Chaos Incorporated

Some days there’s too much news. The only thing to do is drive out to Malibu, because Malibu, on a weekday afternoon in the middle of winter, is a calm and serene place – and Washington wasn’t. Obama had given his farewell address the night before – he was as good as gone – so Washington is now Trump’s town, and chaos follows that man. He thrives on it. He uses it to his advantage, and that seemed to be what was happening. Half of his potential cabinet was in confirmation hearings – not that any of them won’t be confirmed, no matter that few of them know anything about government and have no experience running much of anything. They will introduce chaos, as if that’s a good thing, which some, presumably, believe. But the networks were scrambling. They couldn’t cover all the simultaneous hearings, so some networks chose one or two and ignored the rest. Other networks jumped from hearing to hearing, befuddling their viewers no end. Who is this person again? What will they be running? Oops – they’re gone – there’s another one. What? Who?

The news was unwatchable – learn a few things about one or two of these folks and know you’ve missed a lot about many others, who might be important in how things go for everyone in the next four years, or consider snippets from the whole array and learn little of anything – which may have been the point. And, in the middle of it all, Donald Trump gave his first press conference since July and was angry, and contradictory, and a bit unhinged when he wasn’t simply incoherent – and he was proud of it all. Don’t try to make sense of it all. Trust him. He’ll make America great again, or Russia will. It was hard to tell, but it was hard to make sense of it all, if not impossible. That’s why you have to trust him. He’s left no alternative.

That’s why Malibu called. Drive west on Sunset to its end, turn right and head a mile or two north, park by the pier, and watch the solitary winter surfers wait for the right wave. It clears the mind. It wasn’t Washington. Monica Hesse and Elise Viebeck describe the scene there:

Wednesday was a big, weird moment in the lurching transition of federal power. Did it reach peak weirdness when a group of protesters began to march around the U.S. Capitol in dinosaur costumes? Or was it reached only when President-elect Donald Trump, in Manhattan, denied kinky new allegations about himself by announcing that he was “very much a germaphobe, by the way”?

What? Just ride the Washington wave:

At 9:15 a.m., secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson took his seat in hearing room 106 (moved from room 423). This was followed at 10:15 by the confirmation hearing of Transportation Department nominee Elaine Chao in room G50 (moved from room 253). These accompanied the hearing for Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) (continued from the previous day), but excluded the hearings for nominee for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, which had been postponed at the last minute when Senate Democrats argued that the schedule was already a deluge.

The day became a confirmation shell game – Senate committee members could question the nominees, but only if they could figure out which room they were in.

“Did you go to Chao?” a young woman in a pantsuit asked her friend, as they both searched for seats at one confirmation hearing in the Dirksen office building.

“Isn’t this Chao?” her companion said. “Aren’t we at Chao now?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s what I meant. I’m sorry.”

They were immediately sorry:

At the front of the room, Chao took her seat, introduced her proud father to the panel, and withstood a corny joke from her husband, who happens to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who promised the committee that his wife had “great judgment.”

They missed the main show:

Meanwhile, one flight up, the admission line for Tillerson’s hearing stretched out the door and around the corner, with Capitol employees acting as ushers for people seeking available seats. As committee members questioned the former ExxonMobil chief executive about his potential conflicts of interest and his ties to Russia, the entrance door opened and a chorus of voices could be heard chanting, “Reject Rex! Reject Rex!”

It was the dinosaur people – not the actual ones in costumes, which were too unwieldy for the madhouse corridors of the Senate, but some of their civilian-dressed cohorts, who came in to protest that the nominee’s beliefs were as outdated as a tyrannosaurus rex.

And there was this:

Meanwhile, one building over and outside of Jeff Sessions’ hearing, Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who campaigned for Hillary Clinton and became the target of a Donald Trump rampage on Twitter, quietly browsed his phone. “I have no illusion that this nominee will not be confirmed,” he said to a reporter. “But we are going to continue to hold him accountable. It was very heartening to hear this nominee say that he does not stand for a Muslim ban, and I hope that was genuine and it wasn’t for the expediency of getting confirmed.”

One can always hope, but that seemed foolish:

Expediency was both the rule of the day and the fear of it, as committee members attempted to vet would-be appointees, some of whose nominations had been controversial. Tillerson was the country’s would-be chief diplomat, with no political experience. Sessions was the country’s would-be chief attorney, whose appointment had been protested by civil rights groups. Less than 18 hours before, news had broken that the president-elect had been briefed on unconfirmed claims that Russia had gathered compromising information about him.

That compromising information included odd unverified goods that some Russians had told other Russians what they had on him, that he liked “golden showers” – women urinating in front of him – which is why he told the nation that he was a total germaphobe – that just wasn’t his thing. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Now we know. It was that kind of day:

At 11:15 or so, Trump himself appeared – in person at Trump Tower; on screens everywhere else – stealing the thunder of even his own nominees, revisiting some of his favorite topics: the “crooked” media, the losers who didn’t support him, the tax returns he hasn’t released and says aren’t important.

“Did you watch the press conference?” one Republican congressman asked another as they got on an elevator back in Washington.

“No,” said the second. “That’s time in your life you never get back.”

That’s a sign of overload from his own party before the man even begins his presidency, and Allegra Kirkland at Talking Points Memo covers how odd this press conference was:

The Donald Trump who took questions from reporters Tuesday in his first press conference as President-elect was the same combative, short-tempered figure the American public saw on the 2016 campaign trail, down to the red power tie.

The President-elect personally dressed-down a CNN reporter in scathing terms. He limited his comments on what a replacement plan for Obamacare would look like to a vague promise to “repeal and replace” the healthcare law “essentially simultaneously.” His responses were cheered on enthusiastically by a small group of staffers.

In short, two months after winning the White House in a historic upset and nine days out from Inauguration Day, Trump appeared no closer to adhering to the norms that have traditionally regulated the office he is poised to assume.

That may be a problem:

Russell Riley, associate professor at the University of Virginia’s nonpartisan Miller Center of presidential scholarship, told TPM that Trump’s remarks demonstrated a “personalization that you just do not see in the history of the presidency.”

“There’s no question that the candidate was elected largely because he was seen as someone who was willing to be confrontational and willing to explode a lot of the norms of American politics,” Riley said. “I think the voters found that appealing because there was a sense that he would take that approach with him into the office.”

“But I think there also has been an expectation that at some point those inclinations to blow up norms would be converted in service of a specific set of programs – that the destruction of what went before would eventually give way to the construction of what he expects to do once he’s in office,” he continued.

That ain’t gonna happen:

Little of the press conference was devoted to laying out a policy vision. There were few comments about working with Congress on healthcare, an overarching foreign policy strategy or a job creation plan.

Instead, Trump spoke in broad terms about his intention to be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created” and to create a healthcare system that is “far less expensive and far better” than Obamacare. Asked about the plan his lawyer outlined in the presser for disentangling himself from the Trump Organization, Trump gave himself credit for turning down “$2 billion to do a deal in Dubai” with Middle Eastern developer Hussein Damack, who he deemed “a friend of mine, great guy.”

He could make a ton of money, nothing is stopping him, so he says, but he’s a good guy. He didn’t take the money. Admire him.

That’s the problem:

“The language that Trump will bring into the office is very different than that of most presidents, who have certainly been cheerleaders for themselves, but still much more measured and operating in a kind of collective discourse rather than a kind of I, I, I discourse where it’s all about him,” Bruce Miroff, a political science professor and expert on the U.S. presidency at the University of Albany, told TPM.

These experts on the presidency also noted that the antagonism Trump continues to display towards the U.S. intelligence community and the media is unprecedented.

While the President-elect began the press conference by saying he has “great respect for the news,” he later tore into reporters from CNN and BuzzFeed. He refused to respond to questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta because the publication on Tuesday published a report that U.S. officials had presented Trump with documents alleging Russian operatives have “compromising personal and financial information” about him. He also labeled BuzzFeed a “pile of garbage” for publishing a 35-page dossier that the news site said had served as the source material for the summary intelligence officials gave Trump.

The Miller Center’s Riley called the President-elect’s barbed exchange with Acosta “genuinely unprecedented.”

Get used to it, because there’s been no change:

Miroff noted that hostility to the press was a hallmark of Trump’s campaign, and that those who expected to see a marked shift in his behavior over the course of the transition will likely be disappointed by the Trump who assumes the office of the presidency next week.

“I think Donald Trump has one mode,” he said. “That is the kind of Trump as a larger-than-life figure who is on the one hand doing tremendous, beautiful, great things, and on the other hand is surrounded by vicious enemies who will do everything to tear him down.”

The madness begins, and there’s Gail Collins’ account:

The reason he hasn’t shown up to answer questions from reporters since July is “inaccurate news.”

The Russians don’t have any secret tapes of him behaving badly in a hotel room because every time he goes to hotels abroad, he warns everybody: “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras.” Of everything Trump said during the press conference, this was perhaps the most convincing.

He is not going to divest himself of his businesses, but his two adult sons will be running them. He was just doing this out of his ethical heart, since there are no conflict-of-interest rules for the president. (“…as president I could run the Trump Organization – great, great company. And I could run the company, the country. I’d do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.”)

He’ll release his taxes once the audit is finished. (You remember that audit. Its friends call it Godot.)

The inauguration is going to be “a beautiful event” because “we have great talent.” (Military bands were mentioned.)

“If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability.”

Beware of those who speak of themselves in the third person, but beware of it all:

He was all over the place. It was, in a way, a great strategy. We’ve been waiting for a long time to hear how Trump would deal with his businesses, and his refusal to divest drove ethics watchdogs crazy. But on Wednesday, the whole topic got drowned in the hubbub over the leaked report. And Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. And his theory on hotel cameras.

This kind of rapid-fire diversion could be the work of a political genius, but in fact it’s just how our next president’s mind naturally seems to operate. It bounces hither and yon. The only ongoing focus is what it all means to Trump. Did he look good? How was the crowd? Did anyone betray him?

He was definitely playing the victim when it came to the leaked report. He blamed the intelligence services, which he compared, with great originality and careful choice of words, to Nazis.

Of course he did. He’s that kind of guy. He didn’t explain the comparison – why it’s appropriate, historically. He just threw out the word. That would do:

Trump is never going to admit his win was anything but a record-shattering triumph. But his preening, and his whining about being persecuted by the intelligence services, really twists the knife.

That’s what he does, so we are where we are:

Since the election, the media and many Democratic politicians have wrung their hands over their failure to pay attention to the legitimate anger in the Trump-tilting parts of the country. And good for them.

But it’s time to remember that there are about 66 million Clinton voters who have a right to be angry, too.

They have that right, for all the good that does them now, and Jonathan Chait explains why:

Donald Trump’s first press conference since the summer was a surreal exercise in the assertion of immunity from accountability. He either ignored questions about his behavior, or dismissed the questions as illegitimate. He painted a chilling depiction of politics not as an ongoing process but as a one-time event, settled in his favor by the presidential campaign, once and for all.

To demonstrate that, Chait offers this:

Trump was asked about reports that intelligence agencies had concluded Russia hacked his opponents for the specific purpose of helping him win. He did not answer the question. Instead he expressed his view that having good relations with Russia would be nice, and concluded by mocking his Democratic opponent: “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.”

It is abnormal, to say the least, for a president-elect to defend his behavior by pivoting to a contrast with the candidate he defeated. But invoking Clinton served a purpose that became clear as the press conference drew on. It defined any question he disapproved of as a challenge to his legitimacy, and thus a campaign matter, and thus by definition moot. Asked about Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposal to introduce tougher sanctions on Russia, Trump harkened back to the campaign as well. “Lindsey Graham – I’ve been competing with him for a long time,” he said, “He is going to crack that one-percent barrier one day. I didn’t realize Lindsey Graham is still at it.” Graham, of course, is not “still at it.” He is governing, not running against Trump. But to Trump, any action that might challenge him is indistinguishable from a contest for power.

Chait is not hopeful:

It is impossible to know what course American democracy will take under Trump’s presidency. The fears of authoritarianism may prove overblown, and Trump may govern like a normal Republican. But the initial signs are quite concerning. Trump believes he can demolish normal standards of behavior, like the expectation of disclosing tax returns, and placing assets in a blind trust. He has received the full cooperation of his party, which controls Congress and has blocked any investigation or other mechanism for exerting pressure. His dismissal of the news media might simply be a slightly amped-up version of the conservative tradition of media abuse, but it seems to augur something worse. Rather than making snide cracks about liberal bias, Trump escalated into abuse and total delegitimization.

Will the abuse of the media be seen as an idiosyncratic episode or the beginning of something worse to come? We don’t know. His early behavior is consistent with (though far from proof of) the thesis that he is an emerging autocrat.

The people have granted him license to steal and hide as he wishes. The bully has his pulpit.

He also has a potential cabinet, as Dana Milbank notes here:

As Trump was giving his first post-election news conference in Trump Tower, his nominee to be secretary of state was testifying in Washington – and Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief, showed why he earned Putin’s Order of Friendship award.

It was early in the nine-hour hearing when Tillerson said he might recommend revoking President Obama’s actions punishing Russia for its cyberattack during the American election, which Tillerson acknowledged was probably approved by Putin.

Sigh. Russia will make America great again. Those leaked emails helped America choose the right guy by revealing the truth about that awful woman. Trump said as much in his news conference – but then things shifted:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) followed that with a blunt question: “Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?”

“I would not use that term,” the Russian Order of Friendship laureate replied.

Rubio offered to “help” Tillerson reach that conclusion, describing his targeting of schools and markets in Syria that have killed thousands of civilians, and his earlier attacks on Chechnya, where he killed 300,000 civilians using cluster munitions and bombs that kill by asphyxiation. “You are still not prepared to say that Vladimir Putin and his military have conducted war crimes?”

“I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion,” the nominee replied.

That was the wrong answer:

Rubio went on to ask about the broadly held view that Putin has approved the killing of “countless” opponents, dissidents and journalists.

“I do not have sufficient information to make that claim,” Tillerson replied.

“Do you think that was coincidental?” Rubio pressed.

Tillerson said “these things happen” to “people who speak up for freedom,” but he would need to know more.

Rubio was angry. “None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson,” he said. “These people are dead.”

There’s no good response to that. Tillerson had none. “Little Marco” nailed the big guy, who also doesn’t seem to have chatted with his potential new boss about things:

Tillerson offered a few welcome departures from his would-be boss’s positions: He embraced the Magnitsky law punishing human rights abuses and said Russia’s annexation of Crimea would not be recognized. He was more supportive of NATO than Trump has been.

Trump may have to take him aside and tell him none of that is the official line now, and never was from the start, which led to this:

Tillerson told Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that he had not yet discussed Russia with Trump, and he asserted that “to my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.” Congressional lobbying records show Exxon lobbied on many Russia sanctions bills.

Asked by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) about how he would avoid being undermined as chief diplomat by the president’s “quickly drafted, not vetted” tweets on world affairs, Tillerson replied, “I have his cellphone number.”

“We’ll hope for the best there – unless you have anything else to add,” Young said. Tillerson didn’t.

There was nothing to add. Trump has introduced chaos into our political system, as a feature, not a bug. Chaos has been incorporated into the system. Tillerson doesn’t get it, yet, but the rest of us do. There’s not much that anyone can do about that now, so it was a good day to drive over to Malibu and sit in the sun and watch those surfers waiting for the right wave. We’re all waiting.

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The Transition to Darkness

Things change in America in ten days, when Donald Trump becomes America’s president, but this day was the real transition. Obama gave his thoughtful and generous and hopeful farewell address in Chicago.

Obama is a mensch. People get that now. Agree with him or not, he’s a decent man. He’ll listen to you. His approval ratings are higher than ever, and he just said goodbye. Elvis has left the building – and Donald Trump is not a mensch. He’s a nasty man. He wants us all to be nasty – or winners, as he puts it. There’s now no point in reviewing what he’s said and done. Two items will do – his mocking that disabled reporter and that one line he kept repeating – “We’ve got to stop being so nice to people, folks.”

The rest is mere detail. Think of his campaign as a bad Bach fugue – theme and variations. Sneering was the theme. That’s what winners do – and they hit back ten times harder. Everyone knows the tune now, and all the variations. That’s what we’ve got now. The matter is settled. The vote was certified. Some see dark days ahead.

Obama knows that, and his farewell address was about dealing with darkness:

President Obama used his farewell speech here on Tuesday to outline the gathering threats to American democracy and press a more optimistic vision for a country that seems more politically divided than ever.

Obama said goodbye to the nation against the backdrop of one of the most corrosive elections in U.S. history and a deep sense that the poisonous political environment has pitted Americans against each other.

“America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but malevolent,” Obama said. “We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”

It was 2004 in Boston once again. That’s when he gave that famous speech at the Democratic National Convention – there’s not a red America, there’s not a blue America, there’s the United States of America, and all the rest. He brought the house down, even if he was officially nominating John Kerry. Kerry wouldn’t become president. He would, and Obama introduced his main theme that night. The subsequent twelve years have been variations on a theme – that one. Everyone knows the tune now too.

Still, there are always sour notes:

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic,” he said. “For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be.”

He took note of overseas threats including “violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam” and “autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power.”

Some things can’t be fixed, but maybe they can:

The president recalled his days as a community organizer in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. “This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it,” he said of his adopted home town.

The idea is that things don’t have to be dark. Do something. It might help, but he kept returning to that 2004 theme:

He spoke repeatedly of the need for empathy, saying that Americans of color needed to tie “our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face,” including “the middle-aged white guy… who’s seen his world upended by economic, and cultural and technological change.”

He called on white Americans to acknowledge “that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s.”

“We have to pay attention,” Obama implored the crowd, “and listen.”

Good luck with that. The new guy says we’ve got to stop being so nice to people, but people there liked the old tune:

Obama’s references to expanded health care coverage, the legalization of same-sex marriage and tolerance for immigrants and minorities drew the loudest applause and cheers. But when he mentioned the prospect of Trump’s inaugural – “In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy” – a murmur of boos rippled through the audience.

They knew, and then there were the warnings:

Even as he touted his accomplishments and rallied his supporters, Obama pointed to the places where he said our politics was failing.

“But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information… then we’re going to keep talking past each other,” he said. “And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting?”

He warned that denying climate change not only “betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country.”

He called on Americans to be “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy” and to break out of their ideological bubbles.

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them real life,” he said, to cheers, before urging them to run for office. “Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”

In short, dark days are ahead. Do something. Turn on a light, and he ended with this:

“Yes We Can,” the president said, invoking the catchphrase of his first presidential bid.

“Yes We Did,” he added, as audience members stamped their feet on the bleachers in time to his words. “Yes We Can.”

Donald Trump isn’t worried. He’ll tweet them into submission.

And that was that, although Matthew Yglesias saw this:

Barack Obama is a famously optimistic rhetorician. He’s also one who doesn’t really do “bad guys.” The enemies in his speeches are always unnamed and merely alluded to. He’s also extremely even-handed, in typical fashion balancing a slam on people who deny that racism is real and important with a call on people of color to empathize with “the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.”

But for one, brief, shining moment Obama stopped being polite and started being real.

“If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities,” he said, “then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Yglesias says that it doesn’t take a genius to know what Obama was getting at:

Donald Trump, who was born rich and lives in a gold-plated tower, is a wealthy person who can withdraw further into his private enclaves. So is his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. So is his billionaire education secretary Betsy DeVos. So is his billionaire commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. So is the Goldman Sachs executive he’s tapped to run the National Economic Council and the Goldman Sachs trader turned hedge fund manager he’s tapped to run the Treasury Department. This crew is laughing all the way to the bank as white working class votes install a new regime based on regressive tax cuts and bank deregulation.

And in this brief section of the speech, Obama mercifully spared us the tired pieties that have dominated discussion of this topic since Trump won.

He didn’t balance the ledger with a slam on identity politics. He didn’t argue that white people’s economic pain is somehow more authentic or meaningful. He identified, correctly, that the economic woes of working class of all ethnicities are caused, to a large extent, by the racism of a sub-set of the working class that leads them to prefer a politics of white supremacy to a politics of economic uplift.

This commitment to white supremacy is, Obama argued, deadly to the future of the country.

Obama said that? Perhaps he did. At least he planted a seed, or introduced an earworm – that song you can’t get out of your head – and Obama played a variation on that theme:

If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce. And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

They did? The long argument with Trump has begun, although Yglesias wonders if it can be won:

What Obama chose not to dwell on, given the tenor of the occasion, is that this broad-based income growth didn’t impress everyone. Older and less-educated white Americans embraced Donald Trump’s story that the country was going to hell in a handbasket, and then as soon as he won they immediately started saying the economy was good again. Actual results in the form of rising incomes weren’t good enough. Trump telling them the good old boys were back on top again was.

They’re fine with that, but Obama is telling them that dark days are ahead for them too:

Trump is proposing to bring back the exact policy mix of tax cuts for millionaires and deregulation for banks and fossil fuel extractors that brought the global economy to its knees under George W Bush. Economic policy will be crafted at the highest levels by and for the inheritors of large fortunes.

He’s far too polite a man and far too savvy a politician to say so plainly, but the message if you read between the lines is clear enough: white working class Trump supporters played themselves this November.

So what else is new?

Something was new, a new darkness descending, with a story that was breaking as Obama began to speak:

A classified report delivered to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week included a section summarizing allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances, U.S. officials said.

The officials said that U.S. intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations but believed that the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified report on Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Trump, however, replied Tuesday night with a tweet declaring: “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

Obama was in Chicago speaking of civic engagement and common decency. Trump was in in penthouse at the top of Trump Tower, tweeting, but he was in trouble:

A senior U.S. official with access to the document said that the allegations were presented at least in part to underscore that Russia appeared to have collected embarrassing information on both major candidates but released only material that might harm Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – a reflection of Russian motivation that bolstered U.S. spy agencies’ conclusion that Moscow sought to help Trump win.

The inclusion of such unsubstantiated allegations in the election report, a development first reported Tuesday by CNN, adds a disturbing new dimension to existing concerns about Russia’s efforts to undermine American democracy.

If true, the information suggests that Moscow has assembled damaging information – known in espionage circles by the Russian term “kompromat” – that conceivably could be used to coerce the next occupant of the White House. The claims were presented in a two-page summary attached to the full report, an addendum that also included allegations of ongoing contact between members of Trump’s inner circle and representatives of Moscow.

What? Team Trump was working with the Russians all along? This must be crap, unless it isn’t:

U.S. officials said the claims about Russian possession of compromising material were based not on information obtained through traditional intelligence channels but research done by an outside entity engaged in political consulting work and led by a former high-ranking British intelligence official. The material was first mentioned in a Mother Jones report in October.

U.S. officials said that while the FBI had so far not confirmed the accuracy of the claims, U.S. officials had evaluated the sources relied upon by the private firm, considered them credible, and determined that it was plausible that they would have firsthand knowledge of Russia’s alleged dossier on Trump.

That wasn’t helpful:

After CNN’s report Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, was asked at his confirmation hearing about the allegations in the intelligence report.

“If it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said, after reading from the CNN report. “And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

Sessions responded that he was “not aware of any of those activities.”

Heck, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions was just there to tell them that he’s no longer a racist. He didn’t need this, but there it is:

Last month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had been provided with the information, personally delivered it to FBI Director James B. Comey. A source familiar with the matter said the FBI had it well before then and had interviewed the former intelligence official.

Clinton’s former campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, appealed for a congressional inquiry. “Mitch McConnell, you must let a Select Committee investigate these allegations, as @SenJohnMcCain has been urging for weeks,” Fallon wrote on Twitter.

K. T. McFarland, Trump’s designated national security adviser, declined to respond to a question about the report. “I don’t know about the story that you’re talking about that’s broken,” she said during participation in a panel Tuesday at the United States Institute of Peace. “I know in Washington people prefer to talk about something about which they know nothing, but I’m going to refrain.”

That won’t do. In late October Harry Reid sent an angry letter to FBI Director James Comey saying that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” A few days later, at Mother Jones, David Corn summarized this dossier of raw intelligence provided by a “former senior intelligence officer for a Western country” this way:

When he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”…The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.”

And BuzzFeed has the full US intelligence memo here – the compromising information on Trump supposedly includes evidence of Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion” including “golden showers” and “sex parties” in Moscow. Cool.

None of this may have happened, but our folks know the source is credible. It might have happened. Our folks gave Trump a heads-up. There’s talk. There might be more than talk.

Trump is certainly not Obama, and it seems that the FBI did consider the evidence of ties between Russia and the Trump team to be credible enough to investigate, and in the Guardian, Julian Borger reports on where this led:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The FISA court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

The FBI investigates Hillary Clinton and talks about it. They don’t talk about Trump:

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, questioned Comey insistently at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday on whether the FBI was pursuing leads on Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

“Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships?” Wyden asked.

Comey replied: “I would never comment on investigations … in a public forum.”

Yeah, right, but it only gets better:

According to the report passed to Comey, Russian intelligence allegedly gathered compromising material during Trump’s stay in Moscow in November 2013, when he was in the city to host the Miss Universe pageant.

Another report, dated 19 July last year said that Carter Page, a businessman named by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, had held a secret meeting that month with Igor Sechin, head of the Rosneft state-owned oil company and a long-serving lieutenant of Vladimir Putin. Page also allegedly met Igor Divyekin, an internal affairs official with a background in intelligence, who is said to have warned Page that Moscow had “kompromat” (compromising material) on Trump.

Two months later, allegations of Page’s meetings surfaced in the US media, attributed to intelligence sources, along with reports that he had been under FBI scrutiny.

Page, a vociferous supporter of the Kremlin line, was in Moscow in July to make a speech decrying western policy towards Russia. At the time he declined to say whether he had been in contact with Russian officials…

That’s okay. The FBI was on it, and now other things make sense:

Another of the reports compiled by the former western counter-intelligence official in July said that members of Trump’s team, which was led by campaign manager Paul Manafort (a former consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine), had knowledge of the DNC hacking operation, and in return “had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine”.

A few days later, Trump raised the possibility that his administration might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and openly called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In August, officials from the Trump campaign intervened in the drafting of the Republican Party platform, specifically to remove a call for lethal assistance to Ukraine for its battle against Moscow-backed eastern rebels…

Since then, Trump has consistently cast doubt on Russian culpability for hacking the Democratic National Committee, defying a consensus of 17 national intelligence agencies. After Obama deported 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscow’s intervention, Trump praised Putin for not carrying out tit-for-tat deportations of US diplomats. “I always knew he was very smart,” he tweeted.

And there’s Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, who was fired by the director of national intelligence, for being a jerk, who sat next to Putin at that RT dinner in Moscow, and Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state, who received the Order of Friendship from Putin, who pinned it on Tillerson’s chest himself.

These things mount up, but the election is over. There’s nothing to be done now. Darkness descends – but Obama gave a fine speech in Chicago, as the lights went out. The transition is complete.

Posted in Trump and Russia, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Straight Outta Hollywood

Hollywood seemed like a good idea at time. Why not live at the center of American pop culture? The center of everything serious and important in America may be Manhattan, but no one can afford to live there, and it’s cold there. Washington is the seat of power in America, but they built that city in a former swamp – it’s rather miserable in the summer, and it’s a political swamp. Everything there is about something else. Paris, of course, is wonderful – still the center of real culture and deep thought, and fashion and food and whatnot – but the French do make it hard to settle there. Bureaucracy is a French word. They invented it – so Hollywood would have to do. Growing up in Pittsburgh in the fifties, which is the center of nothing much, did generate a need to be at the center of something – anything – and high school in the early sixties was particularly painful. It was the Beach Boys and Gidget. It was 77 Sunset Strip, even if there is no such address. It was every damned movie, and every damned palm tree in the background. It was the endless sunshine – and finally, in 1981, after almost a decade of teaching English at the prep school in snowy upstate New York, it was California. Then it was Hollywood, the heart of Hollywood, the snazzy apartment just off the Sunset Strip, with a view out the window of the cantilevered glass houses in the Hollywood Hills. Joni Mitchell used to live just up the street in Laurel Canyon. So did Jim Morrison. So did Frank Zappa. Cool.

That was twenty-two years ago. Hollywood isn’t that cool. The Oscars, each year just down the street, are a pain in the ass. All the useful streets are closed for two weeks, and fewer and fewer people care about movies anyway. America may have moved on, or movies aren’t very good these days – smug or loud and more of the same. Or that may be a generational thing. There’s too much other media for millennials that the studios hadn’t anticipated – young folks do things with their iPhones and whatever. They make their own movies.

The culture does change. Movies may not be particularly important these days, and then there are the Golden Globes, the junior varsity Oscars. That awards show shuts down Santa Monica Boulevard at Wilshire for a full weekend, a month before the Oscars, and it matters even less. Win an award there and win the same thing at the Oscars, or not. The Golden Globes are a trial run. Sometimes things don’t work out – but that doesn’t matter either. The big stars show up for the fun of it. They go there to be seen. There are a lot of cameras. It’s a lark. Those of us who live here ignore the whole thing.

It turned out that Hollywood wasn’t that cool after all. Hollywood may not be particularly important these days, not in the days of Donald Trump. There’s a lot of empty space between Hollywood and Manhattan where lots of stuff happens, and those who live in that space resent being told that Hollywood is the center of things, or that Saturday Night Live, from the middle of Manhattan, is the source of all that is hip and cool – and they’re in neither place, so maybe they ought to just curl up and die. Donald Trump told them they should resent that. They already did. He won their respect.

So it was war this year at the Golden Globes, as Brooks Barnes reports here:

It surprised no one that Hollywood used the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday as a platform to condemn Donald J. Trump. Moviedom power players mostly supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Many stars openly telegraphed their disgust when Mr. Trump won instead. The president-elect has struggled to book A-list talent for his inauguration.

But nobody was quite expecting Meryl Streep, as she collected a lifetime achievement Globe, to so firmly lay down the gauntlet for a new kind of culture war, targeting Mr. Trump’s skills as a showman and entertainer and branding them as insidious. She called on actors, foreigners, journalists and others to stand together and support the arts and the First Amendment, while portraying Mr. Trump as a bully who could whip his supporters into a frenzy and “show their teeth.”

Judging by his reaction to her rallying cry, Mr. Trump is ready to fight. And he seemed eager for the distraction, coming after days of intense scrutiny about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election and the business dealings of Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and soon-to-be senior adviser in the White House.

Ms. Streep, Hollywood’s most celebrated actress, with 30 Globe nominations (eight wins) and 19 Oscar nods (three wins), started her acceptance speech by acknowledging that entertainment industry elites – after eight warm years under President Obama – suddenly find themselves on very different footing.

“All of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now,” she said.

What actually happened was this:

Meryl Streep won the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes Sunday night in honor of a career full of brilliant performances. And she used her acceptance speech to shame Donald Trump for the performance he’s given America over the past few years…

Trump’s performance, Streep said, “sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good.” It was so memorable to her because “it made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.” Specifically, she was referring to the time Trump mockingly imitated an epileptic reporter at one of his rallies, a moment the press optimistically dubbed the end of his campaign.

This is what she said:

The person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter – someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie; it was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

Aja Romano takes it from there:

Some praised the speech as “epic and powerful,” while others called it a classic example of Hollywood “elitism.” Even Trump himself joined in, calling Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and labeling her speech as an attack.

The uproar isn’t surprising given the longstanding proclivity of certain groups, particularly conservatives who often find themselves at political odds with celebrities, to write off Hollywood as the home of a bunch of out-of-touch progressives. But thanks to Trump jumping into the fray himself, it’s also more complicated than that: Even though Streep’s speech is less pointed and politically charged than similar speeches have been in the past, the stakes feel higher than normal.

Yes, it was war, even if an odd one:

The speech has since drawn several different reactions, in a rather predictable order: 1) Progressives immediately lauded Streep. In particular, Variety called the speech “extraordinary” and hailed it as a signifier of the Golden Globes’ ascension to respectability. 2) Conservatives dismissed the speech as a typical example of Hollywood elitism and self-congratulatory smugness. 3) Progressives responded to conservative backlash by pointing out that the content of Streep’s speech was barely “incendiary” and that it’s a bit hypocritical for conservatives to complain about celebrities having too much power and influence when they just elected one.

In the middle of the hubbub, Trump told the New York Times that he hadn’t seen the speech but wasn’t surprised that “liberal movie people” were criticizing him.

They would, but he’s got the little people in those in-between spaces on his side, unless something else is going on:

Many pundits, including Vox’s Ezra Klein, have suggested that Trump chose to comment publicly on Streep’s speech in order to divert attention away from another current headline: that many of his Cabinet appointments and other nominees have not undergone the ethical review period that is typical for these positions.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Trump has been accused of picking a fight on Twitter as a diversionary tactic; in November, many members of both the media and the public cited Trump’s fiery tweets about the cast of Hamilton as an attempt to distract people from scrutinizing his questionable business entanglements and potential conflicts of interest.

Above all, Trump’s denial that he ever intended to mock Kovaleski is a distraction from the real point Streep was making, which is that people with power – whether in Hollywood, politics, or the press – need to work together to protect equal rights for everyone.

It’s important to note that despite all the controversy around her speech, Streep was calling for more empathy toward those outside Hollywood, not less. And a call for empathy is not, in and of itself, a political rallying cry.

It may be a political rallying cry now, although Kellyanne Conway did say, late in the day, that she wished people would pay attention to what’s in Donald Trump’s heart, not to what he says. That generated a few blank stares. How else are we supposed to know what’s in his heart? Kellyanne Conway has a hard job. She’s the cleaning lady, and Brooks Barnes also notes this:

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Mr. Trump, continued the counterattack on Fox News Monday. She criticized Ms. Streep for “inciting people’s worst instincts” and poked fun at celebrities “talking about how vilified poor Hollywood is” while wearing “their gazillion-dollar gowns.”

She added of Ms. Streep: “She sounds like 2014. The election is over. She lost.”

And Barnes notes this:

The perception of Hollywood as one of the country’s most prominent liberal bubbles has been long established. But from a business perspective, television networks and movie studios can little afford to alienate any audience as they contend with pressures that include declining DVD sales, competition from streaming services and wildly uneven box office results. At the glittering Globes after-parties, several studio executives privately applauded Ms. Streep but refused to join her in speaking publicly, citing business interests. Several industry executives expressed confusion about why she would use her speech to convey a message that seemed predictable: a Hollywood star denouncing Mr. Trump.

Those little people in the empty in-between spaces do matter. That’s where the money is, so confusion reigned:

Danny Strong, the executive producer of “Empire,” acknowledged that the most Globe ceremony attendees were probably “liberal Democrats.” But, he said: “It’s not about the 200 people in the room; it’s about the millions of people watching. That’s who that message was for.”

At the HBO party, Eddie Redmayne said that he found Ms. Streep’s speech “incredibly emotional,” but he would not say whether he thought Hollywood should follow her example and speak out politically.

Producers who specialize in awards telecasts have said that post-show research indicates that many viewers dislike it when celebrities turn a trip to the stage into a political bully pulpit.

Hollywood really isn’t that cool anymore, but Mark Harris looks at things from the other end:

On January 4, the president-elect of the United States woke up in a mood, as he seems to have done on so many mornings since the election. It was a day of angry tweeting – about the media’s “double standard,” about the “terrible things” the DNC did, about the “failed ObamaCare disaster” and the “Schumer clowns” who must not be let out of “the web,” whatever that is. But capping his fulminations was this: “Jackie Evancho’s album sales have skyrocketed after announcing her Inauguration performance. Some people just don’t understand the ‘Movement.'”

For those of you who have been thinking about Cabinet appointments or the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act or the Russian hack or America’s relationships with China or Israel rather than the truly important things, a quick primer: Jackie Evancho is a 16-year-old pop singer from Pittsburgh who, despite a Wikipedia entry that is three times as long as the one for Joyce Carol Oates, has only two real claims to fame: She came in second on the 2010 edition of NBC’s competition series America’s Got Talent, and she was, as of Trump’s tweet, the biggest celebrity to agree to perform at his inauguration.

Never mind that the claim that her sales had “skyrocketed” was quickly debunked by, of all places, Access Hollywood… That celebratory-but-actually-defensive tweet outlined the contours of a tiny post-election tempest: The entertainment industry does not like Donald Trump. He got inauguration turndowns from everyone. The A list is staying away. The B list is staying away. Most of Nashville (with the exception of Big & Rich, a duo one half of which won Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice in 2011) is staying away. Even the Rockettes, that bespangled bastion of heartland America in a bubble within the bubble of the putative coastal elite, raised a ruckus when MSG executive chairman James Dolan tried to get them to perform, with one dancer pointedly asking whether they were supposed to “tolerate intolerance.” (Yes, said Dolan, who ultimately lost that battle.)

We are in a strange situation:

No President in any of our lifetimes, not even the one who started out as an actor, has been more obsessed with show business or its many yardsticks of success than Trump is. This is a man who, two weeks before assuming the presidency, publicly crowed about how numbers for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” are down now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is hosting. Two days after his tweet about Evancho, Trump referred to himself as a “ratings machine”; that boast connects to his obsession with crowd size at his rallies, which connects to his public preening about how his every appearance gooses the ratings for the cable news channels that both enrage and transfix him.

But it’s all good:

On Twitter afterwards, reaction broke as one might have expected, with lavish praise from the left, including much of Hollywood, anger and contempt from some on the right, and no small amount of concern-trolling. “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won,” warned Meghan McCain. “And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how – you will help him get reelected.”

That’s a worry, but Eugene Robinson is worried about something else:

Is President-elect Donald Trump so thin-skinned that even criticism from Meryl Streep triggers a nasty, over-the-top response? What kind of crybaby have Americans elected as their leader?

That is a worry:

Trump threatens to snatch health insurance coverage from millions, enact huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, reverse progress against climate change, destabilize the Western alliance, pick fights with China while cuddling up to Russia – the big-issues list is long and frightening. But I believe it would be foolish not to examine the personality and the psychological makeup of the man who will soon be in the White House.

My view, then, is that we cannot ignore his vitriolic tweet storms. No, we should not let them distract us from other news about the incoming administration. But the Twitter rants offer a glimpse into Trump’s psyche, and it’s not pretty.

And it’s dangerous:

The man who is about to become president is enveloped by a shell of self-regard that at first seems armor-like but turns out to be delicate and brittle.

He couldn’t endure Alec Baldwin’s impression of him on “Saturday Night Live,” calling it “not funny” and saying that it “just can’t get any worse.” He reacted to an unflattering piece in Vanity Fair by saying that the magazine is “way down, big trouble, dead!” and that its editor has “no talent.” He taunted his replacement on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, for having low Nielsen numbers “by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT” – and noted that Schwarzenegger was not a supporter of his campaign.

Conversely, he shows nothing but high regard for anyone who says anything nice about him. Thus he calls Russian President Vladimir Putin “very smart” and quotes him approvingly, despite the fact that intelligence officials say Russia actively meddled in our electoral process.

I don’t believe Trump’s tweets are part of some sophisticated strategy to draw attention from other events and topics. To me, this looks like simple action and reaction. When someone criticizes him publicly in a way that threatens his stature, he seems compelled to hit back. He can’t seem to ignore any slight.

That’s a sign of weakness, not strength – as Putin and other world leaders surely have figured out.

They’ve got his number – another thing to worry about. Meryl Streep isn’t the problem. Hollywood isn’t the problem, unless it is.

That’s what Kevin Drum notes here:

I just want to remind everyone what the actual theory here is. The theory is that although country mice might not personally experience much diversity in their lives, they are saturated with it in the media. They know all about us city mice and how we live because they watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read magazines that relentlessly portray our lives and our beliefs. Nearly all of this media is produced by urban folks, and for the most part it presents cosmopolitan urban lives sympathetically and accurately. Even TV news gets in the act. The three network evening news broadcasts pull an audience massively greater than anything Fox News gets.

Most urban residents, by contrast, don’t know much about small-town life because it’s almost never portrayed in the media except comedically or satirically. They may think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant, but in fact they have little idea of how rural Americans really behave and are openly disdainful of most of their beliefs.

This is the actual argument that conservatives make:

The “bubble” here isn’t a question of whether you have a Somali family living down the street or have never traveled outside the US. The bubble is whether you have some genuine understanding of both American rural life and American city life. Conservatives argue that the country mice do much better on this score than the city mice.

Perhaps they do, and they don’t see Donald Trump as a dangerously weak thin-skinned crybaby, easily manipulated by even the totally harmless rather insignificant Meryl Streep, who probably didn’t mean to “set him off” in the first place. He stood up for them. That’s enough. Democrats should worry about that – the cosmopolitan urban isn’t all of America – but everyone should worry about his rage at this harmless rather insignificant woman, because Hollywood isn’t the center of everything. It’s just another place, with bad traffic, full of self-important people.

There’s a larger world. That’s the worry.

Posted in The Culture Wars, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Measure of Chaos

Democrats know there’s nothing that can be done now. In a dozen days Donald Trump will be inaugurated – he will be our president. The French won’t be sending a delegation to the inauguration – but they don’t matter. They may think that he’s a dangerously uninformed fool who could ruin all of Europe, or give it to the Russians, or they may think that he’s simply gauche – a word that means “left” oddly enough – but they don’t matter. Paris may end up the only city in the world without a giant Trump Tower, with the gold-plated toilets and all the rest, but that’s their loss.

That means that Donald Trump is our gain, more or less. He insulted and offended almost everyone on earth and still won it all, perhaps because he did just that. America was in the mood to insult everyone, here and abroad. America decided it was time to swagger – it was time to mock losers everywhere, even the disabled, and take their lunch money. That may be why Trump is assembling a team of billionaires, and some things, for some people, are now settled:

“Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

That’s a big deal, or not:

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

This item goes on to chronicle all that, as if it matters, and it doesn’t. Lots of things don’t matter now:

Reince Priebus, chief of staff to Donald Trump, argued on Sunday that there was “no reason” to complete background checks on the president-elect’s cabinet appointments.

The Office of Government Ethics warned last week that background checks for Trump’s nominees would not be completed in time for confirmation hearings next week because the nominees have refused to provide financial disclosures.

They may be crooks and liars, but people did want change:

Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Priebus on Sunday if the Trump administration would consider delaying the hearings until the background checks were complete.

“No,” Priebus replied. “They have to get moving. I mean, they have to move faster. And they have all the information. These are people that have been highly successful in their lives. They need to move quicker.”

“The fact is there’s no reason,” he continued. “I mean, it’s the first week of January, they have all the details that they need. They have all the information that they need. It’s no different from any other new administration coming in and the American people demand it.”

“Change was voted for and change we will get.”

No, this is different. That’s why the Office of Government Ethics was howling. These may be people that have been highly successful in their lives, but so were Al Capone and Spiro Agnew, until they got caught. We will get change, but that may not be a good thing, unless ethics are also not a good thing.

That seems to be the unified message:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday rebuffed Democratic calls to slow down rapid confirmation of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, even after a nonpartisan federal watchdog raised “great” concerns about moving ahead with hearings for nominees whose ethics reviews have not been completed.

Walter Shaub, director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, laid out his warning in a letter disclosed by Senate Democratic leaders on Saturday. Among Shaub’s concerns: Some of Trump’s nominees – particularly those with a complex web of financial interests and little background in public service – are left with “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues” before their hearings.

Yeah, well, get over it:

Despite those warnings – and calls from Democrats to delay hearings – McConnell wants Democrats to buck up and move on.

“I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation and the other guy’s won the election,” McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “What did we do? We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election, so all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustrations.”

McConnell added: “We need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”

That’s it. Grow up. But some people won’t grow up:

“This is not an issue that pits Republicans against Democrats – it pits Republicans against all Americans and an independent ethics agency that is tasked with ensuring the President’s Cabinet follows the law,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday in a statement in response to McConnell’s comments on CBS.

“Until these nominees have fully cooperated with the ethics review process, the hearings and confirmation schedule should not be rushed.”

Republicans control the Senate. Republicans control the relevant committees. Schumer is out of luck here. This is procedural. The votes to confirm will be immediate. Perhaps the president’s new cabinet will sneer at the law and do all they can to make themselves even richer. Get over it. Grow up.

And don’t worry about Russia either:

The majority leader again dismissed concerns about Trump’s attitude toward Russia, noting that his incoming national security team is composed of officials who are not “conflicted with the view that Russians are not our friends.”

“I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a new president to want to get along with the Russians,” McConnell said. “My suspicion is, these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly.”

That was the unified word too, that the Russians are our deadly enemy, and we should hook up with them:

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Saturday morning that having a “good relationship with Russia is a good thing,” adding that Russia will have far more respect for the U.S. when he is president.

“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!”

There he goes again. Those who disagree with him are stupid. Those who disagree with him are fools. He alone is neither stupid nor a fool. He’s the only one who isn’t. That’s the all-American swagger that won him the presidency, and dismays and offends the French, and that will make for an interesting inauguration speech, which may be no more than a thorough and comprehensive listing of stupid fools, domestic and foreign. His inauguration speech will probably be just like his reality show. You’re fired! That will be America’s new message to its citizens and to the world – grow up – get over it.

Count on that. Trump isn’t changing now. That’s what John Cassidy explains here:

If there were people expecting that Trump would use the lengthy interregnum between Election Day and Inauguration Day to offer reassurances about what lies ahead, he has gone out of his way to disabuse them. For the past two months, he has spent his time publicly congratulating himself on his victory (while greatly exaggerating its scale) and taunting those he defeated; putting together a Cabinet of conservative ideologues, billionaires, and generals; blithely dismissing calls for him to divest his business interests; and – this almost every day – running his mouth on Twitter. In short, it has been a distinctly Trumpian transition.

Perhaps, as the Times’ David Brooks has suggested, we should regard Trump’s online efflorescences as nothing more than perishable Snapchat messages or Baudrillardian simulacra. It is a challenge, though, to be cavalier about a President-elect one day issuing menacing statements about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the next day publicly trashing the intelligence services whose job it will be to inform him about nuclear proliferation and other global dangers. Evidently, Trump doesn’t think he needs much professional advice: he already regards himself as an expert on foreign-policy issues, including nuclear negotiations.

Cassidy, by the way, is referring to that French semiotic philosopher Jean Baudrillard and this:

As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, he moved from economic theory to mediation and mass communication. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss), Baudrillard turned his attention to the work of Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure’s and Roland Barthes’s formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood version of structural semiology.

Simulation, Baudrillard claims, is the current stage of the simulacrum: all is composed of references with no referents, a hyperreality. Progressing historically from the Renaissance, in which the dominant simulacrum was in the form of the counterfeit – mostly people or objects appearing to stand for a real referent (for instance, royalty, nobility, holiness, etc.) that does not exist, in other words, in the spirit of pretense, in dissimulating others that a person or a thing does not really “have it” – to the Industrial Revolution, in which the dominant simulacrum is the product, the series, which can be propagated on an endless production line; and finally to current times, in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced.

What? Don’t worry about it. In short, all of what Trump says may be pop-culture counterfeit – or something. Semiotics is difficult, but that ephemeral counterfeit could get us all killed, when it’s Trump:

He’s just days away from gaining access to codes that could be used to launch a nuclear attack within minutes – a prospect that has many Americans and citizens of other countries unnerved. The Ploughshares Fund, a venerable arms-control organization, has circulated a petition urging Obama to take U.S. nuclear missiles off high alert before he leaves office. “It’s too late to stop Donald Trump from becoming president,” Joe Cirincione, the president of the Fund, wrote recently. “But it is not too late to stop him from impulsively blowing up the planet.”

That’s a possibility, and Cassidy offers a stroll through history:

To be sure, other men who were ill-qualified, ethically challenged, or potentially unhinged have occupied the Oval Office during the Republic’s long history. John Tyler and Millard Fillmore, two mid-nineteenth-century Whigs, are sometimes cited in the first category. During the nineteen-twenties, Warren G. Harding brought the stench of corruption right into the West Wing, where he played poker with his cronies from Ohio, some of whom were busy enriching themselves at federal expense. And, when it comes to addled Presidents, we have the accounts that have been handed down of Richard Nixon as the Watergate scandal reached its climax – brooding, cursing, drinking heavily, driven to the edge of madness.

But historical comparisons to Trump only go so far. Tyler and Fillmore, the tenth and thirteenth Presidents, were both experienced politicians who were serving as Vice-Presidents when their bosses died. (Tyler had been the governor of Virginia and also represented the state in the U.S. Senate. Fillmore was a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.) Although Harding’s name will forever be associated with the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the secret leasing out of federal oil reserves, he wasn’t accused of lining his own pockets. Nixon, a Shakespearean figure racked by personal insecurities, was also an intelligent man blessed with great powers of concentration. According to Arthur Burns, the economist he appointed to head the Federal Reserve, Nixon could have “held down a chair in political science or law in any of our major universities.”

Trump is none of that:

He has no experience in elected office – in these demented times, that was part of his popular appeal. His reputation as a hugely successful businessman has little basis in fact, as does his claim of being worth ten billion dollars. Until he launched his Presidential campaign, in which he showed some genuine skill as a rabble-rouser, his talents had lain in attracting other people’s money, promoting himself in the media, and playing a role on reality television – the role of Donald Trump, the great dealmaker.

And there’s this:

If Trump has any ethics, they are self-serving ones. In his business dealings, he has a record of chiseling suppliers; bankrupting public companies; and operating a private outfit, Trump University, that recently settled charges that it was little more than a scam designed to part Americans of modest means from their savings. For many years, it seems, Trump exploited a loophole in the tax code to avoid paying any federal taxes. At times, he has associated with alleged mobsters and shadowy foreign businessmen, including rich Russians who have invested in some of his real-estate projects. Although Trump poses as a champion of the common man, he is a prime exemplar and beneficiary of oligarchical capitalism.

He is also, as he displayed many times over the past year and a half, an inveterate bully who views the world almost exclusively in terms of winning and losing. Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” which helped define Trump’s public brand, has described him as a compulsive liar and a sociopath. Trump’s history of denigrating minorities, inciting racial fears, promoting birtherism, and boasting about sexually assaulting women surely doesn’t need recounting, but one lesser-known incident is perhaps worth recalling. In 2000, after some family members went to court and challenged his father’s will, Trump cut off health coverage to a nephew’s young son who was suffering from a chronic neurological disorder that caused violent seizures and brain damage. Asked by the Times why he took this action, he said, “I was angry because they sued.”

He was personally insulted. Let the kid die. Some love that sort of thing, some don’t, and that’s our new president:

This is the man about to join the lineage of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. In the coming days and weeks, some cynical Republican leaders who have made their self-serving peace with Trump will put on a show of support for him and claim that all is proceeding normally. Obama himself, whether out of a desire to go by protocol or in the hope of exercising some restraining influence, has so far avoided making any public criticisms, even though Trump has shown little sign of heeding the advice Obama offered a few days after the election, when he said, “There are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects them. Because when you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re President of the United States.”

Ah, the office will change the man, or it won’t:

Such a possibility can’t be entirely discounted, I suppose. But, at this stage, does anybody really believe it will happen?

That’s a rhetorical question – asked and answered, and Doyle McManus says chaos almost surely lies ahead:

“Trump is farther behind on taking control of the bureaucracy than any president in recent history,” Paul C. Light of New York University, one of the nation’s preeminent scholars of public management, told me last week. “He’ll be ready to move in on inauguration day, but he won’t have much that’s ready to go, except for cancelling a lot of Obama’s regulations.”

That’s because nothing is ready, because it couldn’t be ready:

The problem begins with the man at the top. The president-elect comes to the job with the habits of an entrepreneur and a showman, not a manager of large organizations. He’s known for making decisions based on the last advice he heard. He makes policy pronouncements on Twitter, often without his aides knowing in advance. And he’s impatient with hierarchy.

“You’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference,” he told tech executives last month. “We have no formal chain of command around here.”

Fine, but a formal chain of command is necessary:

In the White House, dozens of issues jostle for attention and crises constantly threaten to derail long-term strategy. Usually, it’s the chief of staff’s job to act as a gatekeeper; he controls the president’s meetings and flow of information to make sure the chief executive can focus on his priorities.

In Trump’s case, that will be Priebus, a seasoned political operative who rose from the Wisconsin Republican Party to become chairman of the Republican National Committee and won Trump’s confidence in the process.

But Priebus may not be fully in charge. Instead, aides have described a structure with three top aides: Priebus, political strategist Stephen K. Bannon, and communication strategist Kellyanne Conway. That’s a recipe for confusion.

It also doesn’t help that two of them hate each other:

Priebus – who’s close to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) – represents the institutional Republican Party of orthodox conservatism. Bannon, former chief executive of the Breitbart media organization, has said he wants to “hammer” the GOP establishment and oust Ryan as speaker.

Nor is it clear which version of Trumpism the president-elect wants. Trump’s campaign never produced a policy blueprint to settle the question.

Earlier administrations did. “We weren’t confused about what the policy priorities were,” Joshua Bolten, a former chief of staff for George W. Bush, said last month. “We had a 450-page policy book that spelled it out. My concern for the current transition is that they’re not in that sort of position.”

Now add this:

Despite its recent personnel announcements, the Trump team has also been slower than most administrations in filling out its staff.

“They didn’t name a director of personnel until this [last] week,” Light noted. “Most campaigns have one by July or August. He’s got something like 3,300 appointments to make. That’s going to take a lot of time.”

And while Trump’s appointees have business experience, political campaign experience, and military experience, few have any experience in the executive branch.

“Trump has never dealt with a bureaucracy like this,” Light said. “His businesses are flat, and that’s fine. But the federal government is arguably the least flat organization there is; it has 63 layers of executives and managers.”

“He’s got nobody around him with a deep understanding of how to manage the bureaucracy to support his policies.”

That is the job after all, and this will not go well:

A measure of chaos is the norm for any inexperienced president, and can quickly engulf his administration. President Clinton, for example, had a terrible first year – and he had been a governor for more than a decade.

White House aides like to quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ran a large organization – the U.S. Army in Europe – before he became president:

“Organization cannot make a genius out of an incompetent,” Eisenhower wrote. “On the other hand, disorganization can easily lead to disaster.”

Well, disaster is change too. Change was voted for and change we will get. Do the word substitution.

France is not sending a delegation to the inauguration. This is ours alone.

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The Damn Fool

Discretion is the better part of valor. Pick your fights. Sing a few choruses of Let It Be – or follow the advice of W. C. Fields – “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

This is advice for Donald Trump. The Russians hacked our election. They worked hard to make Hilary Clinton look like a sick old lady, or a fool, or a scheming harridan. They hacked the DNC servers and John Podesta’s emails to find what they needed. There were worries in there, and strategies for dealing with the far more popular Bernie Sanders, and this and that the Clinton campaign thought might be damaging to her. They were worried over there, the Russians grabbed what they found, and handed off to WikiLeaks what was most damaging, or at least embarrassing. WikiLeaks then released that stuff almost daily, but timed to do the most damage. Everyone kind of knew that this was going on. In his last press conference, in July, Trump gave a shout-out to the Russians. Do more of this. He said he loved WikiLeaks. He hasn’t given a press conference since.

That shout-out to the Russians was odd, but Trump was a clown, and Hillary was going to win, easily, so it didn’t matter very much. That shout-out was no more than a curiosity. It would be a footnote in history books one day – but then Trump won the Republican nomination. That shout-out became a problem. The systematic and continuous leaks of all that stolen stuff became a problem. It sure looked like the Russians had stolen all that stuff and were working for Trump, or at least in his interest. Trump dumped his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who had worked for Putin’s guy in the Ukraine. Carter Page was sent packing too – he’d spent a lot of time in Moscow working for Putin’s oil buddies. This was damage control.

It didn’t work. The Russians were up to something. All sixteen of our intelligence agencies – the CIA and the NSA and the FBI and Army Intelligence and all the rest, and the coordinating agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – told key members of Congress in a secret session in October that this was actually a certainty.

News of that leaked and caused no end of trouble for Donald Trump. He found himself in the position of saying that he’d take the word of the Russian government over the word of all sixteen of our intelligence agencies any day of the week. Putin said the Russians didn’t do this, but this forced Trump into an odd position – stand with Trump and Putin, and against our government, and thus make America great again.

What? That was an absurd position, but it was necessary. He won the presidency all on his own after all. That had to be. Putin said he didn’t do any of this. Of course he didn’t. Trump never needed Putin anyway – and Putin’s a fine fellow.

There were also alternative suspects – the Chinese, some morbidly obese man in a basement in New Jersey, in his pajamas, teenage boys – or it was computers in general. No computers are safe. Donald Trump also said he knows all about hacking, and that he knows things no one else knows, which seems to mean he knows what the CIA and FBI and NSA and all the rest don’t know – but he’s not telling yet. He says that no one, no one at all, knows if the Russians did the hacking-the-election thing. The intelligence agencies really don’t know – but they just testified in open session in Congress, and thus on national television, that they were now more certain than they were in October. The whole thing was a Russian effort to make sure that Hillary Clinton never became president. Putin personally directed it. He preferred Trump. He screwed up our election – and they had the goods – the names of the middlemen, the cut-outs who supplied WikiLeaks, and dates and times of the exchanges. They also had intercepts of the celebrations in the Kremlin when Trump won. We can hack too.

They gave a full report to President Obama on Thursday morning – the classified report with means and methods – how they knew what they know. Then they headed off to Congress for the open hearings – the same report without the means and methods, to protect and maintain their sources. Additional details were leaked to NBC and the Washington Post – but scrubbed of means and methods. Trump now wants Congress to investigate those leaks as treason or something, but the damage was done. Then, on Friday morning, they headed up to Trump Tower in Manhattan, to give Trump the same report they gave Obama – what they knew and exactly how they knew it. Trump was boxed in.

It was time to quit pretending what was wasn’t what was – no point in being a damn fool about it.

Trump was a damn fool about it:

U.S. intelligence officials on Friday laid out a stark case – both publicly and privately in Trump Tower to the president-elect – that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a massive cyberattack to “undermine public faith” in the democratic process and to “harm” Hillary Clinton’s chances of beating Donald Trump.

Trump doesn’t appear sold.

There’s no way he could be sold:

Trump is maintaining a defiant posture, asserting that officials did not conclude the hacks swayed the election his way.

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said in his statement after meeting with intelligence officials.

That’s kind of beside the point, as the report wasn’t about that at all:

The declassified report from the CIA, FBI and NSA didn’t even weigh in on the issue.

“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” the report stated.

This is more to the point:

“It’s really remarkable to have someone who’s never been a consumer of intelligence products, who has no idea about the cycle of gathering intelligence, trying to claim with credibility he knows what’s going on. He doesn’t,” said Thomas Sanderson, the director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It suggests that he simply doesn’t want to agree with the finding that Russia was behind this because it delegitimizes his campaign win.”

That’s blindingly obvious:

Trump’s stiff statement came after the president-elect and his allies spent much of the day front-running the meeting and the report, downplaying Trump’s ties to Russia and calling on lawmakers to investigate leaked details of the report to news outlets.

Trump himself Friday morning called all the attention paid to the hacks a “political witch hunt,” motivated, he claimed, by his political rivals and their sour grapes over his surprising win.

“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Trump said of his political opponents in an interview with the New York Times. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”

Yeah, yeah – total losers always try to tear down winners:

Trump’s three-paragraph statement on Friday, issued at 2:34 p.m. after the meeting wrapped up, began on a conciliatory note.

“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation,” Trump said in the opening of the carefully crafted statement which pivoted quickly to the declarative statement at the heart of Trump’s effort winning the ongoing public relations battle over the legitimacy of the election that he won – after he spent months last fall, preparing for a loss, asserting that it would be “rigged.”

After noting that a number of foreign entities try to penetrate U.S. targets, Trump said that there had been similar attacks against the Republican National Committee but that those attacks failed because of the RNC’s “strong hacking defenses” – a topic the intelligence community did not address in Friday’s report.

That’s because they released the scrubbed report late in day – the servers of the Republican National Committee had been hacked. The Russians had the goods on them too – they just didn’t release even a hint of what they’d dug up. Why would they? Of course, if things sour with Trump, they might use that to screw him over. The report didn’t address that possibility – but Trump was wrong and might want to worry a bit. Putin has him by the balls now. The report did say that Putin will keep this up, and he has been aggressive:

The report released Friday afternoon provided sweeping conclusions of Putin’s direct interest in tipping the election in Trump’s favor.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” said the report, which is a declassified version of a longer, classified document the intelligence agencies prepared at Obama’s request.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” it continued.

The report also said the Russian government developed “a clear preference” for President-elect Donald Trump as the campaign went on, and eventually “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

That’s how the game is played now, and Trump lost one Republican:

In the wake of the release of the report on Friday and Trump’s reaction, House Speaker Paul Ryan distanced himself from the president-elect on Russia’s alleged tampering, saying Moscow tried to “meddle.”

“Russia has a track record of working against our interests, and they clearly tried to meddle in our political system,” Ryan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn any outside interference in our elections, which we must work to prevent moving forward.”

W.  C. Fields was right. Sometimes you hit a wall, as Glenn Thrush notes:

By the end of the day, it was clear that the strategy of intimidation and bluster that served Mr. Trump so well in the presidential campaign would not prove nearly as effective in Washington. Here was a reminder, should Mr. Trump heed it, that a president’s critics, especially the lords of Washington’s national security establishment, can’t always be cowed by a flash-grenade tweet or a withering quip about the possibility that a “400-lb. hacker” might have breached Democratic servers.

“I don’t think what worked in a campaign against Jeb Bush is really going to work when you are dealing, you know, with the combined power of the CIA, NSA and the FBI,” said John Weaver, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump who worked on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s unsuccessful primary campaign against him.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has a good working relationship with Mr. Trump, warned him recently that it was “really dumb” to take on the intelligence services. He followed up with a warning on Wednesday that the president-elect needed “to calm down” his Twitter usage.

And there’s this:

In recent days, Mr. Trump’s aides have gently prodded him to drop the attacks on the intelligence community and mollify nervous Republicans by showing that he was moving ahead with forward-looking reforms of the sprawling intelligence-gathering bureaucracy, according to two people close to the discussions. “He can’t afford this fight,” one longtime adviser to Mr. Trump said. “He’s said it’s time to move on – well, move on.”

The decision to choose Dan Coats, a popular former senator from Indiana, as director of national intelligence had been in the works for some time, the officials said, but Mr. Trump’s advisers decided to announce the choice to ease concerns of a rift between the future Trump White House and the clandestine services.

They’re doing their best with this damn fool, but Josh Marshall sums up the situation nicely:

Set aside all Donald Trump’s nonsense about disbelieving the intelligence agencies and insisting there’s no evidence against Russia. Set aside his amazingly public spat with those agencies. Set aside just why Russia did this. There’s the simple fact that just two weeks before a new President is sworn into office, the country’s intelligence agencies are publicly releasing a report claiming that the United States’ great 20th century rival, Russia, conspired to assist in that new President’s election. Step back and just absorb that. That is simply mind-boggling. Who could have imagined such a thing, such a confluence of events – the original act, the intelligence community’s claims – would ever happen.

Well, the damn fool wouldn’t quit. He doesn’t do discretion. That’s not his style, and Kathleen Parker has a bit of fun with that:

First, a history refresher: For the past nine years, a smattering of Americans, most recently led by our now president-elect, have insisted that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.

For years, Donald Trump was unrelenting in his insistence that Obama prove beyond existing proof that he was born in Hawaii and not in the African country of his biological father. That Obama said he is a Christian wasn’t enough to persuade Trump’s followers, who apparently know a Christian when they see one.

Further, there is no logical basis for assuming that a young person briefly raised in a given country – say, Indonesia – necessarily would adopt the dominant religion of that country. He might, however, observe that though people worship in different ways, we’re all essentially the same. Never mind the cruel and absurd assumption that being a Muslim means that one is, ipso facto, a “bad person.”

That, in fact, is discretion:

Respecting others despite differences is, generally speaking, the hallmark of an enlightened soul, as well as a desirable disposition in a leader. Yet, those who sided with Trump interpreted Obama’s gentle touch toward the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims as evidence of a hidden agenda to advance Islam in the United States – notwithstanding Obama’s rather robust drone operations, which eliminated quite a few bad actors who happened to be, or said they were, Muslims.

Noteworthy is that these same Obama doubters weren’t bestirred to suspicion when then-President George W. Bush visited a mosque immediately after 9/11. Nor, thus far, have they expressed any concern about Trump’s cavalier approach to Russia’s cyberattack on the United States.

That, in turn, might lead to this conclusion:

Given this history and recent evidence, isn’t it about time Trump to be declared a Russian spy?

No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?

That’s what happens when you try, try again, and keep trying:

How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.

How perfectly terrifying.

And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy – and a fool is just a fool.

But there is logic:

Consider what we know: Our best intelligence indicates that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Trump, who has long expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin (once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent), has his doubts.

Obviously, Trump wants to preserve the narrative that he won fair and square. And, clearly, claims of Russian interference would muss his ego. But is that it?

Consider further: Trump would rather make common cause with our fiercest geopolitical adversary (hat tip Mitt Romney) than take the word of our best people. Moreover, he has said he won’t receive daily security briefings and reportedly plans to reduce our security agencies.

Pray tell, whose side is this man on? When was the last time you had to ask that question about a president-elect?

Some things are becoming obvious:

On Friday, Trump met with real American spies and others who attempted to explain things to him, leaving open the question: Can Trump learn? From his statement following the meeting, it doesn’t seem so.

And here’s the QED:

In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.

In Russia, they’d just call it treason.

QED – quod erat demonstrandum – “that which was to be demonstrated” – case closed, humorously, but it’s not very funny. And yes, Putin, a man Trump admires, would have him shot.

We won’t. He’s our new president. W. C. Fields wasn’t available.

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American Tribal Warfare

This can’t be happening. The two tribes went to war on a Thursday night in Washington, with the intelligence agencies – the CIA and FBI and NSA and all the rest – dropping the hammer on Tribe Trump:

Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.

The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials – including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election – contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.

Donald Trump says he knows all about hacking, and that he knows things no one else knows, which seems to mean he knows what the CIA and FBI and NSA and all the rest don’t know – but he’s not telling yet. He says that no one, no one at all, knows if the Russians did the hacking-the-election thing. The intelligence agencies really don’t know – and that sort of thing seems to have pissed them off. Okay, fine – but why are these guys in Moscow celebrating? They have the “signals intelligence” – they have it on tape. Explain that, Donald.

But wait, there’s more:

Other key pieces of information gathered by U.S. spy agencies include the identification of “actors” involved in delivering stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website, and disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.

Those and other data points are at the heart of an unprecedented intelligence report being circulated in Washington this week that details the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and catalogs other cyber operations by Moscow against U.S. election systems over the past nine years.

The classified document, which officials said is over 50 pages, was delivered to President Obama on Thursday, and it is expected to be presented to Trump in New York on Friday by the nation’s top spy officials, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and CIA Director John Brennan.

They’re going to shove it in his face on Friday morning, so this is an understatement:

Given the president-elect’s skepticism about the intelligence community – particularly its conclusions about Russia – the Trump Tower briefing has taken on the tenor of a showdown between the president-elect and the intelligence agencies he has disparaged.

It’s more like a war, and they’re not backing down:

U.S. officials who have reviewed the new report said it goes far beyond the brief public statement that Clapper and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued in October, accusing Russia of having “directed” cyber operations to disrupt the U.S. election, and concluding, in a reference to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Trump is going to find it harder and harder to defend Putin:

Senior lawmakers have called for a full investigation of the Russian hacking. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Clapper said that Moscow’s cyber assault on the election went beyond interference and into “activism.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Clapper said that U.S. spy agencies “stand actually more resolutely” behind conclusions they reached last year on Russia’s determination to undermine the U.S. election. He also appeared to take aim at Trump’s social media sniping at U.S. intelligence services, saying that “there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”

One simply does not mess with these guys. They hit back, but Trump is not Obama:

Obama last week announced a series of measures designed to punish Russia, actions he characterized as “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests.” Obama moved to impose economic sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies, expelled dozens of alleged Russian intelligence operatives from the United States, and shuttered two compounds that for decades had purportedly served as retreats for Russian diplomats but were described by the administration as locations for espionage activities.

Meanwhile, Trump continued his string of Twitter attacks, accusing U.S. intelligence agencies – with the word “intelligence” set off in quotation marks – of delaying a planned briefing on Russia and the election, a charge that U.S. officials disputed. He also appeared to side with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has denied that his organization got the hacked emails from Russia, over U.S. spy agencies, which think that WikiLeaks got the material through middlemen with ties to the Kremlin.

The intelligence agencies cleared that up on Thursday night too. Now they know:

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday.

In a Fox News interview earlier this week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied that Russia was the source of leaked Democratic emails that roiled the 2016 election to the detriment of President-elect Donald Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

He can say that, but our intelligence agencies have the names of the middlemen – the cut-outs – and dates and times of the exchanges. Explain that, Julian. Explain that, Donald.

Things were getting nasty, but they had started out nasty earlier in the day:

Three U.S. spy chiefs testified publicly for the first time Thursday that the Kremlin’s most senior leaders approved a Russian intelligence operation aimed at interfering in the U.S. presidential race, a conclusion that President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly challenged…

“We assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets,” they wrote in joint remarks submitted for the hearing…

U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the Russian cyber operation sought to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and to help Trump’s bid for the White House. Clapper did not confirm that judgment Thursday, although he indicated it would be included in the classified report. “Yes, we will ascribe a motivation,” he said. “I’d rather not preempt the report.”

The full House and the full Senate will be briefed on a classified version of the review next week, Clapper said. After those briefings, a declassified version will be made public, he said… “I intend to push the envelope as much as we can in the unclassified version because I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper said.

Each of these “spy chiefs” was asked about Julian Assange of course, and each said the guy had done major damage to the United States, compromising operations and outing agents at risk of being  killed. They didn’t get any push-back on that. No one was siding with Trump.

But were they out to “get” Trump? Kevin Drum doesn’t think so:

The intelligence community doesn’t really have any motivation to make this stuff up aside from a generalized dislike of Russia. They are interested in keeping everyone on edge about cyberattacks, but that doesn’t require Russia to be involved in what happened. In fact, doubling down on the Russia story, even after Trump won, is nothing but bad for the CIA. All they’re doing is pissing off the incoming president, something they could easily avoid by keeping the cyberattack story but downplaying the Russia angle.

So this is sort of an admission against interest. The CIA’s interest is in getting more money for cyber security and cultivating a strong relationship with a new president. The fact that they’re doing just the opposite suggests pretty strongly that they believe in no uncertain terms that Russia really is behind this.

That’s a real problem, and then the other news broke:

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations and one of the nation’s leading intelligence experts, resigned Thursday from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies.

Woolsey’s resignation as a Trump senior adviser comes amid frustrations over the incoming administration’s national security plans and Trump’s public comments undermining the intelligence community.

“Effective immediately, Ambassador Woolsey is no longer a Senior Advisor to President-Elect Trump or the Transition. He wishes the President-Elect and his Administration great success in their time in office,” Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Woolsey, said in a statement.

No one saw that coming – and immediate and abrupt resignation with no explanation all from Woolsey and no comment from the Trump team – but there’s always an explanation:

People close to Woolsey said that he had been excluded in recent weeks from discussions on intelligence matters with Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming White House national security adviser. They said that Woolsey had grown increasingly uncomfortable lending his name and credibility to the transition team without being consulted. Woolsey was taken aback by this week’s reports that Trump is considering revamping the country’s intelligence framework, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

“Jim is very uncomfortable being considered an adviser in an area where one might consider him an expert when he is not involved in the discussions,” one person close to Woolsey said.

It seems that Trump and Flynn don’t like experts. They patted him on the head and told him the “big boys” would handle things. He walked, as he’s not part of the tribe:

Woolsey has been a key player in the national security firmament since the late 1970s, when he served as undersecretary of the Navy in the Jimmy Carter administration. He has held other roles under former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, culminating with the post as director of the CIA between 1993 and 1995.

The person close to Woolsey described him as having chafed at Trump’s loose style on Twitter. They described Woolsey as a “very principled” diplomat who takes care to communicate the right message with just the right words. “This is a guy [for whom] commas, periods, etc., all have special meaning,” this person said.

There was no place for someone like him, and he was being used as prop, to add gravitas – whatever that is – to the Trump Tribe. He’d had enough of that. He walked. He embarrassed them. There was nothing they could say, but a day earlier, Josh Marshall suggested something that Woolsey might have seen up close:

First, Trump wants payback against an agency that he believes is his enemy. Period. He is undoubtedly encouraged in this by his closest advisors.

Second, Trump’s chief foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn wants payback against the people who ended his career. Flynn was a career intelligence officer and one with a very strong reputation – working within specific and defined parameters. People who had worked with him earlier in his career said they couldn’t recognize the person he became when he was placed in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was a disastrous manager, was taken in by numerous conspiracy theories and eventually had to be fired. Other generals got crosswise with the civilian appointees in the Obama administration. But they left with their reputations intact. Flynn was different. Flynn’s personal beef is clearly the source of his animus against the DNI and the CIA.

Flynn is simply nuts and he wants to get even. This suggests Trump is going let him do just that.

All that James Woolsey gets out of this is his self-respect and honor, by walking away. The tribe didn’t kick him out. He left the tribe, or escaped the cult.

This Trump tribe may be a cult, although the distinction between the two may not matter very much. Something strange is going on here. Michael Gerson sees something strange:

Donald Trump’s, Sarah Palin’s and Sean Hannity’s embrace of Julian Assange – who has made a career of illegally obtaining and releasing documents damaging to U.S. interests – is not just a puzzling policy shift. It is the triumph of political tribalism over, well, every other principle or commitment.

All three leaders of right-wing populism once saw the risk. Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views.

Political tribalism is a strange thing, and dangerous:

Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events.

All this raises practical questions. If I were a prospective intelligence asset – an Iranian nuclear scientist, say, or a North Korean general – why in the world would I cooperate with a country that can’t keep secrets and apparently doesn’t care to? How will the CIA and other intelligence agencies deal day to day with a president who distrusts and publicly defames them?

But the most illuminating question is this: What changed about Assange between these dramatically evolved judgments? Nothing. Except that Assange hurt John Podesta, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

It would be difficult to formulate a purer example of motivated reasoning and tribal politics. We are dealing with political and moral argument at this level: Trump is good. Assange helped him. So Assange is good.

That won’t do:

It does not require Aristotle to understand that this is a child’s view of ethics. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend. Or he may be an international fugitive who effectively exposed intelligence sources and methods and gave advantages to America’s enemies.

It is Ethics 201 that some principles should be universally applied, even when they conflict with our immediate interests or the interests of our own tribe (however that is defined). Where do those principles come from? There is the Golden Rule, which pops up, in different forms, in many religions. There is the moral example of parents and mentors, imprinted on our souls. There are various philosophic systems that force us to consider the views and interests of others.

It needs to be said that loyalty to a tribe is not always a bad thing. Being an American is to belong to a flawed but wonderful tribe. Considering yourself a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or a liberal, the member of a church or club – all can be appropriate forms of loyalty. Our views and loves naturally bring us into contact and friendship with those who share our views and loves.

The problem comes in the order of the loves (with credit to Saint Augustine). The argument we are seeing on Assange – if it hurts liberals, it is good – is a disordered and destructive form of service to Trumpism. And it is particularly disturbing in this case, because Assange has purposely and undeniably hurt our country. So it appears that the tribalism of ideology is actually deeper and more profound than the tribalism of being an American.

No good will come of this:

For some right-wing populists, anyone who opposes Trump is the enemy. The same attitude, shifted to the White House, might be applied by the president as: Anyone who opposes me is the enemy.

This would be the beginning of a nightmare.

Kevin Drum explores that nightmare:

Twenty years ago, a Washington Post reporter wrote that followers of television evangelists were “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The blowback was huge and immediate and the Post apologized the next day. To this day, conservatives will quote these words as evidence that the mainstream press has it in for conservatives.

But what else explains what’s happening now? Donald Trump has essentially commanded his followers to defend Putin and Assange, and with barely a whimper they’ve complied. And when the press starts to point out what’s going on, we get this – “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people.”

“It is for the people.” Everything is “for the people.”

Expect to hear a lot more of that, and Jonathan Chait offers this:

The cruelest, most condescending, and also devastatingly correct indictment of Donald Trump’s supporters was uttered not by a member of the liberal media but by Donald Trump himself, when he mentioned that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. Trump’s insinuation that his fans will ignore any evidence of his guilt, however plain, has been vindicated. Perhaps no episode has demonstrated the Fifth Avenue Principle more dramatically than the case of the Russian email hack.

That’s a fine example:

The very firm conclusion by 19 U.S. intelligence agencies that it was Russia that carried out the email hacks of Democratic emails, as well as the conclusion by both the CIA and the FBI that it did so in order to benefit Trump (a candidate it had openly touted for months) is inconvenient for Trump. We don’t and can’t know whether Russian hacking tipped the balance of the election, but it’s possible to believe it did; the election was extremely close, and the emails, while substantively minor, fed into the narratives of embittered Bernie Sanders supporters and generated more news stories with “Clinton” and “emails” in their headlines. Trump has thus set out to convince his supporters that Russia did not conduct the hacks.

To this end, Trump has employed many of the same techniques he used to attract attention to the cause of disputing President Obama’s citizenship. He has exploited popular distrust of institutions, portraying their documentation and conclusions to be suspicious, and promised that he alone either has obtained the real facts, or will soon get to the bottom of them. He has supplied his fans with plausible-sounding alternative suspects – the Chinese, a morbidly obese man, teenage boys – or attributed the issue to the general complications entailed by computers.

So, welcome to the nightmare:

Trump made his comment about shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue during the primary, a time when he faced fierce opposition from within his party. Since then, the incentives for conservatives to oppose him have weakened, and the incentives to support his ravings, or to redirect any dissent against his liberal opponents, have grown enormously. Trump’s bizarre lies about Russia and Assange are designed not only to defend the legitimacy of his election but also to prove, once again, that his control over the supple minds of the conservative base is total.

He now has his tribe, and that makes all sorts of things normal:

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, according to several American diplomats familiar with the plan, breaking with decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.

The mandate – issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said – threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain.

The tribalism of ideology is deeper and more profound than the tribalism of being an American working for American interests until a new ambassador is named and eventually confirmed by the Senate in a month or two, or longer if they’re the slightest bit controversial. That’s dangerous:

W. Robert Pearson, a former ambassador to Turkey and a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the rule was “quite extraordinary,” adding that it could undermine American interests and signal a hasty change in direction that exacerbates jitters among allies about their relationships with the new administration.

With the world already primed to be worrying about such an abrupt change, “this is just a very concrete signal that it is going to happen,” Mr. Pearson said.

Our allies should be worried now, and so should a few others here at home:

House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker – down to $1 – a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service.

The Holman Rule, named after an Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to propose amending an appropriations bill to single out a government employee or cut a specific program.

The use of the rule would not be simple; a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment. At the same time, opponents and supporters agree that the work of 2.1 million civil servants, designed to be insulated from politics, is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

You’re part of the tribe or you’re not, right? Or maybe it’s a cult. It’s hard to tell now, but at least there are two tribes at war now. That’s the only comfort in all this.

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Paranoid and Vindictive Men

People still send letters – somehow they’re more substantial than emails, or tweets. They’re physical. They have gravitas. Actually they have mass – an ounce or two. The laws of gravity apply, and letters are usually trouble. They’re usually official – notification that the bank is foreclosing on the house and that sort of thing. Others are just troubling. File those and think about things later, if possible. The letter will still be there – a constant low-key background worry. There may be nothing that can be done but the letter is still there, and after the election, President Obama got one of those:

November 29, 2016

Dear President Obama,

We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the mental stability of our President-Elect. Professional standards do not permit us to venture a diagnosis for a public figure whom we have not evaluated personally. Nevertheless, his widely reported symptoms of mental instability – including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality – lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office. We strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he receive a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators.

Sincerely,

Judith Herman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Nanette Gartrell, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco (1988-2011), Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School (1983-87)

Dee Mosbacher, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Community Health Systems, University of California, San Francisco (2005-2013)

Obama was going to do no such thing. All hell would break lose, but these were real psychiatrists and this was a real letter.

That didn’t matter. Psychiatrists know nothing about politics. Obama never mentioned this letter. The people had spoken, more or less. They chose the candidate who met the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM – 5, Cluster B) for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” by The American Psychiatric Association. The people were okay with that – but these three psychiatrists were not alone. There is something odd about Donald Trump – a kind of madness perhaps – but that’s what so many liked about him. Go figure.

We’ve also been here before, as Rick Perlstein explains:

Donald Trump and Richard Nixon have at least one thing in common: They are the two most paranoid and vindictive men ever to win the presidency. Both came to power armed with enemies lists, vowing to seek revenge against those who stood in their way. Both roamed the mansions of power late at night, raving against every perceived slight. Both were caught on tape describing the ways they enjoyed bending others to their will.

So, Trump is Nixon:

Nixon, unlike Trump, was an introspective man. In one particularly fascinating moment of self-reflection following his resignation, he described to a former aide the habits that had enabled him to rise to the top of Washington’s greasy pole. When you’re on your way, he explained, it pays to be crazy.

“In your own mind you have nothing to lose, so you take plenty of chances,” Nixon said. “It is then you understand, for the first time, that you have the advantage – because your competitors can’t risk what they have already.”

That’s an insight that Trump put to good use during the Republican primaries, when he was willing to place high-stakes bets that his more experienced rivals were unwilling or unable to match.

That works, until it doesn’t:

Then you win, and your problems begin. “It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top,” Nixon confessed. “You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it, because it is a part of you and you need it as much as an arm and a leg. You continue to walk on the edge of the precipice, because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.”

What Nixon was describing sounds like nothing so much as a seasoned heroin-addict chasing the next high: It takes bigger and bigger doses to get there, until too much is not nearly enough. And a little thing like being elected the leader of the free world isn’t nearly enough to jolt a man like Nixon or Trump into rehab.

That may be where we are now, not rehab but a very odd presidency on the way. That letter from those three psychiatrists never was going to do any good – politics doesn’t work that way – and everyone all along knew all about Trump’s personality, disordered or not.

There was this video of a young Donald Trump talking about his enemies:

I have some very, very good friends and I guess I have some very good enemies. And I like it that way, somehow, and I really believe in trashing your enemies.

And Trump went to Liberty University in 2012 for the first time and gave a speech where he riffed on getting even:

I always say, don’t let people take advantage of you. This goes for a country too, by the way. Don’t let people take advantage. Get even. And you know, if nothing else, other people will see that and say “I’m gonna let Jim Smith or Sally Malone, I’m gonna let ’em alone because they’re tough customers.”

So, I always say it. But I won’t say it to you – because this is a different audience. You don’t want to get even do you? … Yeah, I think you do.

A year earlier it was this:

Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.

There’s also this:

One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important… The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can’t take advantage of you. It’s not so much for the person, which does make you feel good, to be honest with you, I’ve done it many times. But other people watch and you know they say, “Well, let’s leave Trump alone,” or “Let’s leave this one,” or “Doris, let’s leave her alone. They fight too hard.” I say it, and it’s so important. You have to, you have to hit back. You have to hit back.

There’s also this:

It’s called “Get Even.” Get even. This isn’t your typical business speech. Get even. What this is a real business speech. You know in all fairness to Wharton, I love ’em, but they teach you some stuff that’s a lot of bullshit. When you’re in business, you get even with people that screw you. And you screw them 15 times harder. And the reason is, the reason is, the reason is, not only, not only, because of the person that you’re after, but other people watch what’s happening. Other people see you or see you or see and they see how you react.

And there was this to CNN’s Erin Burnett:

There are a lot of bad people out there. And you really have to go… If you have a problem, if you have a problem with someone, you have to go after them. And it’s not necessarily to teach that person a lesson. It’s to teach all of the people that are watching a lesson – that you don’t take crap. And if you take crap, you’re just not going to do well… But you can’t take a lot of nonsense from people; you have to go after them.

Nixon and Trump may be the two most paranoid and vindictive men ever to win the presidency, but Trump doesn’t hide it. Trump would never have tried to cover up the Watergate break-in and all the rest. He would have bragged about all of it, and dared anyone to do anything about any of it – and then he’d crush them too. America would cheer. Everyone loves a winner.

That may be all anyone needs to know about Trump – that’s who he is, love it or hate it. He gets even. We’ll have to live with that, unless hitting back ten times harder involves launching all the nukes. Then we’ll all be dead, but at least this sort of thing makes for amusing satire:

Sitting down with top officials from the CIA, FBI, and Defense Intelligence Agency in a Trump Tower conference room, President-elect Donald Trump reportedly gave U.S. intelligence agencies their daily briefing Tuesday morning. “With the inauguration just weeks away, the president-elect held a meeting today to bring leaders of the intelligence community up to speed on critical information that will affect his diplomatic and defense decisions as the nation’s commander-in-chief,” said Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, noting that the president-elect was planning to give briefings to intelligence officials every morning during his presidency in order to keep them closely apprised of the greatest areas of concern and latest threats to the nation.

“There’s a considerable amount of secret and highly sensitive intel about military operations and diplomatic affairs that only Mr. Trump has the expertise to provide, and it’s imperative that he convey these findings to our nation’s intelligence directors. This is an invaluable service provided by Mr. Trump, and these meetings will be as frequent and as thorough as necessary to ensure the urgent information that Mr. Trump has gathered reaches those in our intelligence community.”

Priebus added that the specifics covered during the briefings would be kept classified, as much of it would be incredibly shocking to the American populace.

The Onion does offer amusing foolishness, until it isn’t foolishness at all:

Donald Trump launched another barrage of mockery at U.S. spy agencies Wednesday and aligned himself with Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks, a secretive group that has published millions of stolen U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence documents…

On Friday, several top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James B. Comey, are scheduled to meet with Trump in New York City to explain why they’ve concluded that senior officials in the Kremlin, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, authorized the hacking operation.

Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, said Wednesday that Trump questions U.S. officials’ judgments about Russian interference in the campaign, and not the intelligence itself.

“What he wants to hear from them is, how does the raw intelligence justify the conclusion that is being presented?” Spicer said.

Trump is with Russia on this, and now with Julian Assange, and against our government, but this was expected:

Trump’s open disdain for U.S. intelligence judgments has grown in recent weeks after the CIA and others concluded Russian leaders orchestrated the release of thousands of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to tip the election in Trump’s favor.

He has belittled the conclusions, comparing them to the CIA’s inaccurate claims of Saddam Hussein’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

And he questioned the motives of top intelligence officials, complaining Tuesday on Twitter that his briefing “on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

U.S. officials say the briefing was always scheduled for the end of the week, and was not delayed…

Trump knew all along that the meeting was Friday. Everyone knew. This was just a random jab, a sort of sucker-punch. He was just being nasty. People love that sort of thing, and then there’s that other fellow:

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted praise for Assange for denying that Russians had provided the stolen emails to WikiLeaks. “Russians did not give him the info!” and “a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta,” Trump wrote, paraphrasing Assange.

Assange made the claim to Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview that aired Tuesday. Hannity, Trump’s biggest supporter in the media, flew to London to meet Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has lived in exile for more than four years.

“Our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party,” Assange told Hannity. Assange didn’t address whether Russian authorities conducted the original hacking or how he knows Russian authorities were not behind the leaks.

Assange remains in exile in the London embassy because he faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden. U.S. officials have said Assange is under criminal investigation.

Assange is a nasty piece of work too, so there was this:

The White House challenged Trump for aligning himself with a figure who many in the U.S. intelligence community consider a threat to national security.

“The president-elect will have to determine who he’s going to believe,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “On one hand, you’ve got the Russians and the aforementioned Mr. Assange. On the other side, you’ve got the 17 intelligence agencies of the United States government [and] outside cyber experts that have taken a look at this situation.”

And this:

Some Democrats all but accused Trump of supporting an enemy of the United States.

“That he would accept the transparently self-serving denials of the Kremlin is alarming enough, but that would now cite people like Assange who have demonstrated universal hostility to the United States and its interests takes him into new and even more treacherous territory,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Things were getting odd – Trump in 2010: WikiLeaks ‘disgraceful,’ there ‘should be like death penalty or something’ and Paul Ryan calls Julian Assange a ‘sycophant for Russia’ and Sarah Palin Apologizes to Julian Assange for Comparing Him to Terrorists and the Washington Post’s comprehensive survey Trump’s criticism of intelligence on Russia divides Republicans and so on. Those three psychiatrists might have been right.

And then Josh Marshall covered where this went next:

A story out in The Wall Street Journal this evening reports that President-Elect Trump and his advisors plan to “restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency”, the CIA because they believe it and the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence [have] become bloated and politicized.” Trump plans “to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world.”

It’s not clear to me whether that latter aim means favoring and expanding the number of operatives versus analysts or pushing analysts out into offices around the world. They may not know themselves.

As Sopan Deb of CBS notes, given Trump’s past behavior, it is possible that is all a planned leak and that it’s all BS – just an effort to get in the CIA’s grill because Trump now sees them as a key adversary over the Russian hacking story.

Trump is hitting back ten times harder, as he does, which is a worry:

Everything with Trump is about the current fight and dominance. But if we assume that this is the plan and something like this is going to going to happen, there are several reasons why this is very ominous.

First, let’s start by saying that the President is not obligated to believe the advice he’s given by members of the Intelligence Community. The IC’s job is to give the President full and professional advice and then carry out his policy and orders. A healthy skepticism always serves a President well. We also shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking the current bureaucratic structures that organize the country’s many intelligence agencies are sacrosanct or just as things should be. The office of the Director of National Intelligence is itself a post-9/11 reform, meant to facilitate and coordinate information sharing and goals across agencies, among other things.

What sounds to be in the offing here though is not some considered reform but institutional vengeance and the rankest kind of politicization.

Actually, it’s about Trump’s key organizing principle in life, getting even:

There is simply no way President-Elect Trump’s motivations are not heavily driven by his mounting fight with the CIA over Russian hacking and subversion of the 2016 election. He’s mad. We can see that every day. He feels like their reports delegitimize his election and presidency and he wants to hit back.

One part of the WSJ article notes that “Mr. Trump’s advisers say he has long been skeptical of the CIA’s accuracy.”

Please. Mr Trump hasn’t ‘long thought about’ the CIA in any way whatsoever let alone given any thought to its accuracy or politicization or anything. None of this comes from Trump other than the impulses and antagonisms and aggressions that drive him. They are being given a theoretical and strategic gloss by those around him.

Marshall suggests that this is what is under that gloss:

First, Trump wants payback against an agency that he believes is his enemy. Period. He is undoubtedly encouraged in this by his closest advisors.

Second, Trump’s chief foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn wants payback against the people who ended his career. Flynn was a career intelligence officer and one with a very strong reputation – working within specific and defined parameters. People who had worked with him earlier in his career said they couldn’t recognize the person he became when he was placed in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was a disastrous manager, was taken in by numerous conspiracy theories and eventually had to be fired. Other generals got crosswise with the civilian appointees in the Obama administration. But they left with their reputations intact. Flynn was different. Flynn’s personal beef is clearly the source of his animus against the DNI and the CIA.

Flynn is simply nuts and he wants to get even. This suggests Trump is going let him do just that…

In this case, the key players involved in this proposed reform are all hotheads with axes to grind. In the case of Flynn, he seems to have an almost pathological inability to separate the factual from the fanciful. Whether this move is more driven by Trump’s anger over the Russian hacking story or whether Flynn is using that rage to get sign off to destroy his former rivals and tormentors isn’t clear to me.

These are paranoid and vindictive men, or we’re dealing with narcissistic personality disorder of the first order in both cases – or they’re American heroes, just the sort of men that Americans wanted running America. Take your choice.

Marshall doesn’t like either choice:

This can worry you because of what crazy ideas or wars might be cooked up on the basis of bogus intelligence. Or you might be worried that gutted intelligence agencies, disrupted and low on morale, don’t tend to be good at catching real threats – as opposed to imaginary ones. Whichever reason you pick, you should be worried.

Panic seems appropriate here. Those three psychiatrists sent that letter to Obama in late November, calling for a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation, by an impartial team of investigators, of this Trump fellow, but there was no practical way Obama could act on that. The people had spoken. The men in the little white coats were not going to grab Donald Trump and take him to that rubber room in a straightjacket. He goes to the Oval Office instead – and then the rest of us will need psychiatric help, if we live.

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