The Trump Experience

In 2008 the argument against Barack Obama – other than he was born in Kenya – other than he was black, even if he didn’t sound or act like it – was that he didn’t have the requisite experience or knowledge to be president. He had no expertise. He’d been a senator for two years. That was it. John McCain had been a senator forever. McCain was up to speed on all the issues. He knew all the players. He had some strange ideas – send troops to fight Russia in Georgia – their Georgia, not ours. Bomb Iran – there’s no point in talking to them. Tell the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq to just knock it off. They would, and Obama was talking about sending a team into Pakistan to take out that Osama guy. That was naïve. That was more than naïve. That would start a world war. McCain, and Hillary Clinton too, knew better – but the voters knew better. The argument for Barack Obama was that he was smart and careful and stable – and cautious. He wouldn’t get angry, suddenly, like McCain. He also knew constitutional law – he had taught that. He knew the rules inside and out. He knew how things got done. He wouldn’t get angry, suddenly, like McCain. He won – smart and careful and stable and cautious won.

Eight years later Hillary Clinton was the one with experience and knowledge and expertise. She’d been a senator for years. She’d been secretary of state. She was up to speed on all the issues and knew all the players, and her ideas weren’t wacky. She was conventional – and unpleasant and a tad arrogant – and she had no charisma. Donald Trump has plenty of that – and he was angry. The whole world was laughing at us. The whole world was out to get us, even our allies – not to mention the Muslims and Mexicans and climate scientists – and those uppity black football players. He sucked all the air out of the room. Those who talked about common decency were overwhelmed. Hillary Clinton didn’t stand a chance – but he had no particular experience or knowledge or expertise in anything at all. He was like Obama, but without being smart and careful and stable and cautious. Obama could learn on the job. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t want to – and he won. For a second time, voters had decided that experience and knowledge didn’t matter.

This time it mattered, given this sort of thing:

President Donald Trump capped off his dramatic appearance at the annual NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday by teasing another controversial possibility, saying he would not rule out ceasing NATO military exercises in the Baltic States if Russian leader Vladimir Putin requested it during their upcoming meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

Asked if he would cancel them, Trump said, “Perhaps we’ll talk about that,” referring to Putin, a response that has only fueled the growing uncertainty over the state of the alliance.

Despite Trump’s barrage of acidic rhetoric during the summit, diplomats said the President never explicitly threatened to leave NATO and it remains unclear whether he has the power to do so without Senate approval.

However, Trump’s comments about possibly canceling NATO military exercises at Putin’s request have amplified fears among European leaders that the President could undermine the alliance by making major unilateral concessions to the Russian President – who he again referred to as a “competitor” rather than an adversary on Thursday.

That seems extraordinarily naïve:

Trump demonstrated he is willing to exercise that power last month by abruptly suspending joint exercises with South Korea following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Singapore.

But canceling NATO exercises is widely viewed as a more extreme measure and a step that would fracture the notion of collective defense that is central to the alliance’s identity and, Europeans worry, would serve as a major concession to Moscow.

Should he choose to pull US involvement, European nations could still conduct the military games, though they would likely be forced to do so under a different flag as the US can veto branding them as NATO exercises.

Barry Pavel, a senior vice president at the Atlantic Council, said Putin is highly likely to see whether he can get Trump to postpone or cancel NATO exercises set for Eastern Europe when they meet Monday in Finland.

“I guarantee you Putin will ask if we can stop NATO exercises, which he likely will characterize as provocative and expensive,” Pavel said, noting that North Korea used the same gambit with success.

Trump will buy that, and Alex Ward discusses naivety:

President Donald Trump just boasted about a letter he received from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The letter, dated July 6, does contain a warm message from Kim. “I firmly believe that the strong will, sincere efforts and unique approach of myself and Your Excellency Mr. president aimed at opening up a new future between the DPRK and the U.S. will surely come to fruition,” Kim wrote, using the acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Trump tweeted that Kim’s message was “a very nice note” and bragged that there was “Great progress being made!”

Ah, no:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang on Saturday for the third time to continue talks about dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. Pompeo went, in part, because North Korea promised him a meeting with Kim. But Kim never showed, opting to visit a potato farm instead.

People familiar with Pompeo’s discussion with the North Korean politician, who did show, top official Kim Yong Chol, said the North Koreans “were just messing around” and “not serious about moving forward.” The meeting went “as badly as it could have gone,” the source told CNN on Wednesday.

That’s not all. It turns out the North Koreans didn’t even show up for a meeting with US and UN officials on Thursday at the inter-Korean border.

They had planned to discuss returning the remains of US troops killed in the Korean War, but the North Koreans never arrived. They also didn’t call or explain their absence. The repatriation of these remains was supposed to be one of the positive outcomes of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last month.

Trump got played, because experience and knowledge do matter:

When Trump and Kim met in June, they signed an agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program. But a month later they still can’t agree about what they signed.

At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 20, Trump said that he had convinced North Korea’s dictator to completely give up his nuclear arsenal: “Sentence one says ‘a total denuclearization of North Korea,'” Trump said. “There will be denuclearization. So that’s the real story.”

That’s not the case. Kim instead promised Trump to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That is not the same as Kim agreeing to “a total denuclearization of North Korea.” Not at all. Not even close. “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is a phrase the North Koreans like to use a lot. What they mean by it is this: Pyongyang is willing to dismantle its nuclear program – if and only if South Korea also proceeds with denuclearization.

That’s where things get tricky:

South Korea doesn’t actually have its own nukes. What it does have, though, is what’s called the US “nuclear umbrella.” That basically means that the United States promises to defend South Korea from the North – even with the use of US nuclear weapons. There are 28,500 US troops now stationed in South Korea to defend it from potential aggression from the North.

So what North Korea is essentially saying here is “Sure, we’ll give up our nukes. Just as soon as you withdraw all US military support for South Korea.” Pull your troops out of the country. Stop promising to protect it.

Trump’s team doesn’t seem to understand that, though, and it’s angered North Korea.

Experience and knowledge do matter. Putin has both, by the way. It’s happening again, and as for the NATO summit, Jonathan Swan reports on how that ended:

President Trump left allies in a state of irritation, confusion and – for some, relief – after a NATO summit during which I’m told he was privately charming in some of his one-on-ones but bombastic and threatening in larger meetings.

At this morning’s emergency meeting of leaders, Trump made comments that some diplomats interpreted as a veiled threat that the U.S. would withdraw from NATO, according to sources briefed on the meeting. But Trump held an impromptu press conference before leaving the summit and in that conference he claimed total victory – saying the summit had been a huge success, and thanks to him, other NATO members had committed to increase their military spending “like they never have before.”

Trump’s claim is false. Nobody agreed to spend more than the previously agreed-upon 2% target. Following Trump’s remarks, French President Macron reiterated that the NATO members only agreed to the spending levels they’d previously agreed to in 2014.

They basically ignored him:

A senior European official summed up the way he understood Trump’s private comments this morning. “It was more a rant than a formal demand…there was no clear threat of withdrawal. … The usual Trump: a stream of incoherent sentences. … The allies looked the other way as when the old uncle gets nuts.”

The official added that the NATO summit was “the best it could be considering the person [Trump].”

They ignored him and things worked out:

European officials have been telling us for weeks that they’d be more than happy if Trump simply took a massive victory lap in Brussels and claimed total credit for NATO members spending more on their defense – anything to avoid him lashing allies as delinquents and calling the alliance into question. Trump did both: he praised allies more fulsomely and attacked allies more harshly than any recent president. And he left everybody spinning in his wake.

They’ll get over it, but Robert Kagan doubts that:

Trump must know the likely response in Europe. The insults and humiliations he inflicted on allied leaders will not be forgotten or forgiven. They will make it impossible for European leaders to win public support for the spending Trump disingenuously claims to want. What German leader after such a tongue-lashing could do Trump’s bidding and hope to survive politically?

Any student of history knows that it is moments like this summit that set in motion chains of events that are difficult to stop. The democratic alliance that has been the bedrock of the American-led liberal world order is unraveling. At some point – probably sooner than we expect – the global peace that that alliance and that order undergirded will unravel too. Despite our human desire to hope for the best, things will not be okay. The world crisis is upon us.

That may be so, but this man with no particular experience or knowledge or expertise in anything at all can do local damage too:

After Prime Minister Theresa May rolled out the red carpet at Blenheim Palace on Thursday night for President Trump’s first official visit to Britain, a London tabloid published an explosive interview in which Trump blasted May’s compromise, pro-business plan to leave the European Union and warned that her approach could imperil any future trade deal between the United States and Britain.

She had held things together by promising that as Britain left the EU and lost all favorable trading status with them, she and Trump would set up a trade deal that would make things wonderful, without Europe at al. She had Trump’s word. Trust her. He gave his word. Trust him too.

Forget that:

The remarks cast an immediate pall over a visit that included a lavish dinner with business leaders Thursday night and plans to meet Queen Elizabeth II for afternoon tea on Friday. It was the latest international incident to erupt during Trump’s brief sojourn abroad, which kicked off with incendiary comments that upended a NATO summit in Brussels and further strained relationships with longtime U.S. allies.

In addition to attacking May on Brexit, Trump also praised her archrival, Boris Johnson, as a potential future prime minister while attacking London’s mayor as soft on crime and terrorism.

All she could do is punt:

May’s office did not issue a reply to Trump’s remarks but referred reporters to an earlier statement: “We have come to an agreement at the proposal we’re putting to the European Union which absolutely delivers on the Brexit people voted for. They voted for us to take back control of our money, our law and our borders and that’s exactly what we will do.”

She didn’t mention Trump’s promise, for good reason:

In the interview, done earlier this week, Trump disparaged May’s Brexit plan: “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

If May has Britain align its rules and regulations for goods and agricultural products with Europe, following “a common ­rule book” with Brussels, as May puts it, then, Trump said, that could derail a trade deal with Washington.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun, which published its splash at 11 p.m. in Britain.

She didn’t follow his orders, if he ever gave them. He might have made that all up, just to cause trouble:

If May has Britain align its rules and regulations for goods and agricultural products with Europe, following “a common ­rule book” with Brussels, as May puts it, then, Trump said, that could derail a trade deal with Washington.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun, which published its splash at 11 p.m. in Britain.

And she had no idea this was going on:

At the dinner, in her remarks, May made her pitch to Trump. She began by noting that “Sir Winston Churchill once said that ‘to have the United States at our side was, to me, the greatest joy.'”

Then she moved to the deals she hoped to strike. “Now, as we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more. It’s an opportunity to reach a free trade agreement that creates jobs and growth here in the U.K. and right across the United States,” she said.

The prime minister said that Brexit offered the chance “to tear down the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic,” according to an account provided by 10 Downing Street.

An hour later, the interview with the Sun appeared and seemed to dash May’s hopes.

And she’s in a fix now:

Brian Klaas, a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics, said May is walking a tightrope. She needs Trump to promise fantastic trade deals and help May deliver the “global Britain” she has promised. But she can’t appear fawning.

“Her political base and the broader British public do not like Donald Trump,” Klaas said. “She also wants to show that in a post-Brexit world, Britain can still be a major player, and Trump is central to that narrative.”

And there’s this:

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank, said that for May, the Trump visit “was something to be survived.”

Recalling the disaster that struck British leader Tony Blair, in his embrace of George W. Bush and his alliance with Washington in the Iraq War, Niblett said May would be extremely wary of being seen as “Trump’s poodle.”

Donald Trump just blew up the current British government, while this was happening:

Organizers of Britain’s nationwide protests are committed to staging some of the largest demonstrations since 2003, when hundreds of thousands hit the streets to oppose war in Iraq.

Organizers said that from the moment Trump landed on British soil to the moment he leaves he will be met by a “carnival of resistance.” A giant “Trump Baby” balloon will fly over Parliament Square. Protesters plan to shout at Trump at places he will be visiting – Winfield House, Blenheim Palace, Chequers, Windsor Castle and his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. Others will assemble in towns and cities up and down the country.

“I’m marching because of the disdain that Trump has shown for Britain and because of his disgraceful treatment of minorities in the United States,” said David Lammy, a leading member in the opposition Labour Party.

“Whenever London experiences a tragedy, it’s also the case that Trump licks his lips and tweets,” he said.

Trump, however, was just getting started:

President Donald Trump lambasted Europe’s immigration policies during an interview with The Sun, a British tabloid, on Thursday, saying an influx of migrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum has caused the continent to lose its culture and “changed the fabric of Europe.”

“And I don’t mean that in a positive way,” Trump told the paper in a sit-down interview. “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.”

Some sorts of people shouldn’t be allowed in one’s country. Keep it pure. Keep it Anglo-Saxon and Aryan with, perhaps, a few of the good Jews, the Zionist-Likud Jews – but no one else. London should have never elected a Muslim mayor:

In his interview Donald Trump doubled down on his opposition to immigration regardless of legality, saying that asylum seekers and migrants strip countries of their culture and implying that immigrants are linked to an increase in terrorism.

“You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London. He’s done a terrible job,” Trump said of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with whom the president has had a long-running feud. “Take a look at the terrorism that’s taking place. Look at what’s going on. He’s done a terrible job.”

Trump continued, “I think that all of this immigration has really changed the fabric of Europe.”

Europeans have heard that warning about the fabric of Europe before, in the thirties. They’re hearing it again, now, from a man whose grasp of history is weak. Experience and knowledge do matter, and not everyone’s grasp of history is weak:

Khan has supported the protests against Trump, even approving a giant balloon depicting the U.S. leader as an orange baby, saying Londoners “are resolutely opposed to the politics of despair.”

“The very specialness of our relationship means that we expect the highest standards from each other, and it also means speaking out when we think one side is not living up to the values we hold dear,” Khan wrote in a column in The Evening Standard on Thursday. “Like many Londoners I feel that now is one of those occasions.”

Trump doesn’t see it:

Trump said this week he thinks the protests are “fine,” adding that he believes “they like me a lot in the U.K.” But his schedule will mostly keep him out of London during his trip and away from the chorus of protesters. Police expect more than 100,000 to turn out anyway.

This man has no particular experience or knowledge or expertise in anything at all. Others have more than enough. For a second time, American voters had decided that experience and knowledge didn’t matter. This time they were wrong.

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Only His Anger

Germans have a reputation for being methodical and efficient, and dispassionate. Their cars do what they’re supposed to do and don’t break down. Germans sweat the details. They overlook nothing. That’s why Angela Merkel is where she is. She has a doctorate in quantum chemistry and worked as a research scientist until 1989, and since 2005 she has headed the German government, just as a careful theoretical scientist working things out would do. She has figured out what works, and why. She doesn’t mess with wild ideas. Hitler did that, while listening to Wagner. She’ll have none of that. She has no interest in Aryan mythology. She sticks to the actual job, making things work as well as they can work for Germany, dispassionately. Perhaps she’s boring. She certainly has no charisma. That doesn’t seem to bother her. She’ll be methodical and efficient. She’ll sweat the details. She’ll get things done – unless those relatively few pesky rural Aryan populists, encouraged by our ambassador there, finally toss her out.

She will never understand Donald Trump. He’s all passion. He doesn’t sweat the details. He has no doctorate in quantum chemistry. He has only his anger:

During his controversial meeting with leaders of the G-7 less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump allegedly threw two pieces of Starburst candies on the table in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying “Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything.”

The exchange, described on CBS News by Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, sheds further light on the tense atmosphere depicted in the now famous photograph of the meeting, in which Trump appears with his arms crossed and a defiant scowl across his face.

That image is now iconic but the whole thing had been a mess:

The annual G-7 meeting – which brings together the leaders or representatives of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – was held in Canada from June 8-9. Trump had decided to arrive late and leave early, and he ultimately refused to sign the joint communiqué that the G-7 leaders sign each year. Merkel had called Trump’s decision “sobering and a little depressing,” while French President Emmanuel Macron had also referred to “fits of anger” when describing the meeting. But Bremmer’s account demonstrates an even clearer picture of how terrible Trump’s relationship with Merkel and other U.S. allies is.

“It was at this point, towards the end of the summit, that Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada got together with some of the allies and really wanted to press Trump directly to sign the communiqué that talked about the commitment to a rules-based international order. Trump was sitting there with his arms crossed, clearly not liking the fact that they were ganging up on him. He eventually agreed and said okay he’ll sign it. And at that point, he stood up, put his hand in his pocket, his suit jacket pocket, and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything,'” Bremmer described to CBS.

“The relationship is about as dysfunctional as we’ve seen between America and its major allies since the transatlantic relationship really started after World War II,” Bremmer noted in the interview.

And the rest is history:

Following the meeting, Trump not only refused to sign the communique but also lashed out at Canada’s prime minister on Twitter over his country’s trade policy. Trump also showed increasing disdain for Merkel, using an internal dispute within her party to criticize Germany’s immigration policy.

He does want those few pesky rural Aryan populists to toss her out, and for the record:

Trump is known to enjoy Starburst candies, especially the red and pink ones.

That’s good to know, but Angela Merkel should be used to this sort of thing, given what happened in June 2006:

Earlier this month the US president, George Bush, was captured giving Germany’s leader Angela Merkel a quick back rub at the G8 summit in St Petersburg. Ms Merkel flings her arms up and grimaces as the world’s most powerful man gropes her shoulders.

That caused quite a stir, but the message was the same. This was disrespect. She may be smart and methodical and efficient, but she was just a woman. There was no need to take her all that seriously. To be fair, that was probably not what Bush intended. He has been a goofball frat-boy and old habits die hard. But that’s what Donald Trump intended. He threw he candy at the woman with that stupid doctorate in quantum chemistry. He sneered. She didn’t matter.

All he has is his anger, and now it’s this:

NATO diplomats are dumbfounded by President Donald Trump’s barrage of acidic rhetoric at the annual summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

Trump came out brawling in his first public comments, accusing NATO ally Germany of being “a captive of Russia,” calling members of the alliance “delinquent” in their defense spending and insisting they increase it “immediately.”

“It’s like the world has gone crazy this morning,” one senior European diplomat told CNN. “Trump’s performance was beyond belief.”

And that led to this:

The President’s remarks sent officials scrambling for answers, triggered ripples of dismay among defense officials and alarmed members of Trump’s own party enough that one worried aloud the President is trying to “tear down” the 29-member alliance. The Republican-controlled House, usually careful to stay in lockstep with Trump, passed a resolution to send a “strong message of support” for NATO.

“This is very confusing,” another senior European diplomat said. Referring to Trump’s targeting of Germany, this envoy said, “the attacks before, and now this tremendous stuff today. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re still in the process of analyzing it.”

And this:

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN he was concerned that that Trump is trying to “tear down” NATO and “punch our friends in the nose.” The Tennessee Republican said he supports the notion of getting NATO countries to increase their defense spending, but he said Trump’s rhetoric is “damaging to us.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he subscribes “to the view that we should not be criticizing our president while he is overseas, but let me say a couple of things. NATO is indispensable.”

And there was this:

Among NATO defense officials there were quiet questions about how long US Defense Secretary James Mattis – a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and strong believer in alliances – could stay on in Trump’s administration. For the second year, Trump was throwing a tantrum at NATO and Mattis would have to clean up after him.

And meanwhile:

British Prime Minister Theresa May used a press conference Wednesday to declare that “NATO is as vital to us today as it ever has been.” At a time when Trump’s provocative bluster increasingly raises questions about his commitment to NATO, May finished her sentence by declaring that “the UK’s commitment to it remains as steadfast as ever.”

She and others were fighting back, because they were surprised, but Ivan Krastev says no one should have been surprised:

For Mr. Trump, America’s alliances symbolize everything that is misguided about his country’s foreign policy. In a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, he said that the United States is “defending wealthy nations for nothing – nations that would be wiped off the earth in about 15 minutes if it weren’t for us.” They “laugh at our stupidity.” His views don’t seem to have changed since then.

Europeans are now finally being forced to realize that Mr. Trump’s world is one shorn of allies.

They simply miscalculated:

It’s not difficult to imagine a mainstream political leader campaigning with promises to build a wall on the border, move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and punish the Chinese government for its economic policies. Mainstream politicians might easily pledge all of these, but upon assuming power they would never act on them.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France may have had a similar mind-set about Mr. Trump. They read his tweets and waited for him to show up at a Group of 7 meeting, sure that he would never follow through on proposals. How could he, in the face of all the adults in the room? And yet, he has – again and again.

And there’s a reason for that:

Like today’s other populist leaders, Mr. Trump knows that his standing with voters hinges on making good on his most radical promises. For a populist leader to succeed, he or she doesn’t need to solve problems, nor outdo his or her predecessor. All the populist leader has to do is be different from the mainstream – to do what mainstream politicians would never do. For example, insult Germany.

So there was no surprise here:

In Mr. Trump’s world, there no longer is any concept of alliances. It is not that he is displeased with European military spending or with Europe’s position on Iran. Rather, it is that in a world where America is a disrupter and not a force for stability, allies are now a burden. They have expectations and claims that constrain America’s policies, whether that is a preferential trade agreement or a commitment to joint military exercises. Worse, they insist on predictability and reciprocity, which are completely out of sync with Mr. Trump’s view of the world.

Everyone should have realized that, and expected a man who cannot take yes for answer, as Philip Rucker and John Hudson and Josh Dawsey explain here:

For a president who loves declaring victory, the NATO summit here Wednesday could have provided a perfect opportunity.

After a year of haranguing by President Trump, Western leaders had agreed to his administration’s long-sought priorities on defense spending and counterterrorism – and were prepared to let him take all the credit.

But Trump had other plans.

The U.S. president began a remarkable day of transatlantic diplomacy by attacking Germany as “captive to Russia,” later called on NATO countries to double their previous commitment to defense spending and then effectively renounced the gathering altogether.

“He could declare victory and ride off in a blaze of glory as leader of the West,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Russia who met with officials on the sidelines of Wednesday’s summit. “But he’s rubbing salt in the wounds.”

All he has is his anger, but it’s only public anger:

Behind closed doors, Trump was cordial and even magnanimous at times with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders mingled as an acrobatic dancer performed, floating in the air, Trump said it was “a very good day at NATO.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded – making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

Outside the room it was this:

Trump tore into Germany, whose leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, is one of the most tenured NATO leaders and considered a consensus-builder in Europe. A cerebral physicist, she was especially close to President Barack Obama.

“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said, referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “So you tell me, is that appropriate? I mean, I’ve been complaining about this from the time I got in. It should have never been allowed to have happened. But Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”

As Trump un-spooled his case against Merkel, his aides looked stricken and stone-faced.

And there was more:

Trump arrived at NATO headquarters here Wednesday later than most leaders and did not walk down the long path on which others strode and took questions. In the closed session, he listened only to some of the statements from the 29 allied leaders and left soon after he demanded in his own remarks that NATO allies double their defense spending commitments to 4 percent of their countries’ gross domestic product.

Trump’s call was striking considering the figure is not even met by the United States, which spends 3.58 percent of its GDP, and was viewed by NATO experts as a transparent ploy rather than a serious proposal.

He was bored. He pulled that four-percent thing out of his ass, just for the hell of it, but otherwise he was a pussycat:

Despite Trump’s public focus on Germany’s dependence on Russian gas, he barely discussed it in his private talks with Merkel, according to an official with knowledge of the meeting. When the two leaders met face-to-face on the sidelines of the summit, Merkel defended herself and Trump did not lash out at her, the official said. Rather, their conversation focused largely on immigration, trade and Syria.

“We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor,” Trump told reporters, with Merkel at his side. “We have a tremendous relationship with Germany.”

Trump had a similarly non-confrontational meeting with Macron, the European counterpart with whom he has the warmest relationship. They spoke largely about trade, as well as energy and other issues, according to an official with knowledge of their discussion.

But there was one clear point of disagreement between the two men. When a reporter asked Macron whether he agrees with Trump that Merkel is beholden to the Russians, Trump interjected to try to cut off the conversation. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said.

Still, Macron gave his answer: “No.”

With that one word Macron said it all. This man has nothing but his anger, nothing else at all, so there was this:

As European leaders arrived at the gleaming new glass-and-steel NATO headquarters here, they walked, one by one, along a royal-blue-carpeted entry path, where some were questioned about Trump’s comments.

Merkel answered by pointing to her personal experience growing up in East Germany, which was controlled by the Soviet Union, and stressing unified Germany’s independence from Russia and her country’s shared values with the United States.

As the 29 leaders strolled together through the headquarters atrium – the $1.4 billion fortress that Trump has complained about as an example of bureaucratic excess – Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron led the pack out to the sunny, tree-lined plaza where they posed for their “family photo.” Trump lingered behind them, chatting up Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As the leaders stood at attention at their marked places on a blue carpet, smiling for the cameras, Trump fidgeted slightly and appeared bored, though he looked to the sky with interest when 25 helicopters flew overhead.

He was lost without his anger, but Heather Hurlburt sees no need to worry:

NATO was still able to put out a unanimous communique calling on Russia to demonstrate “compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.” And it started a training program for post-ISIS Iraq. So, no, Trump didn’t destroy the Atlantic Alliance at the summit. He is not going to come home and attempt to withdraw from the treaty that commits the U.S. to the defense of its European allies, and vice versa. With all due respect to pre-trip headlines, that was never the plan.

Let’s look at the pattern here: Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord – but that doesn’t take effect until 2020. He said he would pull out of NAFTA – and we’re still waiting on that one. He described the Group of Seven major industrial powers as useless without Russia – and yet he is still happy to show up at the summit and throw Starbursts at Merkel. He threatened to quit the World Trade Organization – but really he’s just complaining other countries don’t live by its rules.

She thinks that Trump doesn’t want to risk open opposition from Republicans in Congress:

The two pacts he has bothered to walk away from are the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the seven-party “Iran deal” formerly blocking Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. What did those two agreements have in common? They were brand-spanking-new Obama projects, not ensconced in years of policy-making tradition. His base was already against them, and both deals could be voided without doing much of anything, or asking congressional Republicans to do much of anything.

Trump is not going to do his opponents within the GOP the favor of giving them an issue on which they have a fighting chance to prevail.

NATO is safe, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

This is the same argument often made for why Trump hasn’t given us a full-blown Saturday Night Massacre — Republicans in Congress have accommodated Trump’s every whim until now, but if he fires Bob Mueller they’re really gonna get mad!

I don’t know what congressional Republicans would do if Trump tried to withdraw from NATO (though I’m quite certain they’d let him can Mueller) – but in both cases, Trump may believe he’s at risk…

Or maybe, in both foreign and domestic affairs, Trump would rather fight than win. When he holds his regular campaign rallies, he clearly delights in having enemies who still seem powerful – Mueller, NATO, the G7 – he likes telling the crowds that he’s thriving even though he’s under siege. They eat that up.

Or maybe he can’t bring himself to fire NATO any more than he can bring himself to fire John Kelly. (A source recently told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that Trump wants Kelly gone but is “too chickenshit” to fire him.)

It’s widely known that Trump likes bullying people but doesn’t like firing them. Is that what he’s doing to NATO?

That seems to be what he is doing here. All he has is his anger, and nothing else, and Kevin Drum adds this:

When is everyone going to figure out what’s going on here? “This is Trump’s strategy,” an unnamed diplomat told the Washington Post. “He raises the stakes. Then he calms things down.”

No. That’s not what he does. He doesn’t have a “strategy” in the sense that normal people use the word. In private, he’s too ignorant to risk saying much of anything. In public, he has a sort of innate animal cunning about what will cause the maximum chaos and get him the most attention. This isn’t a negotiating ploy. It’s not good-cop-bad-cop. It’s not his way of eventually getting what he wants…

This is just Pavlovian behavior from Trump. When there’s a crowd or a TV camera around, he undergoes a phase change as reliably as water turns to ice at zero degrees. Then, when the crowds and the cameras are gone, he switches back. It’s not conscious and it’s not strategic. It just is.

None of the words he says in public mean anything. They’re just phonemes that are somehow generated in Trump’s limbic system and proceed directly to his vocal cords. Everyone needs to stop taking them seriously.

And Drum points out the obvious:

Today’s NATO summit basically went fine. On a purely operational basis, everyone agreed to the various initiatives they’ve been working on, and everyone signed the usual communique at the end, including the United States. At a working level, there were no hiccups. Literally the only thing that made it any different from any other NATO meeting was the fact that Donald Trump took advantage of the massive press presence to get off a few zingers that shocked all the normies.

But you can’t really report it that way, can you?

Yes, you can. This man has only his anger – nothing else. But that means that now America has only its anger – nothing else. And the world will move on. And that was our choice.

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The Alternative to History

There are authors with too much time on their hands. They write alternative history to amuse themselves. In 1931, British historian Sir John Squire collected a series of essays from some of the leading historians of the period for his anthology If It Had Happened Otherwise and Winston Churchill’s contribution was on what the world would be like if the Confederate States of America had won the Civil War. The victors would dump that pesky Constitution. America would have a white-nationalist government that systematically chipped away at everyone’s civil rights until they were all gone. That was preposterous, but Churchill had confused America’s momentary Civil War with the much longer one that went on and on. Churchill didn’t live to see how that longer war worked out. The South seems to have won that longer war, finally.

These things happen. Keith Laumer’s Worlds of the Imperium (1961) imagines a world in which the American Revolution never happened, a world ruled by Britain, a world ruled by a ruthless dictatorship. That was preposterous. The Brits aren’t ruthless. They’re polite, and in 1962, Philip K. Dick published The Man in the High Castle – about a world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II – but that too was preposterous. America would never have a somewhat fascist president, of German descent, who strutted about and loved big military parades, who demonized “the other” – maybe not Jews but certainly Muslims and Mexicans and gays and black folks – who demonized the press and insisted that only what he said was true – nothing else – a man who sneered at anyone who wasn’t as rich as he said he was.

That was preposterous. And then it wasn’t. Alternative history can be scary. Those who lose the momentary war can win the much longer one, and now it’s possible to imagine a world in which Donald Trump dumps NATO and aligns the United States with Russia – and other strong leaders. He likes strong leaders like Kim in North Korea – a fine fellow – and Erdogan in Turkey and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi too in Egypt, and Netanyahu in Israel, and the monarchs in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. These people lay down the law. They slap their people around and slap their people into shape. They slap other nations around. They get things done – and of course Trump is not impressed with Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron or Theresa May and certainly not with Justine Trudeau. They’re weak leaders. They let their press say whatever their press wants to say. They let their people demonstrate in the streets, often against their own policies. Theresa May won’t even stop demonstrations against Donald Trump in the streets of London. She also lets members of parliament say awful things in those open sessions. She’s a weak leader. All four of them are weak leaders. They listen and make adjustments.

They don’t lay down the law, so try this alternative history, or projection. Donald Trump dumps NATO and aligns the United States with Russia and Turkey and Egypt and the Philippines and Israel and Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. On the other side it’s what’s left of NATO – France and Germany and Canada and Spain – but not Italy, which now seems to want to be part of Russia. China may back them, for trade reasons, and China has grabbed most of sub-Saharan Africa, building roads and bridges and schools and dams and factories all over the place, and new modern railroads to connect it all, so most of Africa would be on that side too. Iran might provide the oil – and then Russia invades the Baltic States. They really should be part of Russia – the Crimea model. The United States sends in our troops and planes and whatnot to help out. The United States goes to war with France and Germany and Canada and Spain, and maybe China, in support of our ally, Russia.

That really is preposterous, but there’s this:

President Trump signaled Tuesday that he was ready for a transatlantic brawl as he embarked on a consequential week of international diplomacy, taking aim at vulnerable British Prime Minister Theresa May and suggesting that meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin might be easier than talking with Western allies at the NATO summit here.

Leaders converged on Brussels fearful of what the combative U.S. president might say or do to rupture the liberal world order, with some European diplomats privately predicting calamity…

Donald Trump might dump NATO with all that implies, but first things first, and that would be the nasty personal attack:

As he departed Washington on Tuesday, Trump stoked the deep divisions in May’s government to undermine the leader of America’s closest historical ally on the eve of the NATO meeting. Asked if May should remain in power, Trump said, “That’s up to the people,” and he complimented her top rival, Boris Johnson…

The prime minister faces a rebellion from advocates of a hard break from the European Union, who say she has been waffling, and is in danger of losing control. Johnson, a potential successor to May, resigned Monday as foreign secretary and reportedly savaged her Brexit plan as “a big turd.”

Trump praised him in personal terms: “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine. He’s been very, very nice to me and very supportive. And maybe we’ll speak to him when I get over there. I like Boris Johnson. I’ve always liked him.”

He was twisting the knife, but everyone is worried:

Trump’s seven-day journey begins in Brussels – where he arrived Tuesday evening – and will take him to England for his first visit there as president, to Scotland for a weekend respite at his private golf course and finally to Helsinki for his tête-à-tête with Putin. European leaders are as concerned about what concessions he might make to Putin – such as recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine – as they are about the chaos he could create at the NATO summit.

Let them worry. He will twist the knife:

Trump loathes Germany’s trade imbalance with the United States and says the country is free-riding off the U.S. security umbrella. He also has long criticized Merkel for her 2015 decision to admit more than 1 million asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere, warning that they were a proverbial Trojan horse that could destroy Europe’s way of life.

Trump has tried to spotlight any signs of Merkel’s political troubles, tweeting last month that “the people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition.”

In Brussels, Merkel will defend her decision to raise defense spending more slowly than Trump’s goal and will seek to maintain the 35,000 U.S. troops deployed to Germany, which Trump has threatened to pull back.

But Merkel has benefited at home from Trump’s attacks, since the U.S. president is deeply unpopular among the German electorate, as he is with voters across much of Western Europe.

She’ll let him be a jerk, but others don’t know what to do with him:

Ahead of the NATO meetings that begin here Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to strike an optimistic note and play down the simmering disputes.

“Our summit comes at a time when some are questioning the strength of the transatlantic bond, and I would not be surprised if we have robust discussions at the summit, including on defense spending,” Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday. “Different views are normal among friends and allies, but I am confident that we will agree on the fundamentals.”

But European Council President Donald Tusk was more direct in anticipating that Trump may have designs on sowing discord, delivering a stinging warning to the visiting U.S. president.

“Dear America, appreciate your allies,” Tusk said. “After all, you don’t have that many.”

Trump doesn’t give a damn:

As he departed the White House, Trump offered a rebuttal.

“Well, we do have a lot of allies,” he told reporters before boarding Marine One. “But we cannot be taken advantage of. We’re being taken advantage of by the European Union. We lost $151 billion last year on trade. And on top of that, we spend at least 70 percent for NATO. And, frankly, it helps them a lot more than it helps us. So we’ll see what happens. We have a long, beautiful week.”

Is that so? Jonathan Chait has a few things to say about that:

President Trump tweeted today that America’s NATO allies have been “delinquent for many years in payments” and should “reimburse the U.S.” That is not how NATO works. It is not a protection scheme where the allies pay the United States. It is a collective defense organization in which members agree that an attack on one is an attack on all. NATO members have agreed to increase their defense spending levels, but the target date is 2024 – which is to say, they are not “delinquent” on anything.

One cannot rule out the possibility that Trump lacks the mental capacity to understand the basic form of America’s most important alliance. But it is at least as likely that Trump is choosing not to understand this, so that he can precipitate a fissure within the alliance.

Go with the second theory, because Trump passed on a real opportunity here:

Last week, Trump’s national security advisers, who have traditional Republican views toward NATO (good), and Russia (bad), and the allies both expressed their hope that Trump would use the NATO summit to declare victory. Trump has been calling for the allies to increase their defense spending, and indeed they have. The increase has been ongoing since 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea, but the allies signaled they would be happy to let Trump claim credit. “The European officials we’ve spoken to would love nothing more than for Trump to take a victory lap and claim credit for them boosting their defense spending,” reported Jonathan Swan last week.

Oddly for Trump, he is not taking the opportunity to claim a win. Instead he appears to be defining the terms of the disagreement such that it cannot be resolved. NATO’s allies can always try to spend even more on defense, but asking them to pay the United States back dues that they never promised and do not owe is an impossible demand.

That’s sabotage, but Chait argues that’s what Trump wants:

Where Trump’s intent has grown abundantly clear is the manner in which he is speaking to his supporters. At his rally in North Dakota two weeks ago, he said, “Sometimes our worst enemies are our so-called friends or allies, right?” At a subsequent rally in Montana last week, the president declared, “Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies.” Trump understands the power of repetition…

More noticeable still was a comment he made at the latter rally. Adopting his mocking pundit voice, he ridiculed the notion that “Putin is KGB.” (Putin did in fact work in the KGB.) “You know what,” he said, “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We are all fine, we’re all people.”

Needless to say, “we’re all fine, we’re all people” is not Trump’s customary approach to the question of locating the shared humanity of all God’s creatures. But his efforts to train the Republican base to reverse its long-standing views on the relative merits of NATO and Russia have borne fruit. According to a recent poll, just 40 percent of Republicans think the U.S. should stay in NATO, while 56 percent of Republicans consider Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin good for the United States.

This is working for him, and for the other guy:

Meanwhile, the Trump-Putin relationship is blossoming (or perhaps just coming out into the open). Putin reportedly has been telling Trump that “fake news” and the “deep state” are conspiring against them. (“It’s not us,” Putin has told Trump, according to an American source, summarizing his message, “it’s the subordinates fighting against our friendship.”) Trump has also reportedly expressed to Putin his desire for better relations, and called the advisers who tried to prevent him from congratulating the strongman on his reelection “stupid people.”

Yes, he called his own advisors stupid. He wanted Putin to know that he thinks they’re just plain stupid. This is the new world realignment:

Compared to a week ago, it is now harder to imagine Trump will use the summit to leverage concessions that will make him appear like a strong negotiator, and much easier to imagine that he will use it to instigate a diplomatic crisis with NATO. By the time this is over, he may well have reoriented American foreign policy completely.

It may seem bizarre that one man could do this, especially given that almost nobody in Trump’s administration or the ranks of the party’s political professionals share his goal of jettisoning NATO or closely courting Russia. Yet Trump has shown the ability to lead his base wherever he wants to take it. And where the base has gone, the party has eventually followed.

That’s when preposterous alternative history becomes actual history, but there’s Claire Berlinski – she read Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford, where she earned a doctorate in International Relations. She lived in Bangkok, where she worked for Asia Times. In Laos she worked for the United Nations Development Program. She’s written more than a few books and she worked as a freelance journalist in Istanbul, until Erdogan started putting every journalist of any kind prison. She got the hell out of there. She moved to Paris.

She knows a thing or two. She knows history. She knows real history:

Modern Europe – liberal, democratic Europe – is a creation of the United States. This story was once known to every American, but as the generation responsible for this achievement dies, it seems this knowledge is no longer passed down.

Maybe it should be passed down:

The United States built the modern order upon an architecture of specific institutions, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the International Court of Justice. In Europe, it built NATO and the European Union. This global order is in many respects an empire – a Pax Americana – but it is far more humane (in Europe, at least) than the European empires that preceded it.

The statesmen who built this global order were animated by two beliefs, one idealistic, the other realistic. The first belief: certain moral values are universal and liberal democracies best reflect and cultivate those values. The second: in international affairs, anarchy reigns. Power is the only coin that matters.

This is not rocket science:

Post-World War II Europe was designed by the United States to be the other half of the West, and Europe’s success since 1945 has been a global advertisement for liberal democracy. The collapse of liberal democracy in Europe would represent the failure of our own ideals. The collapse of European security would mean the end of liberal democracy.

Today, neither Europe nor the United States are wealthy or powerful enough, alone, to sustain and expand liberal democracy in a world increasingly dominated by China, Russia, and anarchy. No European country alone, nor any of the American states alone, can maintain the liberal global order. A United Europe, however, and the United States, are together strong enough to sustain and expand the liberal tradition and democratic values. This is precisely why the enemies of liberal democracy are determined to drive a stake through our alliance.

Enemies of liberal democracy, of course, like to slap their people around and slap their people into shape, and slap other nations around. America is an enemy of liberal democracy now, and curiously, Trumps call for Germany to arm itself better is historically bonkers:

The pacification of Germany was the greatest of American achievements. This is what made European peace and integration possible. Germany’s demilitarization ended the Franco-German rivalry that set the Continent alight and reduced it to ashes again and again…

Europe was cursed, for millennia, by internecine slaughter and butchery. For centuries, it was the world’s leading exporter of violence. That is precisely why our postwar foreign policy was designed to ensure our permanent military hegemony over the Continent. American power put an end to centuries of European war. Only American power, as we exercised it, could have done so: No other nation was capable of playing this role. No other nation would be capable of it now. No other continental country has the world’s largest GDP and a population of over 325 million, and no other country had – or has – enough distance from Europe to do it.

Postwar, Europe ceased to be the world’s leading exporter of violence because it was stripped of full sovereignty and subordinated to outside hegemons – first the U.S. and the USSR, then the U.S. alone.

We ended the bloodshed by credibly guaranteeing Germany’s security under the American nuclear umbrella. The long peace is the direct consequence. The benefits of this – to the U.S., Europe, and the world – are not just economic, although those benefits are immense. The benefits are in wars not fought, lives not squandered.

European free-riding isn’t an anomaly or a trick, as many Americans now seem to believe – it’s the central feature of our postwar security strategy.

In short, Trump got everything backwards:

How is it, then, that suddenly, we’ve become consumed with rage that Europe is “taking advantage” of us? How have we forgotten that this is the point of the system? We designed it this way, and did so for overwhelmingly obvious historic reasons learned at incalculable cost.

Yes, the U.S. does pay more than its “fair share.” In exchange it receives more than its fair share of power. All parties to the arrangement receive prosperity and peace. This arrangement liberated Europeans and Americans alike from the most dangerous force confronting them: European fratricide. But we have forgotten how it happened or why.

Americans died, suffered, and labored assiduously for generations to make of Europe what it had never been before: a united zone of peaceful, prosperous, liberal democracies – and the other half of the West. The rescue and reconstruction of Europe was our greatest moral and political accomplishment, towering above any other in our country’s short history. Our grandparents destroyed the most monstrous and tyrannical regimes humanity has known and then proved that our system of governance, or something much like it, could be built and made to work on that very soil. This is the story of the world we know, and the story of our country, too.

That’s the actual history, not some alternative nonsense, but then there’s Trump:

This is the accomplishment now under threat. The generation that saw the rise of Hitler and Stalin and saw, for themselves, the destruction of the World Wars, the failure of the squalid communist revolutions in Russia and China, and the genocide and enslavement over which these miserable regimes presided, were obviously, deeply traumatized – so much so that they assumed what they had seen was unforgettable. They imagined these events would become a permanent part of human memory.

They were wrong. We’re now cheerfully pissing away the greatest achievement of American history, the work of generations, achieved at incalculable cost in life and treasure: a free, united, secure, and prosperous Western world. The 20th century has been forgotten. No one learned a thing from it.

That’s not quite true. Many learned a lot about this greatest achievement in American history. But one guy didn’t. He insists on his preposterous alternative history of all this. He’ll sneer at anyone who disagrees with his idiosyncratic alternative history of all this, and somehow he’s in charge. The alternative world just became the real world. Make the appropriate adjustments. Learn Russian.

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No One Expected Thugs

There’s that letter that John Adams wrote to John Taylor in 1814 – “There never was a Democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.”

What? What about what he had helped create? He didn’t see that as a democracy. Nobody in 1814 thought the United States was a democracy, least of all John Adams. His idea of “democracy” was the bloody French Revolution, and even Napoleon, and historically, Athens – “The Athenians grew more and more warlike in proportion as the Commonwealth became more democratic.” Direct democracy was nothing but trouble. He had helped create a “republic” instead – because to Americans, back then, the word “democracy” described a system of “mob rule” – or at best “direct democracy” as in New England “town hall” democracy where all citizens voted directly on every issue without representatives intervening – but that couldn’t be scaled up to a national level. The nation’s citizens have other things to do. They’d elect “representatives” to take care of that for them. A Republic is a Representative Democracy – not mob rule. We, the people, even elect our executive using an Electoral College. Those people actually elect each president. We, the people, don’t. We, the people, advise them, once every four years.

Direct democracy may have been nothing but trouble, but representative democracy hasn’t worked out that well either. Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush was elected president by the margin of Florida votes in the Electoral College, after the Supreme Court, with members appointed by his father, suspended the recount in the state, where the election had been supervised by those appointed by the governor there, Bush’s brother. Al Gore decided not to fight that. That would have torn the country apart. That would have been national suicide. He might have been thinking of John Adams letter to John Taylor – but it happened again with Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote – by almost three million votes. Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. Hillary Clinton also decided not to fight that. The rules were the rules. We’d have no mob rule here. John Adams said so.

There are other distortions. The Senate, because of its small-state bias – each state, no matter what its population, gets two senators – has a Republican majority despite the fact that more Americans voted for Senate Democrats in 2016 than Senate Republicans – and in the House, with gerrymandering and geography, Democrats need to win the popular vote by around seven points (or as much as eleven points) to take back control there. That’s a long shot. Democrats may never take back the Senate – but the real issue in the Supreme Court. George W. Bush lost the popular vote and got to appoint two justices, to lifetime tenures. Donald Trump lost the popular vote and gets to appoint two justices, so far, to lifetime tenures. That doesn’t seem fair. The first seat Trump filled opened under Barack Obama, but Senate Republicans refused to consider any replacements, hoping to win the 2016 election and see the seat filled by a Republican. Mitch McConnell’s bet paid off. Trump did win that election, though he lost the popular vote decisively, and Neil Gorsuch was named to the Court. That seemed even more unfair. Decisions by the Supreme Court can change everything about life in America for generations – but the rules are the rules. We, the people – the mob – have been left out.

That means that we, the people, the mob, will just have to live with this:

President Trump on Monday nominated Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a politically connected member of Washington’s conservative legal establishment, to fill Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, setting up an epic confirmation battle and potentially cementing the court’s rightward tilt for a generation…

The nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appeals court judge, former aide to President George W. Bush and onetime investigator of President Bill Clinton, was not a huge surprise, given his conservative record, elite credentials and deep ties among the Republican legal groups that have advanced conservatives for the federal bench.

But his selection will galvanize Democrats and Republicans in the months before the midterm elections. Moments after the announcement, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, declared, “I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have.” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who leads the barest of Republican majorities, had expressed misgivings about his path to confirmation, but said he was a “superb choice.”

Justice Kennedy, who is retiring, held the swing vote in many closely divided cases on issues like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights and the death penalty. Replacing him with a committed conservative, who could potentially serve for decades, will fundamentally alter the balance of the court and put dozens of precedents at risk.

Abortion rights gone, affirmative action gone, gay rights gone, and the death penalty is back. The “people” (the mob) support the first three, overwhelmingly, and every other nation in the world, expect for China and Iran and North Korea and Yemen, and Saudi Arabia of course, has abandoned the death penalty as barbaric and immoral or rather pointless – but the rules are the rules. The man who lost the popular vote, overwhelmingly, gets to choose here.

Who is this guy? The Los Angeles Times’ David Savage provides the details:

In the late 1990s, Kavanaugh played a lead role in the aggressive investigation of President Clinton led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. He was an author of the Starr Report, which urged the House to impeach the president for lying about a sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Senate Democrats are sure to press Kavanaugh to explain his views on investigating and impeaching a president based on allegations of lies and a cover-up, something that could prove uncomfortable for Trump given the investigation underway by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

That might be a problem for Trump, but there’s this:

Some conservative activists in recent days had begun a campaign against Kavanaugh, complaining about his past ties to the George W. Bush administration and previous rulings that were not hardline enough for their taste. Many preferred one of the candidates who had worked outside of Washington, despite their less sterling resumes. The other finalists, also federal appeals court judges, were Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania and Raymond Kethledge of Michigan. But lawyers who have worked with Kavanaugh are confident he will be boldly conservative.

“Brett Kavanaugh is courageous, tough and defiant. He will never, ever go wobbly,” said Justin Walker, a University of Louisville law professor who worked as a law clerk for both Kavanaugh and Justice Kennedy. “I predict that he would be a rock-solid conservative in the Alito-Thomas mold,” he said, referring to Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas.

And there’s this in his favor:

During Starr’s investigation, Kavanaugh took on the task of reexamining the suicide of Vince Foster, a deputy White House counsel and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton who had come under fierce attack in the conservative media.

He may still think that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster – she was the one who shot him in the head in the park. Trump would like that, and he must like this:

Years later Kavanaugh changed his mind about his role in the Starr investigation and said presidential investigations were harmful to the country.

In December 2000, with the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush undecided, Kavanaugh joined the Republican legal team that won the fight to stop the ballot recount in Florida.

That’s two things in his favor. Presidential investigations are harmful to the country. The guy who lost the popular vote should win. What’s not to like? He’ll be fine:

Since then, he has written about 300 opinions and compiled a solidly conservative record on a court that has a steady diet of dense regulatory disputes. Kavanaugh was skeptical of several of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations, including efforts to limit greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollutants.

And he dissented in 2015 when the appeals court upheld a revised regulation under the Affordable Care Act involving contraceptives. Although religious employers did not have to provide or pay for the disputed contraceptives, they were required to file a form notifying the government that they were opting out. Dissenting in Priests for Life vs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kavanaugh said that filing the form would make them complicit, and therefore would violate their rights to religious freedom.

Filing the form would violate their rights to religious freedom? That was his position, and there’s this:

Kavanaugh appears to support broader gun rights under the 2nd Amendment. In 2011, he filed a 52-page dissent when the appeals court, by a 2-1 vote, upheld a District of Columbia ordinance that prohibited semiautomatic rifles and magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The judges in the majority, both Republican appointees, noted that several large states, including California and New York, enforced similar laws.

But Kavanaugh said the ban on semiautomatic rifles was unconstitutional because the weapons are in common use in this country. “As one who was born here, grew up in this community in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and has lived and worked in this area almost all of his life, I am acutely aware of the gun, drug and gang violence that has plagued all of us. But our task is to apply the Constitution and the precedents of the Supreme Court, regardless of whether the result is one we agree with as a matter of first principles or policy,” he wrote.

Since the Supreme Court in 2008 established a 2nd Amendment right for individuals to have a gun at home, the justices have refused to hear a 2nd Amendment challenge to state laws or local ordinances that restrict the sale of semiautomatic weapons.

Kavanaugh will hear those challenges. Citizens have a right to own and use heavy machine guns or flamethrowers or whatever, but there’s this too:

In 2011, when Obama’s healthcare law was under assault, Kavanaugh dissented when a D.C. Circuit Court panel upheld the law, but only on procedural grounds. He cited the Tax Injunction Act, which said judges should not decide suits challenging a tax provision until the plaintiff has first paid the tax. His view, if upheld, would have delayed a constitutional challenge to the law, and some on the right faulted him for not simply declaring the law unconstitutional.

Conservatives won’t like him for that, or for this:

Late last year, Kavanaugh was in the middle of a fast-moving dispute over whether a pregnant 17-year-old who was held by immigration authorities could leave to see a doctor and obtain an abortion. The Trump administration refused her request and said it did not have to “facilitate” an abortion. After the ACLU sued on her behalf, a federal district judge in Washington ruled she had a right to leave and obtain the abortion. Kavanaugh disagreed and gave the government 10 more days to find a sponsor for the young woman.

But the full appeals court took up the case and reinstated the ruling of the district judge. In dissent, Kavanaugh faulted the majority for creating “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

His stand nonetheless has drawn some criticism in conservative circles because he did not join a separate dissent by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson. She contended that immigrants in the country illegally had no constitutional rights.

He wouldn’t go that far, even if Trump has gone that far. In his confirmation hearings – the Democrats don’t have the votes stop this process – a number of conservatives might ask him about that. Why does he hate America? But he can mollify them. He can remind them that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster – she was the one who shot him in the head in the park. They’ll forgive him for saying that immigrants in the country illegally actually do have constitutional rights. Hillary Clinton is the answer to everything. Lock her up.

This is a done deal, but Ezra Klein is still thinking about John Adams:

With Kennedy’s replacement, four out of the Supreme Court’s nine justices – all of whom have lifetime tenure – will have been nominated by presidents who won the White House, at least initially, despite losing the popular vote.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. America, for all its proud democratic rhetoric, is not actually a democracy. Until and unless the country chooses to abolish the Electoral College, it will remain not-quite-a-democracy, with all the strange outcomes that entails. Liberals may complain, but the rules are the rules, and both sides know what they are.

Klein, however, thinks things have gone too far:

The Supreme Court’s conservative bloc doesn’t just reflect the outcomes of America’s undemocratic electoral rules; it is writing and, in some cases, rewriting them, to favor the Republican Party – making it easier to suppress votes, simpler for corporations and billionaires to buy elections, and legal for incumbents to gerrymander districts to protect and enhance their majorities.

The Supreme Court has always been undemocratic. What it’s becoming is something more dangerous: anti-democratic.

That’s his thesis, that the Supreme Court is now the enemy of democracy:

Dahlia Lithwick, Slate’s legal analyst, has been covering the Supreme Court for 20 years. She’s the smartest and most humane Court-watcher I know. And she sounds depressed.

“This was the worst year I can remember for voting rights,” she told me. “Folks who are going to go to the polls in 2020 and 2022 and going forward will have even less political power than they had. This conservative, five-justice bloc is distorting electoral politics to make it even harder to be represented.”

What we’re seeing here is an alliance, not a coincidence. Republicans won the White House and the Senate, used that power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, and the judges they vetted and elevated are making it easier for their patrons to retain power in the future.

Yes, that’s a grim, cynical analysis. But is it wrong?

There is clear evidence that it isn’t wrong:

Consider some of the decisions the Court made just this term:

In a 5-4, party-line opinion, the Court upheld Ohio’s voter purge, which controversially strikes voters from the rolls if they don’t vote for two years and then fail to respond to a mailed questionnaire or vote in another election for four years.

Though the policy was tied up in legal battles during the 2016 election, in 2012, 1.5 million Ohioans were mailed the questionnaires that could lead to them being purged, and more than 1 million failed to respond. To put that in perspective, Trump’s 2016 margin in Ohio was 446,841 votes, and Obama’s 2012 margin was merely 166,214 votes.

The Court’s endorsement of Ohio’s law is expected to reverberate far beyond the Buckeye State. “At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if Ohio prevailed,” NBC News reported.

And there’s this:

In another 5-4 case, the Court largely refused to strike down a series of racial gerrymanders in Texas that a San Antonio district court said denied Latinos “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent was blistering. “This disregard of both precedent and fact comes at serious costs to our democracy,” she wrote. “It means that, after years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas – despite constituting a majority of the population within the State – will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

And there’s this:

In the Janus case, the Court’s five Republicans overruled a 1977 Supreme Court opinion, as well as the laws on the books in 22 states, to gut a key funding source for public-sector unions. If you read the majority opinions in the above cases, you’ll see the Court’s Republican Justices repeatedly suggesting they need to ignore a plethora of relevant facts, comments, and history in order to give due deference to federal and state legislators. That deference dissolved in this ruling, with the Court deciding this question could no longer be left to voters or lawmakers. The decision weakens a powerful Democratic interest group, which is one reason Republicans have fought so hard, for so long, for a judgment like this. The Court, wrote Justice Elena Kagan in an angry dissent, has become “black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices.”

And there’s this:

The Court refused to set limits on even extreme cases of partisan gerrymandering, sending multiple gerrymandering cases back down to lower courts, at least for now. These rulings were more technical, and less partisan, but they dashed the hopes of those who believed the Court might finally step in to set limits on how aggressively politicians could choose their voters and harden their majorities. Though the Court held open the possibility of revisiting this issue if brought to them in another way, since Kennedy was the key swing vote, the future of these challenges looks grim.

And, again, these are just cases from the last term.

And there’s history:

A fuller accounting of the Court’s electoral interventions would include the 2000 Bush v. Gore case (which Justice David Souter believed so “crudely partisan” a decision he considered resigning); the constellation of decisions emanating from Citizens United, which have allowed corporations and billionaires to dump literally unlimited amounts of money into elections; and the 2013 gutting of crucial provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which has already had disturbing consequences.

The evidence is overwhelming:

“Whatever mythology existed around the idea that the Court wasn’t pure power and pure winners and losers is gone,” says Lithwick.

The Supreme Court is now the enemy of democracy, or at least the enemy of the people:

Demographers now project American politics will become even less democratic in the coming years. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans are expected to be represented by a mere 30 senators, which means 30 percent of the population will control a 70-vote supermajority in the Senate.

The “mob” will not rule, but that’s not a good thing:

The Supreme Court is meant to be insulated from democracy. It’s not meant to be a partisan tool for undermining democracy. What’s emerging now is a dangerous loop, in which Republicans barely holding onto power manage to keep control of the Supreme Court by any means necessary, and in return, the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees issue rulings to help their party cling to political power.

In the long term, that’s bad for the country’s unity and the Court’s legitimacy.

John Adams never imagined this would happen. He was worried about mob rule, but we now have a different kind of mob, a mob in the Mafia sense. A small group of thugs “took over the joint” to get what they want, all the ordinary people be damned. They don’t matter, and all those ordinary people were never “a mob” in the first place. They just wanted a government of the people. They settled for a republic, a representative democracy, not a direct democracy – but no one expected this. No one expected thugs. Now what?

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The Absent President

Wise up. The man who wrote the Art of the Deal went bankrupt four times. The guy who actually wrote that book for him now says the Donald Trump is incapable of reading a book, much less writing one – but that was about style, not substance. Substance matters. Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Transpacific Partnership. That was a bad deal. He’d make better trade deals with each Pacific Rim country individually. There have been no deals, other than China doing what the United States would no longer do – organize a Pacific Rim free trade zone – on their terms, not ours. They’ll now do the same with the EU nations. None of them is interested in cutting individual deals with Trump. Britain is pulling out of the EU and said they might do that, but there’s nothing in the works, and there are the new American tariffs on everyone everywhere, and the retaliatory tariffs on America. Trump says that our punitive tariffs will force ever other nation to make individual trade deals with the United States, on our terms. Trump says these nations are calling him all the time, discretely, in private. Let’s make a deal! Trump says that’s happening, discretely, in private. It isn’t. And there’s no “better” nuclear deal with Iran now that Trump pulled the United States out of that agreement, that “bad” deal. Trump has proposed nothing. Iran will build its nuclear warheads. Iran already has the missiles. And of course there was no better healthcare deal. Obamacare will wither away with nothing to replace it, but none of this should be a surprise. The man who wrote the Art of the Deal didn’t really write that book. He mused aloud. Tony Schwartz took notes and came up with something or other. Tony Schwartz was paid well. Someone here knew how to make a deal.

There’s something quite American in this. Everyone knows this guy. Harold Hill in The Music Man – and the even-better film version of it – was a charming rogue. But he was a total fraud. He wasn’t Professor Harold Hill, the travelling music instructor, there to organize a River City Boy’s Band. He was there to part the locals from their money – lots of it. Yes, the band instruments and uniforms they ordered, for which they paid him far too much money up front and in full, would arrive, but he’d be long gone before they were the wiser. There would be no music instruction either, because he actually knew nothing about music, which is why he had to get out of town, fast. It was a scam. It was Trump University with trombones.

River City fell for it. Professor Harold Hill talked a good game. Donald Trump talked a good game on North Korea. He’d meet with that Kim fellow one on one, with no preparation, with no experts whispering in his ear. He could fix this all on his own:

Trump said in June he’d know, within a minute, if Kim was serious about working toward denuclearization. How?

“Just my touch, my feel,” he told reporters before the Kim meeting. “That’s what I do.”

He’s allowed many State Department positions to lie fallow in part because he’s said he IS the policy.

“I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be,” he said late in 2017. “You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.”

And he did his deal:

The touch and feel were pleasing to Trump during his Kim meeting, and the two went on to rough out an agreement to come to a future denuclearization pact. After the summit he said they had a “special bond.”

“He’s got a very good personality, he’s funny, and he’s very, very smart,” Trump told Fox News. “He’s a great negotiator, and he’s a very strategic kind of a guy.”

Trump carried that momentum onto Twitter, where he declared the North Korean nuclear threat over.

He later calibrated that it would be a long road to denuclearization, but at least we’re not in nuclear war, which is where the US would be if it weren’t for him.

He did what no other president had ever done. He fixed everything. This was the Art of the Deal. This was nonsense:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shot back against North Korea on Sunday, saying the regime’s criticism that U.S. negotiators acted in a “gangster-like” way during his two-day visit to Pyongyang was unfounded.

“If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster,” said Pompeo, noting that U.S. demands for North Korea to denuclearize were supported by a consensus among U.N. Security Council members.

The secretary of state also said that despite a critical statement released by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, he thought that the two sides had made progress during the meeting and that his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, negotiated in “good faith” during the meeting.

Pompeo added that the United States and world powers would maintain economic sanctions against North Korea until full denuclearization was achieved.

Pompeo was there to work out the details of the deal but there was no deal in the first place, and Pompeo was forced to put a brave face on it:

As Pompeo left the North Korean capital Saturday, he told reporters that the trip had been “productive” and that progress had been made on a number of issues.

However, the North Korean Foreign Ministry later released a lengthy statement that criticized the U.S. focus on nuclear weapons. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the North Korean statement said.

Pompeo played down North Korea’s criticism on Sunday, telling a reporter that Pyongyang did not have an issue with the idea of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization – a term better known by its initials, CVID – despite the North Korean Foreign Ministry singling out the phrase in its statement.

Pyongyang did have an issue with that idea. Kim might have mentioned that to Trump. If he did, Trump didn’t notice that he did, but Trump had his defenders:

In Washington on Sunday, a leading Republican lawmaker blamed China for North Korea’s rhetoric.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the Chinese pulling the North Koreans back,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. He said that Beijing was using negotiations with North Korea as a way to force the Trump administration to relent in a trade war, which has seen the United States and China impose tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of each country’s goods.

“So, if I were President Trump, I would not let China use North Korea to back me off of the trade dispute,” Graham said. “We’ve got more bullets than they do when it comes to trade. We sell them $100 billion, they sell us $500 billion. We can hurt them more than they will hurt us.”

That’s an interesting theory, but others didn’t change the subject:

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that the administration should be prepared to quickly resume joint military exercises with South Korea if there is not progress on the nuclear negotiations. Trump had ordered an end to those exercises, which he called “provocative” and too expensive, following his meeting in Singapore with the North Korean leader.

“Obviously I believe the exercises have a purpose in keeping the peninsula safe and making sure that should anything happen we are well rehearsed with our allies to engage,” Ernst said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “So I would say soon if we don’t see those talks continue.”

This moves everything back to where everything was in the first place. Trump is that charming rogue with the patter-song about trouble, right here in River City, offering a great deal on trombones. That’s who he is, but that’s not the end of it:

Trump departs Tuesday on a four-nation tour amid simmering disputes over trade and military spending with fellow Western democracies and speculation about whether he will rebuke or embrace Russian President Vladimir Putin. He meets the Russian leader in Helsinki as the finale of a trip with earlier stops in Belgium, England and Scotland.

Trump has shown little regard for America’s traditional bonds with the Old World, publicly upbraiding world leaders at NATO’s new headquarters a year ago for not spending enough on defense and delivering searing indictments of Western trading partners last month at an international summit in Canada. On this trip, after meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels, he’ll travel to the United Kingdom, where widespread protests are expected, before he heads to one of his Scottish golf resorts for the weekend.

In the run-up to his trip, the president did little to ease European concerns by delivering fresh broadsides against NATO, an intergovernmental military alliance of 29 North American and European countries aimed at countering possible Russian aggression.

Trump says there’s trouble right here in River City:

“I’ll tell NATO: ‘You’ve got to start paying your bills,'” Trump pledged at a rally last week in Montana in which he bemoaned that Americans were “the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing.”

He then laced into German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be in attendance in Brussels, complaining about how much the United States put toward Germany’s defense: “And I said, you know, Angela, I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you, and it means a lot more to you. I don’t know how much protection we get from protecting you.”

At the same time, he declared that “Putin is fine” and that he had been preparing for their summit “all my life.”

He has? That’s what Robert Mueller is investigating and that what has our allies worried:

Experts fear the trip could produce a repeat of the dynamics from Trump’s last trip abroad, when he admonished Group of Seven allied nations at a summit in Canada before heading to Singapore, where he showered praise on one of America’s longest-standing adversaries, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

“What people are worried about this trip is he’ll have equally difficult interactions with his NATO counterparts,” including Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said James Goldgeier, a visiting senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor at American University, who is an expert in NATO and security alliances.

“The main concern is he will spend much of the time berating them on not spending enough on defense” before having “a love fest with Putin, like he did with Chairman Kim,” Goldgeier said.

He added that if Trump is warmer toward Putin than the leaders of the military alliance that was founded to protect Europe from Soviet threats, it would go “a long way to undermining NATO, undermining the trans-Atlantic relationship, undermining our relationship with our allies.”

But he wants to make a deal:

Trump is expected to continue to press NATO nations to fulfill their commitments to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Trump has argued that countries not paying their fair share are freeloading off the U.S. and has threatened to stop protecting those he feels pay too little.

NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends. Trump sent letters to the leaders of several NATO countries ahead of his visit, warning that it would become “increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries fail to meet our shared collective security commitments.”

Once again, he will end a “bad deal” with nothing to replace it, only chaos, and the Washington Post reports on how he seems to work deals. No one understands that:

“The president thinks he can be friends with Putin,” former national security adviser H.R. McMaster complained during his time in the White House, according to U.S. officials. “I don’t know why or why he would want to be.”

The president’s approach also has been corrosive to relations with allies who increasingly believe that Trump – on trade, NATO and diplomacy – is undercutting the post-World War II order in pursuit of short-term and likely illusory wins.

But he’s always been a master dealmaker, he says, and he still keeps his old ways:

The core of Trump’s freewheeling approach has been in place since his earliest days in the White House. Shortly after he took office, Trump began passing out his personal cellphone number to a handful of foreign leaders, and in April 2017, White House aides were startled when officials in Canada issued a standard summary of a conversation between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump. In it, Trudeau complained of “unfair duties” and “baseless” claims about trade by Trump administration officials.

No one at the White House was aware the call had taken place. “We had no idea what happened,” a senior U.S. official said.

He is a charming rogue, with the emphasis on rogue:

Typically, such calls, even with close allies, are choreographed affairs. Regional experts prepare talking points covering the wide array of issues that might be raised. The national security adviser will brief the president ahead of the call and remain by his side to offer advice. After the call, a transcript is distributed to key aides, who will issue a public readout.

In this instance, U.S. officials had to rely on Trump’s memory. A terse public readout described “a very amicable call.”

After the call, White House aides urged Trump to route all conversations with foreign leaders through the Situation Room, as required under federal records law, the senior official said.

Trump ignored them, because that’s what charming rogues do:

Trump’s lack of preparation has added a further level of unpredictability to his interactions with foreign leaders, the officials said. The president rarely reads his nightly briefing book, which focuses on issues likely to come up in meetings, a second senior U.S. official said. To slim down Trump’s workload, aides have sometimes put the most critical information in a red folder, the official said.

In November and again in March, Trump invited Putin to the White House for a summit against the advice of aides, who argued that the chances of progress on substantive issues were slim.

For Trump, the meeting was the point. In an interview with Fox News last month, Trump speculated that he and Putin could potentially hash out solutions to Syria and Ukraine over dinner.

“I could say: ‘Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of ­Syria,'” Trump said. “ Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of Ukraine?'”

It’s that simple, but it isn’t:

Some White House officials worry that Putin, who has held several calls with Trump, plays on the president’s inexperience and lack of detailed knowledge about issues while stoking Trump’s grievances.

The Russian president complains to Trump about “fake news” and laments that the U.S. foreign policy establishment – the “deep state,” in Putin’s words – is conspiring against them, the first senior U.S. official said.

“It’s not us,” Putin has told Trump, the official summarized. “It’s the subordinates fighting against our friendship.”

Putin is playing him, and that’s working:

In conversations with Trudeau, May and Merkel, Trump is sometimes assertive, brash and even bullying on issues he feels strongly about, such as trade, according to senior U.S. officials. He drives the conversation and isn’t shy about cutting off the allies mid-sentence to make his point, the officials said.

With Putin, Trump takes a more conciliatory approach, often treating the Russian leader as a confidant.

“So what do you think I should do about North Korea?” he asked Putin in their November 2017 telephone call, according to U.S. officials.

It may be that Putin gleefully gave him bad advice there, but that’s not all:

A similar dynamic has played out in Syria, where Putin has offered to cooperate with the U.S. military on counterterrorism and help Trump realize his goal of an American withdrawal.

Trump’s more hawkish current and former advisers, including McMaster, disparaged Putin’s offer as a cynical ploy, and maintain that Russia’s primary goal is to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, more broadly, undercut U.S. influence in the Middle East.

The Pentagon views Russia’s proposal with similar skepticism, U.S. officials said.

Trump doesn’t seem to care:

Guiding nearly all of Trump’s interactions with world leaders is his belief that his ability to win over, charm and cajole foreign leaders is more important than policy detail or the advancement of strategic goals. Often, the calls can be discursive and confounding. In conversations with the British prime minister, he has boasted about his properties in the United Kingdom, asked her about his Cabinet officials’ performance and sometimes castigated her for being too “politically correct,” U.S. and British officials said.

Trump focused part of a meeting earlier this year with the Swedes, who are important interlocutors on North Korea, on complaints about the trade deficit, startling the visiting prime minister; the United States does not have a big trade deficit with Sweden relative to other European countries.

He’s trying to be charming but almost no one knows what he’s talking about, and there’s this:

On one point, Trump has been consistent: He rarely ends a call with a head of state without extending an invite to the White House. “Next time you’re in Washington, stop by for lunch at the White House,” he often says, according to U.S. officials.

He has made the offer when his advisers urged him not to. Such was the case with Putin and with Michel Temer, the president of Brazil, who was weighed down by corruption allegations and deeply unpopular when Trump spoke with him last fall.

Before the call, aides had urged him not to invite the Brazilian leader to the White House. Trump did it anyway. White House aides spent the next several weeks dodging calls from the Brazilian ambassador trying to set up the meeting.

That’s almost comic, except that this item is about a president bypassing his own government, perhaps because he hates his own government. That’s not comic, and Josh Marshall sees this:

Trump appears to have a special affinity for private meetings with Putin. When the two met last year in Hamburg, Germany they met first with only Rex Tillerson present on the U.S. side. Trump and Putin later had an unscheduled meeting in which Trump met for roughly an hour with Putin and Putin’s English language translator. In other words, in the second meeting, no one from the U.S. was privy to what was discussed. The United States has no record or knowledge of what was discussed, other than what President Trump may have chosen to share after the fact.

In Helsinki, it appears that the two men will meet with translators, presumably one from each country. This is a little different. There would be one more person from the U.S. government: the translator. But a translator cannot be a note-taker in the same setting. So even though a U.S. translator would have some recollection of what was discussed, there would be no formal or detailed record.

Most expressed concerns about this frame those concerns around an unsophisticated Trump being coddled or buttered up by Putin into agreeing to something he shouldn’t. But this has always struck me as a polite way to hinting at a more obvious and sinister concern: why Trump apparently needs to keep secret from his own government what he discusses or agrees to with Putin. It is very hard for me to imagine an innocent explanation for this.

There is no other explanation. Trump needs to keep secret from his own government what he discusses or agrees to with Putin, and that is a real problem:

Government bureaucracies thrive on information and record-keeping. There are very good reasons for this. But it goes beyond the good reasons. It’s what powerful and complex states do, just like militaries plan for wars and intelligence agencies look to uncover secrets. Governments produce and keep records. You’ll remember that the day after President Trump fired James Comey he brought Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak into the Oval Office. In that meeting, he both shared top-secret U.S. intelligence with the two men and also trashed Comey as a “nut job” who he fired to reduce pressure from the Russia probe. We know this because the U.S. government kept a record of the meeting (which is entirely normal), parts of which were eventually leaked.

That was an embarrassment for Trump. So it’s not altogether surprising he’d want to avoid such a record. More revealing to me is that he wants none of his own aides to witness this encounter either. Trump chooses his own top aides. He may not want transcripts or memos about his conversation circulating through various U.S. national security agencies (Pentagon, State, CIA, et al.). But it’s much less clear to me why he wouldn’t want even his closest and most trusted aides, people he appoints with no confirmation and who work at his pleasure, to know what was discussed.

But this is clear:

President Trump routinely bashes and threatens core U.S. treaty alliances in Europe and Asia. NATO is the most important of these. NATO isn’t just important. It’s deeply embedded into the culture and training of the U.S. military, its senior officer corps, and the rest of the U.S. national security apparatus. But while Trump is tweeting out threats and making scenes at summits, something else is going on. The actual direction and orders coming out of the Pentagon and national security apparatus have if anything moderately stiffened the posture of NATO and the U.S. military in Eastern Europe. Beyond what we see in public, I’ve spoken to people who are privy to these channels. And this is largely the case. The actual orders are not changing.

This must be part of the reason that people like Defense Secretary Mattis and others just keep moving forward despite all the things we’re seeing. The actual orders, the troop strength numbers, posture, and readiness is moving independently from what we’re hearing from Trump. As I noted, if anything they are moving slightly in the opposite direction.

That in turn may have created the oddest situation in American history:

This lack of connection between Trump and his own government – sometimes partly for show but largely not – is the best and clearest explanation of why he wants and will meet with Putin and discuss issues with him outside of earshot of that government. Trump is an independent actor from the government he runs. He wants to keep his discussions and deals with Vladimir Putin secret from that government.

America has never before had a president who sees himself as an independent actor, not at all a part of the government he himself runs, the government he distrusts, that he runs. He doesn’t even do that. He makes deals, deals that aren’t deals at all. He’s Professor Harold Hill, here to organize a River City Boy’s Band – but he can’t skip town with the money. This is life and death, with nuclear weapons. This won’t have a happy ending.

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Elementary Trump

Nothing is what it seems. That’s the premise of every Sherlock Holmes story. That’s the premise of the Adventure of the Abbey Grange – Holmes and Watson called to the scene of a murder. The Scotland Yard folks are puzzled by a few details. Those turn out to be nothing. A local gang murdered the rich old man during a humdrum robbery and beat his wife to a pulp. The widow explains it all. She’s the evidence. The Scotland Yard folks apologize to Holmes, and he and Watson head back to London, but Holmes keeps thinking about those odd details, and then at dawn there’s this:

“Come, Watson, come!” he cried, “The game is afoot!” Ten minutes later we were both in a cab and rattling through the silent streets on our way to Charing Cross Station.

Holmes and Watson return to the scene of the crime. Holmes figures it all out – a heroic young sailor rescued the woman he had always loved, the widow, from a drunken abuser who was the one who beat her, and things had gotten out of hand. Holmes tracks down the young sailor who explains it all to Holmes, privately and contritely, and promises to head off for the East Indies. Holmes and Watson let him go. They don’t tell Scotland Yard. Justice was served, one way or another – but the game is always afoot. Nothing is ever what it seems.

Why do people do what they do? Why has Donald Trump finally started his trade war with China, and with our allies, and everyone else? His massive tariffs are being met with retaliatory tariffs that target his base voters and will raise the price of everything for everyone. There will be layoffs too. Some small firms will go under – some are already shutting down. The economy will slow to a crawl. Expect a major recession. Why do this? Something else must be going on. Nothing is ever what it seems – the game is afoot – as it is with those immigrant children taken from their parents. Why do that, and now, why not fix that? And why is he doubling-down on the racial stuff? The nation is less white with every passing day. There aren’t enough panicked angry white voters to reelect him, and that changes the Republican Party. As Max Boot has said – “You used to belong to a conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe. Now it’s a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe. If you’re part of that fringe, what should you do?”

You get out. The Republican Party becomes the party of angry white-nationalists, a fringe party in a nation less white with every passing day. Why do that? Something is afoot.

Sherlock Holmes could figure this out, but he retired to Sussex long ago and he was fictional anyway. Others will have to figure this out, and on the trade wars, the New York Times’ Ana Swanson and Neil Irwin try to figure this out:

The United States and China hit each other with punishing tariffs on Friday as the two nations tipped into a long-feared trade war that is only expected to escalate.

President Trump has said that trade wars are “easy to win.” Now, as he opens a global skirmish with allies and adversaries alike, the question is whether he has a plan to achieve the results he wants or whether he is heading into a costly and futile clash without resolution.

Something is afoot. He either has a plan or he doesn’t, so it may be this:

The president appears to be betting that threatening trading partners like China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada with tariffs will eventually force them to bend to the United States.

His strategy is being buoyed by a strong economy that is giving Mr. Trump more latitude to impose tariffs that might otherwise pose too much risk. Job growth was strong in June, according to a new government report, as employers added 213,000 net new jobs and the unemployment rate rose as more people entered the labor market and began looking for work. Manufacturing job growth was particularly robust.

Those numbers are backward-looking, but there is little reason to think that the initial batch of tariffs will knock the entire economy off course. The $34 billion worth of Chinese goods subject to tariffs, and an equivalent retaliation by China, is tiny compared to the $20 trillion United States economy. Global stock markets largely shrugged off the trade war on Friday.

It’s all good, or it isn’t:

The tariffs are still inflicting pain on some industries in particular, including farmers and small manufacturers who have long supported Mr. Trump. And with little sign of a negotiated resolution between the United States and China – or any other trading partner – the conflict threatens to escalate, eventually affecting hundreds of billions of dollars of additional products.

“Trump’s soundest argument in his election campaign was that he would not waste American lives and treasure in pointless wars of choice,” Adam Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, wrote in March in an op-ed article. “His launching a trade war would prove, however, to be his economic Afghanistan – costly, open-ended, and fruitless.”

Even so, bring it on:

On Friday, the Trump administration took its most aggressive step yet as it imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, including medical devices and airplane parts, and threatened billions of dollars more in the coming months. The Chinese immediately responded with tariffs on an equal volume of American soybeans, pork, automobiles and other products.

Mexico, Canada and the European Union have similarly retaliated against Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and have threatened to push back if the president moves ahead with his threat to place a 20 percent tariff on imported cars and car parts.

Of course that doesn’t matter:

The president and his advisers insist that history is on their side and that Mr. Trump’s approach will yield better results than years of diplomatic niceties – including bilateral talks with the Chinese – that have produced bad deals for the United States.

It’s all good, or it isn’t:

Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters say they are unsure, exactly, how the trade war will work out, given the escalating threats emanating from the White House and the lack of a clear strategy toward resolving the president’s differences with the United States’ trading partners.

Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs had barely gone into effect before he upped the ante and threatened auto tariffs on those same allies, pushing trade relations with Europe and Canada to their rockiest point in decades. With China, the president’s advisers have vacillated between asking Beijing to purchase more American products to lower the United States’ trade deficit and pushing for more substantive economic reforms. And talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico remain stalled over deep differences with the United States.

Of course that doesn’t matter either:

If the conflict with China is not resolved soon, Mr. Trump has threatened to place tariffs on nearly everything China exports to the United States, in addition to tightening Chinese investments in the United States and limiting visas for Chinese citizens. While many supporters describe the president’s bold statements as a negotiating tactic, talks between the Chinese and the United States have faltered for now, with no additional discussions in sight.

That’s because bold statements are bullshit:

“There is no apparent plan,” said Daniel Price, a managing director of Rock Creek Global Advisors, an advisory firm, and a former trade official in the George W. Bush administration. “The administration has given no indication what the off-ramp is or what their objectives are.”

“Trump is treating trade policy as though it were a real estate deal, where the goal is to beat your opponent, step on his throat and humiliate him,” said Daniel Ikenson, the director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Even if it works and nations like China blink, Mr. Ikenson said, “the cost to that will be trust in the U.S., and it will encourage other governments to behave this way when their backs are against the wall.”

No good will come of this:

Many farmers and manufacturers remain staunch supporters of Mr. Trump. But their faith is starting to waver as tariffs take effect and they feel the impact of reduced market access and higher costs.

“I would just like the administration to be clear, at least with us, on the goal,” said Jay Hollowell, the mayor of Helena-West Helena, Ark., an area that produces soybeans, which are now being heavily taxed by China. “Is it to lower trade deficits with other countries like China, or is it to protect American industries?”

“People’s livelihoods are on the line here,” Mr. Hollowell added.

That’s clear enough:

Soybean futures prices have fallen 15 percent since May 25 in anticipation of the Chinese retaliatory tariffs. With a stiff tax on soybean imports, American farmers will face lower demand from overseas and a hit to their incomes. Those farmers, in turn, would spend less on equipment and materials, which could eventually trickle through to the broader economy.

John Heisdorffer, a soybean grower from Keota, Iowa, and the president of the American Soybean Association, said he and others in the industry had spent years trying to develop markets in China that were now being closed with the stroke of a pen. “My son, who farms with me, is going to spend the rest of his lifetime trying to get that back, and that scares the hell out of me,” Mr. Heisdorffer said.

That scares the hell out of everyone, as does this:

Lawyers for the Trump administration on Friday asked a federal judge for more time to reunite immigrant children with their parents, the latest signal that the government is struggling to bring families back together after separating thousands as they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to return children younger than 5 to their parents by Tuesday, but federal lawyers said they could meet that deadline for only about half of the 101 children in that age group.

Officials say they have deployed hundreds of government employees and opened a command center usually reserved for natural disasters to match parents and children. But the massive effort is complicated by difficulty in locating some parents and, in other cases, uncertainty about the parents’ identities. Some parents have been deported and others have been freed in the United States, apparently without a system to monitor everyone’s whereabouts.

Josh Marshall covers the details here:

The Trump administration is making some remarkable arguments in the on-going child-family separation cases, making it seem like they actually want to slow roll their way into making the separations permanent. The government says it needs more time to determine whether the “putative parents” (i.e., people saying they want their kids back) are in fact real parents (people with a true custodial relationship to the children in question) and further whether are fit parents. In other words, having used the criminal law to meet the very high standard required to separate children from their parents, the government is now arguing that it needs to apply a very high standard to give them back. The government is further arguing that it should not be compelled to reunify families in which parents have already been deported because of the difficulty of doing so.

They do seem to want to make the separations permanent, and Marshal wonders why:

This is a frustrating and ghastly story because, like many Trump administration sagas, it can be difficult to disentangle the malevolence, incompetence and simple indifference. To some degree, if you separate hundreds or thousands of families and don’t keep good records of who belonged to whom, it legitimately will be a complex process getting everyone back together. It is also true that once having taken the step of separating the families and transporting the children hundreds or thousands of miles, the government has some due diligence responsibility not just to hand them back to whoever asks for them first.

But it also seems clear that the government is holding out the specter that substantial numbers of these “putative parents” may be human smugglers or unrelated criminals when there is really no evidence that’s the case. It is, as the judges sometimes put it, something that shocks the conscience that, having first separated these families, the government would now make itself the judge of the parents’ fitness to be parents. It is impossible to read these arguments and not be convinced that the same aggressive and punitive desire to do harm isn’t motivating the nominal reunification process just as it drove the decision to separate the families in the first instance.

Marshall is the Sherlock Holmes here, seeing an aggressive and punitive desire to do harm, including this:

The same applies to asking to be let off the hook about parents who’ve already been deported. I don’t doubt that there are cases where it actually will be difficult to reunify … say, an impoverished mother in Guatemala who is hiding from her abusive husband with two children who’ve been transported from Texas to Ohio. But whose fault is that? It goes without saying that that is going to make unification a real challenge and create a real risk the family will never be reunited. That was obvious going in. But they did it anyway.

They desired to do harm. That’s what was afoot, but that makes no sense:

Americans overwhelmingly oppose the Trump administration’s now-rescinded policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, and smaller majorities also disagree with the president’s call to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to restrict legal immigration by limiting citizens from bringing parents and siblings to this country, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll.

Thirty percent of Americans agree with Trump, the rest don’t, and the divisions are clear:

On issues of immigration, as well as questions about Trump’s presidency, the gaps between men and women and between white voters with and without college degrees are sizable. Women and white college-educated voters are far more dissatisfied with the president and his policies than are men and white voters without college educations.

Donald Trump may be counting on that, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie explains here:

Under the Trump administration, even naturalized citizens are now a target. The government agency that oversees immigration applications is hiring lawyers and immigration officers to review cases of immigrants suspected of obtaining citizenship through fake identities or other false information on their applications. Cases would be referred to the Department of Justice, where offenders could lose their citizenship or legal status…

The move to denaturalize some citizens is just the latest in a larger drive by Republicans – led by key figures in the Trump White House – to preserve a white majority in American politics. At the state level, Republican lawmakers take steps to protect GOP districts, dampen voter turnout, and otherwise hinder participation, which raises the chances of Republican victories for Congress and the White House. In turn, Republicans in Washington nominate and confirm judges who give voter suppression the cover of law, giving incentive to new efforts at restriction and disenfranchisement. What Donald Trump brings is an explicit effort to write nonwhite immigrants out of the body politic, removing as many as possible and presenting the rest as a suspect class.

Jamelle Bouie is the Sherlock Holmes here, seeing, he thinks, what’s really going on:

At some point in the not-distant future, a majority of Americans will be of black, Hispanic, and Asian origin. But there’s a difference between a nation’s population and its electorate – its share of people who can exercise the full rights and privileges of citizenship. Republicans realize this, and are trying – at every level of government – to reverse-engineer a white electorate large enough to secure their own power, and along with it, the existing hierarchy of class and race.

Donald Trump is a major part of this story. But as with all things Trump, it would be wrong to treat this project as unique to him and his administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House adviser Stephen Miller, as well as former advisers Stephen Bannon and Michael Anton, are unusually driven in their commitment to a racial vision of the American state: Sessions once praised the nativist 1924 Immigration Act, and Anton, writing under a pseudonym, once warned that the “ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners” would mean a “less traditionally American” electorate. But they are also largely in line with a broader Republican politics that’s become reliant on the revanchist anger of a white minority. Supercharged in reaction to Barack Obama, that motivated minority of the electorate delivered a House majority in 2010, a Senate majority in 2014, and brought unified GOP control to state governments across the country.

And then Trump came along:

In all of this, Donald Trump is less an instigator and more an accelerator. With strategic appeals to white racial prejudice, Trump took this well-distributed plurality of white voters and made it large enough to secure an Electoral College victory, taking the “minority rule” that already defines the federal legislature and extending it to the White House itself. The Republican Party, in turn, has followed the path of its state counterparts, using narrow but absolute majorities to pursue its ideological goals – upper-income tax cuts and attacks on the social safety net – while taking steps to engineer continued minority rule. Indeed, if Trump did anything unique, it was take the subtext of that engineering – we need to keep nonwhites from voting or otherwise limit their full participation – and made it explicit.

Case closed. Holmes and Watson can go back to Baker Street, satisfied, but Eugene Robinson sees no criminal mastermind here:

We have not seen such overt racism from a president since Woodrow Wilson imposed Jim Crow segregation in Washington and approvingly showed “The Birth of a Nation,” director D. W. Griffith’s epic celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, at the White House.

Trump encourages supporters to see the nation as beset by high levels of violent crime – and to blame the “animals” of the street gang MS-13. He is lying; crime rates nationwide are far lower than two or three decades ago, and some big cities are safer than they have been in a half-century. But Trump has to paint a dystopian panorama in order to justify the need to Make America Great Again.

That’s masterful, and that’s nonsense:

It is unbelievable that the U.S. government would separate more than 2,300 children from their parents for no good reason other than to demonstrate cruelty. It is shocking that our government would expect toddlers and infants to represent themselves at formal immigration hearings. It is incredible that our government, forced to grudgingly end the policy, would charge desperate parents hundreds or thousands of dollars to be reunited with their children. It is appalling that our government would refuse even to give a full and updated accounting of how many children still have not been returned. Yet all of this has been done – in our name.

Trump uses words such as “invading” and “infest” and “breeding” to describe Central American migrants who arrive at the border lawfully seeking asylum. I’ll believe this is neutral immigration policy when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents begin hunting down and locking up Norwegians who have overstayed their visas.

Said Norwegians, if anyone bothered to look for them, might well be taking jobs away from American workers or taking advantage of social-welfare programs or boosting crime rates. There is no evidence that asylum-seekers are doing any of these things.

And that does explain all this nonsense:

This is a story as old as the nation. German, Irish, Polish, Italian and other immigrant groups were once seen as irredeemably foreign and incapable of assimilating. The ethnic and racial mix of the country has changed before and is changing now.

Hispanics are by far the biggest minority group in the country, making up nearly 18 percent of the population; by 2060, the Census Bureau estimates, that share will rise to nearly 29 percent. Trump is punishing Central American mothers and babies because, try as he might, he can’t Make America White Again.

That may be all that is going on here, even with the trade wars with everyone – a fight against globalization, a fight against “the other” out there. Trump is punishing everyone because he can’t Make America White Again. It may be that simple. Holmes had a way of putting that – “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

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That Which Had To Happen

Donald Trump “fired” people on Celebrity Apprentice – after he shamed them. He seemed to enjoy that. The vast audience for Celebrity Apprentice loved that. It was a fantasy show. Trump provided the fantasy. It would be so cool to be able to do that in real life with irritating people – to publicly shame them and tell them they’re gone now, because they’re totally useless, a waste of ectoplasm. Donald Trump could actually do that. Maybe he should be president. He’d publicly shame those total fools in Washington. He’d fire their sorry asses. He’d publicly shame those total fools in every other nation too, even our allies. They’d all been laughing at us, playing us for fools and taking our money – every damned one of them.

That was the promise, and now that he really is the president, much to his surprise, he’ll do just that. At some point he’ll say those magic words to NATO – “You’re fired!” By the end of this year he’ll say those magic words to Canada and Mexico – NAFTA will be gone. He already said those magic words to the nations that agreed to the Transpacific Partnership. He already said those magic words to the nations that agreed to the Paris climate accord – essentially every other nation in the world. Robert Mueller is next. He keeps his promises. Donald Trump will be that guy from Celebrity Apprentice. The people had spoken.

The people were mistaken. Donald Trump is a master at shaming others – ask Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Jeff Sessions about that – but he doesn’t like to fire people. He seems squeamish about that. He has repeatedly abused Jeff Sessions quite publicly, but he hasn’t fired him. Robert Mueller ignores him. They both know they’re safe. The Senate knows and likes Jeff Sessions. They’d never confirm anyone else Trump nominated, and if Trump fired Mueller all hell would break loose – it would be impeachment time. Donald Trump knows this too. He’ll stick with shaming everyone in sight. He’s a master at that. But he won’t fire people. He’ll accept resignations, but he won’t do the deed himself.

That’s a disappointment. He’s not who everyone thought he’d be, and some guys in Washington need to be fired. Everyone knows that. Some things have to happen, even if the president is a squeamish guy, a bit of a coward about firing people, in real life. But this had to happen:

Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who relentlessly pursued President Trump’s promises of deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned Thursday after controversies over his lavish spending, ethical lapses and management decisions eroded the president’s confidence in one of his most ardent Cabinet members.

That had to happen too:

Pruitt’s reputation as a dogged deregulator and outspoken booster of the president allowed him to weather ethics scandals in recent months, including questions about taxpayer-funded first-class travel, a discounted condominium rental from the wife of a D.C. lobbyist and the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office.

But revelations about his behavior continued to mount, including reports that he repeatedly enlisted subordinates to help him search for housing, book personal travel and help search for a six-figure job for his wife. That quest included setting up a call with Chick-fil-A executives, in which he discussed his wife’s becoming a franchisee, as well as outreach to a conservative judicial group that eventually hired Marlyn Pruitt.

In recent weeks, an exodus of trusted staffers left Pruitt increasingly isolated, and some Republican lawmakers wearied of defending him. Investigators on Capitol Hill had summoned current and former EPA aides for questioning as part of more than a dozen federal inquiries into Pruitt’s spending and management of the agency.

Even Laura Ingraham at Fox News said drain the swamp, and this guy is the swamp, so fire his sorry ass – make America great again – but Trump just couldn’t do that himself:

On Thursday, the White House informed Pruitt, who was not in the office, that he had to submit his resignation, according to two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. President Trump did not speak to the administrator directly, according to a third individual, but instead called Pruitt’s top deputy, Andrew Wheeler, to inform him that he would be taking the helm of the agency.

Soon after, Trump announced in a two-part tweet that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump wrote.

The guy was fired. That sentence is in passive voice. There’s no “actor” in that sentence. Donald Trump is a passive fellow, and he did have to be talked into this:

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who traveled with Trump to a political rally in Montana on Thursday, had for months privately groused about Pruitt’s conduct and had pushed for his removal during West Wing meetings, according to White House officials who were not authorized to speak publicly. The accumulation of several new revelations about Pruitt’s conduct allowed Kelly to make a convincing case to Trump on Thursday’s flight out West that the stories about the administrator’s behavior would not stop, according to a senior administration official.

There was no choice, really, but then Trump insisted he was not the one who fired the guy:

In a resignation letter released by the EPA, Pruitt wrote that it had been “a blessing” to serve under Trump and undertake “transformative work” at the EPA. But he added that “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

He signed the letter, “Your Faithful Friend, Scott Pruitt.”

Trump later told reporters aboard Air Force One that there was “no final straw” that led to Pruitt’s departure, and that the move, which he said was of Pruitt’s volition, had been in the works for “a couple of days.”

That was odd. This was Pruitt’s decision, not his? What was Trump saying? Please don’t think of me as the kind of guy who fires people? What about Celebrity Apprentice? That show made him president. What are people to think now?

The rest of this item from the Washington Post details all the Pruitt scandals in detail, but that hardly matters now. Scott Pruitt is now a minor footnote in American political history, and nothing changes:

Andrew Wheeler, until now the low-profile deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, became a likely successor to the scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt Thursday and an appealing alternative for those hoping to continue to roll back key EPA policies.

Wheeler spent a decade lobbying for just the sort of companies the agency regulates, and before that he worked for Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who rejects climate change. Drawing on more than a quarter-century in Washington, Wheeler is expected to pick up where the departing Pruitt left off – only without the controversy that constantly plagued him.

Even if Wheeler ends up recusing himself from specific EPA decisions, his record as a lobbyist suggests his views might not differ much from those of President Trump. At the firm Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, Wheeler represented energy companies, mining companies and a mixture of others with issues ranging from food to salvaging automobiles. Among his professional activities, he once listed his post as vice president of the Washington Coal Club.

Trump should have nominated Andrew Wheeler in the first place. He’ll destroy the environment, to make American corporations great again, quietly and far more effectively. No one will even notice he’s there, but that’s the problem. The Associated Press offers this backgrounder:

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross came in for an Oval Office tongue-lashing after he used a mundane soup can as a TV prop. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis got overruled by President Donald Trump’s announcement that a new “Space Force” is in the offing. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt caught a sharp admonition from Trump to “knock it off” after his ethics problems dominated cable television – and was gone from the job a few months later.

Welcome to the Trump Cabinet, where broad opportunities to reshape the government and advance a conservative agenda come with everyday doses of presidential adulation, humiliation, perks and pestering. Sometimes all at roughly the same time…

The Cabinet members are lashed to a mercurial president who has been known to quickly sour on those working for him and who doesn’t shy from subjecting subordinates – many of them formerly powerful figures in their own rights – to withering public humiliation.

This is the shaming part of Celebrity Apprentice with any of that “firing” stuff:

Trump’s Cabinet, a collection of corporate heavyweights, decorated generals and influential conservatives, has been beset by regular bouts of turnover and scandal. A Cabinet member’s standing with Trump – who’s up, who’s down; who’s relevant, who’s not – is closely tied to how that person or their issue is playing in the press, especially on cable TV.

It’s all about what plays well on television and ratings:

Over the last 16 months, that dynamic has resulted in a Cabinet with varying tiers of influence with the president. Though all 24 Cabinet members, including the vice president, can, at times, have the president’s ear, some have been able to consistently influence Trump behind the scenes and mostly retained his respect. Others have fended off – so far – a swarm of accusations of ethical violations and moved steadily forward enacting the president’s agenda. A third group has largely flown under the radar, their names out of the headlines and their jobs seemingly secure.

Trump, like many modern presidents, has consolidated power in the West Wing and largely judges his Cabinet members by how well they reflect upon him, according to nearly two dozen administration officials, outside advisers and lawmakers.

Make him look good on television – that’s the one and only job – and treat him like the big baby that he is:

One key measure of the effectiveness of Cabinet members has been their ability to manage up to the president – and manage their disappointment when he ignores their counsel.

Mike Pompeo, first as Trump’s CIA director and now as his secretary of state, has seemingly cracked that code.

During a classified briefing on economic assistance for one African nation, the then-CIA director whipped out an annotated map, pointing out where U.S. troops were located and showing how aid contributed to their counter-terrorism mission. One official in the room said Pompeo presented the map as though he had worked it up the night before, rather than his teams of analysts, earning brownie points and a sympathetic response from the president.

The trick is learning how to manage the guy:

Pompeo’s stock with the president ran deep as an early supporter. But as CIA director, he worked with the national security team to try to steer the unconventional president toward more conventional approaches. Their personal relationship grew as Pompeo attended nearly every presidential daily intelligence briefing he could – always bringing visual aids.

In short, keep it simple. Use picture-books. Don’t use big words. Don’t let him know there was any research by anyone behind what you say. That only makes him angry. He knows better. Tell him does know better. Lie. That works. He’s a television guy.

That, in turn, explains the new guy. BuzzFeed News’ Steven Perlberg and Tarini Parti explain the new guy:

Former Fox News co-president Bill Shine, who was ousted over the network’s mishandling of sexual harassment, just took over the seemingly impossible job of serving as President Donald Trump’s top communications aide, receiving the official title of assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for communications.

But the loudest voices opposing Shine’s appointment are not coming from progressive activists and women’s groups. They’re coming from within the conservative media world.

Those forces mobilized to try and block Shine’s ascent, warning the White House that it may have a staffing scandal of Rob Porter proportions on its hands once Roger Ailes’ former right-hand man joins the administration.

Rob Porter was White House staff secretary – the guy who managed all the paper-flow to Trump – who had to resign. Over the years he had beaten each of his two wives to a pulp. There were police records. There were restraining orders. They both spoke up. He was gone, and with Ailes’ defender, this has that sort of potential:

“It’s extraordinary that the president of the United States could hire someone like this,” said one senior Fox News executive. “This is someone who is highly knowledgeable of women being cycled through for horrible and degrading behavior by someone who was an absolute monster.”

Conservatives are warning that Shine’s entrance to the White House could reignite scrutiny into the Ailes scandal, with a new emphasis on what he specifically knew about the former Fox News chief’s behavior with women. Ailes denied the sexual harassment claims up until his death last year. Shine, who was accused in several lawsuits of helping to cover up the complaints, has denied those claims but was ultimately forced out of the company last May amid the swirling scandal.

“I think it could be one of the worst mistakes that the president has made” said a Republican source close to the White House. “It’s just not a smart idea.”

But this will stir the pot, and Trump likes to stir the pot:

In a statement announcing his appointment Thursday afternoon, the White House said Shine “brings over two decades of television programming, communications, and management experience” to his new role. The official announcement was something of a formality. Shine was already in the White House this week meeting with reporters.

And he’s a television guy:

Shine’s role could bring the White House’s messaging even more in line with the president’s favorite cable news network and increase Trump’s desire to generate the kind of buzzworthy theater – from rallies to the North Korea summit – that can appeal to his Fox News–loving base.

One clear victor from the hire is Sean Hannity, who has advocated to the president on Shine’s behalf for months. Shine and Hannity were close allies at Fox News and they remain friends. In the wake of Ailes’ ouster at Fox, Hannity became Shine’s biggest public defender as he faced pressure to resign.

David Corn sees what is happening here:

This mind-meld of Fox and Trump’s White House was probably inevitable. Now Trump, without tweeting, can be fully wired into the network that often functions as state television. This is true synergy.

Some things had to happen, and Corn has a little story to tell:

When I was an analyst at Fox – and always free to say whatever I wanted to – I would meet with Shine once in a while. Usually this was when it was time to renew my small contract. After we finished the “negotiations” we would argue about politics for a bit. Shine always seemed more keen to discuss issues that would juice up the Fox audience than to advance any of his own political preferences or beliefs. He struck me as a die-hard, only-ratings-matter TV exec who could easily fit into a cooking or sports network. And one day, I did gain a bit of insight into how he thinks.

I was in his office for one of our chats. On the wall across from his desk was a deck of TVs showing all the news networks. The volume on each was turned off. Shine was sitting at his desk, and I was in a chair facing him. The televisions were behind me. In the middle of our conversation, Shine said, “Excuse me.” He picked up the phone and dialed an extension. I heard his end of the call: “Why did you change the shot? Why did you cut away from the fire? … OK, OK. Go back to it, and stay on it.” Polite but firm. He hung up.

What was that about? I asked. Shine explained that there was an underground electrical fire near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and Fox had been airing a live shot of smoke rising through a grate. When Shine noticed that the director had switched to other news, he called the control booth. Shine wanted to stick with the happening-now images of billowing gray smoke – even though this was far from a dramatic image of a major blaze. It was simply smoke coming through a hole in a sidewalk. No flames. No heroic fire-fighters battling a conflagration. No soot-covered victims. Just smoke. The network followed Shine’s command and returned to the shot.

Why do you want to broadcast that? I inquired. With a wide grin on his face, Shine explained: “People will sit on their couches and watch a live shot of a fire for hours and hours. They will not switch the channel. Flames are the best. But smoke is the next best thing. We have smoke. We stick with smoke.”

He’ll fit right in.

Of course he will. This had to happen. Trump is all smoke and no fire, the master of shaming others but too squeamish to actually fire anyone at all. Scott Pruitt is out. He was bad for the ratings. Bill Shine is in. He’ll provide the smoke – lots of it. Flames are the best. But smoke is the next best thing. Trump will win a second term. Some things have to happen, and will.

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