April 29, 2018 --
The current worldwide situation is like a festering developing virus that is a growing conflict which is a global war. So any commentary we read are discussions of the nuances, but make no mistake, in my view, we are at a war from which we cannot retreat.
Let the following commentators cover the events of the moment.
Nicholas Kristof, NYT: How to Understand What’s Happening in North Korea
North Korea doesn’t have enough food, it lacks Facebook and Beyoncé, and its diplomats have to ration their use of computers in the Foreign Ministry because of electricity shortages.
But North Korea excels at choreography and theater, and its officials are well educated, very savvy, and agile with a pirouette. So we have peace breaking out on the Korean Peninsula — and President Trump gets some credit for that.
As with any circus performance, it’s amazing to behold but not quite as billed.
As Kim Jong-un stepped into South Korea on Friday — the first North Korean leader to do so — let’s acknowledge that he has played a weak hand exceptionally well. Kim is now aiming to squirm out of sanctions, build up his economy and retain his nuclear arsenal, all while remaining a global focus of attention. It’s a remarkable performance.
“North Korea expert” is an oxymoron, but from someone who has been covering the country since the 1980s, here’s my take on why we should be deeply skeptical — and yet relieved, even a bit hopeful.
President Trump’s tightening of sanctions and his belligerent rhetoric genuinely did change the equation. All this was meant to intimidate Kim, but it mostly alarmed President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and galvanized him to undertake successful Olympic diplomacy that laid the groundwork for the North-South summit meeting.
Kim then parlayed that progress into meetings with both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, both of which reflected longtime North Korean goals. And on Friday Kim and Moon adopted a declaration promising “no more war,” “a new era of peace” and “complete denuclearization.”
Inspiring, but count me skeptical.
North and South Korean leaders have signed grand peace documents before, in 2000 and 2007, and neither lasted. In 2012, North Korea agreed not to test missiles and then weeks later fired one off but called it a “satellite” launch.
When North Korea talks about “complete denuclearization,” it typically means that the U.S. ends its alliance with South Korea, and then North Korea will no longer need nuclear weapons to defend itself. But the U.S. won’t give up the South. And North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weapons since the 1950s, and I don’t know any expert who thinks that it will genuinely hand over its arsenal.
On my last visit to North Korea, in September, a Foreign Ministry official told me that Libya had given up its nuclear program — only to have its regime toppled. Likewise, he noted, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq lacked a nuclear deterrent — so Saddam was ousted by America. North Korea would not make the same mistake, he insisted.
It’s even less likely that North Korea will give up its nukes now that it sees Trump poised to tear up the Iran nuclear deal.
Kim’s game plan seems to be to sign pledges for denuclearization, leaving details to be worked out in follow-up talks, knowing that the pledges won’t be fully implemented and that there will never be intrusive inspections. This may be disingenuous on the part of North Korea, but that’s not terrible: It provides a face-saving way for both North Korea and the U.S. to back away from the precipice of war.
Trump and Kim both badly want a meeting, so expect North Korea to release its three American detainees in the coming weeks and to make soothing statements. Trump and Kim will present themselves as historic peacemakers as they sign some kind of declaration calling for peace and denuclearization, with some kind of timetable; Trump’s aides will then say that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize more than Barack Obama did.
I hope Trump will also raise human rights issues. A commission of inquiry suggested that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity “on a massive scale” in its labor camps, and we should push for access to these camps by humanitarian organizations.
“Over 100,000 people, a figure that includes countless innocent family members of so-called enemies of the state, are effectively consigned to die in North Korea’s political prisons,” Navi Pillay, a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told me. “The forced abortions, infanticide, persecution of Christians, torture and summary executions that regularly occur in those various facilities are well documented. President Trump can demand that the Red Cross and the international community be given access to North Korea’s prisons and labor camp systems.”
In the meantime, I’m guessing that the North will halt all nuclear and missile testing (hopefully, including short-range missiles), and will stop production of plutonium at its reactors in Yongbyon (North Korea may also claim to stop enriching uranium, but that’s more difficult to verify). In exchange, China and South Korea will quietly ease sanctions — and Kim will get what he has always wanted, the legitimacy of being treated as a world leader, as an equal, and as the ruler of a de facto nuclear state.
Both Kim and Trump benefit politically from that scenario, and for that matter so does the world: Hard-liners will fume that we’re being played and that the North is not verifiably giving up nuclear weapons — true — but it’s all preferable to war.
How does this end? The West’s plan is to drag things along until the North collapses. This may happen. The problem is that it was also the U.S. plan in 1994 in a previous nuclear deal. And I confess that I chose to be The New York Times’s bureau chief in Tokyo in the late 1990s partly so that I could cover what I thought might be the collapse soon of the North Korean regime. I learned then not to make predictions about the timing of the demise of the Kim dynasty.
In effect, the emerging framework is a backdoor route to a nuclear cap or to the “freeze for a freeze” solution that North Korea and China have previously recommended and that Trump has rejected. It may all fall apart. But it’s possible now to envision a path away from war, and for that even we skeptics should be grateful.
Paul Krugman, NYT: Trump’s War on the Poor
America hasn’t always, or even usually, been governed by the best and the brightest; over the years, presidents have employed plenty of knaves and fools. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like the collection of petty grifters and miscreants surrounding Donald Trump. Price, Pruitt, Zinke, Carson and now Ronny Jackson: At this point, our default assumption should be that there’s something seriously wrong with anyone this president wants on his team.
Still, we need to keep our eye on the ball. The perks many Trump officials demand — the gratuitous first-class travel, the double super-secret soundproof phone booths, and so on — are outrageous, and they tell you a lot about the kind of people they are. But what really matters are their policy decisions. Ben Carson’s insistence on spending taxpayer funds on a $31,000 dining set is ridiculous; his proposal to sharply raise housing costs for hundreds of thousands of needy American families, tripling rents for some of the poorest households, is vicious.
And this viciousness is part of a broader pattern. Last year, Trump and his allies in Congress devoted most of their efforts to coddling the rich; this was obviously true of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but even the assault on Obamacare was largely about securing hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the wealthy. This year, however, the G.O.P.’s main priority seems to be making war on the poor.
That war is being fought on multiple fronts. The move to slash housing subsidies follows moves to sharply increase work requirements for those seeking food stamps. Meanwhile, the administration has been granting Republican-controlled states waivers allowing them to impose onerous new work requirements for recipients of Medicaid — requirements whose main effect would probably be not more work, but simply fewer people getting essential health care.
Even the administration’s de facto financial deregulation — its systematic gutting of consumer financial protection — should be seen largely as an attack on the least well off, since poor families and less educated workers are the most likely victims of exploitative bankers.
The interesting question is not whether Trump and friends are trying to make the lives of the poor nastier, more brutal and shorter. They are. The question, instead, is why.
Is it about saving money? Conservatives do complain about the cost of safety net programs, but it’s hard to take those complaints seriously coming from people who just voted to explode the budget deficit with huge tax cuts. Moreover, there’s good evidence that some of the programs under attack actually do what tax cuts don’t: eventually pay back a significant part of their upfront costs by promoting better economic performance.
For example, the creation of the food stamp program didn’t just make the lives of recipients a bit easier. It also had major positive impacts on the long-term health of children from poor families, which made them more productive as adults — more likely to pay taxes, less likely to need further public assistance.
The same goes for Medicaid, where new studies suggest that more than half of each dollar spent on health care for children eventually comes back as higher tax receipts from healthier adults.
What about the idea that anti-poverty programs create a “poverty trap,” reducing the incentive for people to work their way to a better life? That’s a very popular notion on the right. But the reality is that there are very few Americans getting food stamps or Medicaid who could and should be working but aren’t.
It’s true that some calculations indicate that means-tested programs — programs available only to those with sufficiently low incomes — can create disincentives for working and earning. But the evidence suggests that while safety net programs have some adverse effect on incentives, it’s a much smaller effect than many policymakers believe.
Furthermore, we could reduce those disincentives by making programs more generous, not less — providing more aid to the near-poor rather than less aid to the poor. Somehow, conservatives never seem to consider that option.
So what’s really behind the war on the poor? Pretty clearly, the pain this war will inflict is a feature, not a bug. Trump and his friends aren’t punishing the poor reluctantly, out of the belief that they must be cruel to be kind. They just want to be cruel.
Glenn Thrush of The New York Times reported, “Mr. Trump, aides said, refers to nearly every program that provides benefits to poor people as welfare, a term he regards as derogatory.” And I guess you can see where that comes from. After all, he’s a self-made man who can’t attribute any of his own success to, say, inherited wealth. Oh, wait.
Seriously, a lot of people both in this administration and in Congress simply feel no empathy for the poor. Some of that lack of empathy surely reflects racial animus. But while the war on the poor will disproportionately hurt minority groups, it will also hurt a lot of low-income whites — in fact, it will surely end up hurting a lot of people who voted for Trump. Will they notice?
Paul Krugman, NYT: We Don’t Need No Education
Matt Bevin, the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, lost it a few days ago. Thousands of his state’s teachers had walked off their jobs, forcing many schools to close for a day, to protest his opposition to increased education funding. And Bevin lashed out with a bizarre accusation: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.”
He later apologized. But his hysterical outburst had deep roots: At the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers. That war is the reason we’ve been seeing teacher strikes in multiple states. And people like Bevin are having a hard time coming to grips with the reality they’ve created.
To understand how they got to this point, you need to know what government in America does with your tax dollars.
The federal government, as an old line puts it, is basically an insurance company with an army: nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. State and local governments, however, are basically school districts with police departments. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force; protective services like police and fire departments account for much of the rest.
So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.
This promise is, however, never — and I mean never — fulfilled; the right’s continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.
What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can’t do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level — simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.
And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.
How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.
So what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves.
Now, teaching kids was never a way to get rich. However, being a schoolteacher used to put you solidly in the middle class, with a decent income and benefits. In much of the country, however, that is no longer true.
At the national level, earnings of public-school teachers have fallen behind inflation since the mid-1990s, and have fallen even more behind the earnings of comparable workers. At this point, teachers earn 23 percent less than other college graduates. But this national average is a bit deceptive: Teacher pay is actually up in some big states like New York and California, but it’s way down in a number of right-leaning states.
Meanwhile, teachers’ benefits are also getting worse. In particular, teachers are having to pay a rising share of their health insurance premiums, a severe burden when their real earnings are declining at the same time.
So we’re left with a nation in which teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs. And they can’t take it anymore.
Which brings us back to Bevin’s unhinged outburst.
One way to think about what’s currently happening in a number of states is that the anti-Obama backlash, combined with the growing tribalism of American politics, delivered a number of state governments into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologues. These ideologues really believed that they could usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.
Predictably, they couldn’t. For a while they were able to evade some of the consequences of their failure by pushing the costs off onto public sector employees, especially schoolteachers. But that strategy has reached its limits. Now what?
Well, some Republicans have actually proved willing to learn from experience, reverse tax cuts and restore education funding. But all too many are responding the way Bevin did: Instead of admitting, even implicitly, that they were wrong, they’re lashing out, in increasingly unhinged ways, at the victims of their policies.
Eugene Robinson, WaPo: Trump golfed instead of going to Barbara Bush’s funeral. That was a good thing
Sometimes a picture is worth a zillion words. The viral group photograph from former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral speaks volumes about the state of our democracy, poignantly illustrating what we have lost and must at all costs regain.
George H.W. Bush is front and center in his wheelchair. Behind him, left to right, we see Laura and George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. It is an extraordinary portrait of power, continuity, legacy, civility and mutual respect — a remarkable tableau that is made possible only by President Trump’s absence. Imagine him in the picture, puffed-up and no doubt scowling, trying desperately to make himself the center of attention. It’s a good thing he decided to spend the weekend playing golf and writing angry tweets at Mar-a-Lago instead.
I can’t look at that photo without pondering how destructive Trump has been — and how much work and goodwill it will take to put the pieces together again after he’s gone.
The elder Bush pursued conservative policies. Clinton was center-left. The younger Bush took the country back to the right. Obama pulled it to the left. These shifts seemed big and important at the time, but they pale in comparison with the disruption Trump has wrought.
Like virtually all of their predecessors, the four presidents in that picture tried to govern with a generosity of spirit. I disagreed vehemently with many of George W. Bush’s policies, including the Iraq War and the brutal torture of suspected terrorists. I was sharply critical of his administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina. Yet Kanye West was wrong when he said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” With no regard for political gain, Bush 43 launched a program to provide anti-HIV drugs to victims in southern Africa — a move estimated to have saved at least 11 million lives. I try to imagine Trump doing something like that, and I can’t.
I also can’t see Trump skillfully managing tectonic geopolitical change the way George H.W. Bush handled the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bush 41 knew that it was important to lay the groundwork so that Russia and its former satellites could prosper in the post-communist era. Trump’s foreign policy is based on “America first” selfishness and whether foreign leaders flatter him or not.
Clinton guided the nation through tremendous economic expansion, welfare reform and fiscal belt-tightening that ultimately resulted in a balanced budget. In doing so, he often angered his Democratic Party base. By contrast, Trump evidently cares about nothing but his base. Presented with reasonable compromises on issues such as immigration and health care, Trump preferred to leave problems unsolved rather than risk his loyal supporters’ anger.
Obama always sought compromise, though he did not always achieve it; he based the Affordable Care Act, after all, on Republican ideas that had first been implemented by Mitt Romney. Seeing Obama at a funeral was a reminder of his great eloquence, especially at moments of tragedy and loss. I was present when Obama delivered his indelible eulogy to the victims of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre. I saw the reaction when he broke into “Amazing Grace” and the auditorium erupted with shouts of “Amen!” I imagine Trump at that podium, and I weep.
Melania Trump was not out of place in that photo; she looked elegant, as always, and paid her respects to Barbara Bush with grace. It is easy to see her as an eventual member of that exclusive club of former presidents and first ladies — as long as she leaves her husband at home to nurse his many grievances.
When Trump eventually leaves, we will have much to do — rebuild the State Department, put the Environmental Protection Agency back in the business of fighting climate change, shift tax policy to favor the middle class rather than the wealthy, cope with the trillion-dollar deficits that arise from irresponsible tax cuts, rebuild relationships with some of our closest allies . . . the list is long. But perhaps the biggest task will be reestablishing the sense of national honor and tradition that the funeral photograph represents.
An argument can be made that the Democratic Party and the pre-Trump Republican Party were too close, that there were only modest differences between their policies, that both had lost touch with the nation they sought to govern. But if that was the problem, Donald Trump was a disastrous solution.
Imagine him standing there in the picture, between his wife and Michelle Obama. The image just falls apart.
E.J. Dionne Jr., WaPo: Macron treats Congress to a full-scale takedown of Trumpism
The early story line about President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron focused on their “bromance” and Trump’s puerile claim to dominance when he brushed what he said was dandruff off Macron’s suit.
But on the last day of his state visit on Wednesday, Macron showed he will not be trifled with. He used a speech to a joint session of Congress to engage in a full-scale takedown of Trumpism, wrapped in a love letter to the United States and a call on Americans to live up to the values embedded in our own history.
Macron, speaking forcefully in English, held nothing back. He warned against “the illusion of nationalism” and politicians who “play with fear and anger.” He brought home the nature of the menace by alluding to the U.S. president who led the war against fascism. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” declared Macron, channeling Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Macron predicted that, despite Trump’s abandonment of the Paris climate accord, the United States would one day rejoin it. Turning Trump’s signature campaign theme on its author, the French president issued his patented call to “make our planet great again.” For good measure, he pointedly asked climate change deniers to confront the consequences if they proved to be wrong. “Let us face it,” Macron said, “there is no Planet B.”
“What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the future of our children?” Macron asked.
If Trump underscored his permissive attitudes toward autocracy by referring on Tuesday to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “very open” and “very honorable,” Macron spoke of the obligation to stand up for democracy and against authoritarian threats across the globe. And he reminded his American listeners that the chief architect of the multilateral institutions defending democratic ideals was — the United States of America.
“The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism,” Macron said. “You are the one now who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.”
“What we cherish is at stake,” he added. “What we love is in danger.”
He announced flatly that France would not leave the nuclear deal with Iran and suggested that a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would be counterproductive.
But on this question, he offered a path to conciliation by insisting that he, too, wanted to prevent Iran from ever having nuclear weapons. He proposed a bigger and more comprehensive pact built on the old one. Perhaps Macron has a chance of persuading the administration to take this off-ramp, since anything that seems big or bigger evokes a Pavlovian reaction from Trump.
Again and again, the French leader took on the policies Trump has pursued over the past 15 months. “Massive deregulation,” which is what Trump has been up to, is a bad idea, Macron said. The founder of a new down-the-middle French political party may well be a centrist, but he held nothing back in assailing “the abuses of globalized capitalism” and “financial speculation.” He also urged joint U.S.-European regulation to protect the users of social media.
And he put all he said in the context of a thoroughly Gallic nod to rationality. “Without reason, without truth,” he said, “there is no real democracy.”
Macron’s speech here came in the wake of his vigorous address last week to the European Parliament in defense of democracy (“Faced with the authoritarianism which surrounds us on all sides, the answer must not be authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy”). Read in tandem, the two addresses make clear he has decided that his path to history lies in an unambiguous stand against the global influence of right-wing nationalism and the spread of autocracy.
Macron’s vigor on Wednesday provided evidence that this mission takes priority over his quest to create a comradely relationship with Trump and to prod him toward less-damaging policies.
But because Trump is Trump, Macron might get away with playing both roles at once. He has been so successful to this point as a Trump flatterer that the president described him as “perfect.” And on Iran, the White House may come to see that it needs at least a temporary reprieve to concentrate on talks with North Korea, which Macron was careful to endorse.
Still, the French president said last week that in light of the many forces undermining democracy around the world, he did not “want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers.” On Wednesday, no one missed his sense of urgency.
Charles M. Blow, NYT: America Abhors Impeachment
Folks, have a seat and get some tea. I have something to tell you that you may not want to hear: Everyone still hoping for Donald Trump’s removal from office is hoping against the odds.
Yes, Trump is wholly unqualified, lacking in morality and character, a consummate liar and surrounded by corruption. Yes, every day that he occupies the presidency he is a threat to this country, its ideas, conventions and comity, but also arguably to the safety and security of the world itself.
But, although a perspicuous case can be made for his removal, that is an uphill battle because enough of the public and the political class abhor impeachment and find removal to be extreme and indecorous, even for a compromised president.
It is possible that Trump could be impeached if the Democrats take the House of Representatives (odds are that they will) but a conviction in the Senate (where odds are the Republicans will retain a majority, however slim) is all but impossible.
A note of historical relevance: America has only ever impeached two presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99), but in both cases the Senate refused conviction, meaning that both men remained in office.
Richard Nixon, whose name and legacy is often invoked relative to Trump, resigned before the House even voted on his articles of impeachment.
In each of these cases, it’s important to examine how politicians and the public responded to the possibility of removal.
Johnson was a Democratic president when Democrats were the racist conservatives and Republicans were the abolitionist liberals. He became president because he was vice president when Lincoln was assassinated. (Yes, Lincoln had chosen a vice president from the opposing party and from a Southern state for strategic reasons.)
The Civil War had just concluded and Reconstruction had already begun.
But Johnson, the racist that he was, opposed many aspects of Reconstruction. As the Senate website points out: “Johnson vetoed legislation that Congress passed to protect the rights of those who had been freed from slavery. This clash culminated in the House of Representatives voting, on Feb. 24, 1868, to impeach the president.” Both the House and Senate were controlled by Republicans.
But here is the hurdle that the founders built into the process to make it nearly impossible to remove a president: While it only takes a majority of the House to impeach a president, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict in order to remove the president.
In the Senate, the three articles of impeachment that were voted on all fell short by one vote, and that is because seven Republicans switched sides and voted with the Democrats for acquittal.
One of those Republicans, Senator James Grimes of Iowa, explained his actions this way: “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an Unacceptable President.”
Even a Supreme Court associate justice, David Davis, a Republican who had served as Lincoln’s campaign manager, reportedly opposed Johnson’s impeachment, even though he believed him to have “qualities totally unfitting him to be the ruler of a people in the fix we are in” and calling him “obstinate, self-willed, combative, slow to act” and in possession of “no executive ability.”
Johnson was impeached before the advent of modern polling, but that polling did exist when Nixon resigned and Clinton was impeached.
It is important to note in Nixon’s case that the televised Senate Watergate hearings had started and the Saturday Night Massacre occurred in 1973 and yet the percentage of people saying he should be removed from office never rose above the 30s that year, according to Gallup. It wasn’t until after the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment that a majority of Americans thought he should be removed.
In the case of Clinton, who was also acquitted, Gallup reported:
“Bill Clinton received the highest job approval ratings of his administration during the Lewinsky/impeachment controversy. As the Lewinsky situation unfolded, Clinton’s job approval went up, not down, and his ratings remained high for the duration of the impeachment proceedings.”
It is quite possible that trying to impeach and remove Trump could have the opposite effect than the one desired: It could boost rather than diminish his popularity and an acquittal by the Senate would leave an even more popular president in office.
The very thought of a possible impeachment is already being used to inject some needed enthusiasm into the Republican base ahead of the midterms.
Liberals have a tremendous opportunity this election cycle to fundamentally transform the topography of the political landscape and send a strong and powerful signal to Washington that the Resistance is a formidable force.
But that only works if success is not restricted to and defined by Trump’s removal.
E.J. Dionne Jr., WaPo: Where are the conservatives we need?
Political opponents cannot be expected to lavish boundless affection on those they battle day after day.
But in a well-ordered democratic system, those who fight on behalf of competing parties, interests and ideas can usually find some room for mutual esteem and even occasionally try to profit intellectually from each other. It’s when politics becomes unhinged that we squander the gift of social learning through reasoned argument.
The past several days underscore why not only political progressives but genuine moderates are at their wit’s end with the Republican Party and what passes for contemporary American conservatism.
If conservatism in the United States has claimed to stand for anything, it is the idea that government authority should be limited. Conservatives regularly argue (especially when Democrats are in the White House) that the executive’s clout should be checked and that legitimate law enforcement authorities deserve our respect, particularly when they are investigating abuses of power.
The behavior of House Republicans in demanding former FBI director James B. Comey’s memos about his conversations with President Trump, which were subsequently leaked to the media, shows a GOP that has abandoned all principle. It is willing to do whatever it takes to protect a president who has no regard for the truth, the law or established norms.
Any doubts that Republicanism and conservatism have given themselves over to one man, his whims and his survival were dispelled by the GOP’s use of the congressional oversight process to undermine a legitimate probe into a hostile power’s interference in our elections.
As it happens, the actual memos are embarrassing to Trump and support Comey’s veracity. And if the Republicans’ obstructionist triumvirate of Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina had hoped to prove that Comey leaked classified information, the memos reveal exactly the opposite.
It should be stunning that the chairs of the Intelligence, Judiciary and Oversight committees are more interested in doing Trump’s bidding than in figuring out how Vladimir Putin may have helped to elect our current president. It’s possible to imagine that, somewhere, Ronald Reagan is weeping.
This episode speaks to a larger question: that the corruption of American conservatism is the primary cause of our inability to have constructive debates that move us to resolve issues rather than ignore them.
The ongoing frustration of many of us who really did respect conservatism once upon a time is not just about the movement’s capitulation to Trump. It is also triggered by the supposedly substantive side of the news: The only thing Republicans in Congress know how to do now that their corporate tax cut has proved to be unpopular is — to propose more tax cuts. There is an emptiness where problem-solving conservatism used to be.
In the period when democracy planted deep roots in Western Europe and was thriving in the United States, conservative parties were led by figures such as Dwight Eisenhower in the United States, Harold Macmillan in Britain, Konrad Adenauer in West Germany and Charles de Gaulle in France.
All of them understood from the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and a destructive world war that moderation is conservatism’s best impulse and that market economies require a social dimension. Capitalism could not work absent an active government that fostered a degree of economic equality and security.
Applying the insights of this more responsible version of conservatism to our time would lead us to seek the best approaches to the very discontents that helped put Trump in the White House in the first place — for example, growing inequality. A 2016 Congressional Research Service report found that income inequality has been increasing since 1970. And between 2000 and 2015, incomes actually went down for the bottom 60 percent of earners. There are many causes of division and resentment in our country, and this is surely one of them.
Liberal democracy also faces challenges in Europe, where a 2017 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that “social cohesion” is threatened by the rise of economic inequality over nearly four decades.
We need a politics where the democratic left and right compete over who can most effectively and efficiently excise this social cancer from our body politic. Such a debate could be both instructive and productive.
Alas, except for a small, honorable cadre of writers and think-tankers, the American right has taken itself out of the game. Our politics will remain broken as long as conservatism confines its energies to cutting taxes and defending a reckless president at all costs.
NYT Editorial Board: Will the Court Stand Up to Donald Trump?
The first full term of the Supreme Court in the Trump era is wrapping up with a lawsuit that epitomizes the nature of the person occupying the Oval Office.
On Wednesday the justices will hear oral arguments in the final and perhaps biggest case of the term — Trump v. Hawaii, a challenge to the legality and constitutionality of President Trump’s travel ban, which indefinitely bars 150 million people, a vast majority of them Muslim, from entering the United States.
The ban, now in its third iteration, is ostensibly about protecting national security, but it has been steeped from the start in the reactionary xenophobia at the heart of Mr. Trump’s campaign and presidency. It was issued with a procedural sloppiness and lack of attention to detail that Americans have come to expect from an administration that can’t issue even a news release mourning the death of a former first lady without getting the date wrong. And the limits continue to be hawked as a necessary defense against terrorist attacks despite the lack of any evidence that they would improve on the careful legal framework Congress adopted to handle national security issues related to immigration.
To its credit, the White House has learned from its early missteps. The original order, which landed one week after Mr. Trump took office and barred entry by all citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, was marked by such haste and dubious reasoning that it ran into immediate trouble with federal judges across the country, not to mention intense public outcry. The White House retracted it and issued a slightly amended version in March 2017, but that one didn’t fare much better. In September, Mr. Trump tried once again, issuing the proclamation that is now before the court.
It bars entry into the United States by most citizens of six countries with “inadequate” security protocols — Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with some groups from Venezuela. (Chad was originally on the list but was removed this month.) The administration says it came up with the list after a “worldwide review,” but it has not shared the underlying evidence with any court.
Particularly in the absence of such evidence, it’s worth noting that no citizen of any country on the list has carried out a fatal terrorist attack on American soil in the last two decades. In contrast, Saudi Arabia is not on the list, even though 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Could the president be privy to information the rest of us are not? Of course he could. And yet somehow it’s hard to have confidence that a man who appears to get his daily intelligence briefing from “Fox & Friends” is particularly concerned with the details of the global war on terrorism. Anyway, no matter how much he tries to finesse this order, the underlying question for the court remains the same: Does the president have the legal authority to issue this ban?
He clearly does not, according to the federal appeals court for the Ninth Circuit, which issued the December decision that the Supreme Court is now reviewing. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that while federal immigration law gives the president the authority to temporarily bar certain classes of noncitizens from entering, a sweeping, indefinite ban like Mr. Trump’s exceeds that authority. In addition, a civil-rights-era law prohibits discrimination based on nationality in the issuing of immigrant visas. Finally, the administration has not claimed there is any emergency and has given no rationale for why letting in people from these particular countries would harm the United States.
The government’s response to the courts is, in short, butt out. Mr. Trump can exclude whomever he wants in order to protect the country from attack, and no judge may second-guess him. That’s an astonishing claim of unchecked executive authority. It also contradicts the structure of federal immigration law, which is the province of Congress. No one is saying that the president is powerless to protect the nation from attack. What they are saying is that he must do so without violating the law or the Constitution.
Speaking of the Constitution, and especially of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, anyone with a passing awareness of American politics knows what’s at the root of the travel ban: Mr. Trump’s special animus against Muslims, which he’s been nursing at least since December 2015. That’s when he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country until we “can figure out what is going on.” Since then he has given his lawyers a constant headache by tweeting regularly about the ban, saying just days before the latest version that it should be “far larger, tougher and more specific,” but that this would be “politically incorrect.” In case anyone was still unclear about where he stands, last November the president retweeted inflammatory videos from a fringe ultranationalist group in Britain showing Muslims purportedly engaged in violence. (The videos were, as Mr. Trump likes to say, fake news.)
From this angle, the travel ban looks a lot like Mr. Trump’s other attempts to weaponize the federal government in the service of his own personal vendettas. Remember the election integrity commission? An entire operation created solely to justify the president’s false claims that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. The commission folded in January without making any findings of fraud. In the case of the travel ban, Mr. Trump is surrounded by anti-immigrant hard-liners, including his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who donated one of his favorite staffers, a zealot named Stephen Miller, to help draft the ban.
In truth, the latest proclamation functions as little more than legal backfill “to legitimize a presidential command that was born of animus, persists in animus, and seeks to make animus the law of the land,” as a supporting brief says.
That brief is one of many the court has received arguing against the ban; more than four times as many briefs oppose the ban as support it. They come from immigrants’-rights groups and anti-discrimination advocates, naturally, but also from business and legal leaders, scholars of constitutional and international law, conservatives and liberals and libertarians, cities and states — and, notably, former national security and military officials, who warn that by encouraging the perception that the United States is anti-Muslim, it “jeopardizes the stability of the support that the United States receives from its allies, erodes essential good will, makes it more difficult for the United States to win hearts and minds abroad.”
This leads the justices to a thornier question: What to do with a president like Mr. Trump? Should they simply ignore everything he’s said? Are they holding him to a different standard than previous presidents? That’s hard to answer, because no past president behaved like Mr. Trump. In its brief to the justices, the administration argues that the court must not engage in “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.” But there’s no need to get Mr. Trump on a couch. He’s said over and over exactly what he thinks.
The Supreme Court has been faced with situations like this before. In World War II, it bowed to claims of unfettered executive authority and allowed American citizens to be locked up for years simply because of their Japanese heritage. It was a shameful moment for the court and for the United States. Today, in the face of an executive order again based on racial animus and unfounded fears, the justices have the chance to deliver a very different message about executive power, and the meaning of America.
Maureen Dowd, NYT: Trump: Our Cartoon Nobel Laureate
WASHINGTON — You can hear those heads exploding from here to Oslo.
Republican lawmakers are pushing Donald Trump, the most combative man in the universe, for a Nobel Peace Prize.
How unimaginable is this?
Just picture a wildly hirsute cartoon figure with a hair-trigger temper festooned with a medal of Alfred Nobel reading “Pro pace et fraternitate gentium” (“For the peace and brotherhood of men”).
“The guy who said he could be as presidential as any president except for Abraham Lincoln is instead about as presidential as Yosemite Sam,” says his biographer Tim O’Brien. “I really think of him as Yosemite Sam — just hopping around in anger, firing his gun wildly, sometimes at his own foot. He was so unhinged and ranting in that call to ‘Fox & Friends’ this week that even the hosts couldn’t wait to get him off the air.”
Yet Lindsey Graham, who once labeled Trump “a kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office,” told Fox News on Friday: “Donald Trump convinced North Korea and China he was serious about bringing about change. We’re not there yet, but if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”
And here’s the part that would drive Trump haters into a frenzy: If he could pull off denuclearizing North Korea, he would deserve it more than Barack Obama did when he had that bouquet thrown at him seconds into his presidency.
And Trump certainly would deserve it more than Henry Kissinger, who won the prize in 1973 for his efforts to end the Vietnam War, after privately persuading Richard Nixon to keep it going for years and while secretly bombing Cambodia.
If he won, President Trump would be within his rights when he claimed it as a personal victory since he decimated the State Department to the point that we wondered if interns in Foggy Bottom were crafting North Korea policy.
It would be a paradox: The man so many Americans loathe as a villain taming a charter member of the Axis of Evil.
Of course, any Strangelovian thing could happen when Little Rocket Man and the Dotard actually get together, given that both Dear Leaders live in bizarro fantasy worlds with fawning courtiers, where lying and cheating abounds. (So far, Kim Jong-un has Trump beat in the fawning enforcement department since he had his uncle killed for, among other reasons, clapping halfheartedly for him.)
And even as Trump helped end the Korean War — does that call for a special episode of “M*A*S*H”? — he was vowing that Iran “will pay a price like few countries have ever paid” if it ever threatens us in any way.
But for the moment, President Trump’s peculiar form of diplomacy — a combination of belligerence, bluster, name-calling and ignorance of history — has somehow produced a possible breakthrough in North Korea that eluded his predecessors.
Heads are also exploding from Chappaqua to Hollywood as the unfathomable idea sinks in that, despite Trump’s lack of a moral or political core, despite the fact that he has tarnished the presidency with his nasty bullying, race-baiting, unmoored tweeting and authoritarian tendencies, he could get a second term.
Democrats are spun up all over the country, flocking to the polls in special elections with sky-high enthusiasm, buoyed by empowered women driven by disgust at the Groper in Chief who has so far escaped a reckoning.
They are sanguine that they can convert the Trump hatred into a big bad blue wave for the midterms and win back the House and maybe the Senate and get their revenge on the Orange Menace.
Strangely enough, though, a strong midterm for the Democrats could help Trump two years down the road if they take back the reins of Congress and go too far, as Democrats are wont to do.
Republicans paid a price in 1998 for pushing to impeach Bill Clinton, and Clinton regained popularity.
As far as the presidential race in 2020, the Democrats seem to be repeating the mistake that Hillary Clinton made: counting on the awfulness of Trump to do their work for them. (And the righteousness of Robert Mueller.)
They are not grooming a gleaming crop of presidential contenders or honing a seductive message that could win back the alienated voters who put Trump in just because he promised to shake things up.
Their leadership and top presidential prospects symbolize the past, not the future. They should be the éminences grises ushering in an exciting new generation, not the retreads and missed-their-moments dominating the field, as the entire party is leaping to the left — another complication in a national election where you have to appeal to a wide swath of voters.
The Democrats are counting on Trump to self-destruct. And certainly, he loves to light his own auto-da-fe and incriminate himself. But the Democrats’ delight in this distracts them from rising from the humiliating ashes of 2016 with some dynamic new ideas and messengers.
“We’re dealing with a person who’s psychologically and categorically different from any previous president,” says the Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “He may be the most successful con man in history atop the most powerful nation in history. He has prevailed in a way no other spinner of tales has prevailed.
“He’s shaping the behavior of much of the world, getting inside people’s heads. He’s like Cambridge Analytica. He knows how to determine what people are interested in and like and dislike and respond to. Then he acts in a way that changes the course of things.
“And expecting him to be different or less crazy only makes us the crazy ones. His behavior gets more outrageous, out of control and florid as the pressure on him persists. And it’s only going to get worse.”
Personal Tweets Posted This Week
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Who can’t abide a chaplain who believes legislation should be fair to all regardless of their religious beliefs? Fellow Catholic Paul Ryan, who sees legislation as a tool for partisan results.
China is pleased, North Korea is pleased, and Japan is pleased that POTUS gives each of them the farm. In fact, everyone but U.S. foreign relations experts see his actions as foolish giveaways. Armageddon?
Frustrated POTUS began his day with an outburst of tweets lambasting friends and foes alike. Indicative of instable persona. This man needs help for the sake of us all.