinking – which is exactly what makes the art form so vital and, frankly, exciting,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theater Wing, a nonprofit that supports the arts and helps oversee the Tony Awards.

“Hamilton,” itself a deeply political show about the United States as a nation of immigrants – with black or Hispanic actors playing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers – has been celebrated by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats, as well as Republicans including former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Yes, even Dick Cheney – so perhaps Trump didn’t know what this thing was about. This isn’t tuneful romantic fluff about some flower girl at a diplomatic ball, so what happened had to happen:

The “Hamilton” company learned late Friday that Mr. Pence and his family members would be attending that night’s performance. The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and others discussed the appropriateness of making a statement from the stage and decided to do it only after the show was over. Remarks were written and refined, and after curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, took a microphone and pointed toward Mr. Pence.

“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening – Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments,” Mr. Dixon said. As some in the audience booed, Mr. Dixon hushed them, then added, “Sir, we hope that you will hear us out.”

As Mr. Pence stood by the exit doors, Mr. Dixon said, “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us – our planet, our children, our parents – or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

Dixon hushed the booing crowd. Dixon politely asked Pence to hear him out. Pence did. Was this harassment? That depends on your point of view:

Although Mr. Pence listened to the entreaty inside the Richard Rodgers Theater on Friday and then stepped onto the sidewalk smiling, Mr. Trump took time out of preparing his new cabinet on Saturday to rally his supporters. Around 9 a.m. he wrote two Twitter posts saying the “Hamilton” actors had harassed Mr. Pence and had been “very rude last night to a very good man.”

“Apologize!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Dixon immediately tweeted out thanks to Mike Pence for listening, saying that he really appreciated that. That will infuriate Trump. Dixon is a troublemaker, and now Republicans will have to deal with Trump’s petty smallness:

Some Republican strategists said they were not surprised that Mr. Trump chose to attack “Hamilton,” noting that the president-elect believed deeply in trying to project strength in the face of any kind of opposition.

“President-elect Trump is signaling that he will fight for his team and his policies,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a strong Trump supporter. “Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have approved” – a reference to the former conservative leader in Britain who often tangled with artists and the left.

But other Republicans said Mr. Trump’s posts on Twitter were inappropriate.

“Fidelity to the First Amendment is an absolute requirement for an American president,” said Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican strategist who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The address from the cast was respectful, but even if it wasn’t, they have a right to say it.”

They do? Trump doesn’t think so, but this may be how America works:

The plea to Mr. Pence was written by Mr. Miranda; the show’s director, Thomas Kail; and the lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, with contributions from cast members, according to Mr. Seller. In an interview after the show, Mr. Seller said he learned “very late that Mr. Pence was coming to the show, and the creative team and cast members quickly reckoned with how to respond.”

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we cope with this?'” Mr. Seller said. “Our cast could barely go on stage the day after the election. The election was painful and crushing to all of us here. We all struggled with what was the appropriate and respectful and proper response. We are honored that Mr. Pence attended the show and we had to use this opportunity to express our feelings.”

That may be how things are supposed to work, but Daniel Politi notes the weekend’s other incident:

On Sunday morning, the president-elect took time out of planning his transition into the White House (and from criticizing Hamilton) to weigh in on this weekend’s SNL that featured yet another sketch in which Alec Baldwin played him. The verdict? He may have won the election, but a sketch comedy show can still get under his skin. SNL is decidedly not funny, ruled the soon-to-be leader of the free world. “It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”

What was it that rubbed the president-elect the wrong way? Perhaps it was the cold open of the show in which Baldwin played a clueless Trump who had to Google ISIS and quickly backed away from his main campaign promises, including getting rid of Obamacare and building the wall. Baldwin’s Trump seemed to believe that picking Mike Pence as his vice president was one of the smartest moves he made: “You’re the reason I’m not going to get impeached.”

Trump is demanding equal time to rebut that? He cannot let anything go. He is a small man, but Politi notes that this goes back to what Trump tweeted in October:

Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!

Hamilton and Saturday Night Live – Donald Trump is pissed at both. He pretty much said that NBC should shut down Saturday Night Live – period. He wants the cast of Hamilton to apologize for talking about politics to Mike Pence when Pence only wanted to see their light-hearted little bit of musical fluff – but if they don’t apologize?

There are possibilities. In September 1642, the Long Parliament ordered a closure of the London theaters. The order cited the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays” representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity” – which is a fine description of much of what pops up on Saturday Night Live. That 1642 ban, which was not particularly effective, was reinforced by another in 1648 that provided for the treatment of actors as rogues, the demolition of theater seating, and fines for spectators. In 1660, after the English Restoration brought King Charles II back to power in England, the theatrical ban was lifted – but there had been a ban. There is precedent. There is tradition. Hamilton and Saturday Night Live – shut them down?

That might be a bad idea. The Interregnum – those years between Charles I (beheaded) and the return of Charles II from France, with his apologist Thomas Hobbes in tow – those years without a king – were a bit unpleasant. Cromwell was a nasty piece of work – those who disagreed with him died. The Puritans were pure and godly and all that – but they were also a pain in the ass. Think of our self-righteous evangelical scolds. And Restoration drama – the stuff just after 1660 – was bitter and nasty – mostly farce. They picked that up from the French. No good came of the whole thing.

Donald Trump, however, isn’t going to shut down anything. That can’t be done, yet. He’s just a small man, an insecure little man lashing out – it’s becoming a bit of a national embarrassment, and an embarrassment for most Republicans – and he clearly doesn’t understand the job. The incoming president should understand the job. Obama shouldn’t have to explain it to him – nor Mike Pence.

But he isn’t just small. He’s greedy, and as Josh Marshall notes, that’s a problem when he doesn’t know the job:

Let’s review the stories of the last two days. Trump’s DC hotel is soliciting foreign diplomatic delegations to switch their business to the incoming President’s new hotel. On Tuesday Trump took a break from transition work to meet with his Indian business partners about expanding the Trump Organization’s business in India now that he’s president. Trump included his adult children in the meeting – the ones who will run his ‘blind trust’. The news didn’t reach the American press until it was reporting in an Indian paper. Now we learn that Trump’s Philippines business partner Jose E. B. Antonio has been named the Philippines new trade envoy to the United States.

The man can’t let go of his own stuff – his need to be the big rich man – to become the president for all of us. He’s not going to grow into the job – that is, he’s not going to get bigger, for the greater good. He’ll stay small, and the Washington Post does a deep dive into the details of this:

Turkey is a nation in crisis, scarred by government crackdowns following a failed coup attempt and on a potential collision course with the West. It is also home to a valuable revenue stream for the president-elect’s business empire: Trump Towers Istanbul.

Donald Trump’s company has been paid up to $10 million by the tower’s developers since 2014 to affix the Trump name atop the luxury complex, whose owner, one of Turkey’s biggest oil and media conglomerates, has become an influential megaphone for the country’s increasingly repressive regime.

That, ethics advisers said, forces the Trump complex into an unprecedented nexus: as both a potential channel for dealmakers seeking to curry favor with the Trump White House and a potential target for attacks or security risks overseas.

The president-elect’s Turkey deal marks a harrowing vulnerability that even Trump has deemed “a little conflict of interest”: a private moneymaker that could open him to foreign influence and tilt his decision-making as America’s executive in chief.

But the ethics experts eyeing Trump’s empire are now warning of many others, found among a vast assortment of foreign business interests never before seen in past presidencies. At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings shows.

It may be that he’ll be his president, not our president:

The business interests range from sprawling, ultraluxury real estate complexes to one-man holding companies and branding deals in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Panama and other countries, including some where the United States maintains sensitive diplomatic ties.

Some companies reflect long-established deals while others were launched as recently as Trump’s campaign, including eight that appear tied to a potential hotel project in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Arab kingdom that Trump has said he “would want to protect.”

It seems he used his presidential campaign to drum up new business, but the small man sees nothing wrong with that:

Trump has refused calls to sell or give his business interests to an independent manager or “blind trust,” a long-held presidential tradition designed to combat conflicts of interest. Now, policy and ethics experts are scrambling to assess the potential dangers of public rule by a leader with a vast web of private business deals.

“There are so many diplomatic, political, even national security risks in having the president own a whole bunch of properties all over the world,” said Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.

“If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest or because there’s a Trump casino around?” Painter added.

But it’s more than that:

Though Trump rose to prominence as a New York builder, most of the Trump Organization’s business growth in recent years has been through real estate, management and licensing deals with developers and investors overseas.

Many of those deals involve licensing the Trump name: a valuable quantity when Trump was a famous businessman, now made more lucrative when attached to a U.S. head of state. Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel for George H. W. Bush, said foreign investors could seek to seal deals with Trump’s children in hopes of cozying up or currying favor with America’s businessman in chief.

Other Trump properties, like most large projects in the real estate industry, are buoyed by a river of loans, including from big banks in China and Germany. Deutsche Bank, Trump’s biggest lender, is negotiating what could be a multibillion-dollar settlement over housing-crisis-era abuses with the Justice Department, whose leaders will be Trump appointees.

Deutsche Bank keeps this amazing Trump Empire afloat. If the Justice Department fines them for all that mortgage fraud way back when, will they call in Trump’s loans? All they have to do is hint at that. Will President Trump call the folks over at Justice and tell them to back off? The Justice Department could cost him five hundred million dollars. It’s the same with the Bank of China. Or maybe it isn’t – he never released his tax returns so we’ll never know. There’s only this:

Trump’s global business interests also make him vulnerable to legal risks, including a passage in the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause that forbids government officials from receiving gifts from a foreign government.

A payment from a foreign official or state-owned company to a Trump hotel or other branded company could potentially violate that clause, constitutional experts said.

That’s not much – that doesn’t cover his massive debt to foreign banks, some of them state banks – but there’s more:

The potential conflicts entangle not just Trump, but also his advisers, including Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general tapped to become White House national security adviser. Flynn’s consulting firm has been hired to lobby on behalf of a group tied to the Turkish government. Flynn recently wrote an opinion piece calling for dramatic changes to U.S. policy that would parallel the Erdogan government’s goals and declaring that the country “needs our support.”

Other congratulations came from the head of Azerbaijan, where in the capital, Baku, plunging oil prices crashed the local economy and froze construction on a five-star hotel project set to bear Trump’s name.

While making millions of dollars through the branding deal, Trump partnered with a billionaire whose family is part of a long-ruling regime that the State Department has accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

After the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, called the president-elect last week, Trump was said to thank him for his attention and “noted that he heard very good words” about Aliyev, according to the country’s state-run news agency.

This country is about to get very small, as small as Donald Trump’s insular world of interlocking deals involving massive debt and tricky licensing arrangements that have made him rich, but maybe not all that rich, if key parties to those deals call in any of those loans – unless he does what’s best for them. This country is already as small as his latest petulant tweet. So and so should apologize. This or that should be shut down. Why? He’s worried that people are making fun of him – and they are. No one will EVER make fun of him!

What kind of man says that? That would be a small and greedy man. Voters loved his anger. They were impressed by his amazing success at everything. The anger was almost pathological insecurity. The success was built on massive debt he cannot possibly repay – all he can do is shift it around and hope for the best. On the other hand, that describes the lives of most Americans. Maybe we elected one of us. That’s not a comforting thought.

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