How Cause Leads To Effect

Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Don’t talk back to that cop. Don’t tug on superman’s cape. Don’t spit into the wind. Don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger – and if you hold your hand in an open flame and feel no pain you’re probably dead. Some things are obvious – and don’t sneer at the folks on your side. Don’t mock them mercilessly in public. You’ll need them.

The last guy understood this. There was Obama’s somewhat famous foreign policy dictum – basically don’t do stupid shit – that kept us out of endless trouble. Maybe that was leading from behind, a horrible thing to some, but we started no new wars. North Korea wasn’t testing nukes and shooting off missiles. Crises weren’t solved, but they were contained. Iran agreed to give up their nuclear weapons program, for at least ten years, even if they agreed to nothing else. Nothing there was solved, but one part of the problem was contained – and domestically, there was Obamacare, an awkward half-free-market hybrid healthcare system that also included expanding Medicaid to cover those who couldn’t afford even its subsidized policies, but it worked. The number of uninsured dropped dramatically, even if Obamacare didn’t work all that well. It was something. Something is better than nothing.

Obama understood cause and effect. Nationalized healthcare – a single-payer system – Medicare for All or whatever – would enrage half the country. Doing nothing would enrage the other half. He split the difference.

The new guy doesn’t understand cause and effect. Donald Trump will enrage both halves of the country – he likes that sort of thing – and the latest is this:

President Donald Trump will oppose any congressional attempts to reinstate funding for Obamacare subsidies – unless he gets something in return, his budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview Friday morning.

The comments by the Office of Management and Budget chief delivered a severe blow to efforts by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to strike a bipartisan deal on funding the subsidies. Trump canceled those payments to insurance companies on Thursday night, raising hopes among some Democrats and centrist Republicans that the Trump administration could accept a bill that would revive the subsides while offering states more flexibility to opt out of Obamacare.

But Mulvaney panned those efforts, calling the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments “corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies.”

That’s a bit of a misrepresentation, but there was this:

The administration, however, opened the door to negotiations on the now-canceled payments. After speaking to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday, Trump said that a temporary deal could be struck on shoring up the insurance markets. Mulvaney suggested the insurance payments could be a bargaining chip in a broader negotiation with Congress to either repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law – or fund Trump’s long-stalled border wall with Mexico.

Yes, he wants that wall, but this is dangerous:

Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s move to end Obamacare subsidy payments could backfire on them in the 2018 midterms, inciting voters upset about skyrocketing insurance payments. But Mulvaney said voters are far more likely to punish congressional Republicans for failing to live up to a seven-year promise: repealing Obamacare.

That could go either way, and there was this:

A new multi-state lawsuit has been announced to stop President Trump from halting key ObamaCare payments to insurers.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., signed onto the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in California, according to Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

On Thursday night, Trump announced he would stop making the payments, which led to an outcry from critics saying he was sabotaging the health-care law.

The complaint will seek a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction requiring the cost-sharing reduction payments be made.

Those weren’t corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies – they allowed a whole lot of people to finally afford health insurance – and people know that:

A solid majority of the public – 71 percent – wants to see President Donald Trump make Obamacare work instead of dismantling the law, according to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While the poll was conducted before the White House announced that Trump would end crucial subsidies for insurers under Obamacare, 60 percent of respondents said they want to keep the payments in tact…

Thirty percent considered the subsidies – called cost-sharing reduction (CSR) – a bailout to insurance companies and said the program should end.

That thirty percent is with Trump on this, and there are the details:

Democrats (93 percent) and Independents (74 percent) were far more supportive of the idea than Republicans. About half of the Republicans surveyed – 48 percent – said they’d like to see the Trump administration make the current healthcare law work. Four in 10 Republicans said Trump should make the law fail, according to the poll.

That’s odd. Fewer than half of Republicans are with Trump on this, and Greg Sargent sees the miscalculation here:

President Trump’s peculiar combination of malevolence, certainty in his own negotiating prowess, and cluelessness about the details of policy, sometimes leads him to issue fearsome-sounding threats that are rooted in a baffling misread of the distribution of leverage and incentives underlying the situation at hand.

That is, this guy doesn’t understand cause and effect:

There is already a bipartisan set of negotiations – led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the leaders of the health and education committee – that have been continuing over how to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s individual markets. According to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, there is broad agreement that Congress should appropriate the money to cover the billions of dollars in cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which, if halted, could cause the individual markets to melt down. The sticking points are over how much flexibility the deal should give to give states in defining what counts as insurance coverage, and there’s a decent chance those sticking points will be resolved.

Indeed, Alexander has publicly confirmed that he believes Congress should appropriate the funds to cover the CSRs. He has also publicly allowed that he believes Murray has already made serious concessions towards the flexibility of ACA rules that Republicans want, though Murray still insists that the regulations requiring insurers to offer “essential health benefits” must remain. What this means is that, presuming a deal is reached, the real lingering question will be whether Republican leaders in Congress will accept such a compromise and allow a vote on it.

They too will have to understand cause and effect:

The pressure on Republicans to do that will be intense. The Washington Examiner recently reported that vulnerable House Republicans worry they could have a major political problem on their hands if these payments are stopped, because it could harm large numbers of people in their districts. As it is, millions are enrolled in plans with cost-sharing reductions, which pay money to insurers to subsidize out-of-pocket costs, and if they are halted, insurers could exit the markets, further destabilizing them and leaving millions without coverage options. Tellingly, influential House Republicans such as Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Greg Walden (Ore.) have called for Congress to appropriate the payments.

Cause and effect do matter here:

In the end, Trump and Republicans are the ones likely to feel more pressure to support such a deal, which will put them in the tough spot of choosing between taking the blame for chaos in the individual markets and weathering the rage from the right that accepting a deal will unleash. Even if Trump doesn’t understand this, congressional Republicans surely do.

All of this puzzles Josh Marshall:

This morning President Trump tweeted out: “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”

This is almost word for word the kind of chilling message a hostage taker sends. I’ve got your kids. You need to call me.

Of course, that might have been intentional:

Part of this is dominance. The desire to act, dominate, destroy. There’s the need to produce something for his most ardent supporters. But the biggest drive is what is contained in this tweet. To force Democrats hands by using Obamacare beneficiaries as hostages.

“Dems should call me to fix!”

Setting aside any moral calculus, this is folly in political terms. A lot of Senate Republicans get this. This hurts millions of Americans. But Trump is doing the damage in plain daylight. He’s shooting himself without even realizing it. If the ‘deal’ Trump wanted was one that helped people, Democrats might face a dilemma over whether to follow their political advantage or making good policy. But there’s no conflict. For Democrats politics and policy line up entirely.

Marshall thinks Trump is making a bad mistake but just can’t help himself:

The underlying driver here is Trump’s transactional, bullying way of approaching business which he brought from his predatory business to the White House. I don’t think you can understand what’s happening here except through that prism. For Trump, Democrats own Obamacare. It’s theirs. If he breaks it, it’s still theirs. It’s all on them. The “Obamacare” brand is the entirety of it. The more he breaks it, the more they need him to fix it. It’s like if the Democrats owned a building or a company. They more he damaged it, the more they’d need him to stop. This is a logic Trump understands. It’s his native environment. This is an organized crime mentality, one he used again and again in his private business.

But that’s not how big social programs like this work. Legislation and governance is fundamentally about people. That’s not just lofty rhetoric. The consequences of government play out in elections. Trump doesn’t get that. A lot of Republican Senators do.

But the man just can’t help himself:

President Trump signed his executive order on cross-state insurance policies yesterday. He just cut off CSR funding. He’s about to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. Each action is consistent with the campaign he ran in 2016. But they’re coming in a rush. Why now? Each move has some contingent logic. But I suspect the big driver is that rising pressures on the President are leading him to act out. And the acting out is escalating. Beyond the policy specifics and verbiage, Trump’s politics is about dominance and destruction. It’s a drive deep in him and one that he shares – albeit with very different life experiences – with his core political supporters. That’s the bond.

And that leads to stupid shit:

Most of us have seen this raft of articles talking about rising pressure in the White House – the President is coming apart, angry, isolated. I’m skeptical of these reports, to the extent they suggest he’s about to blow apart or lose it entirely. But he does seem increasingly erratic, impulsive. He’s under pressure because he feels like he’s losing. For Trump these policies and policy moves are not just about politics. They are characterological. The more pressure rises, the more he feels besieged, the more he’ll take unilateral actions to assert himself – to balance himself.

Cause and effect are in play here then, in an odd way, and Paul Waldman says this about the Iran business:

Today, President Trump announced that the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to begin destroying the painstakingly negotiated agreement that is keeping them from getting nuclear weapons.

“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes,” Trump said, as though we had been ignoring Iran until now. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

So he’s going to withdraw his certification of their compliance, which means Congress now has to decide whether to re-impose sanctions. Congress will probably allow the deal to survive, with additional conditions. And Trump today said that, going forward, if he’s not satisfied, “the agreement will be terminated.”

None of that makes sense:

What exactly is Trump trying to accomplish? The answer may seem obvious, but it isn’t at all.

Presidents, we know, are supposed to have “vision,” a broad conception of where they want to lead the country. When they run, it’s often presented in vague terms. The closest Trump came as a candidate was promising that “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.” While in a sense “making America great again” was a kind of vision, presidents also need specific goals to guide their decision-making, a real conception of how they want things to turn out so that they can figure out the best way to get there.

Trump’s lack of those specific goals – or to put it another way, the lack of a defined end-state he’s trying to reach – may be one of his most underappreciated weaknesses as a president. Most people, even many in his own party, understand that he’s spectacularly uninformed about policy, not particularly bright and distressingly impulsive. But he also seems to have no idea where he’s trying to go…

That has become obvious:

Ever since he was a candidate, Trump has complained that the nuclear agreement, which was negotiated not only between Iran and the United States but also with Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, is a terrible deal, while seldom getting specific about what exactly he objects to in its provisions. We knew what President Barack Obama was trying to accomplish with the deal in the first place: an Iran that, whatever else it might be up to, couldn’t threaten anyone with nuclear weapons.

What’s Trump’s vision? An Iran that not only doesn’t have nuclear weapons but also is a force for peace and stability, and maybe a liberal democracy to boot? Well, that would be great. How is pulling out of the nuclear agreement going to get us there?

This new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:

Trump seems to believe that there’s some mythical “better deal” awaiting somewhere, and if he threatens to withdraw from the agreement, then the Iranian government will fall to its knees and say, “We submit! We’ll do whatever you want!” But of course it won’t, and the other partners aren’t interested in starting the process all over again either. If we do pull out, there’s a chance the agreement could collapse and Iran would resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is exactly the thing the agreement is preventing.

It would be edifying to hear Trump or some of his aides and allies explain exactly how this scenario is supposed to play out and where it’s supposed to end up. But if they tried to do that, it would become obvious how little they’ve thought it through.

There’s a lot of that going around:

Trump has decided to go whole-hog to destroy the individual health insurance market, with executive orders that will drive up premiums, send insurers from the market and potentially lead to many people losing their coverage. And what exactly is the health-care future Trump is aiming for with these actions? It’s almost impossible to tell. He often talks as if he’s a social democrat wanting government to provide for everyone (“We’re going to have insurance for everybody”), but then moves to remove government protections and move us toward a cruel Randian future more in line with what most Republicans would like to see. Can anyone say they have any idea what health-care system Trump envisions, and how it relates to the decisions he’s making now?

And it’s more than that:

A president with a better grasp on policy would at least have a sense of what course is likely to produce success and which outcomes are reasonable to predict. Trump, on the other hand, is apparently willing to believe any ridiculous story somebody tells him, if it ends with “Trump wins!”

A case in point: Conservative economist Kevin Hassett, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, apparently told Trump that just one of the White House’s proposed tax changes – allowing corporations to repatriate cash they have parked overseas and pay low taxes on it – would be such a spectacular shot of adrenaline to the economy that it would make every American family $4,000 richer. Sane economists, both Democrat and Republican, will tell you that this notion is utterly ludicrous. But it sounds good to Trump, so he has been touting the number, as proof of how great his tax cuts are going to be.

Again, this new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:

Presidents don’t need to be policy geniuses, but at the very least they need a sense of how cause leads to effect and a vision of what they’re trying to accomplish. That way they can tell whether what they’re doing is likely to take the country to the place they want to go. Trump has neither, which means he’s either being pushed around by people who have figured out how to manipulate him for their own ideological ends, or he’s flopping about aimlessly with no principles to guide him except if Obama did it, I should do the opposite.

Either way, it’s not very encouraging.

Josh Marshall agrees with that:

President Trump straight up lied in his speech today on ‘decertifying’ the Iran nuclear deal. He said: “The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement.” This is not true. The US, the Europeans, outside observers, and the inspectors, all agree that Iran is meeting the conditions of the deal. If Iran were violating the deal, all of this drama wouldn’t have been necessary. Trump could have just canceled the deal without any need to justify the decision. He would have had broad support for doing so. That’s the bind he’s been in. The Iranians are keeping their end of the bargain. So Trump really hasn’t had a good rationale – legal or geopolitical – for getting out.

He doesn’t have a good rationale:

In addition to all the things the President says his new policy will accomplish he made this pledge. “We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.”

But of course there was no explanation of how that would happen. It’s possible that the deal might stay in place even if the US pulled because the benefits to Iran and Europe are good enough to keep it going. But assuming the deal gets totally scuttled there are really only three ways to “deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.” 1) You can impose sanctions and other forms of pressure to a great enough extent that the Iranians relent. (That’s kind of what Obama did – crippling sanctions plus covert, often cyber, sabotage.) 2) You sign a new agreement. Or 3) you can go to war and physically coerce them into stopping.

“One” seems highly unlikely since the European powers and China and Russia don’t want to do that. Without them, really ruinous sanctions aren’t possible. “Two” seems unlikely mainly because the Trump administration shows really no inclination even to want a deal. “Three” fits the Trump mentality but it’s fraught with incalculable danger. There’s a reason why it never happened under President Bush and even Israel was held back largely by its own generals.

Marshall suggests looking at a bit of history:

What we see here really looks like Bush administration policy on North Korea in the first years of this century. The Clinton administration had a deal too. It was sort of still born. The GOP Congress hobbled it from Capitol Hill and cut off funding for it. There’s evidence – though it wasn’t that rock solid – that the North Koreans started violating the agreement in the late Clinton years. For all that though, the nuclear weapons program we’re now so concerned about and which has produced numerous nuclear weapons, was shuttered.

The Bush foreign policy team decided that deal was appeasement and basically forced a complete breakdown of the deal. They would not tolerate North Korea getting a nuclear weapon. No appeasement, no payoffs, no cowering. Only they had no actual plan for how to do that. In 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear device.

So here we are:

The Bush team wouldn’t stand for appeasement, opted for a policy of strength and moral clarity and got a nuclear North Korea. By any possible definition the policy was an abject failure. Might the Clinton approach have failed too? Maybe – but it kept the program shuttered for almost a decade. For all the messiness, that was a success.

Set aside all the policy ins and outs with the President’s decision today and this looks almost exactly the same. The Trump team thinks it’s a terrible deal, a giveaway, appeasing a rogue regime. In its place they have no plan at all.

Maybe that will do. There’s David French – the conservative lawyer who writes for National Review. He writes about both Donald Trump and the alt-right and pulls no punches, and then got all those death threats aimed at his wife and children. Now he writes about ordinary rural conservatives who support Trump:

Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage – and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee. Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately.

And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight – and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against – that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of “strength.”

This is a place where cause and effect don’t matter, and Kevin Drum sees this:

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much – both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

In this case, Republicans have thoroughly muddled cause and effect, and Drum isn’t sure that can be un-muddled:

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

At the same time, Obama didn’t try to take their guns away. He didn’t outlaw Christianity or conduct a war on Christmas. He didn’t do much of anything related to abortion. He did promote a number of gay-friendly policies, and praised the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

None of it really seemed to matter, though. The culture war stuff remained enraging regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.

Drum admits that there may be no answer to this. Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Instead, they elected Donald Trump.

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That Man from Mars

Pop psychology books come and go. In 1992 it was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus – a massive bestseller discussed endlessly on daytime television, and then completely forgotten. The guy who wrote it said he had earned degrees in meditation and taken a correspondence course in psychology – but that was from a diploma mill. He was not actually the recipient of a real doctorate in psychology, or anything else. He was a relationship counselor. Anyone can be a relationship counselor. Give advice. That’s all there is to it. It may be horrible advice, but no relationship counselor is going to lose his or her license for that. There is no license. Take the money and run.

John Gray took the money and ran, but for a time his book was a big deal – and kind of stupid. Mars was named for the God of War. Venus was named for the Goddess of Love. Men prefer war. Women prefer love. They do? But he wasn’t saying that. Gray’s book was about two different approaches to solving problems, and the true nature of married couples’ domestic spats. He didn’t dive deeper.

He should have dived deeper, because the metaphor is kind of useful. Some men do see life as war. Winning is everything, in spite of the horrible cost of war, and that generates any number of assumptions. If life is war, real men inflict pain on others – to win, or to set a condition in which the other, having felt real pain, or anticipating real pain, backs off. Also, if life is war, toughness is everything. Be tough or appear tough. Never smile. Random acts of meanness help too, even if they don’t make sense. In fact, it really is better if they don’t make sense. Keep them guessing. Keep them worried – and win.

John Gray didn’t go there, but this has played out in American politics. The Republican Party is often referred to as the “Daddy Party” – the party of the largely absent taciturn father who, when necessary, beats the crap out of the kid, to beat some sense into the kid, for the kid’s own good, to teach the kid some damned personal responsibility, but otherwise lets the kid sink or swim on his or her own, for the same reason. Inflict pain. Random acts of meanness help too. That builds character. No one whines.

That’s how government should work, and of course the Democratic Party is the “Mommy Party” – nurturing and supportive. No kid (or adult) should be left behind. People don’t whine. They’re really in trouble – and random acts of kindness do a whole lot of good in this sorry world. And that means that Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus – and Donald Trump is a man from Mars.

After all, there was no reason for this:

President Trump is throwing a bomb into the insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, choosing to end critical payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage. The decision coincides with an executive order on Thursday to allow alternative health plans that skirt the law’s requirements.

The White House confirmed late Thursday that it would halt federal payments for cost-sharing reductions, although a statement did not specify when. Another statement a short time later by top officials at the Health and Human Services Department said the cutoff would be immediate. The subsidies total about $7 billion this year.

By law, the federal government is required to make these payments, so Trump is not faithfully, as chief executive, administering and executing the law in this case – he’s actually breaking the law – but Republicans have made that a bit murky:

The cost-sharing reductions – or CSRs, as they are known – have long been the subject of a political and legal seesaw. Congressional Republicans argued that the sprawling 2010 health-care law that established them does not include specific language providing appropriations to cover the government’s cost. House Republicans sued HHS over the payments during President Barack Obama’s second term. A federal court agreed that they were illegal, and the case has been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Donald Trump won’t wait for the courts. Consider it a random act of meanness, and it is mean, and dangerous:

Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the laws to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans, according to two individuals briefed on the decision.

He preferred an implosion, and he got one:

Health insurers and state regulators have been in a state of high anxiety over the prospect of the marketplaces cratering because of such White House action. The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces – and the law.

Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018. Some states’ regulators directed ACA insurers to add a surcharge in case the payments were not made, but insurers elsewhere could be left in a position in which they still must give consumers the discounts but will not be reimbursed.

Insurers elsewhere will bail out now, and they’re not happy:

A spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group that has been warning for months of adverse effects if the payments ended, immediately denounced the president’s decision. “Millions of Americans rely on these benefits to afford their coverage and care,” Kristine Grow said.

And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who has been trying to preserve the payments through litigation, said the president’s action “would be sabotage.” Becerra said late Thursday that he was prepared to fight the White House. “We’ve taken the Trump Administration to court before and won, and we’re ready to do it again if necessary,” he said in a statement.

Trump’s move comes even as bipartisan negotiations continue on one Senate Committee over ways to prop up the ACA marketplaces. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have publicly said the payments should not end immediately, though they differ over how long these subsidies should be guaranteed.

That doesn’t matter now, because Trump got tough:

The top two congressional Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), excoriated the president’s decision. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” they said in a joint statement. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”

No, he won’t. He’ll look tough. No one will ever mess with him again:

While the administration will now argue that Congress should appropriate the funds if it wants them to continue, such a proposal will face a serious hurdle on Capitol Hill. In a recent interview, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing HHS, said it would be difficult to muster support for such a move among House conservatives.

Congress couldn’t repeal and replace Obamacare. All the Republican alternatives hurt tens of millions of Americans. All their alternatives polled at about a seventeen percent approval rating. Americans hated all their alternatives, and key Republicans bailed. They couldn’t even muster fifty of their own votes for that last try in the Senate – but Trump had promised something.

He got nothing. He looked like a fool, so he’ll destroy the insurance markets and be done with it – promise kept – he wins. Some men do see life as war. Winning is everything, in spite of the horrible cost of war – but in war people die. That’s just how it is, in spite of this:

One person familiar with the president’s decision said that HHS officials and Trump’s domestic policy advisers had urged him to continue the payments at least through the end of the year.

Donald Trump really is from Mars:

Word of the president’s decision came just hours after he signed the executive order intended to circumvent the ACA by making it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections.

The White House and allies portrayed the president’s move as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: fostering more coverage choices while tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces.

Congressional Republicans failed to achieve that for good reason:

Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of these other kinds of coverage will have damaging ripple effects, driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces.

Kevin Drum adds detail to that:

Trump’s executive order basically reclassifies “association” health plans for small businesses as health plans for big businesses, which aren’t required to obey Obamacare rules that protect pre-existing conditions. This allows association plans to legally sell policies only to healthy customers, which will make them much cheaper. Naturally, healthy customers will flock to these policies, leaving the Obamacare exchanges with only the old and sick.

The logical next step is to say that Obamacare premiums will skyrocket, but I’m not sure that will happen. The exodus of healthy customers will be so dramatic and so unpredictable that I can’t imagine any insurer continuing to sell on the Obamacare exchanges. They’ll just stop, and that will be the end of Obamacare.

The same thing will happen outside the exchanges too. Individual health policies will still be required to insure anyone who applies, including those with pre-existing conditions. But with all the healthy customers scampering off to cheaper association plans, it will be all but impossible to figure out the likely composition of the remaining risk pool. So insurers will just exit the individual market completely.

Drum is not happy:

Trump’s plan, obviously, is that this chaos will force Congress to respond. Anything will be better than a collapse of the entire individual market. Even Democrats will be forced to support a Republican plan that will at least prevent the market from imploding.

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil.

It’s the work of a man from Mars. Be tough and win. Inflict pain. Do those random acts of meanness and win. It’s the same with DACA – those kids are fine kids, but they’re outta here! Why? There’s no answer, and it’s the same with Puerto Rico:

President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that Puerto Rico is going to have to shoulder more responsibility for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria, saying the federal government’s emergency responders can’t stay there “forever.”

His comments – in which he also blamed the beleaguered island for a financial crisis “largely of their own making” and infrastructure that was a “disaster” before the hurricane – come as Puerto Rico still reels from a lack of electricity, public health access and a rising death toll. The remarks quickly prompted cries from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that Puerto Rico still needs a lot of help, as well as the mayor of San Juan, who said they were “unbecoming” and appeared to come from a “hater in chief.”

Meanwhile, Texas and Florida – two states Trump won during last year’s presidential election – also were struck by severe hurricanes recently, but the President has made no public indication that the federal government is pulling back on its response there.

He could have said nothing and just stopped all aid to Puerto Rico, but some said he wasn’t doing enough, so he hit back with a bit of pure meanness. It’s almost certain that he will not stop all aid to Puerto Rico, but he made his point. Don’t mess with him. People who are hardly Americans, except by chance, especially shouldn’t mess with him. And let kids sink or swim on their own. It’ll be good for them. It builds character. He’ll help the people in Texas and Florida. They don’t question him. They don’t whine. In spite of his spats with his nominal party, Donald Trump really is a Republican, and Republicans are from Mars.

In an odd way this applies to tax policy too, as Josh Marshall explains here:

What Republicans are calling “tax reform” is shaping up as the worst kind of legislative mess. To the degree we know specifics the plan would amount to a massive windfall for the wealthiest Americans. This is hardly surprising. What is surprising are the ways the chaos and disorganization within the GOP (and perhaps also a sense of invulnerability) have led to the creation of a law which would actually hurt a lot of people who really don’t need to be hurt and are politically powerful to boot.

This too is the random infliction of pain:

Here the 2001 Bush tax cut is the archetype. The law was a windfall for the very wealthy. But for very good political reasons, the authors of the bill were careful to make sure the great majority of Americans did get some tax relief. The gains for middle and lower income people were meager, arguably trivial. But the Bush team could say accurately that there was relief for everyone or close to everyone. The political logic of doing this is obvious.

The Trump ‘tax reform’ actually manages to raise taxes on a substantial number of people. Big picture, it’s a massive tax cut for the very wealthy and the mind-bogglingly wealthy, paid for – among other things – by a substantial tax increase for the upper middle class and the only moderately wealthy.

That is odd:

The moderately wealthy can probably afford to pay higher taxes. Why they should do so to fund massive cuts for the extremely wealthy isn’t at all clear. What is significant on a political calculus is that wealthy people vote and make their views heard in the political world, through campaign contributions and in other ways as well. Put simply, they can fight back. That may not be fair. But it is the system we live in today. That makes this legislation not just bad policy but highly questionable politics.

If life is war then maybe another rule at play here. Don’t pick a fight with those who can fight back, and here this gets complicated:

The bill also ends tax deductions that are mainly enjoyed by people in blue states. The biggest example is the ability to deduct state income taxes against federal taxes. This hits lots of voters in states with significant income taxes, many quite wealthy but also a lot of middle class families.

There are two points to note about this. It’s not just bad policy. It’s hazardous politics. It’s not fair but more affluent people have much more ability to fight back than more marginalized or poorer populations. The Trump crew is figuring it’s not a problem since a lot of those people are in blue states and thus don’t matter. But it’s not quite that clear. There are red or purple states with income taxes. There are also lots of GOP members of the House of Representatives in Republican districts in blue states. Look how many Republicans there are in the California House delegation.

In short, if life is war, don’t wage war on your own troops, and don’t offer up bullshit:

Republicans and particularly President Trump have been arguing that this is a question of equity, that red states are subsidizing blue states with this exemption. There is a narrow argument here. Income tax states get a deduction that no-income tax states don’t, in practice, get. There’s nothing for them to deduct. But in the great majority of cases those income tax states send far more tax money to the federal government than they get back. The money ends up going to (mainly) low tax red states which get much more back from the federal government than they pay in taxes. In other words, in the vast majority of cases the subsidy is going in the opposite direction.

Setting aside the policy equities involved, Trump and the GOP are bringing the politics of grievance to tax policy, arguing that red states which are subsidized by blue states are actually being victimized.

Republicans may have gotten things backwards:

This is an awful piece of legislation. Democrats should oppose it on policy terms even if somehow the politics of it passing were great for Democrats. But it is also a very politically vulnerable piece of legislation. It hurts a lot of people who have the power to make their voices heard in the political process. It also puts Republicans in income tax states in a vulnerable position. There are also Republicans in the Senate who are not comfortable with the way this is likely to balloon the deficit. Normally I’d expect those folks to fold. But Trump’s escalating fight with Senators like Bob Corker may shift that calculus.

And then there’s this:

Republicans are currently in a bad spot with their committed partisans and with their funders over their inability to accomplish anything on the legislative front even though they control the entire government. In political terms, the inability to act on Obamacare has been deeply damaging. “Tax reform” – which is actually a huge tax cut – is shaping up as the last chance to deliver. Normally, cutting taxes should be the easiest thing in the world for Republicans. It’s goodies for everyone. The losers only see the losses in indirect ways. But they’ve got a bill that is vulnerable because of its sloppy construction. They’re coming off an Obamacare battle that has seriously drained their credibility as a party that wants to pass laws that help as opposed to harm people. Finally, Trump has sown the whirlwind within his own party. Each of those factors is going to make difficult what should be easy. They are also in desperate need for a “win.”

They may not get one:

Democrats can do a lot to make a Republican loss more likely. If they can force a defeat on the tax cut, they will usher the GOP into 2018 with a deeply unpopular President and no legislative accomplishments whatsoever. That would be a victory which sets the GOP up for, though by no means guarantees, a shattering result in the 2018 midterm elections. It is shaping up as the final, everything-on-the-line battle of year one of the Trump presidency.

Republicans are from Mars. All of life is a war and they know all about war, about being tough and about being mean, and they have that man from Mars in the White House. Democrats are from Venus. They know nothing of war. They don’t see all of life as war, and they see being tough and being mean as stupid – and they might win this one. Someone should write a pop psychology book about that.

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The Lit Wick

Jack Nicholson used to be America’s favorite madman – the “eternal outsider, the sardonic drifter” – the guy with the odd gleam in his eye. He was smart as hell. He was dangerous. Maybe he was a psychopath. No one knew what he would do next.

Nicholson grew up in Neptune City, New Jersey. Maybe that explains it – he was from a different planet – but his dangerous madness was a bit comic in Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) where he was the oddball that tagged along with the two counterculture rebels on motorcycles. Then he went dark. In 1974 he starred in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown – where he was just plain mean and nasty and dangerous. In 1977, Polanski was arrested at Nicholson’s home for the sexual assault of that thirteen-year-old girl, and then fled the United States never to return. That didn’t hurt Nicholson’s reputation at all.

In 1975 he was the madman in the insane asylum in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – the adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel directed by Miloš Forman, the immigrant Czech director. Czechs know a few things about dangerous madness that might not be madness at all – think of Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera. In this case, the madmen in the insane asylum are quite sane, in their way. The system is insane. Nicholson’s character leads them to freedom. The film swept the Academy Awards, Nicholson won Best Actor. Madmen were cool – but in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980) Nicholson played an all-out murderous psychopath, and in A Few Good Men (1992) he was the unhinged Marine Colonel who had ordered the murder of one of his own men. Madmen weren’t cool anymore.

That was the arc of his career. Nicholson is an eighty-year-old man now. No one sees him much, except courtside at every Lakers home game out here in Los Angeles. He screams at the refs. Sometimes they throw him out of the building. Madmen can be a pain in the ass – but for three or four decades Nicholson rode a cultural wave to fame and fortune. Americans were and maybe still are fascinated by madmen. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both. No one knows what they’ll do next either. And they can do great evil, or lead the rest of us to freedom – no one knows which it will be – but damn, they are fascinating. That’s why Donald Trump is president.

That’s why Donald Trump is dangerous:

US President Donald Trump has “lit the wick of the war” against North Korea, a Russian state news agency quoted North Korea’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday.

The statement follows weeks of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, fueled by Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear tests and Trump’s tough talk.

Speaking to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri-Yong Ho cited Trump’s September speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York as the tipping point.

Trump did threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea and mocked their leader. He called him “Rocket Man” and now keeps calling him “Little Rocket Man” – over and over and over. There were a lot of reports that Mattis and Kelly and Tillerson told Trump not to do that at the UN, and the shot of Kelly’s face-plant in the audience went viral, but Donald Trump doesn’t much care what his secretary of defense (Mattis) or his chief-of-staff (Kelly) or his secretary of state (Tillerson) think. He’s flying over that cuckoo’s nest. He’s the sane one here. The system is insane. He’s the hero.

That led to this:

During an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said that while he listens to others around him, he has a “different” attitude when it comes to the North Korea – one he describes as “tougher.”

“I think I have a little bit of a different attitude on North Korea than other people might have. And I listen to everybody, but ultimately, my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it?” Trump said. “That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is.”

He’s right. He alone can decide to nuke North Korea. No one can stop him. That’s his decision alone – and he might do that, or he might not. Mattis and Kelly and Tillerson will just have to deal with that. Trump was doing his Jack Nicholson thing – the madman as hero.

That has a few folks worried:

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described imagined conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically restraining the president” in the event he “lunges for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

That’s possible, but that’s also reporting on what some anonymous someone imagines might happen, maybe. It captures the worry but doesn’t speak to what’s really going on. It’s reporting worry. It’s not reporting events.

So, what’s really going on? NBC News had the scoop of the day:

President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

Three different sources reported that same thing – they had to explain the real world to Donald Trump – which also explained another thing:

The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.”

We’re in a standoff with North Korea over its nuclear “ambitions” and Trump is poised to set off a fresh confrontation with Iran by not certifying to Congress that Tehran is in compliance with that 2015 nuclear deal, and three months ago everyone in the room was stunned and his secretary of state muttered that thus guy was a moron, but that is what happened:

The president’s comments during the Pentagon meeting in July came in response to a chart shown on the history of the U.S. and Russia’s nuclear capabilities that showed America’s stockpile at its peak in the late 1960s, the officials said. Some officials present said they did not take Trump’s desire for more nuclear weapons to be literally instructing the military to increase the actual numbers. But his comments raised questions about his familiarity with the nuclear posture and other issues, officials said.

Two officials present said that at multiple points in the discussion, the president expressed a desire not just for more nuclear weapons, but for additional U.S. troops and military equipment.

He wanted more things that go “boom” everywhere, which really is a problem:

Any increase in America’s nuclear arsenal would not only break with decades of U.S. nuclear doctrine but also violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan. Nonproliferation experts warned that such a move could set off a global arms race.

“If he were to increase the numbers, the Russians would match him, and the Chinese” would ramp up their nuclear ambitions, Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert and an MSNBC contributor, said, referring to the president.

“There hasn’t been a military mission that’s required a nuclear weapon in 71 years,” Cirincione said.

This did not go well:

Details of the July 20 meeting, which have not been previously reported, shed additional light on tensions among the commander in chief, members of his Cabinet and the uniformed leadership of the Pentagon stemming from vastly different world views, experiences and knowledge bases.

Moreover, the president’s comments reveal that Trump, who suggested before his inauguration that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” voiced that desire as commander in chief directly to the military leadership in the heart of the Pentagon this summer.

Some officials in the Pentagon meeting were rattled by the president’s desire for more nuclear weapons and his understanding of other national security issues from the Korean Peninsula to Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said.

That meeting followed one held a day earlier in the White House Situation Room focused on Afghanistan in which the president stunned some of his national security team. At that July 19 meeting, according to senior administration officials, Trump asked military leaders to fire the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and compared their advice to that of a New York restaurant consultant whose poor judgment cost a business valuable time and money.

Tillerson might have been muttering the right thing, but Trump has a tweet for all this:

Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a “tenfold” increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!

And there was this:

Later Wednesday, the president said he “never discussed increasing” the size of the nuclear arsenal, repeating his claim of “fake news.”

“Right now, we have so many nuclear weapons,” Trump said at a press-availability with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I want them in perfect condition, perfect shape. That’s the only thing I’ve ever discussed.” Defense Secretary Mattis also called the NBC report “absolutely false.”

In short, he’s a reasonable man, but David Corn knows this man:

Trump first demonstrated he knew little about nuclear weapons in the 1980s, when he repeatedly boasted to reporters that he would make a good nuclear arms negotiator and that the job would be easy. In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, Trump, then a 38-year-old celebrity developer, said he hoped one day to become the United States’ chief negotiator with the Soviet Union for nuclear weapons. Trump declared he could negotiate a great nuclear arms deal with Moscow. Comparing crafting an arms accord with cooking up a real estate deal, Trump insisted he had innate talent for this mission. He claimed he would know exactly what to demand of the Russians – though he conceded his lack of experience in the technical field of nuclear weaponry. “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway,” he said. “You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.”

A few months earlier, Trump had expressed the same sentiment to a New York Times reporter. The writer noted, “Trump thinks he has an answer to nuclear armament: Let him negotiate arms agreements – he who can talk people into selling $100 million properties to him for $13 million. Negotiation is an art, he says and I have a gift for it.” In 1986, Trump told Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who invented the defibrillator and who received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for joining with a prominent Soviet physician to promote nuclear arms reduction, that he could concoct a nuclear disarmament deal with the Soviet Union and end the Cold War in an hour.

And nothing much changed:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, he uttered several troubling statements about nuclear arms that revealed he hadn’t learned much in the intervening decades At a Republican debate, he botched a question about the nuclear triad – America’s system of sea, air, and land-based nuclear weapons – a clear sign he did not understand the fundamentals of the structure of the US nuclear command. He babbled, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

That’s something a maniacal Jack Nicholson character would say, and there’s this:

Over the years, Trump’s reckless and fact free talk about nuclear weapons has been coupled with remarks showing he has a fatalistic approach and possibly believes a nuclear conflagration is unavoidable. In a 1990 interview with Playboy, Trump said, “I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it. Anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war.”

That’s also what those in the July meeting probably sensed they were facing too, but NBC News stuck by their carefully sourced story, which including this:

At one point, Trump responded to a presentation on the U.S. military presence in South Korea by asking why South Koreans aren’t more appreciative and welcoming of American defense aid. The comment prompted intervention from a senior military official in the room to explain the overall relationship and why such help is ultimately beneficial to U.S. national security interests.

Tillerson was muttering the right thing after all, but Trump had another tweet for all this:

With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!

This was more of the same:

As a candidate, Trump threatened to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” He repeated that threat in a post to Twitter in March. He also floated the idea of canceling the long-held tradition of White House press briefings, which were moved mostly off-camera for weeks last summer.

Jordan Weissmann wonders about all this:

Shutting down critical TV networks is, of course, a favorite move of would-be strongmen the world over – Hugo Chávez was particularly fond of it – and many were aghast to see a U.S. president musing about such an idea on social media. Just in case he hadn’t made his point clearly enough, though, Trump told reporters later in the afternoon that he thought it was “frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.” The man is not a fan of the First Amendment.

Which raises the question: If Trump grows angry enough, could he try to exact revenge on NBC, or any other news networks, by stripping their parent companies’ of their broadcast rights?

The answer is no:

Trump’s threat is a bit awkward since, technically, NBC does not have a single broadcast “license.” That’s because it’s a television network – it creates programming, which mostly airs across affiliate stations around the country run by other companies. However, NBC’s corporate parent Comcast does own 10 NBC stations in major markets, which the company says reach 27 million households, or a little more than a quarter of the American TV viewers. And just like every other broadcaster on the public airwaves, those very valuable stations need to periodically renew their licenses with the Federal Communications Commission.

In theory, Trump – or one of his political allies – could file an official petition asking the FCC to deny licenses to Comcast’s stations the next they need to be re-upped. But to do that, they’d have to find something to complain about other than NBC’s critical White House coverage, because the commission doesn’t regulate news content. When stations’ licenses are challenged, it’s typically over technical or cut-and-dry legal issues like whether stations misled the FCC in previous applications. In one famous case from the 1980s, RKO General lost broadcast rights after it misled the FCC about bribery charges it had faced. But that legal battle took almost 20 years to resolve.

Again, Trump didn’t know what he was talking about:

“I really don’t see anything Trump could do,” said Angela Campbell, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center who specializes in media and telecommunications. “They [the FCC] don’t really deny anyone a license to begin with, but they certainly don’t do it because of what was broadcast on a news program, because that would be such a clear content-discrimination claim.”

And there’s this:

If Trump or his friends did find a superficial excuse to challenge one of Comcast’s broadcast licenses – that is, something other than “bad for country!” – chances are the effort wouldn’t go very far. The FCC is an independent body, and while its members are nominated by the White House, the recently confirmed chair, Ajit Pai, is a by-the-book business-friendly conservative who served on the commission during the Obama years. Even if you don’t like his stand on net neutrality, he probably isn’t going to entertain Trump’s desire for a political vendetta.

Meanwhile, Trump’s favorite media punching bag, CNN, is entirely safe from this nonsense, because cable networks aren’t regulated by the FCC.

So chill out, everyone, or don’t:

If Trump’s threats are toothless, why worry? Because by talking openly about censoring unfriendly news outlets, he’s leading the right one step closer to a very dark place politically. As University of Tennessee professor Stuart Brotman pointed out to me, there actually is a historical parallel to Trump’s Twitter threats: During the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon talked about going after the Washington Post Co.’s radio and TV broadcast license. “The game has to be played awfully rough,” he was caught saying on the White House tapes. His political allies eventually filed challenges against broadcast licenses of two Post-owned stations in Florida, both of which failed.

But even Nixon felt compelled to keep his plotting behind closed doors. With Trump, it’s out in the open, performed for millions supporters checking their iPhones. Maybe he’s just putting on a show for them. But a lot of those voters are going to come away with the idea that shutting down news stations is a good idea. And that might do more damage to the country than quiet, Nixonian skullduggery ever did.

It’s that Jack Nicholson thing. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both, and they can do great evil, or lead the rest of us to freedom – and no one knows which it will be. Maybe that’s not all that fascinating now, not with this guy.

As for Gabriel Sherman and his more impressionistic reporting, he did offer this:

In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”

According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary – the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure…

West Wing aides have also worried about Trump’s public appearances, one Trump adviser told me. The adviser said aides were relieved when Trump declined to agree to appear on the season premiere of 60 Minutes last month. “He’s lost a step. They don’t want him doing adversarial TV interviews,” the adviser explained. Instead, Trump has sat down for friendly conversations with Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee, whose daughter is Trump’s press secretary.

This is not going well:

Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment – the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?” According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term.

“What’s that?” That’s what sums up everything here. As that North Korean fellow said, the wick is lit. Everything is coming to a head. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both, and Donald Trump seems to be one of them. That’s fun in the movies. Jack Nicholson made a career of that. But in real life that’s another matter.

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A Sporting Chance

“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.” ~ H. L. Mencken

“In response to the challenge of strangers, sport arose as a sublimated representation of a community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan.” ~ John Thorn

To some, a community’s pride of place and clan is everything. Know who you are and be proud of it. Be proud of your people – be proud of your hometown football team – and then some fool packs up and leaves for the big city, or for Paris, never to return. Another marries outside the religion, or even worse, outside the race – either way, outside the clan. They stop cheering for the Steelers or whatever. They’re idiots. Idiot literally means a “private person” – from the Greek idios – “one’s own” and only one’s own. They’ve left the clan – but H. L. Mencken is impressed with the common sense of such folks. If sport arose as a sublimated representation of a community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan, all sports are hogwash. Or all sports are about something else – something dark and irrational – armed might and the clan.

Sometimes that’s blatant, as Allegra Kirkland notes here:

Color guard displays, enlistment ceremonies, military appreciation nights: These were among the many displays of “paid patriotism” that NFL teams once regularly carried out as part of lucrative contracts with the U.S. Defense Department.

She explains it all. It seems that taxpayers paid each team over five million dollars a year for that – sweet free money for years – but she notes that the business with the national anthem is a bit more complicated. Before 2009, players were in the locker room for that. They ran out, to big cheers, after all that patriotic stuff was over. That wasn’t football. That was something else. Everyone understood that. One team was called the Patriots, but they weren’t. They were football players.

What changed? It wasn’t the money – the DOD said they didn’t ask for that change – they weren’t paying for that – and there never was any NFL rule about the players standing for the anthem. And the DOD is not paying for anything now. John McCain and a few others put an end to “paid patriotism” – McCain said he preferred the real thing. But remember, Donald Trump said that John McCain is no hero at all – he never was. It’s all quite complicated.

It’s also quite normal now too. Americans have their Olympics clan-chant – USA! USA! USA!

Everyone understands what that means. “We” will humiliate those other guys. Americans cheer for the clan, not the individual athletes, and Donald Trump tapped into that. America would always win. No nation would ever humiliate America ever again, even if none really had. He said they had, and starting with Mexico, we’d humiliate them all – and starting with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and moving on to Crooked Hillary, he humiliated anyone who disagreed with him about anything at all. His tweets destroyed them. He was a winner. We’d all be winners, again, finally. He’d make America great again.

That hasn’t worked out. Things are falling apart. Nothing is getting done. Donald Trump is picking fights with Republican allies he needs in Congress and with his own cabinet – guys like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, guys he appointed and now regularly and publicly insults – and one by one, our foreign allies shrug and walk away. The United States is now far less important than before. They’ll do what they can for their own countries, on their own. They’ll work their own trade deals with Asia, and everyone else. They’ll work with Iran on that nuclear business, to keep everyone safe. They don’t need us for that – and the Paris climate accord will be fine – they’ll work with individual states over here on such things. Let Trump be Trump. They have other things to do.

This has put Donald Trump in an awkward position. The “clan” needs a win. So, is there a contest, with a big prize, for the person who accurately predicts the exact date and time of the Trump Tweet™ where he calls for the NFL to ban all black players and make professional football an all-white sport, with no whiners? If not, why not? Contests are fun. And what about the exact date and time of the one where he calls for that to extend to all sports? And what about the exact date and time of the one where calls for legislation to make all of this into law? There should be a prize for nailing the exact date and time, to the second, of these three things. The “Klan” needs a win. That may seem farfetched, but these back football players, kneeling on one knee for the anthem, in attitude of prayer, to protest the constant string of the deaths of unarmed young black men at the hands of the police, are insulting the clan, and the military too – the community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan. They are “idiots” in the original sense of the word. And they are whiners.

Trump is working on that:

Up early Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump fired off several tweets referring to his ongoing feud with NFL players protesting during the national anthem.

Trump escalated his tiff with the football league by suggesting the government nix the NFL’s tax breaks – “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”

There’s only one problem with that:

The NFL gave up its tax exempt status in 2015, leaving it unclear which tax breaks Trump would be looking to eliminate. The league does see tax breaks when building stadiums, but those are granted by local governments, not the federal government.

Oops. This president is not a well-informed man, or even an informed man – no surprise there – but the clan (and the Klan) will forgive him, because he heart was in the right place:

Monday night, Trump defended Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who said recently that he would not allow any player who kneels during the national anthem to play – “A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag – Stand for Anthem or sit for game!”

Trump’s renewed interest in the NFL and players’ protests came after Vice President Mike Pence walked out on a football game over the weekend when players kneeled for the national anthem.

Jerry Jones is taking a risk with this. Imagine all his black players getting together and deciding to kneel for the anthem at the next game. That would be a cool challenge. Do you really want to field an all-white team, do you, Jerry? Good luck with that. This could escalate.

It has escalated:

The NAACP is furious with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – claiming his comments about sitting players who “disrespect the flag” are tone-deaf and misinformed.

Tony Covington – a former NFL safety who’s now an executive with the NAACP – issued a statement on behalf of the organization blasting Jones.

“Jerry Jones’ comments are more than tone-deaf, more than misinformed and misguided – they are a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech – one of the principles on which our nation was founded.”

Covington continued… “They are proof that athletes like Colin Kaepernick who have quietly and peacefully used their platform to protest violence against communities of color do so at their own peril.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says it has reached out to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a private meeting “in order to determine how he can best protect his players.”

“We hope that he will work with us and the Players’ Association to forge this critical path forward.”

The idea here is that the right to free speech is one of the principles on which that nation was founded, a basic thing that defines the American “clan” – so Jerry Jones is the “idiot” here – the odd man out.

But it got worse for Jones:

Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed a complaint against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, alleging owner and general manager Jerry Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening players if they choose not to stand for the national anthem.

Jones said earlier this week if a player “disrespects the flag” and national anthem by not standing, then the player will not play.

According to the filing to the National Labor Relations Board, “the employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity.”

This did escalate:

Jones has said players will not play, not that they would be fired, if they do not stand for the anthem, but Wade Rathke, Local 100’s chief organizer, said that is a “distinction without difference when it comes to the law.”

“You can’t discipline somebody for something that is a right they have under the law, whether that discipline is termination or benching or giving a slap on the wrist or writing up in their files they’ve been a bad boy,” Rathke said. “That’s just not what they can do when it comes to concerted activities. I know in the modern age people think workers shouldn’t have rights, but they still do. This union was offended by those comments. Mr. Jones just got carried away being a rich guy and there’s no laws he has to respect.”

According to Rathke, the NLRB will assign a field agent to investigate the claim and if there is a determination that there is a violation of the act it will go to trial if no settlement is reached.

And then it got even more interesting:

According to the NFL’s game manual, players are not required to stand for the anthem; however, it is written that they “should” stand at attention.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams expressing a belief that “everyone should stand for the national anthem” and that the dispute surrounding the issue is “threatening to erode the unifying power of our game.” He spoke of a plan that will be reviewed with the teams at next week’s league meeting, which would “include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues.”

That might not fly. Those players might not want to be good little boys, not on the issue of all the dead unarmed black kids, and there was this:

When asked if he would really sit a player like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, Jones initially deferred.

“The policy and my actions are going to be that if you’re not honoring, standing for the flag in a way that a lot of our fans feel that you should, if that’s not the case, then you won’t play,” Jones said, noting that his stance is “nothing new.” He added, “As far as whether or not I will basically institute or basically do what I said, I just would say that the implication that we’re not respecting the flag is just not going to be accepted and so I would just ask anybody to look at my record relative to what I say I’m going to do and you go from there.”

What did he just say? Who knows? Maybe that was the point, but there was this from the Dallas Morning News:

Jones can legally outline policies and procedures for his employees, according to local attorney Chad Baruch, a First Amendment expert who focuses on constitutional and appellate law.

“He’s a private employer, so he’s free to make any rules he wants that infringe on free speech,” Baruch said. “He’s totally unconstrained legally. The First Amendment protects your right to have opinions against government intrusion, not to exercise that right at work.”

Fine, but the Washington Post’s Cindy Boren adds this:

Perhaps Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who has forbidden his players from doing anything but standing during the national anthem under penalty of benching, should give Tony Dungy a call.

Dungy – the Hall of Fame coach – directed a bit of advice toward Jones about trying to squash protests in a tweet Monday night after Jones told ESPN that his players would be benched if they did not stand for the national anthem. Dungy’s point? Protesters, not the establishment, decide when a protest ends.

“Why would he think the controversy would go away when in the players’ minds the same issues are still there?” Dungy wrote.

And there are new issues too:

Last month, Dungy spoke up for players who had taken a knee or linked arms in their attempt to make a statement about racial injustice, defending their First Amendment rights after Trump stirred up a storm that unified players by calling anyone who protests a “son of a bitch” who should be suspended or fired. In a “Today” show interview, Dungy said that he thought the demonstrations of Sept. 24 were about freedom of speech, and about Trump’s remarks.

“Up until yesterday, the players would want people to know this was not about the flag,” he said. “This was not about patriotism. In their opinion, it was about social change. A group of our family got attacked and called names and said they were unpatriotic and should be fired for what we feel is demonstrating our First Amendment right. We’re going to band together as a family, and they reacted.

“You had people who hadn’t been in this movement now saying, ‘I’m going to side with my teammates.'”

Damontre Moore and David Irving of the Cowboys raised their fists at the end of the national anthem Sunday, but Coach Jason Garrett said Monday that they would not be disciplined.

The owner’s head coach let that pass. Perhaps Jerry Jones should fire him – or something – but there is that other famous football coach:

In a radio interview Monday, Mike Ditka was asked his opinion on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, and the legendary player and coach painted a pretty rosy picture of the world in response.

“I don’t know what social injustices there’ve been,” Ditka told Jim Gray on Westwood One before “Monday Night Football.”

Ditka stated that folks need to be “colorblind” and not judge people by the color of their skin. And apparently he thinks everyone has been doing a pretty good job of that.

“All of the sudden it’s become a big deal now about oppression,” he said. “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I’m not watching as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody – race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, I think you can accomplish anything.”

He’s not as carefully watching as other people, but he is fine with Jerry Jones:

Ditka said he would institute similar rules if he were in such a position. “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football.”

So said the white man, who says those black folks have nothing to complain about and should stop whining. America, love it or leave it. If you’re not part of the clan, and proud of it, get the hell out. No one wants you here anyway. They do play football in Canada. It’s the late sixties all over again.

Or maybe it isn’t:

Most Americans disagree with President Donald Trump that football players should be fired for kneeling in protest during the national anthem, but a majority also would prefer that the players stand during the song.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 57 percent of Americans don’t think the National Football League should fire players who kneel during the anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality toward African Americans. This includes 61 percent of NFL fans who watch at least a few games each season.

Those guys should stand, but this is no big deal, except that there are clans within clans:

Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans disagree with the president about firing the football players.

It all depends on who you ask:

Eighty-five percent of Americans told Reuters/Ipsos they almost always “stand in silence” when “The Star Spangled Banner” is played at a public event they are attending. Fifty-eight percent say “professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem at sporting events.” But most say such athletes shouldn’t be fired if they refuse to stand, and 53 percent say it’s not appropriate for the president to comment on “how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem.”

Democratic pollster Mark Penn, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Fox News, “There’s kind of a standoff on this thing,” with many Americans opposed to the protests during the national anthem but at the same time opposed to firing the protesting athletes as Trump suggested. “The country can’t take more division like this,” Penn said, adding that most Americans want bipartisanship and cooperation.

The general consensus is that it’s not appropriate for the president to comment on how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem – because it really doesn’t matter much – but things are falling apart. Nothing is getting done. Donald Trump is picking fights with everyone in sight and our foreign allies shrug and walk away. Donald Trump is in a bind. The “clan” needs a win. He really may call for the NFL to ban all black players and make professional football an all-white sport, with no whiners – but it seems Americans define the “American clan” a bit more broadly than he does. Those who protest the constant string of the deaths of unarmed young black men at the hands of the police are part of the clan too. Only the Klan is upset, but that’s another matter.

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The Real Rogue Elephant

Back in 2008 – a long time ago, when the world was not as it is now – john McCain was running for president against Barack Obama and tooling around the middle of the country in his big fancy bus – the “Straight Talk Express” – because he was a straight talker. His straight talk had infuriated most Republicans. He had “gone rogue” far too many times. He called himself a “maverick” – willing to disagree with his party. He made campaign finance reform his big thing. That led to the passage of the McCain–Feingold Act in 2002 – now thanks to Citizens Untied rather irrelevant. But he had worked to cut off his party from the fat cats’ big bucks. He also chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and opposed all pork barrel spending. How were the Republicans supposed to twist arms if there was no pork to spread around? He was also a member of the Gang of 14 that set out to rationalize the process of judicial nominations – to remove the political bullshit from the process. And, being from Arizona, he had nice things to say about the millions of undocumented folks working in this country quite illegally – mostly Mexicans. He knew these people. They were good family people, just trying to make things better for their good families. They weren’t hurting anyone. They were actually helping the economy. Cut them some slack.

In short, McCain was a pain in the ass – but all the other possible Republican nominees were either laughable or ludicrous, or both. McCain would have to do, and he did reverse a bit of his roguishness – he suddenly wanted a big wall to keep those damned Mexicans out. He became a limited maverick – a bit more Republican – but there was that one campaign rally where he told that befuddled old woman that Barack Obama was not an Arab that couldn’t be trusted. Obama was “a good family man” – with whom he had profound policy differences – but a good family man nonetheless – and obviously an American. He wouldn’t go there. He left that sort of thing to Sarah Palin. She could be the maverick. She could “go rogue” – and she did, ten times a day, and she was a disaster. She was nasty without being coherent. She knew nothing about anything. She was an embarrassment. She cost McCain the election – or perhaps no Republican could have won this after George Bush’s two disastrous wars, and Katrina, and the total collapse of the economy.

That was the Republicans’ last try at running a straight-talking maverick likely to go rogue at any moment, but not too rogue. It was a tag-team of the now limited maverick, John McCain, and Sarah Palin, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. That didn’t work out. Four years later it was Mitt Romney. He was a conventional Republican. He was a conventional everything. That didn’t work out either. He was wooden. Some thought that might not be a metaphor.

Republicans learned their lesson. At least the angry base of the Republican Party, tired of losing, learned its lesson. It was time to run a straight-talking maverick likely to go rogue at any moment, but the real thing this time – someone as uncontrolled and uncontrollable as Sarah Palin, who, like her, knew nothing about anything – which would be refreshing – “fresh eyes” are a good thing – and someone like the early John McCain, willing to tell his own party to go to hell. Why not try the real thing this time? Why not Donald Trump?

That was the gamble. If the symbol of the Republican Party is an elephant, it should be rough elephant, stomping around and doing damage – and that is what they got.

They may be sorry now. CNN’s Stephen Collinson notes what “going rogue” really looks like:

Even by the hyperactive standards of Donald Trump, it was a wild weekend.

While most of the country settled in for a Columbus Day holiday break, Trump orchestrated a cacophony of threats, offered dark warnings of military action and waged bitter political feuds on multiple fronts.

No one, not his estranged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his chief of staff John Kelly, European leaders, North Korean dictators, Democrats or despairing GOP senators can temper his shock and awe leadership style.

In a torrent of angry tweets, a television interview with former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and a back-and-forth with reporters, Trump poked and jabbed, in another mind-scrambling chapter of a reality-show presidency that is threatening to exhaust the nation.

He was the rough elephant, stomping around and doing damage of all sorts, but Collinson has a charitable explanation for this:

The President is making clear that he and only he is writing his script. As he amps up foreign-policy tensions and fights battles within his own administration and on Capitol Hill, Trump is effectively fighting for control of his own presidency, resisting aides and conventions that seek to hem him in.

That might be it, and that might not be a good thing:

He hinted at military action against North Korea, he slugged out a nasty row with GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. He took another jab at Tillerson, saying he had a good relationship with the top diplomat – who reportedly called him a “moron” – but would like him to be “tougher.” Trump even tried to ramp up the controversy over Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment allegations by bringing up the issue in an encounter with reporters.

Trump also revived his base-pleasing culture war furor with the NFL after Vice President Mike Pence left a game in Indianapolis on his orders after several players took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination. He also found time to take a slap at NBC, accusing it of writing “fake news” over its Tillerson stories. He also complained that his own efforts in Puerto Rico were not getting enough credit, despite clear logistical problems in the hurricane relief effort.

“Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation. So much work!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

Then, setting the stage for another acrimonious week, his White House released principles for legislation protecting undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, outraging Democrats with a hardline opening bid that included money for a border wall and a call for tough immigration enforcement.

In short, Donald Trump had gone rogue:

There was a sense, in his encounters with the media and his tweets, that Trump was running free, relishing the chance to make everyone dance to his tune, signaling that he would run his presidency exactly as he likes.

Fine – let him do that – but the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe report of the geopolitical consequences of that:

After nearly nine months of the Trump administration, many of America’s closest allies have concluded that a hoped-for “learning curve” they thought would make President Trump a reliable partner is not going to happen.

“The idea that he would inform himself, and things would change, that is no longer operative,” said a top diplomat here.

Instead, they see an administration in which lines of authority and decision-making are unclear, where tweets become policy and hard-won international accords on trade and climate are discarded. The result has been a special kind of challenge for those whose jobs are to advocate for their countries and explain the president and his unconventional ways at home.

There does seem to be no way to deal with a single rogue elephant:

Senior diplomats and officials from nearly a dozen countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia expressed a remarkable coincidence of views in interviews over the past several weeks. Asked to describe their thoughts about and relations with the president and his team as the end of Trump’s first year approaches, many described a whirlwind journey beginning with tentative optimism, followed by alarm and finally reaching acceptance that the situation is unlikely to improve.

The situation is also dire:

Frustrations and fears, building for months, have grown especially intense in the past few weeks following Trump’s bellicose taunting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his apparent decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the international nuclear deal.

Although foreign diplomats are restrained by the nature of their jobs from speaking out about the policies and politics of their host governments, it is not unusual for them to trade tips and gossip in the early days of a new administration when information is in short supply and it is unclear which top officials have the most sway with the leader of the free world…

But their perplexing dealings with the Trump administration have become an obsession of late for ambassadors.

“It’s always an undercurrent when we get together,” a third senior diplomat said. “We’re always asking each other, ‘Who do you deal with inside the administration?’ ‘How do you handle difficult situations?’ ”

“When somebody actually sees Trump, people immediately flock around: ‘What did you see?’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘Was Ivanka there?’ … ‘What kind of look was on Kelly’s face?'” he said, referring to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.

This has turned out to be an impossible situation:

Several spoke of the difficulty of determining where power lies within the administration and how decisions are made. “We are still not sure how the equilibrium in this administration is playing out in terms of who is responsible for what,” a senior European said. “Is it the White House? The State Department? Is Defense calling the shots? I’m being clinically analytical, not chiding. This is the situation. We are guessing, sometimes.”

Things have gotten “a bit better” since Kelly’s arrival over the summer, a Latin American said. “At least with process, if not policy. It’s clear Kelly has influence. But Jared? McMaster? We don’t know if they’re in or out,” he said, referring to Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser.

And there’s this:

Some try to posture in a way they think will appeal to Trump and those around him. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a progressive pragmatist who visited Trump in the White House in June, “tried to sync with him, but it didn’t work,” said Joon Hyung Kim, a professor of international studies at Handong University.

“Moon is really a detail person, and he tried to explain things in detail regarding defense and economic issues,” Kim said. “I don’t think Trump really liked that.”

President Palin wouldn’t have liked that either, and there’s this:

Many of those interviewed said they are often told by administration officials to ignore Trump’s tweets or undiplomatic remarks. They recognize it is a risky game.

“In the business sector, you can be very forceful in negotiations,” said a diplomat whose government has been on the receiving end of Trump’s tweets. “You call each other names all day, and then you sit down and have a martini. In foreign policy, there are consequences to the name-calling. Damage is done.”

That leaves this:

Some foreign diplomats have tried to work around the White House by forging closer relationships with the battered and shrinking Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Congress. Another strategy, particularly on issues related to climate change and trade, has been to work directly with governors, avoiding Washington entirely, several foreign diplomats said.

Others said their leaders, in meetings with Trump, have had to decide whether to take on what one called the president’s “one-sentence, very blunt affirmations.” Asked to give an example, this official recalled a discussion of the Iran nuclear deal in which Trump asserted, as he has before, “Iran is allowed to build a bomb” as soon as the agreement expires.

European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal have given up on trying to change his mind, or to argue that the accord’s sunset provision does not give Tehran a pass to restart its nuclear program. Instead, they have directed their attention to persuading Congress not to legislate new sanctions on Iran.

And that, in turn, leads to this:

A diplomat whose country has close and cordial relations and no obvious problems with the administration said his government is nonetheless exploring more extensive trade and diplomatic ties with Asia.

“At the beginning,” he said, Trump was “a fascination.” As the months have passed, he said, “all this perplexing noise from Washington, it becomes background noise. And the United States is a bit less important than before.”

America finally elected that straight-talking maverick likely to go rogue at any moment, the real thing this time – someone as uncontrolled and uncontrollable as Sarah Palin, who, like her, knows nothing about anything – which would be refreshing – but no one finds that refreshing. The rest of the world now sees a buffoon, surrounded by people who keep saying that he’s really not a buffoon, or tell them to ignore his tweets and his almost comically undiplomatic remarks. They’re walking away. This guy is just stomping around, doing damage. They’ll do what they can for their own countries, on their own. Let Trump be Trump. They have other things to do.

Can this be corrected? That seems unlikely, given what Robert Costa and Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report here:

Frustrated by his Cabinet and angry that he has not received enough credit for his handling of three successive hurricanes, President Trump is now lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda, numerous White House officials and outside advisers said Monday.

In a matter of days, Trump has torched bridges all around him, nearly imploded an informal deal with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and plunged himself into the culture wars on issues ranging from birth control to the national anthem.

In doing so, Trump is laboring to solidify his standing with his populist base and return to the comforts of his campaign – especially after the embarrassing defeat of Sen. Luther Strange in last month’s Alabama GOP special election, despite the president’s trip there to campaign with the senator.

Sen. Bob Corker’s brutal assessment of Trump’s fitness for office – warning that the president’s reckless behavior could launch the nation “on the path to World War III” – also hit like a thunderclap inside the White House, where aides feared possible ripple effects among other Republicans on Capitol Hill.

This isn’t a pretty picture:

Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts. He has been frustrated in particular with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was reported last week to have earlier called the president a “moron.” Trump’s Sunday morning Twitter tirade against Corker caught staffers by surprise, although the president had been brooding over the senator’s comment a few days earlier about Trump’s “chaos” endangering the nation.

One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

The only one defending him, badly, is Vice President Pence:

In a late-afternoon, unsolicited email to reporters Monday, Pence’s office blasted out a blanket response under the vice president’s name addressing “criticisms of the president.” The statement bemoaned “empty rhetoric and baseless attacks” against Trump while touting his handling of global threats, from Islamic State terrorists to North Korea.

“That’s what American leadership on the world stage looks like, and no amount of criticism at home can diminish those results,” the statement concluded.

But Pence’s words did little to reassure some Trump allies, who fear that the president’s feud with Corker could cause more trouble for the administration and further unravel threadbare relationships on Capitol Hill.

That’s what happens when a president goes rogue:

“We have been watching the slow-motion breakup of the Republican Party, and Trump is doing what he can to speed it up,” said Patrick Caddell, a veteran pollster who has worked with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, who now runs Breitbart News, a conservative website.

“Trump is firmly placing himself on the outside, trying to become an almost independent president,” Caddell said. “He knows that many people will be with him, that he helps himself when he’s not seen as the Republican president. But what about his program? That’s the question – and possibly the cost of what he’s doing.”

That’s become obvious, but not to Donald Trump:

The president has groused to numerous White House aides about his concerns over his popularity with “my people” – his base. He blames the Republican establishment and others for failing to enact his agenda and making him look feckless, and he’s unhappy with losing in Alabama, according to people briefed on White House deliberations.

Trump also made it known to several people that he wished to have a rally in North Carolina over the weekend and not just a fundraiser – but he ultimately flew down for only the fundraiser, spending just two hours on the ground in Greensboro. Trump complained that he wished he had gotten back out in front of the rowdy crowds he loves, these people said.

He should know better:

“Donald Trump got elected with minority support from the American electorate, and most of his efforts thus far are focused on energizing and solidifying the 40 percent of Americans who were with him, primarily by attacking the 60 percent who were not,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. “That is great for his supporters, but it makes it very difficult to accomplish anything in a democracy.”

This man is frustrated. He really wants to go rogue, again, and again and again, for good reason. The angry base of the Republican Party, tired of losing, finally got their heroic rouge elephant, but the angry base of the Republican Party is still a minority of Americans. They wanted what no one else wanted – a lot of stomping around and serious damage – but that’s still a minority wish. Democracy can be a bitch, and then things got absurd:

Even the Trump family has become a flash point. On Monday, the president’s first and third wives – Ivana and Melania, respectively – engaged in a public spat.

In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” to promote her new book, “Raising Trump,” Ivana Trump, the mother of the president’s three eldest children, said: “I’m basically first Trump wife. Okay? I’m first lady.”

The actual first lady, Melania Trump, did not let the slight go unanswered. Her spokeswoman at the White House, Stephanie Grisham, issued a statement dismissing Ivana’s comments as “attention-seeking and self-serving noise.”

There’s a lot of that going around these days, and Eugene Robinson states the obvious:

The truth can no longer be ignored: Donald Trump is dangerously unfit to be president and could lead the nation to unthinkable disaster. So what are we going to do about it?

The alarming problem isn’t Trump’s policies – to the extent he has any coherent set of policy positions. This crisis isn’t about conservative governance vs. progressive governance. It’s about soundness of mind and judgment.

If so, there’s this:

Impeachment is reserved for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – a phrase that means anything Congress wants it to mean. Assume special counsel Robert S. Mueller III eventually concludes that Trump obstructed justice or even participated in a collusion scheme with the Russians. Would Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican majority in the House actually move to impeach the president? Or would they be too fearful of the wrath of the GOP base? Unless the evidence was overwhelming, would there really be enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office?

Okay, that won’t work, but there’s this:

The 25th Amendment allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to relieve Trump of his powers, with Congress the ultimate arbiter if Trump were to protest. But this procedure – intended for when a president suffers, for example, a debilitating stroke – looks plausible only as a fail-safe mechanism if the president literally starts howling at the moon and trying to launch nuclear missiles. Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

Okay, that won’t work either, which leaves this:

Republicans need to stop talking and begin acting to constrain an out-of-control president. They probably won’t, however – which makes it imperative that Democrats win one or both chambers of Congress in 2018.

Massive “people power” displays of resistance are stirring. But if you really want to make a difference, go out and work to turn the House and Senate into bodies that will ferociously protect our democracy – from a president who grievously threatens it.

That’s a long shot with a built-in two-year delay anyway. What about now? The president has gone rogue. Things are falling apart. Nothing is getting done. One by one, our allies shrug and walk away – the United States is now far less important than before.

Back in 2008 – a long time ago, when the world was not as it is now – we dodged a bullet. Now we have a rogue elephant on our hands. Why did anyone think that was a good idea?

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Reactionary Dogs, Running

The fading generation of aging baby boomers is an odd lot. They are the “Cold War kids” – from a time when their might be a communist under every bed. Perhaps a few kids checked. There was no one under the bed – but young kids don’t understand metaphors. That was simply puzzling, and Joe McCarthy was on the big console television in the living room. He was very angry – and then Edward R. Murrow was on the big console television in the living room, very angry at him.

The parents couldn’t explain that, or didn’t want to – let kids be kids – but in school there were the duck-and-cover drills. The Russians – the Soviet Union at the time – might nuke us. Don’t look at the flash! Every kid knew that didn’t matter a whole lot – everyone would be vaporized, instantly – but every kid ducked and covered anyway. Kids in the fifties weren’t troublemakers – they saved that for college in the late sixties. At the time, the Soviet Union might nuke the United States, and we’d nuke them right back, and all life on earth would end – or it would be the other way around, and all life on earth would end. That was a bit unsettling, but the United States kept testing bigger and bigger bombs – the new hydrogen bombs – and so did the Soviet Union. The British joined in. So did the French – they called their nuclear bombs their Force de frappe – and then the Chinese joined in. Everyone was gonna die. That’s how it felt.

The insults were puzzling too. The Chinese kept talking about “the running dogs of capitalist imperialism” – whatever that meant. Actually that meant something to them – something to do with a lackey or lapdog. An unprincipled person “helps or flatters those more powerful and often evil” – and dogs do follow after often despicable humans hoping for a few scraps. That’s what that was about. The historian Yuan-tsung Chen notes this – “In the West, a dog is a man’s best friend, but in China, dogs are abject creatures. In Chinese, no idiomatic expression was more demeaning than the term ‘running dogs.'”

No one in the West got it. Running dogs are cute, in soft-focus slow-motion in the sunshine, running in the grass, happy as can be, and perhaps catching Frisbees – but the Russians had another insult. They called us “reactionaries” – a word with a long history dating back to French Revolution – identifying a person who holds political views that are all about a return to the status quo, even an awful status quo. A reactionary is big on discipline and respect for authority but can’t think new thoughts, or think much at all. Reactionaries react. That’s all they do. They’re pathetic.

That was the insult, although reactionaries can be useful idiots – because they’re easy enough to jerk around. Joe McCarthy might have been a useful idiot. Joe McCarthy could make someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who might have been a communist, five states away and thirty years ago, seem like a hero. “Have you no shame, senator?” He was doing their work for them.

Reactionaries really are pathetic. That was a pretty good insult at the time, and it’s still a pretty good insult, and then there’s Donald Trump:

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Corker sees a classic reactionary of course, given this:

Mr. Corker’s comments capped a remarkable day of sulfurous insults between the president and the Tennessee senator – a powerful, if lame-duck, lawmaker, whose support will be critical to the president on tax reform and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

It began on Sunday morning when Mr. Trump, posting on Twitter, accused Mr. Corker of deciding not to run for re-election because he “didn’t have the guts.” Mr. Corker shot back in his own tweet: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

The senator, Mr. Trump said, had “begged” for his endorsement. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement),” the president wrote. He also said that Mr. Corker had asked to be secretary of state. “I said ‘NO THANKS,'” he wrote.

Mr. Corker flatly disputed that account, saying Mr. Trump had urged him to run again, and promised to endorse him if he did. But the exchange laid bare a deeper rift: The senator views Mr. Trump as given to irresponsible outbursts – a political novice who has failed to make the transition from show business.

Mr. Trump poses such an acute risk, the senator said, that a coterie of senior administration officials must protect him from his own instincts. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Mr. Corker said in a telephone interview.

That’s the problem. Reactionaries react. That’s all they do. They’re dangerous, and everyone knows that:

All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

As for the tweets that set off the feud on Sunday morning, Mr. Corker expressed a measure of powerlessness.

“I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true,” he said. “You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.”

There may be no “why” here, but there’s this:

The rift between the two men had been building for months, as Mr. Corker repeatedly pointed out on Sunday to argue that his criticism was not merely that of a man liberated from facing the voters again.

After a report last week that Secretary of State Tillerson had once referred to Mr. Trump as a “moron,” Mr. Corker told reporters that Mr. Tillerson was one of three officials helping to “separate our country from chaos.” Those remarks were repeated on “Fox News Sunday,” which may have prompted Mr. Trump’s outburst.

Trump reacted, as all reactionaries do, but the problem remains:

In August, after Mr. Trump’s equivocal response to the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va., Mr. Corker told reporters that the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability or some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

He said on Sunday that he had made all those comments deliberately, aiming them at “an audience of one, plus those people who are closely working around with him, what I would call the good guys.” He was referring to Mr. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

“As long as there are people like that around him, people who are able to talk him down when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision gets made, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

In short, reactionaries can be contained – the damage can be limited – with the hard work of  a few good people and a bit of luck – maybe.

Chris Cillizza is not sure of that:

It turns out that Corker didn’t beg for Trump’s endorsement or make his re-election bid contingent on being endorsed by the president. Quite the opposite, according to two sources who spoke with CNN’s Manu Raju Sunday.

“The President called the senator early last week and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election and reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times,” one source told Raju.

What? Never mind. Something else is going on here:

Strategically speaking, Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

In the wake of Trump’s absolutely stunning 2016 victory, the conventional wisdom – in political circles – was that Trump was a strategic genius, always seeing five moves ahead. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media was still trying to figure out which way pawns could move. The reason no one thought Trump could win was because “we” didn’t see the whole board the way he did. No one else saw it that way. Trump was a genius – an unconventional genius but a genius nonetheless.

No, he was just a reactionary:

Every after-action report of the 2016 campaign has put the lie to that idea. Trump and his team didn’t think they were going to win. Many of them thought they were going to be blown out. The idea that Trump was executing some sort of master plan and always knew he was going to shock the world just isn’t born out.

Still, when Trump took over the White House the prevailing wisdom was that he had outwitted and outsmarted Democrats. (Lots of Democrats believed that – as much as they hated to admit it.) But, with each passing day, week and month, it becomes more and more undeniable that Trump has no master plan and is no master strategist. His only guiding principle is his own personal vendettas.

There’s nothing more reactionary than living from one personal vendetta to another, ignoring everything else, like the good of the country, or, as Cillizza notes, your own good:

Yes, Corker is retiring in 2018. But, that means the Tennessee Republican will still be in the Senate for another year. Which means that Corker’s vote – on, say, tax reform – is something Trump is going to need. (When you only have 52 Republican senators, you have very little margin for error and you need to do everything you can to keep those members happy.)

Why attack Corker then – and risk making him mad?

That’s a good question:

Aside from Corker’s one vote on tax reform – or anything else Trump wants to get done in his first two years in office – Corker is widely regarded in Washington as a serious person, well respected by his colleagues. Corker is also a conservative; this is no John McCain (Ariz.) or Susan Collins (Maine) that Trump is swatting at.

Corker’s colleagues – most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn – will watch what Trump has done and wonder whether there’s any point at all in trusting the President or trying to find common ground. Never forget that the Senate is an extremely clubby institution; they do not look kindly on attacks on their own.

So, why, given all of the downsides, did Trump spend his morning savaging Corker?

Actually that’s quite simple:

Because Corker said something he didn’t like, something that called into question the idea of Trump as the all-knowing, always-right figure that he sees in his mind’s eye.

Cillizza sees a classic reactionary too:

Based on all of the evidence of Trump’s first nine months in office, it’s impossible to conclude that he has any sort of comprehensive strategy or theory of the case. He acts (or reacts) and sees what happens. There’s no bigger plan that we’re not privy to. There’s really no plan at all.

That means that the old Cold War taunt pertains here too. A reactionary can’t think new thoughts, or think much at all. Reactionaries react. That’s all they do.

But maybe we’re a nation of reactionaries. David Frum notes what he sees as a few of the obvious rules for the current gun debate:

The debate must always honor the “responsible gun owners” who buy weapons for reasonable self-defense… These responsible persons are presumed to constitute the great majority of gun owners. It’s out of bounds to ask for some proof of this claimed responsibility, some form of training for example. It’s far out of bounds to propose measures that might impinge on owners: the alcohol or drug tests for example that are so often recommended for food stamp recipients or teen drivers.

And there’s this:

Gun ownership is always to be discussed as a rational choice motivated by reasonable concerns for personal safety. No matter how blatantly gun advocates appeal to fears and fantasies – Sean Hannity musing aloud on national television about how he with a gun in his hands could have saved the day in Las Vegas if only he had been there – nobody other than a lefty blogger may notice that this debate is about race and sex, not personal security. It’s out of bounds to observe that “Chicago” is shorthand for “we only have gun crime because of black people” or how often “I want to protect my family” is code for “I need to prove to my girlfriend who’s really boss.”

Those are the rules, and Josh Marshall’s initial reaction was this:

The simple truth is that the middle aged guy who owns 50 guns, uses them lawfully and responsibly and never hurts a fly is also part of the problem. That’s especially the case if he resists any drive to regulate them.

Mass ownership has consequences both direct and indirect. Mass gun ownership, the ingrained resistance to regulation or restriction, the broad valorization of guns in ways that are tied to beliefs about race and gender – all of these have consequences, even with people who never hurt anyone with their guns.

But then Marshall went further:

We can’t seriously discuss the gun issue unless we address the fantasies, paranoias and need for power that are major drivers of gun ownership, certainly mass or extreme gun ownership. Gun rights activists have spent three decades cutting off funding for research into guns and gun lethality. This keeps limited the still ample data showing that guns in your home make you less rather than more safe. Three percent of the population owns half the guns in the country. That means about 10 million people own an average of 15-18 firearms a piece.

Society has only a limited need and rationale for examining the inner lives of individual people. But why people feel the need to create small armories in their homes is very much the larger society’s business since the consequences of mass gun ownership threatens society at large. The need to balance these two interests against each other barely exists in the public discussion.

The problem, again, is reactionaries:

Let’s say you want to own 20 firearms. Given the externalities of gun ownership which affect everyone, society may say you need to have those guns regulated in some way. Maybe you have to register them. Maybe you need a special license if you’re going to own more than ten. Maybe you need to account for any sale of those weapons to a third party. These kinds of fairly basic regulations, which are probably a bit of a hassle but no more than what we do for cars, are completely beyond the pale of current public debate. That is largely because it raises fears of confiscation and paranoid conspiracies about government roundups and the like. You come up against paranoia and fantasies of total power at every in the gun debate. If you want to be a grown man who’s obsessed with model trains and has a whole world of model trains in his basement, that’s fine. It’s your life. It doesn’t hurt anyone. Guns are different. The externalities of mass gun ownership are vast.

And the reactionaries are in charge:

The entirety of the gun debate is framed around the proposition that that man with a stockpile of 30 guns in his home has almost total freedom to own 3 or 30 or 300 guns while the society at large has virtually no standing to place any limits on that freedom to protect itself. That imbalance is compounded by the fact that the advocates of extreme gun ownership are allowed to make their case for what are really special rights with arguments which are seldom challenged even though they are often based on paranoia, conspiracy theories or claims that simply have no basis in fact.

Fine, but what can be done? A reactionary can’t think new thoughts, or think much at all. It’s not just Donald Trump.

But wait. What about running dogs? Josh Marshall has that covered too:

It seems there’s no end to the public debate we can have about the relative weight of racism and authoritarianism that go into driving Donald Trump vs mere ego and narcissism, a grinding maw of appetite and self-gratification. Of course, we don’t really have to decide. It’s both. But today’s stunt does give us some reminder of the true pecking order.

Mike Pence travelled to Indianapolis today to watch the Colts play the San Francisco 49ers with the pretty clear knowledge that at least some 49ers players would take a knee in silent protest during the national anthem. (The 49ers are Colin Kaepernick’s old team.) After some did, Pence made a great show of walking out on the game and tweeting out his outrage at the players and commitment to the flag, America, the anthem, soldiers and unity….

The pretty transparent upshot of all this was that the White House feels it needs to keep the ‘ungrateful black players won’t honor our flag or our military’ storyline going for yet another week.

But that made Mike Pence a lackey and a lapdog:

Trump couldn’t help but jumping in to make clear that he told Pence to do this, relishing stamping Pence as the toady he no doubt is.

Admittedly, for Pence it serves as a minor cosmic justice. It reminds us what we already know. In Trumpland, everyone gets hurt. No one emerges with any dignity intact. He’s that ravening maw of ego and appetite and above all else unquenchable need and he has the country by the throat.

So, Mike Pence is the running dog here, one of those mangy dogs following after often despicable humans hoping for a few scraps – and Donald Trump is the classic hopeless reactionary who can’t think new thoughts, or think much at all. He reacts. That’s all he does.

Finally, those Cold War insults make sense. But why are we back in the fifties? That was an awful time.

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The Nice Nazis

Perhaps, when Donald Trump said that there were probably many fine people marching with the white supremacist neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, he was thinking of the “nice Nazis” in Hogan’s Heroes – that odd prisoner of war sitcom that ran from 1966 to 1971 on CBS. John Banner played the bungling Nazi sergeant-of-the-guard, Sergeant Schultz. He was a hoot. Werner Klemperer played Colonel Klink, the incompetent commandant of the camp – not a bad guy – just a laughably incompetent guy. Everyone got along just fine. No one was carrying torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us!”

Werner Klemperer was the son of Otto Klemperer – the famous very German conductor who fled Germany, and the Nazis, in 1933, and settled here in Los Angeles, and was appointed Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and in 1937 became a US Citizen. Many decades later, as an old man who had seen everything, Otto Klemperer did say he was a bit uncomfortable with his son playing a Nazi on television – but then he shrugged. A job is a job, and Colonel Klink was one of those “nice” Nazis – not a bad guy, really.

Those were the days. Donald Trump, in college at the time, must have watched Hogan’s Heroes. Everyone watched Hogan’s Heroes. Nazis were not all that bad – not all of them. That notion became embedded in America’s tribal memory. Television used to have that power.

Before that it was Charles Lindbergh. After the kidnapping and murder of his son, he and his wife moved to Europe for a time, and Lindbergh attended a few Nazi rallies. These folks had their act together, and as one of the many isolationists here at the time, he saw no reason we should go fight them:

Upon Lindbergh’s return to the States, he agitated for neutrality with Germany, and testified before Congress in opposition to the Lend-Lease policy, which offered cash and military aid to countries friendly to the United States in their war effort against the Axis powers. His public denunciation of “the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt Administration” – as instigators of American intervention in the war – as well as comments that smacked of anti-Semitism – lost him the support of other isolationists. When, in 1941, President Roosevelt denounced Lindbergh publicly, the aviator resigned from the Air Corps Reserve.

Roosevelt eventually forgave him. Everyone forgave him. He was still that dashing and handsome but humble hero of 1927 – the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. Lindbergh had simply fallen in with the wrong crowd – that “America First” crowd. That’s what they called themselves – but there are no “nice” Nazis. That “America First” business led to some very dark places. America figured that out.

Donald Trump adopted those two words, America First, but everyone seems to have decided, probably rightly, that Trump knows nothing about any of that Lindbergh stuff. Donald Trump is not a student of history. He’s more of a Hogan’s Heroes kind of guy, and as for Charlottesville, he says fine people, who simply like those beautiful old statues of Robert E. Lee and whatnot, ended up marching with that white supremacist neo-Nazi crowd. They had no problem with Jews, or blacks or Hispanics or Muslims. They just liked the statues. Cut them some slack – but really, Colonel Klink was pretty cool.

Okay, Donald Trump didn’t really mention Colonel Klink. He didn’t have to. Everyone watched Hogan’s Heroes. Nazis were not all that bad – not all of them. That notion really has become embedded in our tribal memory. And yes, television used to have that power, but now it’s Breitbart. Someone has to show that there are “nice” Nazis.

Joseph Bernstein tells that tale:

In August, after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville ended in murder, Steve Bannon insisted that “there’s no room in American society” for neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and the KKK.

But an explosive cache of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News proves that there was plenty of room for those voices on his website.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart courted the alt-right – the insurgent, racist right-wing movement that helped sweep Donald Trump to power. The former White House chief strategist famously remarked that he wanted Breitbart to be “the platform for the alt-right.”

That’s exactly what it became, thanks to this guy:

The Breitbart employee closest to the alt-right was Milo Yiannopoulos, the site’s former tech editor known best for his outrageous public provocations, such as last year’s Dangerous Faggot speaking tour and September’s canceled Free Speech Week in Berkeley. For more than a year, Yiannopoulos led the site in a coy dance around the movement’s nastier edges, writing stories that minimized the role of neo-Nazis and white nationalists while giving its politer voices “a fair hearing.” In March, Breitbart editor Alex Marlow insisted “we’re not a hate site.” Breitbart’s media relations staff repeatedly threatened to sue outlets that described Yiannopoulos as racist. And after the violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Breitbart published an article explaining that when Bannon said the site welcomed the alt-right, he was merely referring to “computer gamers and blue-collar voters who hated the GOP brand.”

That was bullshit:

These new emails and documents clearly show that Breitbart does more than tolerate the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right. It thrives on them, fueling and being fueled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrum – and clearing the way for them to enter the American mainstream.

It’s a relationship illustrated most starkly by a previously unreleased April 2016 video in which Yiannopoulos sings “America the Beautiful” in a Dallas karaoke bar as admirers, including the white nationalist Richard Spencer, raise their arms in Nazi salutes.

The “nice” Nazis have returned:

These documents chart the Breitbart alt-right universe. They reveal how the website – and, in particular, Yiannopoulos – links the Mercer family, the billionaires who fund Breitbart, to underpaid trolls who fill it with provocative content, and to extremists striving to create a white ethno-state.

They capture what Bannon calls his “killing machine” in action, as it dredges up the resentments of people around the world, sifts through these grievances for ideas and content, and propels them from the unsavory parts of the internet up to Trump World, collecting advertisers’ checks all along the way.

And the cache of emails – some of the most newsworthy of which BuzzFeed News is now making public – expose the extent to which this machine depended on Yiannopoulos, who channeled voices both inside and outside the establishment into a clear narrative about the threat liberal discourse posed to America. The emails tell the story of Steve Bannon’s grand plan for Yiannopoulos, whom the Breitbart executive chairman transformed from a charismatic young editor into a conservative media star capable of magnetizing a new generation of reactionary anger. Often, the documents reveal, this anger came from a legion of secret sympathizers in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, academia, suburbia, and everywhere in between.

There are “nice” Nazis everywhere, and the usual denials:

“I have said in the past that I find humor in breaking taboos and laughing at things that people tell me are forbidden to joke about,” Yiannopoulos wrote in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “But everyone who knows me also knows I’m not a racist. As someone of Jewish ancestry, I of course condemn racism in the strongest possible terms. I have stopped making jokes on these matters because I do not want any confusion on this subject. I disavow Richard Spencer and his entire sorry band of idiots. I have been and am a steadfast supporter of Jews and Israel. I disavow white nationalism and I disavow racism and I always have.”

He added that during his karaoke performance, his “severe myopia” made it impossible for him to see the Hitler salutes a few feet away.

Steve Bannon, the other Breitbart employees named in the story, and the Mercer family did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

There was no need to comment:

Like all the new media success stories, Breitbart’s alt-right platform depends on the participation of its audience. It combusts the often secret fury of those who reject liberal norms into news, and it doesn’t burn clean.

Now Bannon is back at the controls of the machine, which he has said he is “revving up.” The Mercers have funded Yiannopoulos’s post-Breitbart venture. And these documents present the clearest look at what these people may have in store for America.

The rest is a detailed discussion of those documents, with this context:

A year and a half ago, Milo Yiannopoulos set himself a difficult task: to define the alt-right. It was five months before Hillary Clinton named the alt-right in a campaign speech, 10 months before the alt-right’s great hope became president, and 17 months before Charlottesville clinched the alt-right as a stalking horse for violent white nationalism. The movement had just begun its explosive emergence into the country’s politics and culture.

And there’s this detail:

Yiannopoulos was a useful soldier whose very public identity as a gay man (one who has now married a black man) helped defend him, his anti-political correctness crusade, and his employer from charges of bigotry.

But now Yiannopoulos had a more complicated fight on his hands. The left – and worse, some on the right – had started to condemn the new conservative energy as reactionary and racist. Yiannopoulos had to take back “alt-right,” to redefine for Breitbart’s audience a poorly understood, leaderless movement, parts of which had already started to resist the term itself.

So he reached out to key constituents, who included a neo-Nazi and a white nationalist.

“Finally doing my big feature on the alt right,” Yiannopoulos wrote in a March 9, 2016, email to Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, a hacker who is the system administrator of the neo-Nazi hub the Daily Stormer, and who would later ask his followers to disrupt the funeral of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer. “Fancy brain-dumping some thoughts for me?”

“It’s time for me to do my big definitive guide to the alt right,” Yiannopoulos wrote four hours later to Curtis Yarvin, a software engineer who under the nom de plume Mencius Moldbug helped create the “neoreactionary” movement, which holds that Enlightenment democracy has failed and that a return to feudalism and authoritarian rule is in order…

And there were others:

“Alt r feature, figured you’d have some thoughts,” Yiannopoulos wrote the same day to Devin Saucier, who helps edit the online white nationalist magazine American Renaissance under the pseudonym Henry Wolff, and who wrote a story in June 2017 called “Why I Am (Among Other Things) a White Nationalist.”

The three responded at length: Weev about the Daily Stormer and a podcast called The Daily Shoah, Yarvin in characteristically sweeping world-historical assertions (“It’s no secret that North America contains many distinct cultural/ethnic communities. This is not optimal, but with a competent king it’s not a huge problem either”), and Saucier with a list of thinkers, politicians, journalists, films (Dune, Mad Max, The Dark Knight), and musical genres (folk metal, martial industrial, ’80s synthpop) important to the movement. Yiannopoulos forwarded it all, along with the Wikipedia entries for “Alternative Right” and the esoteric far-right Italian philosopher Julius Evola – a major influence on 20th-century Italian fascists and Richard Spencer alike.

And finally, they had their masterpiece:

Breitbart published “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It quickly became a touchstone, cited in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, CNN, and New York Magazine, among others. And its influence is still being felt. This past July, in a speech in Warsaw that was celebrated by the alt-right, President Trump echoed a line from the story — a story written by a “brown-sounding” amanuensis, all but line-edited by a white nationalist, laundered for racism by Breitbart’s editors, and supervised by the man who would in short order become the president’s chief strategist.

The machine had worked well.

It worked a whole lot better than Hogan’s Heroes, but Eugene Robinson heard this:

The speech Trump delivered Thursday in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square might have been appropriate when Britannia ruled the waves and Europe’s great powers held dominion over “lesser” peoples around the globe. It had nothing useful to say about today’s interconnected world in which goods, people and ideas have contempt for borders…

Trump added what he probably thought of as a Churchillian flourish: “I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”

Triumph over whom? Trump mentioned “radical Islamic terrorism” as one of the enemies posing “dire threats to our security and to our way of life,” but he didn’t stop there. He went on to add Russia and – weirdly – “the steady creep of government bureaucracy” to the list. It is appalling that the president would describe patriotic public servants as a kind of fifth column that “drains the vitality and wealth of the people,” and I guess some precious bodily fluids as well.

The problem is obvious:

What does Trump mean when he speaks of “the West” and its civilization? “Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty,” he said. “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.”

If the president read a few history books, he’d know that for most of the past 2,000 years, China and India were the world’s leading economic powers and Europe was a relatively primitive backwater. He’d know that Europe rose to dominance not by erecting walls but by opening itself to the rest of the world – its resources, products and people.

There is nothing pure about Western civilization. Its ability to absorb and incorporate outside influences has proved a great strength, not a weakness. Imagine Italy without tomato sauce, a gift from the New World – or the United States without the high-tech companies founded by immigrants, gifts from the Old.

Nazis don’t believe that, not even “nice” Nazis, and Peter Beinart noted the racial and religious paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw speech:

The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.

The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white. Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.

Trump was talking nonsense, but for a reason:

Steve Bannon, who along with Stephen Miller has shaped much of Trump’s civilizational thinking, has been explicit about this. In a 2014 speech, he celebrated “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam” and “our forefathers” who “bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.”

Steve Bannon, with the help of Milo Yiannopoulos, put those same words in Trump’s mouth, but Beinart saw something bigger:

The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech – perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime – was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.

Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland.

This stuff has now entered the American mainstream. Charles Lindbergh couldn’t pull that off – he got slapped down – but Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos at Breitbart pulled that off. All they needed was a president who had been raised on Hogan’s Heroes. Colonel Klink was pretty cool. Otto Klemperer shouldn’t have shrugged.

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