Brooks and Krugman

May 26, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “The Four American Narratives.”  He moans that we’re suffering through a national identity crisis.  There will be a reply from “Dana” in Santa Monica.  In “It’s All About Trump’s Contempt” Prof. Krugman says his budget and health plan show he despises his voters. Will they notice?  Here’s Bobo:

America has always been a divided, sprawling country, but for most of its history it was held together by a unifying national story. As I noted a couple of months ago, it was an Exodus story. It was the story of leaving the oppressions of the Old World, venturing into a wilderness and creating a new promised land. In this story, America was the fulfillment of human history, the last best hope of earth.

That story rested upon an amazing level of national self-confidence. It was an explicitly Judeo-Christian story, built on a certain view of God’s providential plan.

But that civic mythology no longer unifies. American confidence is in tatters and we live in a secular culture. As a result, we’re suffering through a national identity crisis. Different groups see themselves living out different national stories and often feel they are living in different nations.

In a superbly clarifying speech to the think tank New America, the writer George Packer recently argued that there are four rival narratives in America today.

First, there is the libertarian narrative that dominates the G.O.P. America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. This story celebrates the dynamism of the free market. Its prime value is freedom. Packer wrote that “the libertarian idea in its current shape regards Americans as consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers — indeed everything except citizens.”

Second, there is the narrative of globalized America. This is the narrative dominant in Silicon Valley and beyond. “We’re all lifelong learners and work for the start-up of you, and a more open and connected world is always a better world.” This story “comes with an exhilarating ideology of flattening hierarchies, disrupting systems, discarding old elites and empowering individuals.”

But in real life when you disrupt old structures you end up concentrating power in fewer hands. This narrative works out well for people who went to Stanford, but not so well for most others.

Third, there is the story of multicultural America. “It sees Americans as members of groups, whose status is largely determined by the sins of the past and present,” Packer observed. “During the Obama years it became a largely unexamined dogma among cultural elites.”

The multicultural narrative dominates America’s classrooms, from elementary school through university: “It makes the products of these educations — the students — less able or less willing to think in terms larger than their own identity group — a kind of intellectual narcissism — which means they can’t find common ground or effective arguments that can reach people of different backgrounds and views.”

As Packer noted, it values inclusion but doesn’t answer the question, Included into what? What is the national identity all these subgroups add up into?

Finally, there is the narrative of America First, the narrative Donald Trump told last year, and which resonated with many voters. “America First is the conviction that the country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.”

This story is backward-looking and pessimistic. In practice, Packer concluded, “This narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it has an autocratic character. It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”

Personally, I don’t think any of these narratives is a viable basis for successful governance in the 21st century. I’ve just read Michael Lind’s fascinating essay “The New Class War” in American Affairs, and under its influence I’d say the future of American politics will be a competition between two other stories, which are sort of descended from the existing four.

The first is the mercantilist model, which sees America not as the culmination of history but as one major power in competition with rival powers, like China, Russia, Europe and so on. In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is the burly protector of his tribe.

America’s government and corporations should work closely together to “protect our jobs” and beat back rival powers. Immigration and trade should be closely controlled and foreign entanglements reduced. America’s elites would have an incentive to share wealth with America’s workers because they need them to fight off their common foes.

The second is the talented community. This story sees America as history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities. This model welcomes diversity, meritocracy, immigration and open trade for all the dynamism these things unleash. But this model also invests massively in human capital, especially the young and those who suffer from the downsides of creative destruction.

In this community, the poor boy and girl are enmeshed in care and cultivation. Everything is designed to arouse energy and propel social mobility.

The mercantilist model sees America as a new Rome, a mighty fortress in a dangerous world. The talented community sees America as a new Athens, a creative crossroads leading an open and fundamentally harmonious world. It’s an Exodus story for an information age.

What a yoooge crock…  Here’s what “Dana” has to say:

“Our secular culture is to blame? What a dangerous and disingenuous joke. If our society is so secular why can women not go and get an abortion in whatever city they live? Why are there battles over access to contraception? And as for this bogus “elite” narrative. I didn’t go to Stanford, I am a member of an “identity group” and I assure you I can see past my own group’s interest. I want health care for all, a livable minimum wage, job security, free or sliding scale public university – and a whole host of things that benefit all Americans and not those just like me. I also am not religious and don’t quote scripture like the new congressman from Montana – and yet I know it’s wrong to punch journalists and even worse to lie about what you had done. Yet – how interesting that all the self proclaimed “Christians” are the ones excusing, rationalizing and justifying white thuggery these days. The real downfall of America will be the loss of civility of the masses – thanks to a weaponized and well funded campaign of ignorance and hatred that the Koch brothers and their minions have sold to America the past forty years.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?

There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.

You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?

When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.

The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.

To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?

They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.

Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, partly because of the legacy of unhealthy working conditions, partly because a high fraction of the population consists of people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.

And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America.

So what did the state’s residents think they were voting for? Partly, presumably, they supported Trump because he promised — falsely, of course — that he could bring back the well-paying coal-mining jobs of yore.

But they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on.

What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.

Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.

What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.

Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?

Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.

So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.

Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?

But… but… but…  That wouldn’t piss off the libruls.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 25, 2017

In “The Flynn Affair” Mr. Blow has a question:  Why has President Trump remained so loyal to Michael Flynn?  Mr. Kristof is flexing his satire muscles in “The Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame” when he says thank God for our truth-seeking patriots in the G.O.P.!  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Can’t Add Things Up,” says the president is a man with a budget plan that nobody understands.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the greatest political mysteries of our time is why President Trump has clung — and continues to cling — so steadfastly to the perfidious Michael Flynn.

Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, is at the nexus of Trump’s problems. There was Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey and his contacts with Russia. There was Trump’s dismissal of all warnings to steer clear of Flynn; his refusal to fire Flynn as soon as he was alerted to the fact that Flynn posed a security risk; his efforts to impede or even terminate the investigations of Flynn.

Not only has Trump staunchly defended Flynn — even after firing him — he is apparently still in contact with him, sending him encouraging messages. As Michael Isikoff reported last week for Yahoo News about a dinner Flynn convened with “a small group of loyalists”:

Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

This level of extreme fealty is puzzling. It extends beyond basic loyalty to an early supporter. It seems to me that there is something else at play here, something as yet unknown. Trump’s attachment to Flynn strikes me less as an act of fidelity and more as an exercise in fear. What does Flynn know that Trump doesn’t want the world to know?

What are the dirty details of what could only be called The Flynn Affair?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who served as head of the Trump transition team before being brushed aside for Vice President Mike Pence, said he warned Trump about Flynn. As Christie said earlier this week: “I didn’t think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration, and I made that very clear to candidate Trump, and I made it very clear to President-elect Trump.”

Christie continued: “If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job.”

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn. As The New York Times reported earlier this month:

Mr. Obama, who had fired Mr. Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Mr. Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide, said the administration officials, who were briefed on the Oval Office conversation. Mr. Trump later ignored the advice, naming Mr. Flynn to be his national security adviser.

Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, warned Trump about Flynn. As The Times reported earlier this month, when she delivered mesmerizing testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Yates informed the White House, less than a week into the Trump administration, that Flynn had lied to Pence about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

As Yates put it, “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Trump again ignored the warning.

Eighteen days passed. Then, on Monday, Feb. 13, The Washington Post reported that Yates had warned Trump about Flynn, a warning the White House had kept secret.

That night, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump requested Flynn’s resignation, with Spicer saying the following day:

“The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation in a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.”

Spicer quickly pointed out that the firing was not caused by a “legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

As White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on television that Tuesday morning, “It was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.”

In fact, it appeared that it was Trump being embarrassed by press reports that he had been warned of Flynn’s treachery and had done nothing with the information that led to Flynn’s ultimate resignation.

In Trump’s mind, this was all the fault of the press, not Flynn’s double-dealing or the president’s own faulty vetting and subsequent inaction. In a news conference the day after Spicer described Flynn’s departure, Trump said of Flynn, “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases.” Trump continued, “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”

The day after Flynn was forced out his job, Trump told the former F.B.I. director, James Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to contemporaneous notes written by Comey, referring to a meeting in which Trump asked Comey to lay off the federal investigation of Flynn.

Comey wouldn’t let it go, and Trump would later fire him and reportedly brag about it to Russians in the Oval Office a day later: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” Trump continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Now, all the hoops Trump has jumped through to hire, keep and protect Flynn may lead to Trump’s undoing. The question of whether Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice is very real. The White House Counsel’s Office is researching impeachment. This week Trump retained Marc Kasowitz as outside counsel for his impending legal problems. This is going to get ugly.

So the question not only remains, but is amplified in this light: What about Flynn is worth all this? Why continue to stick by someone who seems to have so clearly been in the wrong and is causing you such woes?

Does Flynn have knowledge of something so damaging that it keeps Trump crouched in his defense? This is the question that ongoing investigations must answer, particularly the investigation now led by the Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller.

It’s time to lay bare this fishy bromance and come to know the full breadth of Flynn’s furtive activities and whether Trump was aware or complicit, before, during or after. Kick back America; it’s Mueller time.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We certainly don’t want leading Republicans to tumble into hypocrisy, so let’s refresh their memories.

Patriots like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have eloquently warned of the importance of ferreting out the truth and holding politicians accountable, including for leaking classified information. Thank God for their insistence on truth-seeking!

As McConnell warned, for example: “The president did not value the sacred oath. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. I submit to my colleagues that if we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws. No public official, no president, no man or no woman is important enough to sacrifice the founding principles of our legal system.”

Such passion for justice and accountability (expressed in 1999, during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton) inspires us all. And at this historic moment when timid or myopic politicians balk at congressional oversight and resist an independent commission to investigate President Trump and possible collusion with the Kremlin, it behooves us to cherish the wisdom of such honest souls.

They’re busy, but no problem! I’ve helpfully dug out their brilliant insights:

“Extreme carelessness with classified material … is still totally disqualifying.”

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

“It’s simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it.”

— House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweet, July 7, 2016

“The security clearance of any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information shall be revoked.” — Senate Bill 3135, co-sponsored last year (to shame Hillary Clinton) by 16 Republican senators: Cory Gardner, John Cornyn, Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson, Thom Tillis, John Thune, David Vitter, Mike Rounds and James Inhofe

“Those who mishandled classified info have had their sec clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, & even been sent to prison.”

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

“What do I say to the tens of thousands of people that live and work in my district who work for the federal government, including more than 47,000 Marines? What do I say [to them] when saying something that isn’t true and handling classified information in an extremely careless way has no criminal ramifications?”

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

“In my opinion, quite frankly, it’s treason.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Nov. 3, 2016, on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server

“Presidents are not ordinary citizens. They are extraordinary, in that they are vested with so much more authority and power than the rest of us. We have a right; indeed, we have an obligation, to hold them strictly accountable to the rule of law. … It is self-evident to us all, I hope, that we cannot overlook, dismiss or diminish the obstruction of justice by the very person we charge with taking care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

— Senator John McCain, Feb. 12, 1999, in voting to convict President Clinton in his impeachment trial

“By his words and deeds, he had done great harm to the notions of honesty and integrity that form the underpinnings of this great republic. … If we do not sustain the moral and legal foundation on which our system of government and our prosperity is based, both will surely and steadily diminish.”

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Feb. 12, 1999, as a senator

“The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority. … There was no better reason than that for the resignation of this president.”

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

“Our freedom is assured by the rule of law. … Even the most powerful among us must be subject to those laws. Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie.”

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

Such Ciceros! At a time when so many Americans have a narrow, partisan vision, I am grateful that we are blessed with patriots of such vision.

In all seriousness, let’s adhere to the spirit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator during the 1999 Clinton trial declared:

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law. … Under our Constitution, such acts are high crimes, and equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. … It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth.”

And they’ll do anything about Trump when pigs fly.  Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

We’re now getting a feel for what it was like to work in a business run by Donald Trump.

His budget is out, and it predicts we will have super-duper, excellent, great — no, huge — economic growth based on monster tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending that will leave the poor with no money to buy anything.

It was produced in concert with that great health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office now estimates would cost 23 million Americans their insurance coverage over the next 10 years.

On the plus side, in 10 years Trump will definitely not be president. Unless there’s a coup.

We’re being run like a bad Atlantic City casino. It’s only a matter of time before the government will be trying to make ends meet by selling its name to golf course developers and marketing USA Steaks.

The budget came out while Trump was overseas, talking about peace with Pope Francis, who occasionally looked as cheerful as if he was watching his car being towed away.

Meanwhile at home, the detailed presidential spending plan was being unveiled, like the magic show at a mismanaged gambling house tottering toward bankruptcy court. There were a few, um, flaws. For one thing, the budget appeared to count the same $2 trillion twice. We hate when a government does that.

It also presumes that a country with an aging population is going to spur economic growth by battling immigration. And the big tax-cutting plan that is the basis of said explosive growth is still just that one-page summary the administration handed out to catcalls last month.

And it has two names. “Well, it’s called the New Foundation for American Greatness, but I wanted to call it the Taxpayer First Budget,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney at the rollout.

Which do you prefer, people? I am imagining a salesman urging his customer to buy extra supplies “so you’ll be ready for the New Foundation for American Greatness.” Maybe we could just call it by the nickname it has already acquired in the outside world, Thing that Won’t Add Up (TWAUP). I sort of like TWAUP. It sounds like a dyspeptic frog.

Congress could not have been less enthusiastic about the president’s plan if the members had been with the pope at that picture-taking session. Perhaps they were remembering that one of Trump’s casinos went on to a career that involved ultimately being sold for 4 cents on the dollar.

“Probably dead on arrival,” said Senator John McCain when the budget emerged.

You have to believe that McCain is having a good time these days. He made his name as the tough-talking, truth-telling presidential candidate before he actually won a nomination and became the cranky guy who looked as if he was yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Then he was the bored loyal Republican during the Obama administration. And now, it’s back to anything goes.

The spending cuts were so ridiculous that nobody was taking them very seriously. (Good luck with squashing the National Institutes of Health.) But in this administration, just because something is stupid and universally derided doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention. These days, that’s life as we know it, and Trump’s plan could serve as a potential justification for whatever less-nutty cuts the Republican majority is going to try to make. So let’s treat them seriously for a minute.

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Mulvaney used to be a leader in a House caucus so conservative that even the rest of the Republican majority thought they were sort of bananas. Now he’s definitely in the running for most awful cabinet member, even in a competition that includes Jeff Sessions.

The goal of dismantling the social safety net, Mulvaney said, was to make recipients of federal aid “take charge of their own lives.” You could certainly do some of this by identifying, say, disabled Social Security recipients who might be capable of working and giving them the right training. But that presumes your goal is actually to make the programs better. “There are a number of things that could be done. But they’re very labor-intensive,” said Cristina Martin Firvida of the AARP.

And the effort would probably have to be led by an administration that has made more than 54 nominations for the 500-plus top positions requiring Senate confirmation.

The Trump budget — just one more carp, please — is apparently going to try to limit food stamp benefits to poor families with a lot of young children. Yes! The Department of Agriculture says it’s going to cap food stamps at six people per household. If another kid comes along, they’re out of luck.

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

Krugman’s blog, 5/23/17

May 24, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Trucking And Blue-Collar Woes:”

What with everything else going on, this Trip Gabriel essay on truckers hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should. But it’s awesome — and says a lot about what is and isn’t behind the decline of blue-collar wages.

Trucking used to be a well-paying occupation. Here are wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today’s dollars, which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s:

Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We’re not importing Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing, but that’s a pretty thin reed. What it doesn’t mention is the obvious thing: unions.

Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38 percent of “heavy truck” drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down to 25 percent by 1991. It’s not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of “drivers/sales workers and truck drivers” were covered last year.

In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action, and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and after.

And the great majority of the people whose chance at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes probably voted for Trump. Oh well.

Friedman and Bruni

May 24, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has been on ” A Road Trip Through Rusting and Rising America” and tells us that the comeback of distressed and lost communities is the story of Bill Clinton’s America, not Donald Trump’s.  Mr. Bruni says “Mitch Landrieu Reminds Us That Eloquence Still Exists,” and that the mayor of New Orleans just gave a speech on race and history that you need to hear.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Oak Ridge, Tennessee:

In his dystopian Inaugural Address, President Trump painted a picture of America as a nation gripped by vast “carnage” — a landscape of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” that cried out for a strongman to put “America first” and stop the world from stealing our jobs. It was a shocking speech in many ways and reportedly prompted former President George W. Bush to say to those around him on the dais, “That was some really weird [stuff].”

It was weird, but was it all wrong?

I just took a four-day car trip through the heart of that landscape — driving from Austin, Ind., down through Louisville, Ky., winding through Appalachia and ending up at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to try to answer that question.

Trump is half right in his diagnosis, but his prescription is 100 percent wrong. We do have an epidemic of failing communities. But we also have a bounty of thriving ones — not because of a strongman in Washington but because of strong leaders at the local level.

Indeed, this notion that America is a nation divided between two coasts that are supposedly thriving, pluralizing and globalizing and a vast flyover interior, where jobs have disappeared, drug addiction is rife and everyone is hoping Trump can bring back the 1950s, is highly inaccurate.

The big divide in America is not between the coasts and the interior. It’s between strong communities and weak communities. You can find weak ones along the coast and thriving ones in Appalachia, and vice versa. It’s community, stupid — not geography.

The communities that are making it share a key attribute: They’ve created diverse adaptive coalitions, where local businesses get deeply involved in the school system, translating in real time the skills being demanded by the global economy.

They also tap local colleges for talent and innovations that can diversify their economies and nurture unique local assets that won’t go away. Local foundations and civic groups step in to fund supplemental learning opportunities and internships, and local governments help to catalyze it all.

The success stories are all bottom-up; the failures are all where the bottom has fallen out.

I started in one of the bottomless places: Austin, Ind., a tiny town of 4,000 off Interstate 65, which was described in a brilliant series in The Louisville Courier-Journal “as the epicenter of a medical disaster,” where citizens of all ages are getting hooked on liquefied painkillers and shooting up with dirty needles.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Austin “contains the largest drug-fueled H.I.V. outbreak to hit rural America in recent history.” Its 5 percent infection rate “is comparable to some African nations.” Austin, the newspaper noted, doesn’t just sit at the intersection between Indianapolis and Louisville but at the “intersection of hopelessness and economic ruin.”

I chose to go there to meet the town’s only doctor, Will Cooke, whose heroic work I learned of from the Courier-Journal series. Cooke’s clinic, Foundations Family Medicine, sits at 25 West Main Street — opposite Marko’s Pizza & Sub, a liquor store and a drugstore. Down the street was a business combination I’d never seen before: Eagle’s Nest Tanning and Storage. It’s the Kissed by the Sun Tanning Salon and a warehouse — both of which seemed to be shuttered, with the space available for rent.

For generations Austin’s economy was anchored by the Morgan Foods canning plant, but, as The Courier-Journal noted, “then came a series of economic blows familiar to many manufacturing-based communities. The American Can plant next to Morgan Foods shut its doors in 1986 after more than 50 years in business. A local supermarket closed. Workers left along with the jobs and poverty crept up among those who stayed.”

Austin, Cooke explained to me, got caught in the vortex of declining blue-collar jobs, leading to a loss of dignity for breadwinners, depression and family breakdown, coinciding with doctors’ and drug companies’ pushing painkillers, and with too many people in the community failing to realize that to be in the middle class now required lifelong learning — not just to get a job but to hold one.

“Thirty percent of students were not even graduating from high school,” said Cooke. “Then you take high unemployment, generational poverty, homelessness, childhood abuse and neglect, and cloak that within a closed-off culture inherited from Appalachia, and you begin to have the ingredients that contributed to the H.I.V. outbreak.”

Austin’s insularity proved deadly for both jobs and families. “The close-knit, insular nature of the community worked against it, with the C.D.C. later finding up to six people shared needles at one sitting, and two or three generations — young adults, parents and grandparents — sometimes shot up together,” The Courier-Journal reported.

Lately, though, Cooke told me, the town’s prospects have started to improve, precisely because the community has come together, not to shoot up but to start up and learn up and give a hand up. “The local high school has introduced college-credit classes and trade programs so people are graduating with a head start,” said Cooke. Faith-based and civic groups have mobilized, celebrating social and economic recovery, providing community dinners called “Food 4R Soul” and even installing community showers for people without running water.

Addiction is often a byproduct of social breakdown leading to a sense of isolation. Cooke feels hopeful because he sees the tide slowly shifting as “social isolation gives way to community.”

“Only a healthy individual can contribute to a healthy family, and only a healthy family can contribute to a healthy community — and all of that requires a foundation of trust,” said Cooke. “That kind of change can’t come from the outside, it has to be homegrown.”

I shared with him the business philosopher Dov Seidman’s admonition that “trust is the only legal performance-enhancing drug.” Dr. Cooke liked that a lot and only wished he could prescribe it as easily as others had prescribed opioids.

But just 40 minutes down the highway from Austin, I interviewed Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, a city bustling with energy and new buildings. “That ‘Intifada’ you wrote about in the Middle East is happening in parts of rural and urban America — people saying, ‘I feel disconnected and hopeless about participating in a rapidly changing global economy.’ Drug-related violence and addiction is one result — including in a few neighborhoods of Louisville.”

But Louisville also has another story to tell: “We have 30,000 job openings,” said Fischer, and for the best of reasons: Louisville has “a vision for how a city can be a platform for human potential to flourish.” It combines “strategies of the heart,” like asking everyone to regularly give a day of service to the city; strategies of science, like “citizen scientists” bearing GPS-enabled inhalers that the city uses to track air pollution, mitigate it and warn asthma suffers; and strategies for job creation that leverage Louisville’s unique assets.

One job-creation strategy led to a slew of new businesses that make “end of runway” products for rapid delivery by leveraging the fact that Louisville is UPS’s worldwide air hub; “bourbon tourism” that leverages the fact that Kentucky is the Napa Valley of bourbon; a partnership with Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky, has created an advanced manufacturing corridor; and by leveraging Humana’s headquarters in Louisville, the city has unleashed a lifelong wellness and aging-care industry.

Show me a community that understands today’s world and is working together to thrive within it, and I’ll show you a community on the rise — coastal or interior, urban or rural.

I found more such communities as I moved south on Interstate 75 through Tennessee to Oak Ridge, home of the Manhattan Project facilities where the enriched uranium for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was produced.

Today, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which sprawls across two counties, is still involved with nuclear weaponry, but its supercomputer, one of the world’s most powerful, and its hundreds of scientists help drive a broad array of research in energy, materials science, 3-D manufacturing, robotics, physics, cybersecurity and nuclear medicine — research it now actively shares with the surrounding Appalachian communities to spawn new industries and jobs.

Sitting on the spot where the K-25 Manhattan Project facility once stood, I interviewed Ron Woody, county executive for Roane County, where Oak Ridge is partly located, and Steve Jones, an industrial recruiter hired by the city of Oak Ridge to seek out companies interested in investing in the region or leveraging spinouts from Oak Ridge’s labs. That kind of active entrepreneurship is a new thing for Roane County, where generations of people have known only a government job.

“Back in the 1980s you had the T.V.A. [Tennessee Valley Authority], and it had over 50,000 employees. Now it has 10,000 employees,” explained Woody, so “we were not diversified in our employment. We had to convince the public that we can’t rely on the Oak Ridge lab and T.V.A. The Cold War is over. So our communities had to make a big transition from a lot of government programs to very few.”

It’s starting to work, said Woody, “but progress is slow.” One of those success stories was luring a former three-time Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond, to open a 65,000-square-foot factory for his new company, LeMond Composites, for making lightweight carbon-fiber bikes, based on new materials pioneered at Oak Ridge.

“The research Oak Ridge has done is going to change the way we make things,” LeMond explained to me, as we sat in his new factory. “It is a really exciting future. My goal is that you will be able to go on my website and design your own bike out of carbon fiber.”

But just because there are workers looking for employment and there are new jobs opening, it isn’t automatic that local people work in those jobs, explained Jones, the recruiter. Because of the opioid crisis, many people cannot pass the mandatory drug test — and years of working for the government has left them unprepared for the pace of today’s private sector.

“The two biggest issues we are dealing with are the soft skills and passing the drug test,” explained Woody. “I thought the problem was that people needed more STEM skills.” But that’s not the case.

It turns out that it’s not that hard to train someone, even with just a high school or community college degree, to operate an advanced machine tool or basic computer. “Factory managers would say, ‘I will train them and put them to work tomorrow in good jobs” requiring hard skills, said Woody. “The problem they have is finding people with the right soft skills.”

What are those soft skills? I asked. “Employers just want someone who will get up, dress up, show up, shut up and never give up,” Woody responded without hesitation. And there are fewer workers with those soft skills than you might think, he added.

When new companies come into the area today, noted Jones, who grew up on a farm, they ask specifically for young people who were either in a 4-H club or Future Farmers of America (now called FFA) because kids with a farming background are much more likely to get up, dress up, show up on time and never give up in a new job.

Soft skills also include the willingness to be a lifelong learner, because jobs are changing so quickly. For instance, the Oak Ridge lab is partnering to embed top-level local technical talent as entrepreneurial research fellows in advanced manufacturing who want to start companies in this realm. Every summer Oak Ridge’s M.D.F. — Manufacturing Demonstration Facility — hosts 100 young interns to learn the latest in 3-D printing, and its experts coach teams from local high schools for national robotics competitions.

The beauty of 3-D printers is that any community can now go into the manufacturing business, explained Lonnie Love, a corporate fellow at Oak Ridge, as he showed me around the M.D.F., where whole car bodies and car parts are being “printed” on giant 3-D printers.

“Traditionally to make a car part you first had to build a die, and those dies cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to make,” Love said. Every die consists of a female and a male die, and the way you made a car part was to stamp them together. There are hundreds of dies needed to make a car, and that was why an assembly line for a new car model in Detroit could cost upward of $200 million — and take two years to build. Sadly, that die-making industry actually moved out of America to Asia over the last 15 years, leaving only a dozen such companies in the U.S.

No more. “Large-scale 3-D printing is enabling us to re-shore that industry,” explained Love, who then offered this example: “The Naval Air Station at Cherry Point, S.C., repairs all the aircraft for the Navy on the East Coast. About a year ago their head of engineering called me on a Monday and asked if we could print a die mold for them and I said, ‘Sure, just send me the digital model of what you want printed.’

“We got it by email that afternoon, and by Friday he had the mold to make the new part. And it only weighed about 40 pounds because with 3-D printing we could make it stronger but lighter weight by hollowing out the inside. The following Monday he calls and asks me how much did it cost and how long did it take me to make? I told him it took me longer — and was more expensive — to ship it to him than it was make it.”

Think about car dealers in the future who, instead of needing a huge lot with hundreds of cars in inventory, will just custom print the car you want. “Our only inventory is carbon fiber pellets that cost $2 a pound, and we can make any product out of them,” said Love. “You won’t need inventory anymore.”

Over the last 100 years, Love concluded, we went from decentralized artisan-based manufacturing to centralized mass manufacturing on assembly lines. Today, with these emerging technologies, we can go back to artisans, which will be great for local communities that spawn a leadership and workers able to take advantage of these emerging technologies. We are going to see a world of micro-factories, and you can see them sprouting around Oak Ridge already.

“There’s a new wave of kids coming up who love this stuff,” said Love. “We can create mini-moonshots all over the place.”

The same applies to the design of the parts. Thom Mason, the director of the Oak Ridge lab, explained to me that high-performance computing “allows you to design and test out all the parts on the computer and only make those that you know will work. It is totally speeding up the iteration loop of physical manufacturing. You move all the trial and failure into the digital world — so you don’t need to do all that costly tooling of prototypes — and then go straight to manufacturing.”

But the state of Tennessee has also had its thinking cap on about the fast world. In 2014 it decided to make tuition and fees free for high school graduates who want to enroll in any state community college or technical school — on the condition that they maintain at least a C- average, stay in school for consecutive semesters, contribute eight hours of community service each semester and meet with a volunteer coach/mentor who will help them stay on track to get their degree. Starting in 2018, Tennessee adults who don’t already have a two-year degree will be able to go to any state community college and earn one free as well.

I ended my little tour in Knoxville, Tenn., where I met with the mayor at a restaurant in the newly rejuvenated downtown square, a beehive of restaurants, public art exhibitions, theaters, shopping and museums.

“Until the mid-1980s, the old economic development model here was low wages and no unions. That model wasn’t sustainable,” said Mayor Madeline Rogero, the first woman mayor of Knoxville and a former organizer for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union. “We wanted better schools, and you cannot build a great school system on the back of low-wage workers. So we started thinking about what are our unique assets and stopped selling ourselves as a low-wage town.”

The whole region came together around that project and wove an adaptive coalition that could draw in investors based on the region’s strengths. It’s call Innovation Valley, the mayor explained, and it markets the assets of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pellissippi State and Roane State Community Colleges, the work force skills in the metro area and available infrastructure that can be utilized by technology companies. It also stimulated a dialogue between employers and higher-learning institutions to ensure they’re meeting the labor force needs of the future.

But there are real constraints that need to be overcome. The region has a shortage of both manufacturing and back-office workers. “We face the same work force development issues that all metro areas in the U.S. are facing,” explained Bryan Daniels, president of the Blount Partnership, one of Knoxville’s regional development boards. “Our local law enforcement has described the prison populations as having approximately 65 percent opioid-related inmates.”

It is vital, therefore, for the community to develop programs to get this population back to being employable. At the same time, said Daniels, the Knoxville region is exploring new ways to get workers from outlying rural areas into the metro area labor force and help them acquire the “educational attainment they need to get their skill level up” for a modern economy. They are even studying “public-private partnerships to provide transportation for [rural] workers up to a two-hour commute radius,” he said.

This is the real picture of America today.

It’s cities and regions rising together to leverage their unique assets from the bottom up — living side by side with distressed and lost communities where the bottom has fallen out. It’s not your grandparents’ America, but it is also not Trump’s America — that land of vast carnage and an industrial wasteland. The picture is much more complex.

It’s actually Bill Clinton’s America.

Clinton once famously observed, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” That has never been more accurate — and necessary — than it is today.

What is wrong with America is that too many communities, rural and urban, have broken down. What is right with America is the many communities and regions that are coming together to help their citizens acquire the skills and opportunities to own their own futures. We need to share and scale these success stories.

Only strong communities, not a strong man, will make America great again.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

These are hard days of coarse language — of tweets and catcalls that appeal to the worst in us, not the best. Maybe that’s why a big, sweeping, old-fashioned speech delivered in New Orleans on Friday made such an impression on me. It was a reprieve. It was an antidote.

But it also addressed matters that are forever tripping us up — race, history, healing — better than anything I’ve heard or read in a long time. It was the masterpiece we needed at the moment we needed it, and I fear that it was lost in the brutal whirl of news these days. It shouldn’t be.

I’m referring to remarks by that city’s Democratic mayor, Mitch Landrieu, upon his removal of the last of several bitterly contested Confederate monuments there. And I’m thinking of the way his words responded to so much of what’s going on in this country without stooping to the rants that too many other Democrats are being drawn into and that represent a trap.

Although outrage is the order of the day, his speech trafficked in empathy. It felt like a holdover from a past that we left behind without exactly meaning to, and that we’d be wise to get back to.

Because Landrieu has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, I should spell out a few things: I’m not putting my thumb on the scale of his political future. I haven’t followed his career closely. I once crossed paths and shook hands with him. I can vouch for his grip. That’s about it.

But his speech: wow. He spent his energy not on vilifying anyone but on stating in the least hysterical, most persuasive manner possible what’s right and what’s wrong.

He didn’t talk in terms of Democrats and Republicans. He didn’t mention any political party, period. Predictably (and justly), he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. But he invoked George W. Bush first.

Our country’s leader was denied even a cameo. But he was most certainly present in Landrieu’s warnings about holding on to any “false narrative” and his plea that we not “marinate in historical denial.” This was a speech about facing and owning the truth.

It cut straight to the heart of things, making the case against monuments that glorify the Confederacy by asking us to consider them “from the perspective of an African-American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter” why a statue of the most famous Confederate general occupied such a lofty perch above the city.

“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” Landrieu said. “Do you think she will feel inspired — and hopeful — by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential?”

He then put her experience in a larger context. “Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are, too?”

Landrieu dismantled the argument that statues like the one of Lee merely recognize the past by asking where the rest of that record is. “There are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks,” he said, adding that the defenders of Confederate monuments “are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.”

We talk plenty about diversity these days, but too often in abstractions, and too often by listing various minorities, tallying how they’ve been wronged and specifying what they’re owed.

Landrieu took a different tack. He indeed did a roll call of the tribes and ethnicities that built New Orleans, but he dwelled on how they’d come together — in the tapestry made possible by such varied threads — and how much poorer all of us would be without it.

“We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form,” he said. “Think about Mardi Gras, think about muffuletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.”

I didn’t realize how starved I was for talk like this until Landrieu fed me. It’s the stuff of solace, the grist for hope. We subsist now on a meager vocabulary of winners and “losers,” of “sad!” naysayers and “nut job” adversaries. We’re asked to see an absence of eloquence as the presence of authenticity.

But that’s bunk. Words, like monuments, matter. They nudge. They shape. That’s true when they elevate what shouldn’t be elevated, encouraging complacency or evil, and that’s just as true when they show us a better way and help us get there.

Landrieu did that, putting some poetry back in public life and demonstrating afresh that in language beautifully rendered, we find our humanity fully acknowledged.

(sigh) It’s Bobo again…

May 23, 2017

In “The Alienated Mind” Bobo is all busy contemplating life after Trump.  “Questioner” from Massachusetts will have something to say…  Here’s Bobo:

The campaign of 2016 was an education in the deep problems facing the country. Angry voters made a few things abundantly clear: that modern democratic capitalism is not working for them; that basic institutions like the family and communities are falling apart; that we have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.

As Robert W. Merry put it recently in The American Conservative, “When a man as uncouth and reckless as Trump becomes president by running against the nation’s elites, it’s a strong signal that the elites are the problem.”

The last four months, on the other hand, have been an education in the shortcomings in populism. It’s not only that Donald Trump is a bad president. It’s that movements fueled by alienation are bound to fail.

Alienation, the sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote, is a “state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.”

The alienated long for something that will smash the system or change their situation, but they have no actual plan or any means to deliver it. The alienated are a hodgepodge of disparate groups. They have no positive agenda beyond the sort of fake shiny objects Trump ran on (Build a Wall!). They offer up no governing class competent enough to get things done.

As Yuval Levin argues in a brilliant essay in Modern Age, “Alienation can sometimes make for a powerful organizing principle for an electoral coalition. … But it does not make for a natural organizing principle for a governing coalition.”

Worse, alienation breeds a distrust that corrodes any collective effort. To be “woke” in the alienated culture is to embrace the most cynical interpretation of every situation, to assume bad intent in every actor, to imagine the conspiratorial malevolence of your foes.

Alienation breeds a hysterical public conversation. Its public intellectuals are addicted to overstatement, sloppiness, pessimism, and despair. They are self-indulgent and self-lionizing prophets of doom who use formulations like “the Flight 93 election” — who speak of every problem as if it were the apocalypse.

Alienation also breeds a zero-sum mind-set — it’s us or them — and with it a tribal clannishness and desire for exclusion. As Levin notes, on the right alienation can foster a desire for purity — to exclude the foreign — and on the left it can foster a desire for conformity — to squelch differing speakers and faiths.

The events of the past four months have demonstrated that Donald Trump is not going to solve the problem he was elected to address; neither the underlying economic and social ruptures nor the alienation that emerges from them.

The events of the past four months illustrate that we do need a political establishment in this country, or maybe a few competing establishments. We need people who have been educated to actually know something about public policy problems. We need people who have had gradual, upward careers in government and understand the craft of wielding power. We need people who know how to live up to certain standards of integrity and public service.

But going forward we need a better establishment, one attuned to Trump voters, those whose alienation grows out of genuine suffering.

The first task for this better establishment is to not make the political chasm worse. As the impeachment investigation proceeds, it’ll be important for us Trump critics to not set our hair on fire every day, to evaluate the evidence as if it were against a president we ourselves voted for. Would we really throw our own candidate out of office for this?

Over the longer term, it will be necessary to fight alienation with participation, to reform and devolve the welfare state so that recipients are not treated like passive wards of the state, but take an active role in their own self-government.

It’ll be necessary to revive a living elite patriotism. That means conducting oneself in office as if nation is more important than party; not using executive orders, filibusters and the nuclear option to grab what you can while you happen to be in the majority. It means setting up weekly encounters to help you respect and understand the fellow Americans who reside across the social chasms.

Finally, it’ll be necessary to fight alienation with moral realism, with a mature mind-set that says that, yes, people are always flawed, the country always faces problems, but that is no reason for lazy cynicism or self-righteous despair. If you start with an awareness of human foibles, then you can proceed with what Levin calls pessimistic hopefulness — grateful for the institutions our ancestors left us, and filled with cheerful confidence that they can be reformed to solve present needs.

Impeached or not, it’s hard to see how Trump recovers as an effective governing force. Now is the moment for a new establishment to organize, to address the spirit of alienation that gave rise to Trump, but which transcends him.

Gawd…  Here’s what “Questioner” had to say to Bobo:

“Who is more alienated? A frustrated voter from coal country, or a Millennial saddled with college debt who voted for Hillary?

Alienation cuts both ways: people who voted for Hillary have to know their candidate got the popular vote—but a gerrymandered electoral system handed it to a blathering madman, aided and abetted by Putin. Watch a few seconds of candidate Trump yelling insults and invectives at huge swaths of Americans during the campaign—who should be alienated at this election’s outcome?

Is it not alienating to see our public safety nets purposefully unravelled by these charlatans? How could a Trump presidency be any more alienating? I shudder to find out.

I, for one, am sick and tired of trying to “understand” these people who are “in pain”, who launched our country into the abyss. The pain of unemployed coal miners in Appalachia does not explain why Trump is president—I personally know too many Trump voters who are doing just fine, who were taken in by their own hubris.

Who should be more alienated?”

 

Krugman’s blog, 5/20/17

May 22, 2017

There was one post on Saturday, “Belts, Roads, and Strategic Trade Policy:”

Look, I’m as obsessed with the Trump disaster as anyone else. But I’m trying to think about other things. And there does appear to be some big stuff happening, or potentially happening, on the global trade front, via China’s “belts and roads” transportation initiative. This is obviously an attempt to expand China’s political influence, and help find markets for Chinese exports. The magnitude of the effects is going to take some work to estimate. But is there anything else that’s interesting on an analytical level?

Well, I find myself thinking about some of my old work on economic geography, inspired in part by William Cronon’s wonderful Nature’s Metropolis, about the rise of Chicago.

What I took from Cronon was the importance of being a transportation hub. Thanks to the network of railroads spreading out from Chicago (partly dictated by the Great Lakes), virtually any two places in the “Great West” were effectively closer to Chicago than they were to each other.

Think of any economic activity characterized by strong economies of scale. There is a clear incentive to centralize this activity, and serve multiple markets from one location. But which location? In Figure 1 I show three locations with basically comparable transport links, shown by the dotted lines; in this case no one location has an obvious advantage, unless there are big differences in either costs or local market size.

But suppose that two of those transport links are greatly improved, as shown by the solid lines in Figure 2. Then location C gets a leg up: other things equal, you will want to locate stuff in C to serve markets in A and B as well.

Right now, China looks more like A or B than C: stuff goes mainly by ship, whether to Europe, America, or various developing countries. Good highways across central Asia and down to South Asia could change that, giving China a new centrality in the world’s economic geography; you might almost call it the Middle Kingdom.

How big a deal would this be? I have no idea. But you can definitely see Belts and Roads as a bit of a strategic trade policy as well as being a strategic, well, strategic policy.

Blow and Krugman

May 22, 2017

In “Blood in the Water” Mr. Blow says it doesn’t seem possible that Mike Pence knew nothing.  In “The Unfreeing of the American Worker” Prof. Krugman says we are creeping along the real road to serfdom.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.

There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.

Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.

But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.

Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.

There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.

There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.

Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?

Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.

How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:

“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”

It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.

We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.

The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.

The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

Well, why not? After all, America is an open society, in which everyone is free to make his or her own choices about where to work and how to live.

Everyone, that is, except the 30 million workers now covered by noncompete agreements, who may find themselves all but unemployable if they quit their current jobs; the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who will be effectively unable to buy individual health insurance, and hence stuck with their current employers, if the Freedom Caucus gets its way; and the millions of Americans burdened down by heavy student and other debt.

The reality is that Americans, especially American workers, don’t feel all that free. The Gallup World Survey asks residents of many countries whether they feel that they have “freedom to make life choices”; the U.S. doesn’t come out looking too good, especially compared with the high freedom grades of European nations with strong social safety nets.

And you can make a strong case that we’re getting less free as time goes by.

Let’s talk first about those noncompete agreements, which were recently the subject of a stunning article in The Times (the latest in a series), plus a report from the Obama administration pushing for limits to the practice.

Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. Suppose that a company trying to build a better mousetrap hires a new mousetrap engineer. Her employment contract might very well include a clause preventing her from leaving a few months later for a job with a rival pest-control firm, since she could be taking crucial in-house information with her. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. For example, one prominent case involved Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain, basically trying to ban its former franchisees from working for other sandwich makers.

Furthermore, the terms of the clauses are often defined ridiculously widely. It’s as if our hypothetical mousetrap engineer were prohibited from seeking employment with any other manufacturing firm, or in any occupation that makes use of her engineering skills.

At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

May 19, 2017

Bobo has a question in “The Trump Administration Talent Vacuum:”  Would you go to work for this president?  No, Bobo.  I might, however, go TO work on him if I could find my 9 iron.  Mr. Cohen, in “L’État C’est Trump!,” says many of the president’s actions have been right out of Despotism 101. But the law is catching up with him.  We can but pray, Roger.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Republicans?” and says we need to understand what made Trump possible.  Here’s Bobo:

After an eruption, volcanoes sometimes collapse at the center. The magma chamber empties out and the volcano falls in on itself, leaving a caldera and a fractured ring of stone around the void, covered by deadening ash.

That’s about the shape of Washington after the last stunning fortnight. The White House at the center just collapsed in on itself and the nation’s policy apparatus is covered in ash.

I don’t say that because I think the Comey-Russia scandal will necessarily lead to impeachment. I have no idea where the investigations will go.

I say it because White Houses, like all organizations, run on talent, and the Trump White House has just become a Human Resources disaster area.

We have seen White Houses engulfed by scandal before. But we have never seen a White House implode before it had the time to staff up. The Nixon, Reagan and Clinton White Houses had hired quality teams by the time their scandals came. They could continue to function, sort of, even when engulfed.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and few people of quality or experience are going to want to take them.

Few people of any quality or experience are going to want to join a team that is already toxic. Nobody is going to want to become the next H. R. McMaster, a formerly respected figure who is now permanently tainted because he threw his lot in with Donald Trump. Nobody is going to want to join a self-cannibalizing piranha squad whose main activity is lawyering up.

That means even if the Trump presidency survives, it will be staffed by the sort of C- and D-List flora and fauna who will make more mistakes, commit more scandals and lead to more dysfunction.

Running a White House is insanely hard. It requires a few thousand extremely smart and savvy people who are willing to work crazy hours and strain their family lives because they fundamentally believe in the mission and because they truly admire the president.

Even on its best early days, the Trump White House never had that.

Trump was able to recruit some talented people, mostly on the foreign policy side, but organizational cultures are set from the top, and a culture of selfishness has always marked this administration.

Even before Inauguration Day, the level of leaking out of this White House was unprecedented, as officials sought to curry favor with the press corps and as factions vied with one another.

But over the past 10 days the atmosphere has become extraordinary. Senior members of the White House staff have trained their sights on the man they serve. Every day now there are stories in The Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere in which unnamed White House officials express disdain, exasperation, anger and disrespect for their boss.

As the British say, the staff is jumping ship so fast they are leaving the rats gaping and applauding.

Trump, for his part, is resentfully returning fire, blaming his underlings for his own mistakes, complaining that McMaster is a pain, speculating about firing and demoting people. This is a White House in which the internal nickname for the chief of staff is Rancid.

The organizational culture is about to get worse. People who have served in administrations under investigation speak eloquently about how miserable it is. You never know which of your friends is about to rat you out. No personal communication is really secure. You never know which of your colleagues is going to break ranks and write the tell-all memoir, and you think that maybe it should be you.

Even people not involved in the original scandal can find themselves caught up in the maelstrom and see their careers ruined. Legal costs soar. The investigations can veer off in wildly unexpected directions, so no White House nook or cranny is safe.

As current staff leaves or gets pushed out, look for Trump to try to fill the jobs with business colleagues who also have no experience in government. It’s striking that the only person who this week seems excited to take a Trump administration job is Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who made his name as a TV performance artist calling the Black Lives Matter movement “black slime,” and who now claims he has been hired to serve in the Department of Homeland Security.

Congressional Republicans seem to think they can carry on and legislate despite the scandal, but since 1933 we have no record of significant legislation without strong presidential leadership. Members of this Congress are not going to be judged by where they set the corporate tax rate. They will be defined by where they stood on Donald Trump’s threat to civic integrity. That issue is bound to overshadow all else.

The implosion at the center is going to affect everything around it. The Trump administration may survive politically, but any hopes that it will become an effective governing organization are dashed.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Louis XIV of France summed up his view of power with the phrase “L’État, c’est moi,” or “I am the State.” Donald Trump became president four months ago with roughly the same idea. In the Trump universe, he had been judge, jury and executioner. He saw no reason why that would change.

Trump had no knowledge of, or interest in, the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution. Circumscribed power was for losers, a category of humanity for which he reserves his greatest disdain. Just this week, after passing along classified information about the Islamic State to Russia, and so jeopardizing an ally’s intelligence asset, Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to do so.

Absolutism is Trump’s thing. He’s installed his family in senior White House posts where influence and business intersect. His aides are terrified. His press secretary hides “among the bushes.” The family knows everything; nobody else knows anything. He demanded loyalty of the F.B.I. director he subsequently fired for lèse-majesté. All this is right out of Despotism 101.

Absolutism is not, however, America’s thing. In fact it is what the United States was created to escape from. The Declaration of Independence excoriates the “absolute Tyranny over these States,” exercised by King George III. Among the British king’s usurpations: “He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

No wonder the Constitution ratified a dozen years later has this to say about the judicial branch: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished.”

But Trump came into office with what Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, described to me as “little regard for the law.” Nor would a man so ahistorical have had any notion that the Constitution diffuses power between three branches of government because it reflects the experience of dealing with a king. The clash between an autocratic president and the institutions of American freedom that intensified this week with the appointment of a special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, was inevitable.

The president can declassify information if he wishes but that’s not an open invitation to recklessness. Giving sensitive intelligence to Russia, a rival power that of late has resembled an enemy, could raise legal issues. For Trump to then use the word “absolute” in his defense recalls Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Trump did not need much corrupting. He was already well schooled. He has poured scorn on an independent judiciary (dismissing as “so-called” a federal judge who ruled against him) and called the press “the enemy of the American people.”

The president’s contempt for the Constitution was signaled in his inaugural speech when he invoked his “oath of allegiance to all Americans.” No, the president’s oath is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His allegiance is to the law. We know where allegiance to the “volk” can lead.

In firing James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Trump used a letter from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, as justification, before finding other reasons. Rosenstein got played. He knows it. Trump’s contempt for the judiciary, in the person of this United States attorney with a 27-year career in the Justice Department, was evident.

Rosenstein has now done the right thing by appointing Mueller to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. The former F.B.I. director is a man of undisputed integrity. He will give backbone to the post-Comey F.B.I.

Mueller’s investigation must be complemented by congressional inquiries into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections that are likely to move faster and more openly. The one must not preclude the other; they are complementary. It is past time for the Republican firewall of support for Trump to crumble. Mueller, whose work will take many months at least, is investigating violations of criminal law, but “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the grounds for impeachment, are not confined to that.

“Something that violates criminal law is likely to be a high crime and misdemeanor, but not necessarily vice-versa,” Burbank said.

It is against this confrontational domestic backdrop that Trump will be consorting with autocrats and democrats on his first foreign trip (to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, the Vatican and Italy), without the world knowing which he favors. He can only blame himself for the turmoil. Trump’s White House is a valueless place that has already neutered the American idea. That this shallow, shifting president now sees himself as a possible advocate of global religious tolerance is a measure of how far ego can induce blindness.

Richard Nixon once said that, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But the state was not Nixon, as he learned, and nor is it Trump, whose education in the coming months will be harsh. Trump calls it a “witch hunt.” No, Mr. President, it’s called the law.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday, Paul Ryan held a press conference just after the revelation that Donald Trump had pushed James Comey to kill the investigation into Michael Flynn — you know, the guy Trump appointed as national security adviser even though his team knew that Flynn’s highly suspicious foreign ties were under investigation.

Faced with questions about the Flynn scandal and the Comey firing, Ryan waved them away: “I don’t worry about things that are outside my control.”

This might sound like a reasonable philosophy — unless you realize that Ryan is speaker of the House of Representatives, a legislative body with the power to issue subpoenas, compel testimony and, yes, impeach the president. In fact, under the Constitution, Ryan and his congressional colleagues are effectively the only check on a rogue chief executive.

It has become painfully clear, however, that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power.

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

And the big question we should be asking is how that happened. At this point we know who and what Trump is, and have a pretty good idea of what he has been doing. If we had two patriotic parties in the country, impeachment proceedings would already be underway. But we don’t. What’s the matter with Republicans?

Obviously I can’t offer a full theory here, but there’s a lot we do know about the larger picture.

First, Republicans are professional politicians. Yes, so are most Democrats. But the parties are not the same.

The Democratic Party is a coalition of interest groups, with some shared views but also a lot of conflicts, and politicians get ahead through their success in striking compromises and finding acceptable solutions.

The G.O.P., by contrast, is one branch of a monolithic structure, movement conservatism, with a rigid ideology — tax cuts for the rich above all else. Other branches of the structure include a captive media that parrots the party line every step of the way. Compare the coverage of recent political developments on Fox News with almost everywhere else; we’re talking North Korea levels of alternative reality.

And this monolithic structure — lavishly supported by a small number of very, very wealthy families — rewards, indeed insists on, absolute fealty. Furthermore, the structure has been in place for a long time: It has been 36 years since Reagan was elected, 22 years since the Gingrich takeover of Congress. What this means is that nearly all Republicans in today’s Congress are apparatchiks, political creatures with no higher principle beyond party loyalty.

The fact that the G.O.P. is a party of apparatchiks was one crucial factor in last year’s election. Why did Marine Le Pen, often portrayed as the French equivalent of Trump, lose by a huge margin? Because France’s conservatives were only willing to go so far; they simply would not support a candidate whose motives and qualifications they distrusted. Republicans, however, went all in behind Trump, knowing full well that he was totally unqualified, strongly suspecting that he was corrupt and even speculating that he might be in Russian pay, simply because there was an “R” after his name on the ballot.

And even now, with the Trump/Flynn/Comey story getting worse by the hour, there has been no significant breaking of ranks. If you’re waiting to find the modern version of Howard Baker, the Republican senator who asked “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” you’re wasting your time. Men like that left the G.O.P. a long time ago.

Does this mean that Trump will be able to hold on despite his multiple scandals and abuses of power? Actually, yes, he might. The answer probably hinges on the next few special elections: Republicans won’t turn on Trump unless he has become such a political liability that he must be dumped.

And even if Trump goes, one way or another, the threat to the Republic will be far from over.

In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point — his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he’s evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

And yet again I thank God that I’m as old as I am and won’t have to live to see much more of what the Republicans have in store for our country.

Krugman’s blog, 5/17/17

May 18, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Calling Literatures From The Vasty Deep:”

Noah Smith has a very nice essay on how to deal with people who try to ward off serious criticism of their ideas by appealing to a “vast literature” you don’t know. As he says, sometimes there are vast literatures of nonsense, or at any rate of dubious quality, that mainly serve to protect vested intellectual interests.

Yet of course there are also cases in which you really should know something about existing research before opining, and Noah has a clever device: the Two Paper Rule. Give me two papers in this vast literature that are “exemplars and paragons” of the literature. If you can’t, the whole literature is probably a waste of time.

Which of course sets some of us to work trying to think of the two papers we’d recommend in particular areas of interest. So, some of my examples.

Noah is generally very down on macroeconomics, but I believe that we’ve learned a lot in macro since the 2008 crisis. Take fiscal policy: before the crisis there was strikingly little solid evidence about its effects, largely because history gave us so few natural experiments (causation generally ran from business cycles to budgets rather than the other way around). But the crisis gave us both some experiments via austerity and a renewed search for historical cases. I’d point to Blanchard and Leigh, using austerity as an experiment, and Nakamura-Steinsson, exploiting regional shocks from defense spending. Not saying these are the only fine papers, but they’re enough to show that there’s a real there there.

I think we’ve also had some dramatic confirmation of what some of us thought we knew about monetary policy at the zero lower bound. I can think, for example, of a 1998 paper that has held up really well; but I’ll leave that as an exercise for readers.

What about trade? Autor/Dorn/Hanson on the China shock may not be the last word, but surely a revelatory approach. In a strange way, I’d put Subramanian and Kessler in the same category: realizing that this globalization is different from anything that came before is a big deal.

I guess that in a way I’m pushing back against Noah’s nihilism (noahlism?) even while endorsing his method. I think there has been a lot of good economics done, even if there are also vast literatures not worth your time.

Lovely neologism there, or should I say “noahlogism?”

Stephens, Kristof, and Collins

May 18, 2017

In “‘The Flight 93 Election’ Crashes Again” Mr. Stephens says to a certain kind of conservative, last fall’s was “the Flight 93 election.” Perhaps it was, but not as they intended.  Mr. Kristof says these are “Dangerous Times for Trump and the Nation” and he has a question:  What if an unstable president reaches for the nuclear button?  Thanks, Nick, I just crawled out from under the bed…  Ms. Collins ponders “Trump’s Version of Keeping Us Safe,” and we pause while the president feels sorry for himself.  Here’s Mr. Stephens:

In case you’ve had the pleasure of forgetting, “The Flight 93 Election” was the title of a portentous essay, published last September under a Roman pseudonym in The Claremont Review of Books, that declared the stakes for the United States in 2016 thus: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”

In the lurid imagination of the author — it turned out to be Michael Anton, who now holds a senior job in the White House — the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist “Davoisie.” As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried “Let’s Roll” in a desperate bid for salvation.

“You may die anyway,” Anton warned. “You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: If you don’t try, death is certain.”

And here we are, not four months into the collapsing Trump presidency, living Anton’s dreams.

In recent days, the radio host Michael Savage has acknowledged “the administration is in trouble.” John Podhoretz in the New York Post and later The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page each compared Trump to Jimmy Carter — the most damning of all conservative indictments.

Then there’s Ann Coulter. In an interview with The Daily Caller, the author of “In Trump We Trust” said of the presidency that “it has been such a disaster so far,” and that it was possible that “the Trump-haters were right.” She even dropped the f-bomb — “fascist” — to describe Trump’s hiring of his relatives to senior White House posts.

“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said (perhaps it’s apocryphal) after the CBS anchorman said in 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Just so for Trump: If he’s lost Coulter, he’s lost angry America. That’s not his entire base, but — let’s face it — it’s a critical fraction of it.

Now the hope of the president’s dismayed supporters is that this moment of near-political bankruptcy will lead to a reinvention and a turnaround. Perhaps Trump can delegate his executive authorities in the same way as he used to license his name, pretending to be president just as he once pretended to be a real-estate tycoon.

That would suit Trump’s sole talent for playing a successful character on TV. But the reality of the presidency is that it tends to reflect and magnify the inner truth of the officeholder. The job requires — and exposes — that most conservative of concepts: character. And if we’ve learned anything about Trump, it’s that his character isn’t just bad. It’s irrepressible.

Hence the past 10 days of our national life. Firing Jim Comey. Threatening Comey. Lying about the reasons for firing Comey. Admitting to the reasons for firing Comey. Blabbing secrets to Sergey Lavrov. Denying that secrets were blabbed. Then blabbing about blabbing to Lavrov.

No staff shake-up would have prevented any of this from happening. It would have descended on a hapless White House staff like a superheated pyroclastic flow from a presidential Pinatubo. And it will continue to descend, week after grim week, until Trump leaves or is forced from office.

That is the Trump reality. A man with a deformed personality and a defective intellect runs a dysfunctional administration — a fact finally visible even to its most ardent admirers. Who could have seen that one coming? Who knew that character might be destiny?

To reread “The Flight 93 Election” today is to understand what has gone wrong not only with the Trump presidency, but also with so much of the conservative movement writ large. In a word, it’s become unhinged.

To imply, as Anton did, that Barack Obama, for all his shortcomings, was Ziad Jarrah, Flight 93’s lead hijacker, is vile. To suppose that we’d all be dead if Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, had been elected is hallucinatory. To argue that the United States, for all its problems, was the equivalent of a doomed aircraft is absurd. To suggest that Donald Trump, a man who has sacrificed nothing in his life for anyone or anything, is the worthy moral heir to the Flight 93 passengers is a travesty.

It is the mark of every millenarian fanatic to assume that the world stands on the verge of a precipice, and that only radical or violent action can save it. That’s the premise of Anton’s essay. It’s also the kind of thinking that has inspired extremists from time immemorial, including the people who grabbed the planes on 9/11.

Maybe 2016 was the Flight 93 election, or something like it. Maybe the pilots are dead. Maybe the passengers failed to storm the cockpit. Maybe the hijackers reached their target by landing on the White House after all.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The Trump presidency may now be disintegrating, tumbling toward entropy.

By firing James Comey as F.B.I. director, President Trump set in motion the appointment Wednesday evening of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Mueller is a Trump nightmare: a pro who ran the F.B.I. for 12 years and is broadly respected by both parties in Washington for his competence and integrity. If Trump thought he was removing a thorn by firing Comey, he now faces a grove of thistles.

One crucial lesson here: Pressure matters. It was public opinion that stalled the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, and it is public opinion in part that will ensure the integrity of this investigation.

While the Justice Department didn’t precisely cave to polls, it truly does matter that a majority of Americans want this cloud over our presidency investigated and removed; legal decisions unfold in a political context. Keep up that pressure, for the coming months may be particularly dangerous.

We don’t, of course, know what Mueller will find, and Trump has reiterated his denial of collusion with the Kremlin. Some Democrats seem to assume an investigation will prove a secret deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin, but many smart people I speak to wonder if it will end up more gray. They foresee evidence of collusion by Trump’s aides, and of financial pathways linking Moscow to Trump and his campaign, but perhaps no proof of a quid pro quo involving Trump himself.

The aides most at risk may be Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn, and NBC is reporting that multiple subpoenas have been issued for records involving them.

In addition, The Washington Post reported Wednesday on a remarkable recording in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared last June that he believed that Putin finances Trump. Talking with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders, McCarthy said, “I think Putin pays” Trump. When people laughed, McCarthy quickly added, “Swear to God!”

Ryan swore those present to secrecy. “No leaks,” Ryan said. “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

When The Post asked Ryan and McCarthy about the statements, their offices flatly denied them. Informed that The Post had a recording, they backtracked and suggested it was a joke.

If it’s not humor, this is extraordinary: The Republican House leadership suggested that Putin was keeping Trump on his payroll and that this must be kept secret — even as they thundered about Hillary Clinton’s emails!

(An aside: Thank God for the battle unfolding between The Washington Post and The New York Times. This is the best kind of newspaper war, keeping America straight. I’ve been very critical of media coverage of the presidential campaign, but the rigorous coverage of Trump since he took office has made me proud to be a journalist. And thanks to all those citizens who have subscribed to news outlets in recent months, recognizing that subscriptions are the price for a democracy.)

Yet there are dangers ahead. One is that America will be incapacitated and paralyzed by Mueller’s investigation and the suspicions — this partly explains the stock market’s big fall on Wednesday — and foreign powers may take advantage of this to undertake their own mischief. I would worry about Russia in both Ukraine and the Baltic countries, and we must make clear that we will work with allies to respond in kind.

Another danger is the risk of an erratic, embattled, paranoid leader at home who feels that he may be going down the tubes anyway. In domestic policy, presidents are constrained by Congress and the courts about what damage they can cause, but in foreign policy a president has a largely free hand — and the ability to launch nuclear strikes that would pretty much destroy the world.

In 1974, as Richard Nixon’s presidency was collapsing, he was drinking heavily and aides worried that he was becoming unstable. Fearing what might go wrong, Nixon’s defense secretary, James Schlesinger, secretly instructed the military not to carry out any White House order to use nuclear weapons unless confirmed by him or Henry Kissinger.

This was unconstitutional. And wise.

Schlesinger also prepared secret plans to deploy troops in Washington in the event of problems with the presidential succession.

We don’t know how Trump will respond in the coming months, and let’s all hope for smooth sailing. But as with Schlesinger’s steps, it’s wise to be prepared.

There have been calls for Trump aides to resign rather than ruin their reputations, but I hope the grown-ups — H. R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Dina Powell, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson — grit their teeth and stick it out. The White House has never needed more adult supervision.

The cabinet has the constitutional power to remove a president by majority vote under the 25th Amendment (if the president protests, this must be confirmed by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress). Such a vote is unlikely, but in the event of a crisis like the one Schlesinger envisioned, it would be essential.

I hope that cabinet members are keeping one another’s cellphone numbers handy in case an emergency meeting becomes necessary for our nation.

If we’re to rely on the ship of fools that is the current cabinet we are well and truly screwed.  And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Wow, Donald Trump can’t even give a commencement speech to the military without making it all about him.

“Now I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve,” the president warned as he was addressing the Coast Guard Academy graduating class Wednesday.

How many of you think Trump was envisioning an unjustly embattled seaman?

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” he went on. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

We will pause now to recall that Abraham Lincoln was accused of everything from drunkenness to treason to being a “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” before being assassinated. You’d think Trump would remember that, since he seems to regard himself as an expert on Lincoln. (“Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,” he informed a fund-raising dinner recently.)

But no, nobody has been persecuted as much as Donald Trump, despite all he’s done for us.

The president also took time out from extolling the Coast Guard’s service to run through the “tremendous amount” his administration has already accomplished. “We’ve saved the Second Amendment,” he bragged. This was presumably his successful fight to make sure that people who are so mentally disturbed they can’t handle their own Social Security benefits still are guaranteed the right to purchase lethal weapons.

But the topic of the day at the Coast Guard Academy was protecting America. And since nobody — particularly Trump — can talk about anything except Trump, let’s look at what the president has done recently to assure our security.

Right now we have no head of the F.B.I. Most of the U.S. attorney offices — the nerve center of America’s war on terrorism and corruption — are without leaders. In March Trump demanded the Obama-era federal prosecutors leave immediately, and he has not nominated a single replacement.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, says she was assured by White House officials that “the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity.”

“Clearly, this is not the case,” Feinstein understated.

Meanwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn turned out to be a mess on many fronts, and was fired for lying. His successor, H. R. McMaster, came into the job with a stellar military background and then quickly became an embarrassment. He’s just another spokesman trying to cover up the president’s messes with carefully worded statements, only to be contradicted by a Trumpian tweet.

Americans keep asking themselves why there isn’t anyone in the administration trying to guide the president away from his endless verbal errors, but as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman reported in The Times, McMaster has indeed tried. The president, in gratitude, refers to him as “a pain.”

Anyway, Trump misses getting national security advice from Mike Flynn. Who was secretly taking large payments for representing the interests of Turkey while he was a part of Trump’s campaign, and also had a very questionable and profitable relationship with Russia.

“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump told now-departed F.B.I. director James Comey. Have you ever seen a greater judge of character? People, do not take a job in the Trump administration, even if he offers you secretary of vacations. The very fact that he likes you will make everybody else distrust you.

Also on the top of the Trump food chain when it comes to protecting our security: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a right-wing former senator whose greatest achievement so far has been to return the federal criminal justice system to a brain-dead policy of imposing long mandatory sentences on people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

Since Sessions recused himself from any investigations relating to Russia and the Trump campaign — a topic that currently covers virtually everything — a lot of the burden was falling on his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who has been on the job for three weeks. Rosenstein, the ultimate example of that Trump employment rule, was quickly telling people he didn’t really care about his personal reputation.

On the plus side, Rosenstein has appointed a special counsel to look into … the stuff. That’s Robert Mueller, a very serious choice, who was in fact the last F.B.I. director not to be fired by Donald Trump.

And today we’ve got a new crew of Coast Guard ensigns, ready to serve. If only we had a president half as useful.