January 28, 2018 --
TravTrivia recommends the following columns (and tweets):
Maureen Dowd, NYT: Trump Hits Alps, but Melania Is Frosty in Florida
WASHINGTON — Melania has learned a few things from the master.
The first lady will never be as brilliant at trolling as her husband. He is an idiot-savant who plays in the roiling ocean of Twitter as naturally as a blubbery-necked sea lion.
Only Donald Trump, a Rat Pack relic who spurred the reckoning with his transgressions toward women, could send out a tweet taking credit for the women’s march.
But the Slovenian Sphinx has her moments.
It started when she seemed to sartorially upbraid Trump for his Billy Bush vulgarities by wearing a pussy-bow blouse to the St. Louis debate. Then, in a master stroke, she chose a first-lady project that could only be interpreted as a wicked rip on her husband: fighting vicious cyberbullies. Last spring, Melania’s personal Twitter account favorited a GIF of her own downcast face at the Inaugural Address with an accompanying crack: “Seems the only #Wall @realDonaldTrump’s built is the one between him and @FLOTUS.”
And who can forget the crisp hand swat in Israel or her wish to spend Christmas on “a deserted island”?
Last weekend, on the anniversary of the inauguration, Melania Instagrammed a throwback picture of herself in her powder-blue Jackie suit, not with her husband but with a hunky Marine escort. She wore a delighted ear-to-ear smile, the kind she never seems to flash around the Donald. (It would have been even funnier, of course, if she had posted a photo of herself in front of some empty stands and a sparse crowd, but we’re talking more grounds for divorce there.)
After the Stormy Daniels story broke — about Trump cavorting and watching Shark Week with the porn star and telling her not to worry about Melania, at home with a new baby, and then having his lawyer allegedly pay Stormy $130,000 during the campaign to hush her up — a wintry Melania canceled her plan to accompany her husband to Davos.
Instead, while the kid from Queens was abroad trying to impress the soul-sucking global elites he got elected railing against, pathetically bragging that he had “a crowd like they’ve never had before in Davos,” Melania made a solo visit to the Holocaust Museum here for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This looked like a subtle reproach to Trump for his unspeakable defense of the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., and an allusion to the president’s statement last year on remembrance day, which somehow neglected to remember Jews or anti-Semitism. What a Stephen Miller special that was.
Afterward, the always elusive first lady became even more elusive, slipping out of Washington, much to the surprise of the press. Suddenly, as Stormy Daniels began her media tour on “Inside Edition” and booked an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel,” Melania was making a stealthy landing in Florida on an Air Force plane.
Trump could humiliate his wife by being a big, horny pig, but he is the one who comes off as the embarrassment. He’s an embarrassing husband and an embarrassing president and an embarrassing leader of the free world. Barack Obama was always calling to our better angels. Donald Trump is paying off porn stars and denigrating struggling countries that send minorities to the U.S. as “shitholes.” How did we drop so far and so fast from class to crass?
Partly, it was the Democrats’ preference for lecturing and entitlement over winning and wooing. They passed over people who had better messages and more authentic personae who might have beaten Trump, like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and gave the nomination to Hillary Clinton, a flawed feminist icon who was stunted in her ability to criticize her rival for his retrogressive treatment of women since she had enabled her husband in his retrogressive treatment of women.
The Times reported Friday that Hillary protected a senior adviser on faith in her 2008 campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young female aide. Hillary ignored the advice of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, to fire the man, Burns Strider, and simply docked him several weeks of pay and made him undergo counseling. The subordinate who complained was given a new job.
As The Times’s Susan Chira wrote, the episode was “a poignant reminder that placing women in positions of leadership does not ensure they will always act to protect other women.”
Everyone wondered if Melania’s rebellious vanishing act — combined with the simultaneous Times scoop that Trump had already tried to fire Robert Mueller but was blocked by the White House lawyer, Don McGahn — was the beginning of the “unraveling,” as one top Democrat put it. (Surely, the Trump unraveling began with his birth, like Damien in “The Omen.”)
“There’s an endgame in sight, though it may take longer,” Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer, told me. “It’s like ancient Rome where they’re all turning on each other. McGahn is taking out the long knives to stick Trump in the back. At some point, General Kelly may do the same. Bannon is exiled to the outer walls of the city, where he is collecting wayward Roman soldiers to go back and attack Trump. There are orgies and payoffs and mud wrestling, so beyond anything we’ve experienced anywhere.”
The White House is either ancient Rome falling or the Moscow cat circus, as Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio calls it, or a blender with the top off, as one of my colleagues dubs it.
It’s a shattering moment for the country, when many of the institutions that gave America its identity as a smart, brave, generous, fair country — the presidency, Congress, sports, faith, Hollywood, big business — seem corroded and immoral.
When we look in the mirror and try to figure out who we are now, elevating a corporate tax cut over our fundamental values is not going to cut it.
Dana Milbank, Washington Post: Republicans redefine morality as whatever Trump does
Someday, likely three years from now, perhaps sooner, perhaps — gulp — later, President Trump will depart the stage.
But what will be left of us?
New evidence suggests that the damage he is doing to the culture is bigger than the man. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that two-thirds of Americans say Trump is not a good role model for children. Every component of society feels that way — men and women, old and young, black and white, highly educated or not — except for one: Republicans. By 72 to 22 percent, they say Trump is a good role model.
In marked contrast to the rest of the country, Republicans also say that Trump shares their values (82 percent) and that — get this — he “provides the United States with moral leadership” (80 percent).
And what moral leadership this role model has been providing!
Soon after the release of this poll, we learned that Trump, in an effort to halt the Russia probe, planned to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, backing off only because his own White House counsel threatened to resign. So Trump obviously didn’t speak the truth when he said that he had never contemplated such a firing. And, at this writing, he is in Switzerland, responding by renewing his denunciations of the “fake news” media — an attack on the free press now emulated by despots the world over.
In fairness, we learned of the proposed Mueller firing after the poll was conducted, so let’s see what else might have led 72 percent of Republicans to conclude Trump is a good role model:
His lawyer arranged to make payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, a month before the election for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal.
He used a vulgar word to describe African countries during a racist rant to lawmakers at the White House.
He was mounting a campaign to discredit the “corrupt” FBI, the Justice Department and the special prosecutor, just as he previously sought to disqualify courts and judges.
He backed a credibly accused child molester for the Senate from Alabama.
And so on.
Yet so strong is the pull of tribalism that we’ve reached a point where partisanship outweighs morality. Republicans aren’t approving of Trump despite his behavior; in calling him a role model, they’re approving his behavior.
No doubt some of those Republicans now condoning Trump’s behavior will give the standard rebuttal: What about the Clintons? Well, Quinnipiac didn’t poll nationally during the Clinton presidency, but Gallup, during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in January 1999, asked a similar question. The number of Republicans back then saying Clinton did not provide good moral leadership, 91 percent, was similar to the 96 percent of Democrats who say Trump does not provide moral leadership today. The difference: Democrats disapproved of Clinton’s morality by 2 to 1 (65 to 33 percent), even as they overwhelmingly approved of his job performance. Only 16 percent of Republicans today say Trump does not provide moral leadership.
The triumph of partisanship over morality starts at the top. Franklin Graham excused Trump’s alleged sexual encounter, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, declared that Trump gets a “mulligan” — a do-over — for his behavior.
Such normalizing of Trump’s behavior makes the seediest elements feel safe to crawl out from under their rocks. The FBI reported in November that hate crimes were up again in 2016 after rising in 2015. And the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents were “significantly higher” through the first nine months of 2017 — a time in which Trump said there were “very fine people” among a march of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. (This month, as Trump was whipping up loathing of the “fake news” media, a young man was arrested for threatening to gun down CNN journalists.)
Even public officials feel emboldened to give voice to the basest impulses. In recent days:
A town manager in Maine was ousted for promoting racial segregation and “pro-white” views.
A pro-Trump Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri posted a statement saying he expects his wife to have dinner waiting for him each night and denouncing “nail-biting manophobic hell-bent feminist she devils who shriek” and have “nasty, snake-filled heads.”
A Republican state representative in Kansas alleged that marijuana was illegal because “the African Americans, they were basically users and they responded the worst off to those drugs.”
A Trump appointee to AmeriCorps resigned after CNN uncovered his past remarks saying “I just don’t like Muslim people” and similar statements.
Politicians have always behaved badly. What’s new is the willingness of so many not just to look the other way but to call bad behavior good.
Gail Collins, NYT: Once Again: How Hillary Holds Up
I’m sorry, gentle reader. You’ve spent the week listening to terrible news on everything from flu to foreign affairs, and now we’ve got a story about how Hillary Clinton tolerated sexual harassment in her presidential campaign.
There are several ways to handle this, and one is definitely to consider moving to another country. Another is to say that you’re not going to listen to any of this as long as the country is run by a man whose track record on sexual issues is Cro-Magnon. Or to ask what would have happened to Hillary if she had been recorded bragging about how fame gives her the right to grab men by their private parts.
But let’s be tough-minded and think this new controversy through: According to a Times report by Maggie Haberman and Amy Chozick, during the 2008 presidential campaign, a senior Clinton aide named Burns Strider was accused of sexually harassing a woman who had the bad luck to be working in his office. Clinton’s campaign manager recommended he be fired. Instead, the candidate opted for sending him to counseling and docking him several weeks’ pay. The law firm that worked for the campaign said it had set up a process for handling sexual harassment complaints and this was “appropriate action.”
One of the deep, deep ironies of this story is Strider’s job, which was “faith adviser.” Among his duties was sending Clinton scriptural passages every morning.
“I don’t understand why any political campaign would have a ‘faith adviser’ on paid staff,” said Gloria Steinem, one of the multitudinous women who were poring over the story and trying to decide what it all meant.
Strider was a Mississippian with a good-old-boy affect. “He’d become kind of known as the faith guru for the Democrats,” recalled Sarah Posner of the Nation Institute, who reports on religion and politics. “Somebody who supposedly held the key to how Democrats could reach voters of faith.”
He was also a co-founder of the American Values Network, and we are going to stop here for just one second to note that “values” is beginning to be almost as overworked as “freedom” in American politics. Wordwise, values has lost its value.
In 2008, a woman who was working under Strider’s direction complained that he had been making her uncomfortable with shoulder rubs, a kiss on the forehead and some sexually suggestive emails. When Hillary vetoed the proposal that he be fired, the woman was moved to another job under the deputy campaign manager. That at least sounds as if it was as good a posting.
Still, Steinem noted, “she was the one removed. You have to remove the harasser.”
“It’s not that they didn’t do anything,” concluded Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney for the A.C.L.U. Women’s Rights Project. “But it’s always disappointing to hear that someone you admire for her stance on gender equality didn’t take the strongest position possible.”
The national uproar over sexual harassment has the entire country debating how to deal with these issues — particularly when it comes to more powerful men trying to take advantage of their underlings. That’s why stories like the one Haberman and Chozick reported are important. They’re a way of helping us figure this all out.
While we don’t know all the details, it doesn’t sound unreasonable that an employee with first-time charges of shoulder-rubbing and a forehead kiss should get a punishment less drastic than immediate dismissal. Except, as we keep needing to point out, there was that part about Strider being the values guy.
And he was a campaign gun-for-hire who, if he had been kicked out, would probably have moved to another political job. As he did when the campaign ended and Strider went on to a pro-Hillary group called Correct the Record, where he was fired for what Haberman and Chozick reported as “workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide.”
Here’s where I’m coming down: Hillary Clinton was the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket, and when she did it, she won the popular vote. She’s broken a trillion barriers. She’s also done enormous good work to improve the lives of women in this country.
But she’s never been at her strongest when it comes to men on the prowl. While her faith adviser wasn’t anywhere near the level of a Harvey Weinstein, she did hang out with Weinstein, too, cherishing him as a beloved donor. And some women have never really gotten over the fact that she did not leave her husband when she discovered he was having an affair, in the White House, with a girl far too young and powerless to be a genuinely willing partner.
Because sexual harassment is so much on our national mind right now, we’d like her to be a heroine on that issue, too. But if there’s anything we’ve learned in all of our years with Hillary Clinton, it’s that you can be both great and deeply imperfect. It’s one of her gifts. Even if right now we really wish she’d fired the faith adviser.
Paul Krugman, NYT: The Spendthrift Economy
I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to quarterly GDP numbers. For one thing, they do tend to bounce around a lot; for another, claims that a good number in a particular quarter somehow validates the Trumpian claim to be able to achieve high growth for a decade are almost too stupid to argue with.
But there are a couple of points I think are worth making about growth over the past year.
First, as Jason Furman notes, a good part of the 2.5% growth seems to be cyclical – the result of the economy moving closer to full employment, not a pickup in the underlying growth rate of potential output, which looks more like 1% than the 3% Trump et al need to make their numbers work.
Second, as Jason also notes, that cyclical expansion doesn’t look too healthy when you look at it closely. It is not being driven mainly by rising business investment. Here’s biz investment as a share of GDP in recent years: it bounces around some, largely because of the rise, fall, and partial recovery of fracking, but is not especially high:
What we see instead is a large decline in personal savings, which are now down to levels not seen since before the financial crisis.
Why is saving down? Maybe it’s the stock market (which is starting to feel more like a bubble than it did even a few months ago), maybe it’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we have a constitutional crisis/a nuclear war/Skynet kills us all. Whatever: saving can’t keep falling, and you wonder whether households are getting overstretched again.
I’m not predicting a crisis; this doesn’t look nearly as bad as the U.S. economy in the housing bubble years. (And I’m trying extra hard, given my election night freakout, not to let my political dismay distort my economic judgment.) But as I said, this growth doesn’t look very healthy.
Personal Tweets Posted This Week
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The Guggenheim chief curator responded to a White House request for a van Gogh printing by offering a solid 18-karat gold toilet instead. Bro, that’s the way to Gogh. #solidgold
List of congressional members not attending SOTU is growing. This will be a State of Disunion. #SOTU
POTUS throws punches below the belt in battle with FBI. Should be disqualified as leader of law enforcement.
The GDP at 2.6% is about half the size Rand Paul claims he’ll give us. It’s so under predictions that POTUS will not take credit for it. How will Trump explain this at the State of the Union on Tuesday? #GDP
A low energy POTUS popped out of the Swiss cuckoo clock to lecture all on putting their countries first. No seconds in Trump's life. #Davos