Regarding Claims of Genius

Jerry Lewis finally died in 2017 – the famous comedian who had become a national embarrassment. His broad and crude and very loud slapstick routines from the fifties didn’t age well. Over time they seemed more like assault, in the criminal sense, and his mawkish Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association were worse. Those went on for forty-five years. He’d bring out some crippled kid – on display – one of “Jerry’s Kids” – and he’d cry a lot. And then he’d cry some more. That eventually seemed like emotional blackmail, and also rather nasty exploitation of those poor kids. Americans were supposed to feel guilty, and send money. Some of them sent money, probably in spite of Jerry Lewis, not because of him. He did win awards over the years. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him a lifetime achievement award and he has two stars here on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but now everyone would rather forget him. He was a pain in the ass.

His politics, such as they were, were crude too. On the long-forgotten Jerry Lewis Show he said to Muhammad Ali, “You’re a big bag of wind” and added “I think you’re the damnedest showman that ever lived and you ain’t kidding anybody.” To Lewis, Muhammad Ali was no more than a draft-dodger. In a 2004 interview, Lewis was asked what he was least proud of, to which he answered politics – not his, but the world’s politics. In his last years he decided he was opposed to the United States accepting Syrian refugees – those weren’t Jerry’s Kids or something – and he didn’t like Obama. He liked Donald Trump. He said that Trump would make a good president because Trump was a good “showman” – for what that’s worth.

That’s not to say that Jerry Lewis was clueless. He knew that he had become reviled. That’s why he once said this. “People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.”

Lesser beings resent genius of course, and at 4:15 in the morning, in those empty and lonely hours before dawn, on Saturday, January 6, 2018, Donald Trump tweeted this:

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence.

Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius… and a very stable genius at that!

Donald Trump was Jerry Lewis. That Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House had hit the bookstores and it was devastating. There had already been two days of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News, and there will be at least two more weeks of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News, and on Friday afternoon Andrew Sullivan summed up the ongoing disaster:

Michael Wolff’s new book confirms what we already knew: that the White House is a smoldering crater of chaos and dysfunction. Wolff claims that every single White House source he talked to believes Trump is “incapable of functioning in his job.” We have heard these claims about presidents before – but usually from the opposition, not from the White House itself, let alone unanimously. But Wolff’s piece in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday also confirmed what is obvious about Trump’s fast-eroding mental health: “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes.” And: “At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.”

This addled, lazy, and belligerent man-child is nonetheless engaged in a war of insults and threats against a nuclear-armed dictatorship, with the capacity to kill millions. No head of any nuclear-armed country has ever said in public what Trump has now repeatedly broadcast to the world.

Everyone was saying that. In those empty and lonely hours before dawn on Saturday morning, Donald Trump just had to tweet out that he was actually a STABLE GENIUS! He could have easily added that people hate him because he is a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius too – just like Jerry Lewis. People just don’t appreciate broad and crude and very loud slapstick anymore.

David Atkins states the obvious:

No stable genius has ever bragged about what a stable genius they were. No smart person would try to convince the world of their high IQ by using poor punctuation and fourth-grade vocabulary while using “like” as a filler word in text.

No one with an ounce of historical awareness would argue that they retained their mental acuity by comparing himself to the Alzheimer’s-afflicted Ronald Reagan. No one who understood his legal peril would call out the FBI’s most high-profile investigation in the country as a “hoax.” No one of sound mind would forget that they had run for President at least once before, back in the year 2000.

The President of the United States has lost his grip on reality. It’s obvious for all the world to see. The only question is whether Republicans will ever do anything about it. If they don’t, the stain of their cowardice will remain on the party for a generation.

Jennifer Rubin has a few things to say about that;

Trump’s emotional and mental limitations should debunk a number of rationalizations from his devoted cultists, who insisted he was the best choice in 2016, cheered his first year in office and continue to pretend he’s fit for office. He’s sounding presidential? No, he’s reading off a teleprompter, likely with very little comprehension. He’s playing four-dimensional chess with Kim Jong Un? No, he’s impulsively lashing out, with the risk of provoking a deadly clash. He’s a master manipulator when he shifts from position to position, sometimes in the same sentence? No, he likely doesn’t realize what contradicts what or remember what he originally said. His use of alternative facts is a brilliant scheme to control the press narrative? No, he’s incapable of processing real information and driven by an insatiable need for praise and reaffirmation.

In short, this is slapstick, and dangerous:

Seen in the context of his intellectual and emotional limitations, some decisions should set off alarm bells. Take the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Bad. Obama’s deal. Worst ever. Get rid of it. People will love me if I get rid of it.”

That is very likely the sum total of his “thinking” on the subject. He’s not considering the next step, the reaction of allies, the implication for America’s standing in the world, the available evidence of Iranian compliance or any other data point that would go into a rational consideration of United States’ policy. Policy isn’t being made or even understood by the president. What comes from his fears and impulses is whatever aides are able to piece together that might satisfy his emotional spasm of the moment without endangering the country.

And there’s more:

Anyone who listens to him speak off the cuff about health care or tax legislation knows he will not raise any specifics or make a logical argument for this or that provision. It’s all “great,” “fabulous,” “the biggest,” etc. It’s not a sophisticated marketing ploy; it is evidence of a total lack of understanding or concern about what is in any given piece of legislation. There is serious question whether he knows what is in the Affordable Care Act, how Medicaid works or specifically how the GOP health-care bills would have worked.

Unfortunately, interviewers tend to shy away from asking questions that will provoke a dreaded word salad.

So there is that stain of cowardice:

To defend his continued occupancy of the office or to insist he’s “better than Hillary” is to reject the notion of democracy. We cannot accept, let alone applaud, courtiers scurrying around to create the appearance of a functioning government. He, not they, is the chief executive and commander in chief. We have a vice president elected specifically to take over if the president is incapable of serving; the 25th Amendment does not say “but in a pinch, let the secretaries of defense and treasury run the show.” What we have is a type of coup in which the great leader is disabled. He is propped up, sent out to read lines written by others and kept safely away from disastrous situations. This is not how our system works, however.

We’re playing with fire, counting on the ability of others to restrain him from, say, launching a nuclear war and, nearly as bad, jettisoning our representative democracy. Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and Congress have a moral and constitutional obligation to bring this to a stop.

But there is that stain of cowardice, as NPR reports here:

The CIA Director, a top policy aide and a former campaign manager made appearances on Sunday talk shows to defend Donald Trump’s fitness as president and to bash a new tabloid-like book that has caused delirium in the nation’s capital for the better part of a week.

But first there was this:

While the president’s surrogates were busy on the airwaves providing him cover, the man at the center of the frenzy Washington finds itself in, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, issued an apology for his part in the controversy.

In a statement provided to Axios, Bannon said he regrets comments he made in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, where he described a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., other campaign staff and Russian operatives as “treasonous.”

Bannon went on to praise the president’s son calling him “both a patriot and a good man,” adding:

“I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

In his statement to Axios, Bannon said his “support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda,” and that he remains “ready to stand in the breech for this president’s efforts to make America great again.”

Friday evening Trump had tweeted this:

Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!

Sloppy Steve had been dumped by almost everyone – the Mercer family that funds him and Breitbart News and everyone at Fox News. He had to do something. He folded. Trump just added the appropriate gangster touches, making it sound like Bannon had cried and begged for his job, like a dog, and Trump kicked him in the teeth, as anyone would kick a sniveling dog in the teeth, just for the fun of it. Some might think that putting things that way was not exactly presidential on Trump’s part, but his base seems to be happy to have a gangster president. Al Capone used a baseball bat.

Loyalty matters, as NPR reports:

White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller was a guest on CNN’s “State of the Union” where he railed against Wolff’s book and Bannon, saying that Bannon’s comments were “tragic.” Miller also went on to say it was “unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments, so out of touch with reality.”

Miller, as the president has in recent days, sought to discredit the author and Bannon, saying of the book:

“It reads like an angry vindictive person spouting off to a highly discreditable author,” Miller said, adding, “The book is best understood as a work of very poorly written fiction and I will also say that the author is a garbage author of a garbage book.”

Later in the interview Miller called Bannon’s involvement in the book “a betrayal to the president,” and said the extent of Bannon’s role in the Trump White House has been “greatly exaggerated.”

Miller also said this:

I saw a man who was a political genius… a self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV [who] hasn’t gotten the due he deserves.

So, really, Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, wasn’t really a multimillionaire real estate magnate who gave his son fifteen million dalliers to get started in the family business? Who knew? And Kevin Drum adds this:

The only part I don’t get about this is why Tapper invited Miller in the first place. I’ve seen him before, and I’m sure Tapper knew what he was in for. It’s a pointless exercise, like interviewing Kellyanne Conway. Why even bother?

Perhaps so, but NPR does note that Miller may have gone too far:

The interview turned into a contentious shouting match as Miller sought to highlight Trump’s “political genius,” and host Jake Tapper tried to move into questions addressing Trump’s fitness as commander in chief, a topic central to the book.

At one point Tapper abruptly cut off the interview with Miller, but not before telling him:

“There’s one viewer you care about right now and you are being obsequious, you’re being a factotum in order to please him, okay? And I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”

Tapper then went to a commercial break.

For good measure, after the interview was done, the president tweeted:

“Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

Trump was not attending to the nation’s business. He was watching CNN. He’s like that, but Miller was not the only one being obsequious:

In a much more measured interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called the book “a complete fabrication.”

“Let me be very clear, this is a book of fiction. Not only is it not accurate, there are so many misrepresentations in this book that it shouldn’t be taken seriously,” Lewandowski said.

Earlier on the same program, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who personally delivers most of the daily intelligence briefings to Trump, called the digs at the president’s mental capacity “absurd.”

“We talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world, complex issues,” Pompeo said. “He asks really difficult questions of our team at CIA, so that we can provide him the information that he needs to make good, informed policy decisions, and I’ve watched him do that.”

Still, there was this:

White House adviser Stephen Miller was escorted off the set of CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday after a contentious interview with host Jake Tapper.

Two sources close to the situation told Business Insider that after the taping was done, Miller was asked to leave several times.

He ignored those requests and ultimately security was called and he was escorted out, the sources said.

CNN declined to comment.

This may be a Jerry Lewis slapstick movie after all, but Trump’s base will be happy, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Miller did this for the same reason a baseball manager runs onto the field to get in an umpire’s face in response to a disputable call. The purpose is not to impress the team owner – it’s to fire up the crowd and the ball club. Trust me, this will work.

That’s what obsequious factotums do – they fire up the crowd – but they weren’t the only ones on the Sunday shows:

Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” a book which has since drawn its eponymous response from its equally eponymous subject, on Sunday said that President Donald Trump’s administration is constantly aware of the 25th Amendment.

On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Wolff said that staff members brought up the 25th Amendment, which allows for the president’s removal from office if he is unable to do his job, “all the time.”

“Actually, they would say, sort of in the mid-period, ‘We’re not at a 25th Amendment level yet,'” Wolff said. “And then this went on: ‘Okay, this is a little 25th Amendment.’ The 25th Amendment is a concept that is alive every day in the White House.”

Asked whether he violated journalistic off-the-record agreements with sources quoted or cited in his book, Wolff said, “I did not. I absolutely did not.”

They all know, at times, that Donald Trump is not fit for office. He’s not a stable genius. He may have lost it, long ago, but Josh Marshall sees this:

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. Diagnoses are something for trained professionals and even they are challenged to make them without a proper in-person examination…

For public purposes, clinical diagnoses are only relevant as predictors of behavior. If the President has a cognitive deficiency or mental illness that might cause him to act in unpredictable or dangerous ways or simply be unable to do the job, we need to know.

But My God, we do know! We see him acting in these ways every day – and not just in multiple news reports from an abundance of different news organizations. We see it with our own eyes: in his public actions, his public statements, his tweets. All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.

And this is not a Ronald Reagan thing:

It is now widely believed that President Reagan showed early signs of his later Alzheimer’s diagnosis during the latter part of his presidency. How much or whether it affected his ability to carry out his duties is less clear. But that is a very different case. The kinds of subtle lapses in memory or cognition that might hint at such an affliction would be very difficult for the public to be aware of, especially if his staff is making efforts to conceal them. We don’t have that problem here.

This is more serious:

One of the diagnoses you often hear tossed around, rightly or wrongly, is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a Class B personality disorder. I think most psychologists and psychiatrists would tell you, privately if not publicly, that a number of Trump’s behaviors could (I stress “could”) be explained by NPD. But that doesn’t tell us that much. Lots of symptoms and behaviors can be explained by many different diseases and disorders – or no disorder or problem at all. That’s why you need a proper examination. (This applies of course to both somatic and mental illnesses.) Some shrinks may say they’ve seen enough to know; others would say, no, never without a full examination. Again, for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. If the entire psychiatric profession got together and examined Trump and pronounced him entirely free of any mental illness, his behavior wouldn’t be any less whacked or dangerous in a President.

It’s really only the behavior that matters to us as citizens.

And that’s what matters here:

In common-sense, every-day rather than clinical language Trump is clearly unstable, erratic, impulsive. In a word, he’s nuts and not well. As citizens, we are entirely able and entitled to make these determinations. They are ordinary English language descriptors that the psychiatric profession doesn’t control and shouldn’t want to control. The entire debate over whether Trump is “mentally ill” is simply a diversion, premised on the idea that we need either permission or dictation to say he is not able to safely or competently fulfill the job of President.

We don’t. The observed behavior is really all that is necessary and all that matters. It’s very clear.

It’s very clear that Donald Trump is not a stable genius. Everyone knows that. Like Jerry Lewis, he has become a national embarrassment. And of course he is far more dangerous than Jerry Lewis ever was. Broad and crude and very loud slapstick routines turned out to be tiresome and deeply offensive. In the White House they could get us all killed.

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Trumping the Law

Friday evenings are problematic. The week went well? Sip some scotch and smile. The week was a disaster? Sip some scotch and brood in bitterness and anger, and then sip a whole lot of scotch. That’ll make the week go away, but Donald Trump doesn’t drink and Donald Trump had a bad week. The Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House hit the bookstores and it was devastating – and there had already been two days of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News, and there will be at least two more weeks of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News.

Andrew Sullivan sums up the ongoing disaster:

Michael Wolff’s new book confirms what we already knew: that the White House is a smoldering crater of chaos and dysfunction. Wolff claims that every single White House source he talked to believes Trump is “incapable of functioning in his job.” We have heard these claims about presidents before – but usually from the opposition, not from the White House itself, let alone unanimously. But Wolff’s piece in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday also confirmed what is obvious about Trump’s fast-eroding mental health: “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes.” And: “At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.”

This addled, lazy, and belligerent man-child is nonetheless engaged in a war of insults and threats against a nuclear-armed dictatorship, with the capacity to kill millions. No head of any nuclear-armed country has ever said in public what Trump has now repeatedly broadcast to the world.

That’s the problem. This is what everyone already knew. Reporters knew this. They had reported some of this, gingerly, not wanting to be accused of being alarmist, of going too far, of being disrespectful. Most of the public knew this too. All they had to do was watch the news. Michael Wolff did no more than add colorful detail. Trump has said it’s all a pack of lies. His lawyers say that too. His press secretary keeps saying that. And perhaps Michael Wolff embellished a bit – but he has tapes of what people said – and even if he might have embellished a bit everyone seems to agree he got the general situation exactly right. This was confirmation. The cat is out of the bag. Donald Trump had a bad week.

And Robert Mueller was closing in. The New York Times Michael Schmidt broke that news:

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House’s top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.

Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside. But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president’s orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

And it didn’t work:

Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer, who had been Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s and died in 1986.

This is beginning to look like obstruction of justice, and rather unhinged obstruction, but there was more, regarding Trump and James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired:

Mr. Mueller has also substantiated claims that Mr. Comey made in a series of memos describing troubling interactions with the president before he was fired in May.

The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation.

Trump said he NEVER asked Comey to say publicly that he was not under investigation, and he NEVER asked Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty either. Comey was lying. It was his word against Comey’s, and Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their conversations. He’d be sorry.

There were no tapes. There were Reince Priebus’ handwritten notes. Trump had told Priebus that’s exactly what he was going to do, and did. Priebus jotted that down. Oops. Mueller had subpoenaed Priebus’ handwritten notes. Trump was the one who was lying, and there was no way to wiggle out of this one, or this one:

Mr. Mueller has also been examining a false statement that the president reportedly dictated on Air Force One in July in response to an article in The Times about a meeting that Trump campaign officials had with Russians in 2016. A new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, says that the president’s lawyers believed that the statement was “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears,” and that it led one of Mr. Trump’s spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer dealing with the special counsel’s investigation, declined to comment.

Of course he declined to comment. Anything he could have said would have made matters worse. This was a bad week. Everything changed. Denials will now sound like guilt. Vehement denials will sound like absolute guilt. That might call for a bit of scotch.

There is, however, an alternative to scotch, as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley reports here:

Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley sent a formal-looking letter to the Department of Justice today asking that British spy/private investigator Christopher Steele be investigated for lying to federal authorities. Steele is the guy who put together the infamous “dossier” filled with as-yet-publicly-unsubstantiated allegations about Trump and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia; Graham and Grassley allege that he may have lied to investigators about leaking his dossier to the press.

Mathis-Lilley notes that Graham and Grassley don’t dispute what’s in the dossier, or even address that thing, as they have something else in mind:

The Republican angle here is to paint Steele as a sleazy operator and to suggest that were it not for his sketchy dossier – which was partly funded by the Clinton campaign, but also by a Never Trump conservative newspaper backed by a Marco Rubio donor – no one ever would have thought to investigate the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. And it doesn’t seem completely implausible, given what we know about national security types and their tendency to fall for stories that aren’t true, that the FBI may well have taken the Steele dossier more seriously than it should have once it came to the bureau’s attention.

But we also know that in reality federal authorities’ investigation into Trump/Russia was triggered by a diplomat’s tip, surveillance intercepts, and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, not just the dossier – and that the investigation has uncovered real evidence of Russia-related malfeasance even without having yet released any findings related to the literal, actual meeting the Trump campaign held with Russian operatives who promised them “dirt” about Hillary Clinton. Still, the Grassley-Graham Gambit does provide a nice preview of what a potential Republican defense in an impeachment trial might look like.

That defense is simple. The real crime was suggesting Trump committed a crime.

As Holmes said to Watson, the game is afoot, and Kevin Drum has a list:

Paul Manafort is suing Robert Mueller for going beyond his remit by prosecuting him for fraud rather than collusion with Russia.

Donald Trump has threatened to sue a publisher over a book he doesn’t like.

Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham are trying to get the FBI to investigate Christopher Steele, the guy who put together the Trump “dossier.”

The FBI has reopened its absurd investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

After James Comey testified before Congress in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions tasked a staffer with generating “one negative article a day in the news media.”

Drum adds this:

The American legal system is really getting a workout these days, now that we have a president who sees courts and the Justice Department primarily as tools to take revenge on his enemies. I hope it’s up to the task.

Jonathan Chait wonders about that:

There are two ways for a president to corrupt the vast powers of federal law enforcement. The one that has commanded the greatest attention so far is the defensive corruption of curtailing investigations into the administration and its allies (by, say, firing Robert Mueller). The other is offensive, by directing investigations into the administration’s political critics. And while this form of corruption has attracted less attention, Trump appears to have made far greater headway here.

In fact, the game is afoot:

Republican senators Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham have made a criminal referral to the Justice Department against Christopher Steele. It is unclear what crime they have in mind…

In the meantime, the FBI is investigating the Clinton Foundation. It is conceivable they have found evidence of genuine criminality. But years of investigations into the foundation have found nothing more than a typical pattern of fundraising and access. The foundation’s arrangements may have been unwise, or even unethical, for a presidential candidate, but it has survived intense scrutiny without a hint of any criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is reportedly probing Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server again. “A former senior DOJ official familiar with department leadership’s thinking said officials there are acutely aware of demands from President Donald Trump that they look into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State – and that they lock up her top aide, Huma Abedin,” reports Betsy Woodruff. It is impossible to imagine any new lead or legitimate reason to reopen an investigation that was completed last year, other than to satisfy Trump’s lust to criminalize his opponents.

That’s the plan:

At minimum, the effect will be to feed the right-wing news media’s message that Trump’s opponents are the real criminals, in order to supply a distraction for his base. At maximum, the “charges” will allow Trump to have something to trade away – he could fire Mueller while “magnanimously” pardoning his enemies in the alleged spirit of letting old feuds die. In either case, the threat of investigation can be used to make any potential Trump critic think twice.

In short, Donald Trump can trump the law, and Josh Marshall says that is just how Trump thinks:

Six months ago I joked that the President’s defenders would eventually come around to arguing that we should pity the President rather than hold him in contempt because he’d been raised in a culture of criminality and had no experience following the law.

The weird thing is that I’m now coming around to that defense… Three times in recent days we’ve seen references to the President’s belief that Attorneys General for Presidents Kennedy and Obama protected them from the law and that Trump had great respect for this. He has displayed a running rage and contempt for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once his most important political ally, because he failed in this most basic of duties: protecting the President from the law.

But in a culture of criminality that makes sense:

One oddity about this repeatedly stated belief is this: why Obama and Kennedy? Obama makes sense. Trump sees everything through the prism of Obama. But why Kennedy? That was decades ago. There have been many presidents since. Three of them, besides Kennedy and Obama, were Democrats. One of those, Richard Nixon, had an Attorney General who literally went to prison for crimes he committed on the President’s behalf.

Why these two Presidents are the point of reference is a mystery I hope to see solved. (Perhaps it is something Roy Cohn, a nemesis of Robert F. Kennedy, told Trump back in the day or perhaps it has something to do with how both men were and are idealized.) But for now, the relevant point is that President Trump actually seems to believe this. Trump is such an instrumentalist in regards to truth-telling that it may be impossible to fully separate his belief from bad faith. But to the extent Trump believes anything I think he believes this. He not only wants his Attorney General to protect him from the law. He thinks that’s how it’s supposed to be and in fact has been.

Why should Donald Trump be the only President to get treated like a chump?

As he told Michael Schmidt of the Times, “When you look at the things that [the Obama administration] did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.”

No one else does, but Trump is special:

We see these attitudes as the mindset of a would-be authoritarian. And they are. But they are also the attitudes of a criminal. By this I mean not simply someone who has broken the law. I mean someone who has no inherent respect for the law or great fear of its enforcement and breaks the law more or less casually when it is convenient and relatively safe to do so. Typically, such people see the trappings of the law as little more than a mask for the exercise of power. This is clearly Trump’s view of the world. Just as clearly he saw becoming President as essentially becoming the law. It is the ultimate power and what comes with that is legal invulnerability for him and his family. He earned it.

And we’ve seen this movie before:

The idea is most readily comparable to mob families we know from dramas like The Sopranos and The Godfather. Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone aren’t against the law. It’s just something like the weather that you deal with and work around and maybe even use sometimes but all and only in the service of personal and family power and wealth. The key theme of all mob drama – and presumably to some degree the reality of mob culture – is that the law is for chumps, a crutch for those who aren’t man enough, powerful enough to get what they want without it. This sounds very much like the mindset of Donald Trump and his family. Who would be a fool enough to become President of the United States and not use the power for legal invulnerability?

And that leads to this:

Throughout the last year, and particularly in the reporting we’re seeing in recent days, a persistent theme is that Donald Trump not only sometimes breaks the law but has no familiarity or experience following it. The idea of limits is simply alien to him. We see this repeated pattern of aides scurrying around, plotting amongst themselves all trying to prevent him from doing things that are not only clearly illegal or even unconstitutional but wildly self-destructive. The months’ long effort by even the most transgressive and aggressive aides – folks like Steve Bannon, for example – to stop Trump from firing James Comey is the most vivid and high-octane example. Very notably, the biggest advocates for firing Comey were not Trump’s wildest advisors but members of his family – Jared Kushner and, now it seems, Ivanka Trump too. It’s the immediate family members and the lickspittles and retainers he brought with him from his private sector fiefdom, The Trump Organization – Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks, et al. It’s a Family in every sense. They have no experience following the law, all reared in a culture of inter-generational criminality.

Marshall, however, sees no need to accept this:

Even if we use Trump’s family background and acculturation to understand his criminal mindsight, society needs to defend itself from habitual criminals and those who view themselves as above the law. But there is a reality here and it’s a reality I think is the key to understanding Trump and the situation the country is currently in. As his top advisors and aides seem to realize as clearly as anyone, Trump is wholly unable to follow the law. He needs to be monitored closely to prevent him from breaking the law. And don’t get me wrong. Many of these folks are not at all the best people. They’ll break the law. But they’re also acculturated into law-abiding society. So they have a sense of how to do it sparingly or at least discreetly so as to at least avoid getting caught. Trump seems to have no such experience. That all worked out fairly well when he operated his fiefdom out of New York, using hyper-litigiousness (paradoxically) to preserve his invulnerability, working the tabloid media culture for the same purpose and cultivating an enabling and protecting relationship with the local offices of the FBI (a still mainly untold story).

But it comes down to this:

Quite simply he doesn’t know how to follow the law. The same seems to apply to his family. The fact that the constitution makes him the person ultimately responsible for enforcing the laws of the United States is a mismatch that will and indeed eventually must blow apart. It’s only a matter of time. Indeed, in some sense, it’s already happened.

And that’s why Donald Trump had very bad week. That nasty book exposed him as an addled and lazy and belligerent man-child engaged in a war of insults and threats and incapable of functioning in his job, which everyone knew anyway, and now he’s no longer in that familiar Manhattan culture of criminality. He can’t trump the law. He really ought to try some scotch. That might help.

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Assuming No Future

The talk of the day is the Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – and it is devastating – but it’s not everything. Donald Trump is still the president. He will do this and that, but now people will wonder if he knows what he’s doing. The man is volatile – reactive. He lashes out. He doesn’t seem to think things through. And he certainly doesn’t read much, if at all, and now Joe Scarborough tells this tale:

Mika Brzezinski and I had a tense meeting with Trump following what I considered to be a bumbling debate performance in September 2015. I asked the candidate a blunt question.

“Can you read?”

Awkward silence.

“I’m serious, Donald. Do you read?” I continued. “If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?”

Taken aback, Trump quietly responded that he could while holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. He then joked that he read it all the time.

Scarborough remembers that now:

I am apparently not the only one who has questioned the president’s ability to focus on the written word. “Trump didn’t read,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to… He was post literate – total television.”

That might explain Donald Trump’s reactive volatility, and that might explain this:

Despite widespread bipartisan opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling, both from lawmakers and the Pentagon, the Trump administration announced it would open nearly all United States waters to drilling on Thursday, according to multiple news reports.

It’s safe to assume that Donald Trump hasn’t read decades of news articles about decades of horrible oil spills, or to have reviewed the extensive data on the horrible cost of cleaning up those oil spills, but others have:

More than 100 lawmakers, the Pentagon, and even key Republican governors have expressed disapproval over the proposal by the Interior Department that would roll back an Obama-era ban on drilling that covered “more than 100 million offshore acres along the Arctic and Eastern Seaboard,” as the New York Times reported.

Several Republican governors, including Larry Hogan of Maryland, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Scott of Florida, have openly expressed opposition to offshore oil and gas production.

“In addition to their environmental and cultural importance, Atlantic Ocean waters also provide significant economic value to our state,” an August letter from Christie read. He added that he “strongly opposes any waters off our coastline being considered for inclusion in this leasing program.”

Those who read about such things know all of this, and those who don’t, well, don’t know:

Offshore oil and gas drilling has led to significant environmental catastrophes, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion “and subsequent spill of 215 million gallons of crude into the Gulf that fouled beaches from Louisiana to Florida. The effects of the spill are still being felt more than seven years later,” the Post reported.

Who knew? Donald Trump didn’t know:

The decision strongly aligns with President Donald Trump’s aggressive energy and deregulatory agenda, with next to zero concern for environmental impacts. The move comes only a week after the Trump administration positioned itself to roll back the drilling safety regulations put in place following the 2010 spill, as the Times also reported.

In addition, the Trump administration recently halted “a study that aimed to make drilling platforms safer,” as the Post noted.

Bad things have happened in the past. Everyone has read about them. They could happen in the future. Bill Clinton successfully campaigned, twice, with that Fleetwood Mac song blaring at his rallies – Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow – and Fleetwood Mac performed that song at his inaugural ball in 1993, and that song was played for Clinton’s appearances at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Democratic conventions. Trump uses the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want – and the Stones did request that he cease all use of their songs immediately – and he ignored them. Trump never thinks about tomorrow.

For those who read, the New York Times item on this oil drilling thing is here and the Washington Post item is here – for what that’s worth these days. Donald Trump won’t be reading those.

But wait, there’s more:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back an Obama-era policy that gave states leeway to allow marijuana for recreational purposes.

The Justice Department on Thursday afternoon released a memo announcing that the so-called Cole memo – which ordered U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana has been legalized to deprioritize prosecution of marijuana-related cases – would be rescinded effective immediately.

“Previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately,” the memo reads.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the states’-rights guy from the Deep South, doesn’t believe in states’ rights in this case:

The move is likely to put the federal government in conflict with states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. California on Monday became the sixth state to legalize recreational marijuana. Massachusetts and Maine are set to join those states later this year…

Legalization has led to a booming marijuana business in some states, where wealthy growers and even hedge funds have invested millions of dollars in production and sales. Some industry analysts peg the North American cannabis market at $10 billion in annual sales.

That’s the future, and Jennifer Rubin has a few things to say about this:

The announcement was not taken well by Republicans who say Sessions assured them in his confirmation hearing that he wouldn’t go that route. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), representing a state with a robust legal marijuana business, was incensed. “This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation,” he tweeted. “With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was less angry but still obviously miffed. She pronounced the decision “regrettable.”

Sessions may have lied (or not been in a position to make the promise) but these lawmakers were fools to take him at his word. His hardline approach to drugs was well-known, and the administration’s desire to court social conservatives has been obvious since the campaign.

In short, this was entirely reactive, and no one was thinking about tomorrow:

Even more irate than the senators will be the pro-legalization voters in Oregon, California, Colorado and the other 26 states plus the District that have loosened marijuana rules. And, in particular, this is another signal to millennial voters that the GOP is utterly hostile to their concerns. Beyond those states, support for marijuana has been rising nationally for years. According to Gallup’s October 2017 poll, 64 percent of Americans favor legalization. That includes 51 percent of Republicans.

Among millennials, President Trump and the GOP’s decision to enforce marijuana laws will also not sit well. The GOP was already unpopular with the vast majority of millennials. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, for example, voters between 18 and 34 disapprove of Trump’s performance by a 68 percent to 25 percent margin; they favor a Democratic Congress by a 60 to 26 percent margin.

In Virginia, voters age 18 to 29 chose Democrat Ralph Northam 69 percent to 30 percent. In Alabama, these voters favored Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) by a 60 percent to 38 percent spread. The marijuana decision will not help.

That too is the future, and they’re throwing that away:

It’s not just the GOP’s position on pot that is a problem for younger voters. Virtually everything he does offends their sensibilities. He pulled out of the Paris climate accord, tried to ban transgender people from the military, is vehemently anti-immigrant (legal and illegal), approved the Muslim ban and a plan to punish so-called sanctuary cities, and tore up net neutrality. His treatment of women is yet another strike against him.

A president whose mind-set has always been backward-looking – filled with nostalgia for a time when white men were more dominant – was never going to be a big draw with younger voters who are more diverse, more environmentally conscious and more involved in the global economy than previous generations. However, in cheering on the president and enabling his policies, the GOP has made itself into a nationalist, protectionist and xenophobic enclave for old people. Trump’s aversion to globalization is at its core an aversion to the only world these voters know.

So this was a bad move:

“The decriminalization of marijuana is a generational issue that a majority of millennials support, including a majority of millennial Republicans,” says Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project. “How the Sessions measure infringes on states’ rights and worsens government budget deficits, not to mention the tremendous human cost, will particularly concern younger conservatives and libertarians. And they will continue walking away from the party establishment.”

And as the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report, this was a bad move:

President Trump marshaled both his West Wing and his personal legal team Thursday against a new book that portrays him and his administration as incompetent and erratic – threatening possible libel charges against its author, its publisher and his former chief strategist, whose provocative comments pepper the book.

In an 11-page letter, Charles J. Harder, a Beverly Hills attorney representing the president, demanded that both Michael Wolff and Henry Holt and Co. – the author and publisher of the forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” – “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book,” as well as apologize to Trump. The president’s lawyers also requested a complete copy of the book as part of their inquiry.

And they were treated just like Donald Trump treated the Rolling Stones:

The threats did not appear to work, at least as far as the book is concerned: Wolff and his publisher announced Thursday that publication had been moved forward four days to Friday because of what they described as “unprecedented demand.”

But someone’s not been doing their reading:

Legal experts and historians said the decision by a sitting president to threaten “imminent” legal action against a publishing house, a journalist and a former aide represented a remarkable break with recent precedent and could have a chilling effect on free-speech rights.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, likened Trump’s actions this week to those of Richard M. Nixon, whose White House unsuccessfully attempted to stop both the New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the government’s entanglements in Vietnam.

Though several presidents – including Jimmy Carter and Theodore Roosevelt – have sued for libel after leaving office, it is uncommon and potentially damaging for a current occupant of the Oval Office to try to use the powers of the presidency to take on personal and political rivals, Brinkley said.

Everyone knows this, but Trump is a reactive and volatile man:

Trump’s decision was a deliberate one, according to people who have spoken with him following the publication of excerpts from Wolff’s book and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments.

Trump released an initial, lengthy statement Wednesday saying that Bannon had “lost his mind,” but he remained dissatisfied, advisers said. The president was especially furious at what he considered several confidences Bannon had betrayed by sharing with Wolff, as well as some alleged falsehoods and exaggerations in the book, and wanted to consult with lawyers who were experts on the topic, one person familiar with his decision said.

Harder had previously represented Trump’s wife, Melania, in a dispute with Britain’s Daily Mail, as well as son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump was eager to retain the lawyer hailed by aides as someone you hire “to crush the media,” a White House official said.

That never works out well, but for Donald Trump, there is no future:

Though some White House aides privately worried that mounting such a forceful response was neither presidential nor particularly effective, they also understood that Trump was unlikely to change his mind. “You can debate the strategic effect of what we’re doing, but the president was determined to take the legal action,” a White House official said.

That’s just who he is:

The president’s approach to the claims in Wolff’s book, which includes criticism of both him and his family, follows a familiar pattern honed during Trump’s time as a combative New York real estate developer.

For nearly half a century, Trump has used lawsuits – and often just the threat of them – as a primary weapon in his arsenal against critics and competitors, deploying libel and slander allegations to push back against those who might embarrass or contradict him. He has had his lawyers threaten book authors, business rivals, attorneys, and critics of his real estate developments and political views.

Competing hotel owners, casino managers and voices in the news media have all found themselves in receipt of sharply worded letters promising legal action that in most cases never happened.

The pattern continued during his presidential campaign. Trump threatened to sue the Times over an article about his alleged unwanted advances on women – but he never did. He threatened to sue the women who said he made the advance – but he never did. And he said during the campaign that he might take action to make it easier to sue journalists – but so far he has not done so.

Of course this is nonsense:

A host of legal issues complicate President Trump’s effort to block publication of a book highly critical of his tenure in the White House, according to legal experts who view it more as an attempt at intimidation than a genuine threat of litigation.

“It is unthinkably difficult to imagine a president suppressing publication of a book criticizing him,” said Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer who has represented the media. Journalism evaluating the president’s performance in office receives “the super-highest levels of First Amendment protection.”

This simply won’t work:

It is exceedingly difficult for any public official to prove libel. It requires a plaintiff to show that a writer knew the disputed statement was false but printed it anyway or acted with “reckless disregard.” That requires proof that the writer seriously doubted the truth of what he wrote.

“The demand for proof of reckless disregard is at its zenith when it comes to the president and the White House,” said Ronald Collins, a First Amendment scholar at the University of Washington School of Law…

Rare cases of blocking publication usually involve issues such trade secrets or concerns about privacy, such as a person’s medical condition.

In cases concerning libel and defamation, it is up to the publication to decide whether to publish, and the offended subject can then sue for damages.

Collins wondered what those damages would be in Trump’s case.

Someone is not thinking about tomorrow, and Jonathan Chait sees a pattern here:

When the president tweeted out a boast claiming credit for the lack of commercial airplane fatalities in 2017, it seemed like a very typically Trumpian gesture. There were the familiar elements: boasting about a trend that long predated his administration (airplane crashes have been exceedingly rare for two decades), the random capitalization (“I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation… there were Zero deaths in 2017”), and the l’état-c’est-moi assumption of total responsibility.

But this claim also sounded a distinctly un-Trump-y theme. It was boring. Indeed, the absence of a plane crash is the prototypical example of a news story that never gets reported. This alleged historic achievement contained nothing Big or Beautiful or certain to make us all so Rich. It centered on the management of risk, a rare consideration for a president normally consumed with instant gratification.

Indeed, another tweet, later in the same day, reflected the more familiar Trump approach to risk management. In it, he topped Kim Jong-un’s boast of nuclear capability with his own boast of “bigger and more powerful” nuclear capability.

So here, on the same day Trump was assuring the public that their chances of dying in a commercial plane crash remain exceedingly remote, he was elevating the risk that they will die in a massive nuclear holocaust. On the plus side, he got a fleeting sense of satisfaction from flaming an adversary on social media. The North Korea tweet is Trump’s usual idea of a shrewd long-term cost-benefit tradeoff.

In short, this is an odd view of the future:

Throughout Trump’s presidency, Michael Wolff observes, he has been “singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp.” This is not only a matter of cognitive ability. A monomaniacal obsession with the short term has characterized Trump’s entire career.

Chait sees a man who may not be able to conceive of any future:

He does not think strategically. He lives for the moment. Trump wrote in The Art of the Deal that he prefers to keep his workday unstructured, because “you can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to work each day and just see what develops.” He makes decisions impulsively and has leveraged his assets precariously – “I’m the king of debt,” he bragged – and went into bankruptcy six times. He specialized in unethical maneuvers that enabled him to take short-term profits while burning his partners – like tunneling money out of his failing casinos, defrauding customers, or refusing to pay contractors the agreed-upon price.

And one thing leads to another:

Why, besides ethics, haven’t more business owners tried Trump’s patented method of ripping people off? Because over the long run it poisons your ability to find willing partners. Indeed, mainstream banks eventually refused to deal with Trump, which is what led to his unusual dependence on Russia and other shady foreign sources for capital. In many ways, his presidency has followed the arc of his business career – short-term leverage plays that benefit Trump and his inner circle before his counter-parties wise up.

The Republican Party’s hostility to government has made it a willing partner for much of this agenda. Many, if not most, functions of government are designed to mitigate risk. Social insurance protects individuals from the risk of outliving their savings, or of facing unaffordable medical costs. Economic regulation protects society from dangers like financial risk, environmental danger, or crime and other social disorder. Laissez-faire ideology often amounts to an acceptance of greater risk. (This is a basic description of the trade-off, which holds regardless of whether you think Republicans are generally eliminating regulations that are important or unnecessarily burdensome.) By scaling back access to health insurance, they would expose more people to the risk of high medical bills, for the benefit of enjoying lower taxes and premiums right away. Much of their deregulatory agenda would allow business to operate more cheaply by taking fewer precautions to protect workers, consumers, and the environment.

None of them worry about the future:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has gutted his workforce and driven out hundreds of experienced career diplomats, leaving the department a shell. The Department of Energy – which, among other things, safeguards the nuclear arsenal from espionage, theft, and accident – has been disastrously mismanaged… Trump has appointed nobody to run the Office of Science and Technology Policy. His administration has denigrated, and proposed a 25 percent budget cut for, the Office of Financial Research, a brain center created after the 2008 economic meltdown to help policy makers assess systemic risk in the financial system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which protects against threats like pandemics and bioterrorism, has hundreds of positions vacant. The Department of Justice “has begun 2018 without Senate-confirmed leaders in at least six of its most important divisions,” reports NPR.

The same story has played out across the federal government, where the workforce has shrunk across the board – not through any planned reforms, but through neglect and decay that drives away the most talented employees (who can most easily obtain better jobs elsewhere) leaving behind leaderless and demoralized bureaucrats teetering on dysfunctionality. Any modern state, and especially one that has assumed a leadership role in the liberal international order, requires competent administrators to protect its citizens from a wide array of disasters. They serve as a form of insurance. You can cancel your insurance policy and have some more money in your pocket right away. But when you are insuring yourself against as many risks as the federal government does – financial crises, wars, natural disasters, disease outbreak, terrorism, and on and on – the cumulative risk grows that something, or several things, will go terribly wrong.

And then we’re all in trouble:

What is most evident is the lack of strategy or planning. Because Trump lurches from day to day, his advisers are forced to do the same. They have held him off from blowing up the Iran nuclear agreement with a series of delaying tactics. Almost every day brings a new leak from an adviser terrified the president will blunder into war with North Korea… A war with North Korea that could kill millions is merely one of the skyrocketing risks that Trump has created. Our brains have difficulty measuring low-probability, high-impact events like this…

But the notion that Trump would represent a massive gamble was present in the minds of his supporters all along. Michael Anton, now the White House director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, wrote a famous essay before the election casting a Trump presidency as a desperate and probably doomed gamble akin to passengers on hijacked Flight 93 rushing the cockpit. Trump ally Peter Thiel has told friends, “There is a fifty percent chance this whole thing ends in disaster.”

Trump, his inner circle, and political allies are all currently cashing in on the short-term upside of a massive leveraged gamble with America’s future.

That’s not a gamble with America’s future. That’s an inability to conceive of the quite probable future – but Donald Trump doesn’t like to think about such things. Maybe he can’t think about such things. Maybe he really can’t read. And there goes our future.

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Infinite Improbability

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a big thing in the late seventies, a BBC Radio 4 series that Adams then turned into a novel, then a series of novels, and finally a 2005 feature film – Helen Mirren was the voice of Deep Thought – the ultimate computer. The whole thing was a hoot, especially Adams’ explanation of the breakthrough that had made interstellar travel possible:

The Infinite Improbability Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing interstellar distances in a few seconds, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. The principle of generating small amounts of finite probability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny Fifty-Seven Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer – say a nice hot cup of tea – were, of course, well understood. And such generators were often used to break the ice at parties, by making all the molecules in the hostess’s undergarments simultaneously leap one foot to the left, in accordance with the Theory of Indeterminacy.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for that sort of thing, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties. Another thing they couldn’t stand was the perpetual failure they encountered in trying to construct a machine that could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship between the furthest stars. And in the end they grumpily announced that such a machine was virtually impossible.

Then, one day, a student, who had been left to sweep up the lab after a particularly unsuccessful party, found himself reasoning this way: “If such a machine is a virtual impossibility, then, it must logically be a finite improbability! So, all I have to do in order to make one, is to work out exactly how improbable it is, then feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea… and then turn it on.”

He did this and was rather startled to discover that he managed to create the long-sought-after Infinite Improbability Generator out of thin air. It startled him even more when, just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute’s Prize for Extreme Cleverness, he got lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn’t stand was a smart-arse.

But the Infinite Improbability Drive worked, even if each trip was harrowing. All possible things happened simultaneously. And then you arrived somewhere or other and the shipboard computer would announce that normality had been restored, but no one ever believed that:

Arthur: Normality? We can talk about normality until the cows come home.

Trillian: What is normality?

Ford: What is home?

Zaphod: What’re cows?

That was the dilemma. Once you’ve seen all possible things happening simultaneously – once you’ve been turned into a sofa and back again for example – you’re never quite sure what is really normal. Perhaps normality hasn’t been restored. Don’t trust that shipboard computer. State the obvious. This is NOT normal!

Many are stating the obvious now, about what Donald Trump is up to. He’s America’s Infinite Improbability Generator. He tweets this:

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

David Simon tweets back:

For all of you sharing this fragile orb and premising your tomorrows on the notion that no two men in key positions of authority could be so small, empty and stupid as to risk the mass immolation of tens of millions in an adolescent dick-measuring contest, well, dream on, rubes.

In short, this is NOT normal, but Slate’s Joshua Keating isn’t sure about that:

This hardly seems out of character for a man who defended the size of his actual penis during a televised presidential debate, and who often takes a “size matters” attitude toward weapons of mass destruction. (Recall that it reportedly was his desire to have 32,000 nuclear weapons at his disposal, because that was the most any president had ever had, that prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call him a “fucking moron.”) But Trump’s hardly the first man to wax Freudian in a discussion of nuclear annihilation. The term “missile envy,” after all, was coined by one nuclear disarmament advocate in the 1980s.

So Trump is in the mainstream here:

There’s been a strange sexualization of nuclear weaponry since the beginning of the Cold War. It was just two weeks after the U.S. nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in 1946 that a French swimwear designer released the explosively scandalous bathing suit named after the island, whose inhabitants would spend the next few decades in exile. The erotic charge of the arms race was also a major theme of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, which opens with a memorably phallic midair refueling scene and only gets more blatant from there.

So cut Trump some slack:

It seems almost unfair to expect more of a guy who’s not exactly well-versed on the topic. Trump has none of the specialized argot used by specialists, so the macho posturing underneath is all the more evident.

Of course, he’s also not the first president to describe U.S. military might as if it’s an extension of his own manhood. Teddy Roosevelt famously cited a (probably made up) African proverb – “Speak softly and carry a big stick” – to describe his foreign policy doctrine. The speaking softly part probably wouldn’t appeal to the current president, though.

Still, no one should be surprised, but this is not normal:

President Trump declared his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon persona non grata on Wednesday, delivering a scorching rebuke to the man who had been Trump’s most visible partner in his efforts to redefine the Republican Party according to their populist and nationalist vision.

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump said in a caustic four-paragraph statement released by the White House. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

Trump rarely dispatches his advisors entirely, whether he fires them or they are disgraced. Bannon had tested that in recent months, however, with reported comments mocking Trump and his children and casting himself as a master strategist and political theorist.

The president’s public denunciation of Bannon came only after a report early Wednesday – based on excerpts from a forthcoming book – that quoted Bannon condemning as “treasonous” a June 2016 meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, met with Kremlin-linked Russians to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Yes, these two were feuding like an old married couple:

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad … and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon reportedly said.

His verdict on the meeting in Trump Tower – an event now at the center of a special counsel’s criminal investigation of Russian election meddling and potential Trump campaign complicity — was taken from a book to be released next week and obtained before publication by the Guardian newspaper. Bannon’s reported comment is an especially damning charge, undercutting Trump’s claim that the Russia story is a Democratic hoax.

Other portions of the book, as reported by the Guardian and excerpted in New York magazine, quote other Trump aides, and overall they portray him as ill-informed, unprepared and ill-tempered and contend that neither Trump nor family members and associates expected him to win election. In a separate statement, the spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump denied an assertion that “Melania was in tears – and not of joy.”

This was not normal, but Trump may have won this feud:

Trump’s disowning of Bannon immediately cheered mainstream Republicans. A political group tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has long been a Bannon target, summed up its glee in a Twitter message that had no words, just a short video of McConnell grinning.

Trump Jr. and Anthony Scaramucci, another banished Trump official, who’d conflicted with Bannon, shared their joy on Twitter. Both cited profanity-laced comments that Scaramucci made about Bannon in an interview with the New Yorker magazine in July, accusing Bannon of trying to build his own brand off “the strength of the president.”

Trump’s oldest son also tweeted that Bannon had turned the opportunity of working in the White House “into a nightmare of backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying and undermining the President. Steve is not a strategist, he is an opportunist.”

The president apparently reached the same conclusion. In his statement he dismissed Bannon as “a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination.”

And there was this:

Separately, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Bannon of “going after the president’s son in an outrageous and unprecedented way” and said that the president was “furious” and “disgusted.”

Bannon is expected to testify soon in a closed hearing of the House Intelligence Committee and will be questioned about what he knew, if anything, about ties between Trump associates and Russian officials.

This is trouble that came randomly, out of the blue. It seems that Bannon is an Infinite Improbability Generator too:

Though other presidents’ aides have, on occasions, written tell-all books or given indiscreet interviews, they have rarely done it with such gusto and abandon. A profile in Vanity Fair last month reported that Bannon had told a friend that Trump was “like an 11-year-old child,” and that he recalled allegations in a dropped lawsuit that Trump had raped a California teenager.

“Bannon has his own platform, unlike most chiefs of staff or advisors who seek to be part of conventional politics,” said Henry Olsen, a conservative author.

Olsen, however, argues that Bannon’s role in the populist movement has been overstated.

“Bannon,” he said, “assumed a public persona because, in a world of reporting that focuses on personalities, he was one of the few personalities who could be ascribed to be Trump-like.”

Henry Olsen is saying that neither of these guys is normal, and Jessica Schladebeck and Ginger Adams Otis of the New York Daily News cover the book in question:

A bombshell book about Donald Trump and his first year in office paints an unflattering portrait of a man who never wanted to be president.

“Fire and Fury,” a stunning expose from author Michael Wolff, details inner-circle secrets from Trump’s campaign and White House aides. It hits the shelves Jan. 9 – but early excerpts released Wednesday created an immediate furor.

Based on more than 200 interviews with current and former Trump confidants and staff, “Fire and Fury” showcases the president as a fame-hungry dilettante wholly uninterested in the complexities of his job.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the book as a work of fiction “filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access of influence with the White House.”

That may be so, but those two hundred with no access of influence with the White House did seem to agree that Trump didn’t expect to win the presidency:

Trump’s “ultimate goal” had never been to win the Oval Office, Wolff said. But he was excited about the exposure and opportunities to develop his brand. With encouragement from his longtime pal and former Fox News head Roger Ailes, Trump even flirted with the idea of starting his own television network.

“Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching,” Wolff said.

And there’s this:

Ivanka Trump followed her dad to the White House as an unpaid adviser with husband, Jared Kushner.

“The (couple) had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president,” Wolff wrote. “The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump.”

And there’s this:

“I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head,” former aide Sam Nunberg told Wolff about the time he was sent to explain the Constitution to Trump early in the campaign.

And there’s this:

“Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears,” Wolff wrote.

And there’s this:

President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, described a controversial meeting of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” to Wolff.

The former Breitbart head also told Wolff he expected investigators in the Russia probe to “crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV.”

Bannon also believed that Don Jr. had taken the Russian lawyer – who was peddling dirt on Hillary Clinton – up to the 26th floor of Trump Tower to meet his dad, Wolff wrote.

“Steve Bannon was certain that after the [July 2016 Trump Tower] meeting, Trump, Jr. had taken the participants to see his father,” Wolff said.

And there’s this:

Trump called his former acting attorney general a “cunt” when she refused to have the Justice Department uphold his travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, Wolff said.

“Trump conceived an early, obsessive antipathy for Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. She was, he steamed, ‘such a cunt,'” the journalist’s book said.

And there’s this:

Top Trump staffers expressed their doubts about his intelligence with colorful adjectives, Wolff said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” last year.

“For (Treasury Secretary) Steve Mnuchin and (former Trump White House chief of staff) Reince Priebus, the president was an ‘idiot.’ For (former Goldman Sachs exec) Gary Cohn, he was ‘dumb as shit.’ For (National Security Adviser) H.R. McMaster he was a ‘dope.’ The list went on,” Wolff said.

And there’s this:

Wolff had a lot to say about the head of Trump’s National Economic Council and quoted from an email “purporting to represent the views of Gary Cohn” that circulated in the White House in April.

“It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything – not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits … I am in a constant state of terror and shock,” the email said, according to “Fire and Fury.”

Even media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a Trump supporter, hung up the phone after a conversation with the president about H-1B visas for select immigrants and said, “What a fucking idiot,” Wolff wrote.

And of course Trump eats fast food out of fear:

“He had a longtime fear of being poisoned,” Wolff wrote, “one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s – nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.”

Wolff said the fear also has Trump stripping down his own bed and he’s ordered housekeeping not to touch his toothbrush and other personal belongings.

Trump also has his own bedroom at his D.C. lodgings, marking “the first time since the Kennedy White house that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms,” Wolff said.

And there’s that hair:

Dutiful daughter Ivanka wasn’t above a chortle with her friends about her father’s infamous orange comb-over.

“She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate – a contained island after scalp reduction surgery  surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men – the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond color.”

Schladebeck and Otis have more, but that’s the general idea, and the general idea is that this is NOT normal.

Kevin Drum is not impressed:

The basic takeaway is the same as hundreds of other articles about Donald Trump: he’s a moron; he’s only barely functionally literate; he watches a ton of TV; he’s ignorant about almost everything; he never seriously listens to anyone; he has settled opinions on every subject; he’s moody as hell; and he cares about nothing but himself. The rest is just details…

But he does cite this:

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Wolff says, he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” – an idea encouraged by the president himself. Because no one was in a position to either officially approve or formally deny such access, Wolff became “more a constant interloper than an invited guest.” There were no ground rules placed on his access, and he was required to make no promises about how he would report on what he witnessed.

Drum says THAT is not normal:

This sort of arrangement is fairly common in presidential campaigns. But it’s not common in presidential administrations. Not even slightly. I’m not at all sure it’s ever been done before. But apparently Trump is such an insane narcissist that he couldn’t see any downside to this. He simply couldn’t conceive that unrestricted access would produce anything other than a glowing tribute to the most sensational first 100 days of any presidency ever. That’s despite the fact that he’s done this many times before and the results have never been favorable except in a “say anything you want as long as you spell my name right” kind of way.

But this is normal:

There’s really no mystery about Trump. He’s exactly what he seems to be. The only reason we keep regurgitating stories like this one is because we can’t collectively believe it. No matter how many times we hear it, we just can’t believe that any human being outside a mental institution could be so delusional and oblivious. But Trump is.

Or he is not:

Late Wednesday, lawyers for Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon, arguing he violated the employment agreement he signed with the Trump Organization in numerous ways and also likely defamed the president. They ordered that he stop communicating either confidential and or disparaging information, and preserve all records in preparation for “imminent” legal action.

“You have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company,” read the letter from lawyer Charles Harder.

It seems that working for the White House – for the American people – is the same as working for the Trump Organization. The legal theory here is that they’re one in the same. At least that’s now explicit, and nonsense, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog has no sympathy for this sort of thing:

Did Wolff invent the Jared-Ivanka pact under which the missus rather than her husband will be the one who runs for president if the opportunity arises? Should we not believe the story about Trump receiving a briefing on the Constitution and getting bored around the time of the Fourth Amendment? Did Wolff make up the “I don’t intend to win because I ran for the brand-building” worldview of candidate Trump?

Well, Trumpers, if you’re being lied about in a high-profile media account, that sucks – but welcome to our world. This has been happening to Democratic presidents since the 1990s, whether it was the sex toys on the Clinton White House Christmas tree in Gary Aldrich’s #1 New York Times bestseller from 1996, Unlimited Access, or Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich asserting in print, on television, and in film that Barack Obama wanted to take America down a peg because an “anti-colonial” philosophy inherited from his late father. Being slandered and libeled in the media just comes with the territory for Democratic presidents and aspirants. John Kerry allegedly fabricated his military record. Bill and Hillary Clinton allegedly had a lot of people killed. Chelsea Clinton was allegedly the result of a marital rape. Barack Obama is allegedly a Kenyan by birth who allegedly gay-married his Pakistani roommate and then used the same wedding ring (with Arabic inscription!) to marry Michelle.

Did Wolff lie about the president? Boo-hoo. The GOP has built itself on lies about Democrats. If there’s dishonesty in the Wolff book, it’s Republicans getting a taste of their own medicine.

Still, none of this is normal, and there’s Douglas Adams. We can talk about normality until the cows come home. What is normality? What is home? What’re cows?

Meanwhile, who is running the country?

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Living Dangerously Now

Donald Trump had a bad year. No one wanted to fund the Great Trump Wall – even “his” Republicans in Congress, which weren’t really his. They had other priorities – all that Ayn Rand stuff about disassembling the nation’s already meager social safety net and making sure large corporations get everything they wanted. They shrugged, and then the effort to repeal Obamacare failed – spectacularly. John McCain became a national hero again, and Donald Trump seethed. He’d have no “major legislative achievement” in his first year. He’d be the first president in history to come up empty in his first year. He did get his strict conservative a seat on the Supreme Court, and more of them their seats in the appellate courts, and he wiped out a lot of environmental regulations by executive order, and his FCC got rid of net neutrality, to allow corporations to slow or block websites that were politically troublesome to him, which they might or might not do, but there was no major legislative achievement in the mix. And then Donald Trump had a good year, at the end of the year. He got his tax bill. The public hated it, but he got it.

Everyone knew this would be trouble, not because the public hated the tax bill, but because this would encourage him. He wasn’t a loser after all. This proved that he could get things done, perhaps anything he wanted done. He won one. Now he could win them all. He’d show everyone he wasn’t a loser, and they’d be sorry. He’d be unleashed.

That was the worry. His personality, not the tax bill, was the worry.

Richard Greene had already asked three psychiatrists about Trump’s odd and rather dysfunctional personality, and one of them said this about the pathology at play here, which would be Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.

That was the worry. That was the danger. Donald Trump would see the passage of the tax bill as the ultimate compliment, to him, and to him alone. That would, in turn, massively increase the delusional and grandiose reality that Donald Trump has created, even if it is no one else’s reality. There’d be no stopping him. There’d be tweets, tweets even more outrageous than before. Everyone would be aghast. Let them be aghast. He’s president. They’re not. He got his widely-loathed tax bill after all. That settled matters, didn’t it?

And so there were tweets, as The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports here:

President Trump unleashed a series of tweets Tuesday morning, his first full day back at the White House since a Christmas vacation.

The president hit a number of topics, bashing the Iran nuclear deal and offering support for protesters in that country, calling for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to be jailed, ripping The New York Times and its new publisher, and taking credit for the lack of fatal airplane crashes for the last year…

Trump seemed to take credit for a recent report showing 2017 was the safest year on record for commercial aviation, touting his “strict” approach to the industry. Though, as a number of Twitter users quickly noted, there hasn’t been a fatal passenger airline crash in the U.S. since 2009.

Donald Trump’s grandiose reality isn’t reality after all, but he was on a roll:

Trump rattled off nine tweets before 11 a.m. on topics ranging from the predictable to surprises, highlighting his power over social media and the news cycle. It wasn’t clear what prompted the tweets, though at times it appeared to reflect topics that had come up on the morning’s cable news broadcasts.

He watches Fox and Friends. He says what they say, with vigor and enthusiasm, so there was this:

The president began his social media outburst Tuesday with a tweet about Iran, saying that country’s people were “finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.”

Trump then took a shot at the Obama administration, claiming money given to Tehran through the Iran nuclear deal went into terrorism.

That may not help matters over there, or here, and there was this:

His last tweet criticized Democrats for doing nothing to help young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” who have permission to work or go to school in the United States. Trump announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program beginning in March, and lawmakers are working toward a legislative solution that would help the young immigrants. Immigration activists have expressed disappointment that Democrats have not fought harder to win protections for the Dreamers, and Trump seized on that tension.

“DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President! We are about RESULTS,” he tweeted.

Again, reality is something else. He has said he will only give in on DACA if he gets his big wall, no more, nor less. No one wants that wall. There will be no wall. No one will be falling in love with Republicans.

And there was this:

Days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he’d be “open to dialogue” with South Korea, Trump touted the success of added sanctions and “‘other’ pressures” on that country.

“Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!” Trump tweeted, while resurfacing his “rocket man” moniker for Kim.

We will see. It might not be wise to sneer at the strange and dangerous man, but Trump doesn’t care, and there was this:

The president also used his morning tweets to target a pair of his favorite targets: Hillary Clinton and The New York Times.

In one tweet, Trump appeared to call for one of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin, to be jailed over a Daily Caller report that Abedin had forwarded State Department emails to her personal Yahoo account that included passwords to government systems…

“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept. must finally act? Also on Comey & others.”

Some were aghast at that. He wants “his” justice department to jail his political opponents – Huma Abedin and James Comey and “others” (Hillary Clinton) – unless the justice department is part of the Deep State that secretly runs America and is out to destroy his presidency – which he hints might be the case. He has repeatedly said the justice department is his – it should do what he tells it to do. Add paranoia to narcissistic personality disorder – in a kind of third-world authoritarian dictatorship. Next he might tweet about taking them all out with drone strikes. He is the commander-in-chief after all. Navy Seal Team Six could wipe out the entire Clinton family is a single raid. Remember Osama! Perhaps those tweets will come soon – or not. No one knows. But he has been unleashed.

And there was this:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday taunted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warning Kim about US nuclear capabilities as tensions worsen between the two nations.

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted.

Some were aghast at that too, caused by this:

Trump’s tweet comes after Kim said in a New Year’s Day speech that the international community must accept the “reality” of North Korea as a nuclear-armed nation. Kim also threatened the U.S., saying the entire U.S. mainland “is within our nuclear strike range.”

“The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” Kim said.

Well, North Korea is a nuclear-armed nation – that’s the reality – and other tweets followed:

Maggie Haberman – “Also there’s a red button for Diet Cokes.”

Mark Knoller – “The button we know about on the President’s Desk summons a valet with a Diet Coke, but doesn’t launch a nuclear missile.”

Ben Jacobs‏ – “I remember when these fights were about hand size and not nuclear button size.”

David Simon – “For all of you sharing this fragile orb and premising your tomorrows on the notion that no two men in key positions of authority could be so small, empty and stupid as to risk the mass immolation of tens of millions in an adolescent dick-measuring contest, well, dream on, rubes.”

We are in for a year of living dangerously, and there was this:

Pakistani officials struck back Tuesday at President Trump and his controversial tweet attacking their country, saying it was “completely incomprehensible” and “contradicted the facts.”

In a tweet early Monday, his first of the year, Trump accused Pakistan of “lies & deceit” and lamented that more than $33 billion in security and economic aid had been “foolishly given” by the United States to Pakistan since 2002.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help,” the president wrote. “No more!”

This is another dispute about reality:

Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, issued a statement Tuesday that expressed “deep disappointment” in the turn of events, coming at a time when they felt the relationship with the new administration had been on a positive trajectory.

They said that “recent statements and articulation by the American leadership were completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation.”

But someone has to be the grown-up here:

Pakistan, the leaders said, would not respond impulsively.

“Despite the unwarranted allegations, Pakistan cannot act in haste,” their statement read…

“The problem is that President Trump tweets every morning as if it’s a constitutional necessity,” said Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Pakistan’s former foreign minister. “This is no way to conduct diplomacy.”

Critics also charge that Trump did not take into account scores of al-Qaeda and terrorist operatives arrested in Pakistan over the years or the military’s risky clearance operations in its northwestern regions.

And it really is unwise to piss-off a Muslim nation with nukes:

“It seems this relationship is headed to the point of no return where both countries could opt for different paths,” said Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst and retired Pakistani lieutenant general. “American leaders are not acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices, and their language is very insulting and shameful.”

“Trump says we have done nothing,” Shoaib continued. “It’s disgusting.”

And of course the Chinese pounced:

As a reminder of the stakes at hand, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, spoke in support of Pakistan in Beijing on Tuesday, saying it has made “tremendous efforts in combating terrorism. The international community should fully acknowledge that.”

China will side with reality, even if Donald Trump won’t. But he’s now been unleashed, or putting it another way, that thin tether to reality has snapped.

That thin tether to reality may have snapped last year, actually. At Politico, Susan Glasser reviews Donald Trump’s year of living dangerously:

Ever since Trump took the oath of office on January 20, the world has been taking his measure, trying to make sense of his “America First” foreign policy and what it means for them. Over the course of the year, Trump has traveled to 13 countries and met with “more than 100 world leaders,” as he bragged in a recent tweet. Many, like the Latin Americans who dined with him in September in New York or the Australian prime minister whom Trump snapped at in a phone call a little more than a week into his presidency, came away reeling from the encounter. Several others whom I’ve debriefed in recent months found Trump perfectly hospitable in private – while leaving with similarly scathing assessments of his volatility and lack of command of the facts. Some, like the Saudis and the Chinese, have wooed the disruptive new president with red-carpet fanfare and over-the-top flattery; others, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have combined simplistic charts and maps to press their case in private with public finger-wagging about Trump’s rejection of the norms of international diplomacy. All of them have anxiously pored through his Twitter feed for clues to America’s intentions, seeking the glimmerings of a Trump Doctrine in the president’s inflammatory, typo-ridden early morning pronouncements.

Something really is wrong here:

The jarring reality of their encounters with Trump has at times been even more disturbing to America’s friends and allies than the initial news accounts have suggested. When he went to dinner with leaders from fellow NATO member states in May, for example, Trump had already given a speech that was being roundly criticized by allies for failing to reaffirm America’s normally unquestioned commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the mutual defense provision that is at the heart of the alliance Trump has called “obsolete.” And news was making the rounds of an equally disastrous private meeting he had earlier in the day in Brussels with the leaders of the European Union. But what was not reported at the time was that even after all of that, some European leaders came away most disturbed by what Trump said at their private dinner. “He was very tough and very outspoken in his intervention,” a European diplomat in attendance confirmed to me about the meal. Another European attendee said Trump at the dinner was “unlike anything they’ve ever heard” in such a setting. “All this bluster and blasting. He walks in and starts talking, breaking china all over the place.” And to top it off, Trump left early.

So he was off his leash back then too:

Over the course of the year, I have often heard top foreign officials express their alarm in hair-raising terms rarely used in international diplomacy – let alone about the president of the United States. Seasoned diplomats who have seen Trump up close throw around words like “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” In Berlin this spring, I listened to a group of sober policy wonks debate whether Trump was merely a “laughingstock” or something more dangerous. Virtually all of those from whom I’ve heard this kind of ranting are leaders from close allies and partners of the United States. That experience is no anomaly. “If only I had a nickel for every time a foreign leader has asked me what the hell is going on in Washington this year… ” says Richard Haass, a Republican who served in senior roles for both Presidents Bush and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

And so Glasser offers this evaluation:

I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse. The president is not playing the leadership role the rest of the world has come to expect from the United States, and the consequences are piling up. Still, it is also true that the world hasn’t exactly melted down – yet – as a consequence, leading some to conclude that Trump is merely a sort of cartoonishly incompetent front man, a Twitter demagogue whose nuclear-tinged rhetoric and predilection for cozying up to dictators should be discounted in favor of rational analysis of the far more sober-minded, far less radical policies actually put in place by his team.

Call them the Reassurers. Substantively, they make their case more or less like this: Trump hasn’t gotten us into any new wars, and is confronting bad actors in North Korea and Iran with renewed vigor, continuing tough sanctions against Russia despite his public praise of Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin, dismantling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and forcing European allies to pay more for NATO after years of ineffectual American complaints.

Glasser isn’t buying that:

There’s something surreal about the Reassurers argument, because it ignores a harder-to-digest reality: One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.

Why should he? He got his tax bill. But that doesn’t really matter:

Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

This is paranoia and narcissistic personality disorder at work and the rest is supporting detail. Glasser has many tales to tell, but this one nugget is instructive:

Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”

It’s all frightening. Now, Donald Trump is really unleashed. America is living dangerously now – but it is a comfort to know that when he pushes that red button on his desk his valet will bring him another Diet Coke. That may save us all.

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That Original Mistake

Every year should start with a new crisis, or an old forgotten crisis, long resolved, that wasn’t really resolved long ago. Many will say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it – not a particularly original observation but true enough. Others will say that history repeats itself, and that’s the damned problem with history – the same thing keeps happening over and over, again and again, no matter what anyone says or does. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and those who know their history are doomed to repeat it too. Everyone is doomed – and then there are the pragmatists who simply say that one shouldn’t mess with what one doesn’t understand. The neoconservative project to transform the Middle East by replacing Saddam Hussein with Ahmed Chalabi – for starters – proved that. The Iraqis really didn’t want a University of Chicago economist – previously convicted of bank fraud in Jordan – running their country. Chalabi didn’t represent the “real” Iraqi government in exile. Ahmed Chalabi wasn’t Charles de Gaulle in England in 1944 – no matter what Dick Cheney said – and no one understood how pissed off the Sunnis, losing all power in Iraq, would be. They formed al-Qaeda in Iraq which morphed in to ISIS – and the rest is history too. One really shouldn’t mess with what one doesn’t understand.

That happens anyway. There was that 1953 Iranian coup d’état to overthrow their democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in favor of bringing back the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – organized by the United Kingdom under the name “Operation Boot” and the United States under the name “Operation Ajax” – to give that guy the boot. President Eisenhower thought that was a fine idea. Mosaddegh was a socialist, but not quite a communist, who vowed to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, because that was Iran’s oil. It didn’t belong to Royal Dutch Shell or anyone else. Iran could use that revenue to fix up the country, and the Iranians agreed – but the Brits and the Americans disagreed, as a matter of national security. They brought back the Shah – because, they said, that’s what the Iranians really wanted. The Iranians simply hadn’t realized that.

The Iranians weren’t fooled. Pahlavi turned out to be a nasty piece of work too. He tortured a few too many people – communists and those who were a bit too religious. By 1979 he had a revolution on his hands and was forced to leave. The Iranian monarchy was formally abolished and Iran was declared an Islamic republic led by Ruhollah Khomeini. Pahlavi died in exile in Egypt. Anwar Sadat had granted him asylum. No one else would. That didn’t work out.

And the rest is history. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days, from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, after a group of Iranian students who supported the Iranian Revolution took over our Embassy in Tehran. Jimmy Carter couldn’t get them out. Ronald Reagan did that. Khomeini could deal with Reagan – he’d provide cash in exchange for advanced American weapons, on the sly. Reagan’s guys could then secretly fund the overthrow of that pesky government in Nicaragua, even if Congress had forbidden that – but Reagan’s guys got caught. The Iran-Contra scandal ended that cozy arrangement with Iran – so it was back to both sides publicly loathing each other. The United States ended up funding Saddam Hussein’s endless wars with Iran. The United States thought Saddam Hussein was a fine fellow back in the eighties. Donald Rumsfeld shook hands with him – but that didn’t work out either, obviously – and President Eisenhower started all this. One really shouldn’t mess with what one doesn’t understand.

And here we go again:

A report in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida said that the United States gave clearance to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the overseas branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Haaretz reported Monday.

The report, which was taken from a Kuwait newspaper, comes amid massive waves of protests and acts of civil disobedience that are sweeping through the streets of Tehran and major cities across the Shiite republic.

While questions of the validity of the report have arisen, the article quoted an unnamed source as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.”

This might be a bad idea:

The report stated that an agreement had been made between Israel and the United States and that Israel came very close to assassinating the commander of the Quds force, Qassem Soleimani but that the US thwarted the plan.

Of course they thwarted that plan. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the overseas branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, had been in Shiite Iraq helping the current Shiite Iraqi government, and the United States, take back Mosel from those Sunni ISIS thugs. He was on our side. But maybe he isn’t now. Who knows? These things are complicated. President Eisenhower, were he still around, would now hesitate here.

And things got more complicated, as the New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink reports here:

Ignoring pleas for calm from President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian protesters took to the streets in several cities for the fifth day on Monday as pent-up economic and political frustrations boiled over in the broadest display of discontent in years.

The Iranian government responded with conciliatory words from Mr. Rouhani, but also a widening security clampdown – and a pledge late Monday to crack down even harder.

The government will not allow an “insecure situation to continue in Tehran,” Brig. Gen Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, told the semiofficial ISNA news agency. “If this situation continues, the officials will definitely make some decisions and at that point this business will be finished.”

Despite Mr. Rouhani’s diplomatic language, it was clear the demonstrators would be given no leeway.

Iran has another revolution on its hands:

On Monday, a crackdown by the government and security services was building, and riot police officers with water cannons were out in full force in Tehran, the capital.

The death toll from the clashes was up to at least 12, and in the central province of Esfahan, one police officer was reported killed and three wounded in a gunfight. “An agitator exploited the current situation, and using a hunting rifle, opened fire on police forces,” state television reported.

And this may not help much:

Mr. Rouhani has urged demonstrators to avoid violence but defended their right to protest. He did so again on Monday on Twitter.

“People want to talk about economic problems, corruption and lack of transparency in the function of some of the organs and want the atmosphere to be more open,” he wrote. “The requests and demands of the people should be taken note of.”

And this may not help much either:

President Trump weighed in on Twitter on Monday, saying that the Iranian people “have been repressed for many years.”

“They are hungry for food & for freedom,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

President Trump is not highly respected over there, so if he’s with the revolution, some may just give up, but this is something new:

People who live in rural provinces, long viewed as supporters of the authorities, are now leading most of the demonstrations. And while people in Tehran have also taken to the street, the capital is not the center of the protests, as it was during the so-called Green Movement in 2009. In Tehran, many middle-class Iranians share the discontent but also fear insecurity.

The frustrations that led to the protests also appear different from the sentiments in 2009.

That year, a wave of demonstrations broke out after the contested election of a hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and then turned into a wider protest movement against Iran’s leaders.

This time, it is the failure of President Rouhani, a moderate, to deliver greater political changes and economic opportunity, despite the lifting of some of the sanctions against Iran as part of the nuclear deal. Young people are especially angry. The average age of those arrested is under 25, one official said.

The poor economy especially affects Iran’s young people – more than 50 percent of the population is under 30, according to official statistics. Officially, youth unemployment is near 20 percent, but experts say it is really closer to 40 percent.

People are tired of being poor and out of work:

While the number of protesters in Tehran was small on Monday, the discontent was widespread. Many people on the streets complained about high prices, corruption and lack of change.

“We need to improve our economy, and the people’s voices must be heard,” said a 28-year-old woman, a piano teacher in Tehran, who asked not to be named out of fear of repercussions. “I’ll go out tonight again.”

And yes, Donald Trump is not making this any easier:

Even the lifting of economic sanctions under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with large foreign powers including the United States has not unleashed the growth Mr. Rouhani had hoped for, as key sectors of the economy remain under the thumb of obscure powers, including religious foundations and the country’s Revolutionary Guards. There is mismanagement and widespread corruption in all levels of the state apparatus.

Beyond that, the United States has continued other sanctions, making it still harder for Mr. Rouhani to make gains.

And this too doesn’t help:

The economic frustrations do not appear to have been offset by the greater social freedoms that the president has granted young people. Under Mr. Rouhani, strict Islamic rules have been somewhat relaxed. Concerts have been allowed, and the morals police are largely off the streets. Illegal parties are usually no longer raided, although there have been exceptions.

But there is a wide gap between Iran’s changing and modernizing society and Iranian leaders who insist on keeping up their anti-Western policies and the state interpretation of Islam.

Mr. Rouhani’s decision not to include any women in his cabinet and his failure to put the relaxation of the rules into law have made many bitter.

The president has complained that power centers dominated by hardliners have blocked many of his plans and decisions. Now some protesters are venting their frustrations at the political and clerical establishment.

Hold on. Something odd is going on here. As the United States is careering toward becoming an evangelical white Christian theocracy, with strict moral rules and where women know their place, led by an authoritarian who should never be questioned, even by the press, or especially by the press, Iran is going the other way. Donald Trump should not be supporting this.

Ariane Tabatabai – the director of curriculum in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School – and a columnist at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – has a few things to say about this:

The protests that have rattled Iran this weekend are in many ways an echo of the near past. In the summer of 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric and policies had isolated their country for four years.

The opposition believed his reelection victory was fraudulent. They chanted slogans demanding a recount of the votes. Others denounced the regime and its highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Hardliners and security forces confronted the crowds with anti-riot gear and harsh condemnation, often labeling them agents of foreign powers. It was a huge moment and seemed, at the time, to portend an irreversible shift in geopolitics.

But the protests, now known as the Green Movement, died out after a few months. Some protesters left the country, others were arrested or killed. Mostly, they went back to their daily lives.

So history is repeating itself:

Iran is experiencing the first large-scale unrests since the Green Movement faded. Since then, Iranians tackled their challenges at the ballot box rather than on the streets – in two presidential elections, both won by the moderate Hassan Rouhani; and in two parliamentary elections leading to the country’s legislative body being populated by more moderates and reformists…

Now that frustrations have spilled into the streets, the scene is reminiscent of what took place in Iran nine years ago. Some of the slogans chanted by protesters are identical. “Bullets, tanks, and Basijis are no longer effective,” “referendum, referendum, this is the people’s slogan,” and “death to the dictator” are among those recycled chants. Young protesters are again covering their faces to bring down and burn effigies of Khamenei. And just like in 2009, both protesters and security forces are attempting to leverage social media for their benefit. The apps Telegram and Instagram have been temporarily restricted by the Iranian government amid this week’s protests, the BBC reported.

But this time Donald Trump really is a factor:

Since the demonstrations started, President Trump has taken to Twitter on multiple occasions to comment. “The world is watching!” he tweeted on Friday. And also, “the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most.”

In one tweet, the president included a link to a video of his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, which was largely criticized by Iranians of all political persuasions as belligerent and disrespectful.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, using language similar to his tweets about domestic matters, the President seemed to praise the protests, calling them “big,” and noting that “the people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer.”

All of that is belligerent and disrespectful nonsense, but what had to happen:

It isn’t surprising that Iran has captured Trump’s attention. After all, over the course of his first year in office, he has made it clear that the Islamic Republic holds an important place in his foreign policy agenda. And he’s undertaken to undo his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Tehran, removing the “carrots” from the “sticks and carrots” policy, and formulating an approach based exclusively on harsh rhetoric, threats, and coercion.

That’s why Tabatabai calls the president’s tweets misleading and counterproductive.

Iranians aren’t “finally” waking up and “getting wise,” as Trump suggests. Instead, Iran has a dynamic and active civil society, which has created and embraced opportunities for reformation and progress for decades. From active participation in elections to various reform and protest movements, Iranians have tried to make their voices heard. Starting in the early 1900’s, Iranians – then still known as Persians – fought for representation, accountability, and transparency. Later, various movements sought freedom and opportunities – including since the 1979 revolution. And many Iranians have paid for these ideals with their lives.

Unlike what President Trump suggests, the protests aren’t about Iran’s broader behavior and foreign policy. And they’re not about the regime’s support for terrorism. This isn’t to say that Iranians endorse their leadership’s positions, but that their main concern lies in the price of day-to-day items and goods, such as poultry and eggs, as well as unemployment and access to services.

In short, one really shouldn’t mess with what one doesn’t understand:

The president’s tweets suggest he barely understands the country he’s repeatedly demonized. This is troublesome given how much influence he has on what happens next. The Trump administration has toughened America’s stance on Iran. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn put Tehran “on notice” during his brief tenure in the early days of the administration. And administration officials haven’t shied away from flirting with regime change as a tool of U.S. policy toward Iran, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitting to viewing the support of “elements” within the country seeking a “peaceful” transition of power as an option.

But far from empowering the Iranian people, the Trump administration’s response to the protests serves to undermine their efforts.

Still, that might not matter:

While, in principle, the protests can spark a more large-scale movement and deep change, they aren’t likely to do so. The appetite for fundamental power transition is simply lacking in Iran given the lack of viable alternatives and the fizzling out of the Arab Spring. Already in 2009, the protesters weren’t calling for regime change but reform. Today, unlike the Green Movement, the protesters aren’t organized and cohesive. And while earlier protesters had leaders to rally around and clear objectives to pursue, today’s protesters have neither.

Indeed, in summer 2009, at the peak of the Green Movement, I frequently heard from Iranians who’d decided to stay at home – despite opposing Ahmadinejad and viewing his reelection as fraudulent – that they didn’t want to provide the Americans with ammunition to attack their country.

In that case, if Donald Trump wants make things better over there, he should just shut up:

Today, hardliners are already trying to label protesters as foreign agents, as they did in 2009. And if Washington is viewed as actively interfering in Iranian affairs, it’ll at best deter Iranians from joining the movement and making their voices heard, and will at worst help the hardliners, undermine the protesters, and facilitate the crackdown against them.

Perhaps someone should tell President Trump about President Eisenhower’s original mistake with Iran. Don’t mess around with what you don’t understand:

Iranians are blaming the Rouhani government for failing to deliver the improvements and economic prosperity the president promised during the May election campaign – much of it resulting from the nuclear agreement negotiated with the United States and other Western nations. But so far it hasn’t come, largely due to sanctions still in place and the refusal of prudent investors to deal with Iran for fear that President Trump will end the agreement as he promised during his election campaign. On Sunday, President Trump became the target of Rouhani vitriol after the American leader tweeted his support for those rioting against the government. A news agency reported that in a cabinet meeting Rouhani rebuffed President Trump saying, “Those who called Iranians terrorists have no business sympathizing with our nation.”

This will not end well. History does repeat itself, damn it.

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What Actually Happened

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” ~ Bill Vaughan

“The tiger springs in the New Year. Us he devours.” ~ T. S. Eliot

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Los Angeles, December 31, 2017 – The New Year began in Paris at three in the afternoon, with the Eiffel Tower sparkling and the fireworks. The ball drops in Times Square at nine in the evening. The New Year arrives late in Los Angeles. Here in Hollywood, a full moon is rising out east, over the Griffith Observatory, and the Sunset Strip, just down the street, is quiet. Nothing is happening, yet. That leaves a few hours open, a few hours to think about what just happened – the year that was, and is now gone. That’s a Los Angeles luxury.

That also may be a curse. The year that was, and is now gone – the first year in Donald Trump’s America – was a hot mess. Too much happened. Too much changed. Everything seemed to change. There may be no way to put it into perspective, but of course Dave Barry gives it a go:

It was a year so surreal, so densely populated with strange and alarming events, that you have to seriously consider the possibility that somebody – and when we say “somebody,” we mean “Russia” – was putting LSD in our water supply. A bizarre event would occur, and it would be all over the news, but before we could wrap our minds around it, another bizarre event would occur, then another and another, coming at us faster and faster, battering the nation with a Category 5 weirdness hurricane that left us hunkering down, clinging to our sanity, no longer certain what was real.

It was like that:

Were there really thousands of people marching around Washington wearing vagina hats?

And did the Secretary of State really call the President of the United States a “moron?”

And did the president (of the United States!) respond by challenging the Secretary of State to compare IQ tests?

We want to believe that we imagined these things. But we fear we did not.

We did not imagine these things. All of that happened, in a year that started out oddly:

President Trump, having campaigned on three major promises – to build a border wall, repeal Obamacare and reform the tax system – immediately, upon being sworn in, rolls up his sleeves and gets down to the vital task of disputing news-media estimates of the size of the crowd at his inauguration, which the president claims – and Fox News confirms – was “the largest group of humans ever assembled.” The president also finds time, in his role as commander in chief, to send out numerous randomly punctuated tweets.

The rest is snark – as it is every year with Dave Barry – an extended month-by-month and event-by-event review of the year. The humor is often strained. Sarcastic cynical bewilderment is not insight, but Barry has his moments, like this note on July:

President Trump, following in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, tweets out a video clip from the internet in which he body-slams a wrestler with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s head. This in itself is so embarrassing that everybody assumes the story cannot get any stupider, but CNN rises to the occasion by announcing that its “KFILE” investigative team has ferreted out the identity of the image’s creator, a private citizen who goes by the internet name “HanAssholeSolo.” (We are not making this up.) In a lengthy story on this journalistic coup, CNN magnanimously declares that it will not reveal HanAssholeSolo’s identity because he apologized and “showed his remorse” for other things he has tweeted that CNN, in its constitutionally prescribed role as Internet Police, deemed unacceptable. And thus the republic is saved.

In other news, Trump’s appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director triggers the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer, followed by the departure of chief of staff Reince Priebus, whom Trump replaces with John Kelly, who immediately fires… Anthony Scaramucci! These events reinforce the growing perception that, in terms of managerial sophistication, the Trump White House is basically a Chuck E. Cheese with a Rose Garden.

On the scandal front, Donald Trump Jr. confirms that in 2016 he met with a high-powered Russian lawyer about obtaining incriminating information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Trump Jr. claims the meeting was no big deal because – and Fox News confirms this – “it was last year, for God’s sake.”

That’s actually a pretty good summary, and then there was August:

White nationalists and Nazis converge on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a “Unite the Right” rally that ends in tragedy when a woman protesting the rally is killed by a car driven by a man linked to a white supremacist group. In response, President Trump, displaying a degree of moral discernment seldom seen outside the flatworm community, declares that there was blame “on many sides,” further noting that that there were “some very fine people on both sides,” apparently a reference to the Nazi party’s Salvation Army branch.

The snark at the end of that doesn’t make the rest of that any less true, and then there was September:

International tension continues to mount as President Trump, speaking to the United Nations, calls Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and says the North Korean leader is “on a suicide mission.” In response, Kim calls Trump “a frightened dog” and “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At this point Trump and Kim have no honorable choice but to meet in person, strip to their waists and settle their dispute by flailing at each other with their pudgy fists until oily rivers of sweat mixed with hair product run down the quivering mounds of flab that constitute their bodies.

We are kidding, of course: That would be childish and irresponsible. Instead the two leaders will continue to call each other names from a safe distance as the world inches closer to nuclear war.

That also seems about right, and then there was December:

Congressional Republicans finally manage to pass tax legislation, which in its final form is expected to be approximately the same length as “War and Peace” in the original Russian but less intelligible to the average American taxpayer. The consensus of expert media commentators is that the legislation will reduce taxes for the middle class, increase taxes for the middle class, stimulate the economy, destroy the economy, make America great again, and LITERALLY KILL MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.

That also rings true, as does this:

The American people, wearied by the endless scandals and the relentless toxic spew of partisan political viciousness, turn away from 2017 in disgust and look hopefully toward the New Year, which by all indications will be calmer and saner.

We are of course joking. By all indications the nation is going to spend 2018 the same way it spent 2017, namely obsessing spitefully over 2016.

Yes, Donald Trump still wants to put Hillary Clinton in jail, or at least encourages his base to fantasize about that, but Dave Barry has become tiresome. There’s no need to cite more from his extended review of the year. Absurdist humor loses its sting when everyone can see how obviously absurd things have been. Donald Trump made Dave Barry unnecessary.

At Vox, Andrew Prokop, offers a more measured assessment of what just happened, of what really changed in Trump’s first year, arguing that the Women’s March was the first dramatic demonstration that the energy in American politics had shifted to the left:

The day after Donald Trump’s fans mostly failed to show up for his sparsely attended inauguration, his opponents took to the streets in what turned out to be the largest single-day demonstration in American history: the Women’s March.

An estimated 4 million or so people turned out in more than 600 cities across the US to signal their support of women’s rights and a broad array of other progressive concerns – and, perhaps most of all, disgust at the election of Trump (who’d been accused of sexual harassment, and was expected to support the GOP’s agenda).

The day after the march, Trump was still president. And in the months since, large-scale demonstrations against his administration have died down. But much organizing energy was later turned to protests against the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts and then toward elections. An astonishing number of Democrats have decided to run for office, and 2017’s election results suggest the party is mobilized.

This was a real change in America:

In retrospect, the march was the first unmistakable signal that something important had changed – that Democrats and liberals were no longer complacent or disengaged. Instead, they were deeply rattled by the election’s outcome and wanted to push back – because they felt that something had gone terribly wrong in the country.

And then there was the travel ban:

For many, the feeling that was confirmed just one week into Donald Trump’s presidency, on the afternoon of Friday, January 27, when, with no warning, he surprisingly signed his immigration and travel executive order – the “Muslim ban.”

Shaped by Trump’s most staunchly anti-immigration advisers with hardly any consultation from the agencies that would implement it or the lawyers who’d be tasked with defending it, the order was remarkably extreme in both substance and execution. It blocked everyone from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US for 90 days. It banned all refugee admissions for 120 days and all Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely.

Most shockingly of all, it applied even to people from those countries who had already been approved for US green cards, and it would go into effect immediately after it was signed – throwing airports all over the country into chaos and leading to the sudden detention of hundreds of people and many others being turned away from flights or sent back out of the US after landing there.

That only reinforced the idea that something had gone terribly wrong in the country:

Many of the same people who had turned out to protest at the Women’s March just days earlier felt that what was going on was bigoted and un-American – so they mobilized again, spontaneously, at international airports all over the country. Condemnations even from Republican politicians rolled in, and by Saturday night, a federal judge in New York had already blocked part of the order. It only took a few more days for the courts to halt all its controversial elements, in a humiliating defeat for the new administration.

And the Trump administration is still trying to reverse that humiliation. There were new versions of the ban – each shot down again with a much reduced version kind of in place, for now. Trump was stymied.

But at least conservatives ensured the Supreme Court will stay in their hands:

When Justice Antonin Scalia died during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, it opened up a monumentally important seat that could tip the balance of the Supreme Court toward liberals for the first time in more than a generation. So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a risk, audaciously announcing that he’d refuse to even consider any Obama nominee for the seat, because the winner of the 2016 presidential election should get to fill it.

That gamble paid off spectacularly for Republicans after Trump won and the GOP held on to control of the Senate. And Trump made good on the promises he’d offered conservative activists back during the primary – once sworn in, he nominated appellate court judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat, defying fears that he’d nominate a personal crony or someone with dubious fealty to the conservative movement.

Gorsuch was conservative enough that the GOP base gushed over him, and he didn’t have sufficient land mines lurking in his record to drive moderate away Republican senators. (In fact, even three moderate Democratic senators voted for Gorsuch in the end – no mean feat in this polarized age.)

No, Gorsuch didn’t win sufficient Democratic support to overcome a filibuster. But that proved no obstacle when McConnell convinced Republicans to ram through a Senate rules change allowing his nomination to move forward with a simple majority. And since Gorsuch was just 49 years old at the time of his confirmation, he’ll likely remain a conservative vote on the Court for decades.

So it seems Trump won that one, but maybe not. With a conservative replacing a conservative, Trump simply restored the Court’s status quo from before Scalia’s death. Conservatives dodged a bullet.

But Trump really shouldn’t have fired James Comey, because it got him Robert Mueller:

If there was one turning point in the Russia probe this year, it was President Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May. The news – breaking late on a Tuesday afternoon – was a bombshell. A sudden presidential firing of a sitting FBI director was a shocking breach of American political norms, especially because Trump had already asked Comey to stay on in the job.

Furthermore, the justification Trump officials gave for the firing was transparently bogus – they criticized Comey for being too tough on Hillary Clinton in the email investigation, when everyone knew the president had the opposite view. Trump himself proved unable to stick to his administration’s story in a public interview two days later, when he outright admitted that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey. Something was clearly going on here.

And indeed, in the coming days, a series of damning leaks poured into the press. The leaks were about events both old (Trump’s inappropriate request for Comey’s “loyalty” at a private meeting and his later request that Comey end the investigation into Michael Flynn) and new (Trump’s revelation of classified intelligence to Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting).

All this finally spurred Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to take charge of the investigation. And he didn’t choose just anybody – he chose Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director.

Some brilliant moves do backfire:

Far from killing the Russia investigation, the switch from Comey to Mueller appeared to have strengthened it. The probe now had a heavyweight leader removed from the ordinary chain of command, and who no longer had to juggle multiple White House demands or worry about losing Trump’s favor. In the coming months, Mueller assembled a team of all-star prosecutors to handle different parts of the sprawling investigation.

This was a stunningly bad move:

We don’t yet know what will happen next, or what the truth about “collusion” really is. But already we know enough to say that getting rid of Comey was a historic blunder on Trump’s part. Even Steve Bannon later said it might be the biggest mistake in “modern political history.” And despite the fears many have of Trump’s authoritarian instincts, and his allies’ effort to discredit the investigation, so far the pushback to Comey’s firing proves there are still many checks in the government limiting what the president can do.

That’s comforting, and then there was the Obamacare mess:

Since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law back in March 2010, Republicans have sworn that they’d do everything they could to repeal it. And with their victories in the 2016 election, they finally had a chance to make good on their campaign promises. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump all agreed that Obamacare repeal should be the first major item on the GOP’s legislative agenda in 2017.

What followed was a months-long, tumultuous, roller-coaster process full that exposed deep contradictions in the GOP that the “repeal and replace” campaign slogan had papered over.

There’s no need to review all the details of that mess, because, in the Senate, John McCain stepped in:

When McConnell called a late-night vote on his skinny repeal, the Republican senator from Arizona stunned the political world by walking up and making a thumbs down gesture. His objection, he said, was to McConnell’s irregular and partisan process. And that was enough to tank the Republicans’ top legislative priority for 2017.

And that was that, but Prokop also notes the great sexual misconduct reckoning:

In October, the New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow published blockbuster reports alleging decades of sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The story’s effects rippled outward, inspiring more women to come forward with their own stories of harassment, incentivizing more media outlets to try to land similar scoops, and forcing other high-profile industries to look more closely at suspected abusers in their own ranks.

And though the political world has only just begun to grapple with its own reckoning on the subject, there have already been major consequences.

Most dramatically, a special election for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat in Alabama was expected to be an easy win for Republicans for most of the year. But already, the race looked closer than expected when controversial former judge Roy Moore, who has a history of fringe views, won the GOP primary.

Then about a month before the election, the Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites published a story in which an Alabama woman said on the record that when she was 14 years old, in the late 1970s, Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her. Three other women also told the Post that Moore had pursued them romantically in the same period, when he was in his early 30s and they were between 16 and 18. In the wake of the report, other women came forward as well.

And that was that, but also more than just that:

To many, what ensued looked at first like a replay of the 2016 presidential race, when Trump won despite the release of the Access Hollywood tape and subsequent sexual assault allegations against him. Moore denied misconduct, many leading conservative media figures closed ranks behind him, President Trump reiterated his endorsement of him, and Moore held a narrow lead in the polls. But this time, there was a different ending: Moore lost, meaning a Democrat would head to the Senate from Alabama for the first time in decades.

Donald Trump thus had another worry – his own parallel history – but then everyone had a problem:

At the same time, Democrats were grappling with misconduct allegations against leading members in their own party. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) spent most of the year as a leading anti-Trump voice and even was discussed as a potential presidential contender in 2020. But over the course of three weeks this fall, eight women came forward to allege sexual misconduct by him.

Franken at first said he’d stay in office pending the outcome of an investigation into his behavior by the Senate Ethics Committee. But eventually, fellow senators from his own party concluded that that would be unacceptable. A group of women Democratic senators publicly called for him to step down, and were then joined by some of their male colleagues. He proved unable to withstand the pressure, and announced he’d resign.

And that’s not all. Already, two House members – Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) – have stepped down after misconduct allegations. Two others accused of misconduct – Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Rubén Kihuen (D-NV) – have said they won’t run for reelection. A fund Congress has used to settle sexual harassment complaints has also come under scrutiny.

The allegations against President Trump that came out last year have been revived, with some Democrats calling for investigations into them and even for Trump to resign.

Everything seemed to change in the year that was, and is now gone, and then there was that tax bill:

Initially pitched as “tax reform” that would eliminate deductions and loopholes to create a more rational system, the bill eventually evolved into something that looked much more like a simple tax cut. Specifically, it’s a massive permanent corporate tax cut, with temporary cuts for individuals, cuts that would be especially good for the wealthiest Americans, while increasing the deficit.

But the bill also achieves two other long-held conservative policy priorities. First, it opens up more of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling – a defeat for environmentalists, as this is a change Republicans have been trying and failing to push through for decades.

Second, the tax bill repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate – and that’s a really big deal. The mandate, which penalizes people who don’t have insurance, has long been thought central to making the individual insurance markets work. Without it, the population of people who choose to buy insurance there will likely be sicker on the whole, meaning premiums will be raised even further as a result.

That was victory and change, but an odd change:

The tax bill is also the most prominent of many signs that President Trump has mostly abandoned the populist economic agenda he ran on during the campaign, in favor of embracing conventional Republican policies. Despite Trump’s occasional musings that he wouldn’t cut taxes on the rich and might want to raise them, this bill does the opposite. And despite his professed focus on the “forgotten men and women of our country,” this bill is mainly about delivering a bonanza for corporations.

Trump is not that man he said he was. He will have to spend the next year, as the midterms approach, explaining that. That will be difficult. Only his dwindling base will shrug that off. Republican might lose the House. They might lose the Senate. Lose one or the other, or both, and Trump is in deep trouble. Things did change in the year that was.

Fareed Zakaria says that isn’t the half of it:

I would argue that the largest trend today is the decline of American influence. Not the decline of American power – the country remains economically and militarily in a league of its own – but a decline of its desire and capacity to use that power to shape the world. The current administration seems intent on dismantling the United States’ great achievements – as it is doing with the World Trade Organization – or to simply be uninterested in setting the global agenda. Donald Trump will be the first president in nearly a century to end his first year in office without having held a state dinner for a foreign head of state.

And this erosion of U.S. global leadership is already causing other countries to adjust.

This month, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that “the most important changes affecting our Western world and, indeed, the world as a whole” stem from “the United States’ current withdrawal under Trump from its role as a reliable guarantor of Western-influenced multilateralism.” That shift, he noted, “is accelerating the transformation of the global order, and the risk of trade wars, arms races and armed conflicts is increasing.”

This is new and far more important than the rest, what Zakaria calls the global story of our times:

The creator, upholder and enforcer of the existing international system is withdrawing into self-centered isolation. The other great supporter and advocate of the open, rule-based world, Europe, has not been able to act assertively on the world stage with any clear vision or purpose and remains obsessed with the fate of its own continental project. Filling the power vacuum, a host of smaller, illiberal powers – Turkey, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia – are surging forward in their respective regions – but only China truly has the wherewithal and strategic prowess to potentially shape the next chapter of the story of our age.

And of course China will do that:

A decade ago, I described a “post-American world,” brought on not by the decline of the United States, but by the “rise of the rest.” That world is indeed coming to fruition because other countries are prospering, but the changes are being dramatically accelerated by the Trump administration’s foolish and self-defeating decision to abdicate the United States’ global influence – something that has taken more than 70 years to build.

So the last year did change everything. Forget Dave Barry’s clever sniggering. T. S. Eliot was right. The tiger springs in the New Year. Us he devours.

But it’s almost midnight here in Los Angeles – time for a bit of single-malt scotch, to toast the New Year, even if it arrives here a bit late. Consider what actually happened. That calls for a stiff drink or two, or more.

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