Kristof and Collins

September 21, 2017

In “Meet the World’s Leaders, in Hypocrisy” Mr. Kristof says the United Nations rings with bombast and braggadocio.  Ms. Collins asks “Are We Down to President Pence?”  She thinks the least we deserve is a less exciting finger on the trigger.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Leaders from around the world have descended on New York for United Nations meetings, fancy parties, ringing speeches about helping the poor — and a big dose of hypocrisy.

And — finally! — this is one area where President Trump has shown global leadership.

If there were an award for United Nations chutzpah, the competition would be tough, but the medal might go to Trump for warning that if necessary, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” There were gasps in the hall: A forum for peace was used to threaten to annihilate a nation of 25 million people.

There also was Trump’s praise for American humanitarian aid to Yemen. Patting oneself on the back is often oafish, but in this case it was also offensive. Yemen needs aid because the U.S. is helping Saudi Arabia starve and bomb Yemeni civilians, creating what the U.N. says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. In other words, we are helping to create the very disaster that we’re boasting about alleviating.

It was also sad to see Trump repeatedly plug “sovereignty,” which tends to be the favored word of governments like Russia (even as it invades Ukraine and interferes in the U.S. election) and China (as it supports corrupt autocrats from Zimbabwe to Myanmar).

Speaking of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi skipped the U.N. meeting, after being feted last year, because it’s awkward to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner who defends a brutal campaign of murder, rape and pillage. Many Muslim leaders in attendance, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, did highlight the plight of the Rohingya suffering an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. If only they were as interested in their own political prisoners!

Meanwhile, world leaders usually ignore places that don’t fit their narratives. Everybody pretty much shrugged at South Sudan and Burundi, both teetering on the edge of genocide; at Congo, where we’re headed for civil strife as the president attempts to cling to power; and at the “four famines”: in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan. To Trump’s credit, he expressed concern Wednesday about South Sudan and Congo and said he would dispatch U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to the region to see what can be done; let’s hope his administration provides desperately needed leadership.

In fairness, there are broader reasons for hope, including astonishing progress against global poverty — more than 100 million children’s lives saved since 1990. Every day, another 300,000 people worldwide get their first access to electricity, and 285,000 to clean water. Global poverty is a huge opportunity, for we now have a much better understanding of how to defeat it: resolve conflicts, invest in girls’ education, empower women, fight malnutrition, support family planning, and so on.

For the first time in human history, less than 10 percent of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty, and we probably could virtually eliminate it over the next 15 years if it were a top global priority. Trump rightly hailed Pepfar, the AIDS program President George W. Bush devised, but he also has proposed sharp cuts in its funding).

The progress on stopping human trafficking is also inspiring. I moderated a U.N. session on the topic, and it was heartening to see an overflow crowd engaging in a historically obscure subject, even as a new report calculated that there are 40 million people who may be called modern slaves. Prime Minister Theresa May convened perhaps the largest meeting of foreign ministers ever on human trafficking.

We now have the tools to achieve enormous progress against these common enemies of humanity — poverty, disease, slavery — but it’s not clear we have the will. What’s striking about this moment is that we have perhaps the worst refugee crisis in 70 years, overlapping with the worst food crisis in 70 years, overlapping with risks of genocide in several countries — and anemic global leadership.

“There is a vacuum of leadership — moral and political — when it comes to the world’s trouble spots, from Syria to Yemen to Myanmar and beyond,” notes David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee. Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, agrees: “I think there’s a leadership vacuum.”

There are exceptions: Wallstrom, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and more.

But many countries are divided at home, distracted by political combat and looking increasingly inward, and in any case, the U.S. remains the indispensable superpower, and it is AWOL. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has achieved a degree of irrelevance that no one thought possible, and Trump is slashing the number of refugees accepted, cutting funds for the U.N. Population Fund and proposing huge cuts for diplomacy, peacekeeping and foreign aid (fortunately, Congress is resisting).

The number that I always find most daunting is this: About one child in four on this planet is physically stunted from malnutrition. And while it is the physical stunting that we can measure, a side effect is a stunting of brain development, holding these children back, holding nations back, holding humanity back.

So it’s maddening to see world leaders posturing in the spotlight and patting themselves on the back while doing so little to tackle humanitarian crises that they themselves have helped create.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump’s visit to the United Nations has resurrected the question of whether we’d be better off with Mike Pence.

We haven’t mulled that one for a while. Lately, Trump’s stupendous instability has actually been looking like a plus. There he was, telling Democrats that he didn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Trying to find a way to save the Dreamers, having apparently forgotten that he was the one who put them all in jeopardy of deportation.

If Pence were president we wouldn’t be able to live in hopes of the next flip-flop. The Republican Congress would be marching through its agenda behind a committed conservative who, you may remember, forced so many Planned Parenthood clinics to close when he was governor of Indiana that it triggered an H.I.V. epidemic. Better insane than sorry.

Then came the U.N. speech, and the reminder that the one big plus on Pence’s scorecard is that he seems less likely to get the planet blown up.

You’ve heard about the big moment, when the president threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” adding, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Trump, who has a history of giving opponents insulting nicknames, loves calling Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, “Rocket Man.” Nikki Haley, our U.N. ambassador, argued that the president’s speech was a diplomatic win because “every other international community” has now started calling Kim “Rocket Man,” too.

Does this sound like a triumph to you, people? It’s perfectly possible Kim takes it for a compliment since he does like rockets. And I’ll bet he likes Elton John songs, too.

But about the “totally destroy North Korea” part: I believe I am not alone in feeling that the best plan for dealing with a deranged dictator holding nuclear weapons is not threatening to blow him up.

We tell ourselves that the president is surrounded by men who are too stable to let him plunge us into a war that will annihilate the planet. But Trump’s U.N. speech was a read-from-the-teleprompter performance, not a case of his just blurting out something awful. People in the White House read it and talked about it in advance.

It would have been so easy to avoid the crisis with a rewrite. “As the president said yesterday, the United States has great strength and patience, but all options are on the table,” Pence told the Security Council later. No, that’s not what the president said. But it is how you expect the head of the most powerful country in the world to deliver a message without scaring the pants off the public.

Maybe that’s what this country needs — a president who can make diplomacy boring again. We’re back to the dream of impeachment, or the sudden news that Trump is retiring to spend more quality time with his defense attorneys.

The most positive interpretation of the U.N. performance is that it was just a show for the base back home and had nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the real world. That seems possible, since the bulk of it was just sort of … undiplomatic. Urging his audience to do something about North Korea, Trump said: “That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.” Truly, when you’re addressing an international organization of which your country is a founding member, it’s a little weird to refer to it as “they.”

The president also kept saying he was always going to “put America first,” which is of course true. But at a U.N. venue, it was a little like going to the first meeting of the PTA and repeatedly pointing out that you only care about your own kid.

While Trump spent a lot of time denigrating the U.N. during his campaign, the White House clearly put a big premium on his debut. The whole Trump team was making the rounds. Poor Melania gave a speech about protecting children from cyberbullying while the audience silently contemplated the fact that her husband recently retweeted a meme of him slamming Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball.

The president was much more affable in smaller venues, but he still sounded … wrong. He tried to be super-nice at a luncheon with African leaders, assuring them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” At a gathering for the secretary general, he offered a toast to “the potential, the great, great potential, of the United Nations.” He kept talking about “potential,” like a relative attempting to say something positive about a teenager who had just gotten kicked out of junior high.

The big takeaway, however, was that the president of the United States had threatened to destroy a country with 25 million people.

Maybe we would be better off with Pence in the White House. Even though he won’t drink in mixed company unless his wife is present, or dine alone with a woman he’s not married to.

Really, there are some choices we just shouldn’t be required to make.

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Free day!

September 20, 2017

The only column that’s shown up thus far (8 AM EDT) is Wee Ross “Don’t” Douthat, otherwise known as The Pasty Little Putz.  I’ll spare you all.

Bobo and Bruni

September 19, 2017

Because obviously nothing much important is going on in the nation Bobo and Mr. Bruni have decided to look elsewhere for column fodder.  Bobo, he of the failed marriage, is burbling on about Maslow and marriage.  In “When Life Asks For Everything” he gurgles that two models of human development involve self, with one transcending it and the other actualizing it.  Mr. Bruni, on the other hand, has his panties in a wad over “The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys.”  Here’s Bobo:

I’d like to offer you two models of human development.

The first is what you might call The Four Kinds of Happiness. The lowest kind of happiness is material pleasure, having nice food and clothing and a nice house. Then there is achievement, the pleasure we get from earned and recognized success. Third, there is generativity, the pleasure we get from giving back to others. Finally, the highest kind of happiness is moral joy, the glowing satisfaction we get when we have surrendered ourselves to some noble cause or unconditional love.

The second model is Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. In this conception, we start out trying to satisfy our physical needs, like hunger or thirst. Once those are satisfied we move up to safety needs, economic and physical security. Once those are satisfied we can move up to belonging and love. Then when those are satisfied we can move up to self-esteem. And when that is satisfied we can move up to the pinnacle of development, self-actualization, which is experiencing autonomy and living in a way that expresses our authentic self.

The big difference between these two schemes is that The Four Kinds of Happiness moves from the self-transcendence individual to the relational and finally to the transcendent and collective. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the other hand, moves from the collective to the relational and, at its peak, to the individual. In one the pinnacle of human existence is in quieting and transcending the self; in the other it is liberating and actualizing the self.

Most religions and moral systems have aimed for self-quieting and, figuring that the great human problem is selfishness. But around the middle of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others aimed to liberate and enlarge the self. They brought us the self-esteem movement, humanistic psychology, and their thinking is still very influential today.

For example, on Tuesday one of America’s leading marriage researchers, Eli J. Finkel, publishes an important book called “The All-or-Nothing Marriage.” It’s quite a good book, full of interesting insights on contemporary marriage. But it conceives marriage completely within the Maslow frame.

In this conception, a marriage exists to support the individual self-actualization of each of the partners. In a marriage, the psychologist Otto Rank wrote, “one individual is helping the other to develop and grow, without infringing too much on the other’s personality.” You should choose the spouse who will help you elicit the best version of yourself. Spouses coach each other as each seeks to realize his or her most authentic self.

“Increasingly,” Finkel writes, “Americans view this definition as a crucial component of the marital relationship.”

Now I confess, this strikes me as a cold and detached conception of marriage. If you go into marriage seeking self-actualization, you will always feel frustrated because marriage, and especially parenting, will constantly be dragging you away from the goals of self.

In the Four Happiness frame, by contrast, marriage can be a school in joy. You might go into marriage in a fit of passion, but, if all works out, pretty soon you’re chopping vegetables side by side in the kitchen, chasing a naked toddler as he careens giddily down the hall after bath -time, staying up nights anxiously waiting for your absent teenager, and every once in a while looking out over a picnic table at the whole crew on some summer evening, feeling a wave of gratitude sweep over you, and experiencing a joy that is greater than anything you could feel as a “self.”

And it all happens precisely because the self melded into a single unit called the marriage. Your identity changed. The distinction between giving and receiving, altruism and selfishness faded away because in giving to the unit you are giving to a piece of yourself.

It’s not just in marriage, but in everything, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has always pointed toward a chilly, unsatisfying version of self-fulfillment. Most people experience their deepest sense of meaning not when they have placidly met their other needs, but when they come together in crisis.

Rabbi Wolfe Kelman’s life was fraught with every insecurity when he marched with Dr. King in Selma, but, he reported: “We felt connected, in song, to the transcendental, the ineffable. We felt triumph and celebration. We felt that things change for the good and nothing is congealed forever. That was a warming, transcendental spiritual experience. Meaning and purpose and mission were beyond exact words.”

In one of his many interesting data points, Finkel reports that starting around 1995, both fathers and mothers began spending a lot more time looking after their children. Today, parents spend almost three times more hours in shared parenting than parents in 1975 did. Finkel says this is an extension of the Maslow/Rogers pursuit of self-actualization.

I’d say it’s evidence of a repudiation of it. I’d say many of today’s parents are moving away from the me-generation ethos and toward covenant, fusion and surrendering love.

None of us lives up to our ideals in marriage or anything else. But at least we can aim high. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs too easily devolves into self-absorption. It’s time to put it away.

We’ll draw the veil of charity over that.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

I’m an awards-show geek who usually spends the morning after the Emmys or Oscars nattering about who was unjustly robbed, who was unwisely dressed and whether it’s a felony in Hollywood to consume more than 300 calories a meal, because it sure looks that way.

But that’s not my banter or my mood today, because what I and anyone else who tuned in to Hollywood’s latest self-congratulatory orgy on Sunday saw wasn’t good fun. It was bad news — a ringing, stinging confirmation that fame truly is its own reward and celebrity really does trump everything and redeem everyone.

Object of ridicule or object of reverence: Is there a difference? Not if you’re a household name, not if you’re a proven agent of ratings and not if you’re likely to deliver more of them. Our commander in chief took that crude philosophy to heart and rode it all the way to the White House. Sean Spicer took a page from the president and then a bow on the Emmys stage.

Not exactly a bow, and there are Emmys production folks and television industry figures who are telling themselves that during his fleeting appearance at the ceremony, Spicer was being slyly demeaned, not sanitized.

What bunk. The message of his presence was not only that we can all laugh at his service and sycophancy in the Trump administration, but that he’s welcome to laugh with us.

What an adventure you had, Sean! What a hoot you were! Here’s your invitation to the after-party. Of course it’s a plus-one. You’re Spicey!

For anyone who missed the show or hasn’t caught wind of the brouhaha since, Spicer came onto the stage behind the kind of podium that Melissa McCarthy used in her impersonations of him and told the Emmys host, Stephen Colbert, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world.”

His words alluded, obviously, to his fictitious claim — at his very first news conference as the White House press secretary — about the crowds for Trump’s inauguration. But that claim wasn’t merely ludicrous. It was precisely and perfectly emblematic of Trump’s all-out, continuing assault on facts and on truth itself. And it signaled Spicer’s full collaboration in that war, which is arguably the most dangerous facet of Trump’s politics, with the most far-reaching, long-lasting consequences.

Reportedly, Colbert himself had the idea to include Spicer in the Emmys, and that’s especially rich, as the Brits like to say. On his late-night talk show, Colbert has flamboyantly mined his ostensible contempt for Trump and outrage over the president’s misdeeds to find a spark that was missing from the program and a viewership that had eluded it.

On top of which, it was Colbert, years ago, who coined the term “truthiness,” pointedly exposing — and skewering — politicians’ self-servingly cavalier relationship with reality.

Truthiness was a pale, wan forebear of Trump’s pathology, distilled in Spicer’s inauguration boast. But at the Emmys, Colbert abetted Spicer’s image overhaul and probably upped Spicer’s speaking fees by letting him demonstrate what a self-effacing sport he could be. The moment went viral, and I suppose that’s the point. You grab the eyeballs however you can. Trump taught America that, too.

This is bigger than any one awards show, as many outraged observers have smartly tweeted and as I examined in a recent column about the hasty and successful gold rush by people who have earned renown or notoriety — I’m not sure those nouns are so distinct from each other anymore — as a result of their time with Trump.

More than ever, someone who arouses curiosity or makes you gape can monetize that as easily as someone who inspires admiration can profit from your genuine regard. Fascination comes in many shades, and at this morally addled moment in America, the bright ones and the dark ones are almost equally lucrative.

So Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci and Corey Lewandowski are all graduating to greater recognition and riches, never mind that they willingly promoted, ignored or sugarcoated actions and pronouncements by Trump that went well beyond the established norms of partisan politics.

Spicer and Lewandowski will be fellows at Harvard, never mind their volitional submission to someone whose lack of character, grace and basic maturity was just affirmed anew by his retweet of a video of him hitting a golf ball into Hillary Clinton and knocking her over.

By teaming with Trump, they stood at the apex of the government, in an intense spotlight. By surviving him, they’re reaping the same dividends accorded the former aides of far nobler politicians. There’s no discernment, not at Harvard and not in the entertainment world, where self-conscious liberalism and promulgations of virtue routinely take a back seat to any story line, casting decision or gag that’s guaranteed to seize attention.

Both Harvard and Hollywood are probably trying to shed the tag of elitism, and Harvard is no doubt reasoning that to close itself off from this president’s enablers is to forfeit an opportunity to understand why so many Americans voted from Trump.

But there are other, better ways to make that gesture and explore that phenomenon, ways that don’t play down and pretty up the ugliness of Trump’s ascent, ways that don’t bestow rewards on operatives who stomached stuff and peddled wares that no responsible patriot, regardless of his or her political leanings, should.

The embrace of Trump’s alumni says that finagling proximity to power, getting your face on TV and having your name trend on Twitter are accomplishments in and of themselves and will always pay off. Sure, some catcalls will come your way. But that’s nothing compared with a cameo at the Emmys.

Blow and Krugman

September 18, 2017

She’s baaaack…  Thanks to those of you who left comments concerned about how I was.  There were some family illnesses, and then a visit from Hurricane Irma.  (Who, thankfully, wasn’t as bad as we were expecting.  Matthew last year was much worse.)

Today Mr. Blow asks a rather silly question:  “Is Mr. Trump a White Supremacist?”  He is struggling with accounting for Trump and those who surround him.  Charles, by their fruits ye shall know them.  Prof. Krugman say “Complacency Could Kill Health Care,” and that Graham-Cassidy is the Donald Trump of health reform.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

That was only one in a string a tweets on Sept. 11 by ESPN host Jemele Hill in which Hill goes on to say that Trump is “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” that he hired and courted white supremacists, that “His rise is a direct result of white supremacy,” that “if he were not white, he never would have been elected.” Hill insinuates that the Republican Party “has done nothing but endorse/promote white supremacy.”

These tweets caused quite a stir. The White House perpetual lie-generator and press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that it was a fireable offense for ESPN. Sanders’s statement, of course, was not without its own controversy. As AOL reported:

“The Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump Super PAC, has filed an ethics complaint against White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with the Office of Government Ethics for her comments calling on ESPN host Jemele Hill to be fired.”

AOL continued:

“The group claims federal law prohibits government employees from influencing ‘a private entity’s employment … solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.’”

Then on Friday, Trump himself weighed in, because obviously there are no more pressing matters that need his attention, oh like, say, North Korea continuing to launch missiles over Japan, for one.

Trump tweeted:

“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

This tweet, for me, changed the conversation. It moved the discussion from propriety and in-house rules of conduct by a brand, to a question of veracity. Was what Hill said untrue, as Trump’s tweet suggests, or is Trump in fact a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with white supremacists and whose party courted white supremacists?

Two of those points can be quickly put to rest. First, there is no question that Trump has hired someone who was at least a booster of white supremacists: Steve Bannon. In a sinister act of double signaling, Bannon was hired as the Trump campaign’s chief executive on the same day that Trump started his fake outreach to black voters in Milwaukee.

Also, while the Republican Party clearly stands for more than white supremacy and the promotion of that intellectually fallacious concept, the party has often turned a blind eye to the racists in its midst and done far too little to extricate them.

But then the question remains: Is Trump himself a white supremacist?

This question is almost unanswerable in the absolute, but there is mounting circumstantial evidence pointing in a most disquieting direction.

First, we must submit that Trump is not particularly discerning in the administration of his insults. As The New York Times’s Upshot pointed out in July, “Trump is on track to insult 650 people, places and things on Twitter by the end of his first term.” He is often reflexive with his derisions, attacking those who criticize or condemn him. Many of Trump’s lackeys laud his instinct to counterpunch. When Trump attacked MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, Huckabee Sanders explained, “When the president gets hit, he’s going to hit back harder.”

They paint it as strength, although it is clearly weakness. It is a masking of fragility with aggression. And the traditionally marginalized — women, racial, religious and ethnic minorities — are treated to a particularly personal strain of Trump’s venom. In Trump’s eyes, Barack Obama wasn’t simply a bad president, he was illegitimate and inferior, a person who couldn’t possibly be as talented as the world thought he was. He questioned whether Obama had actually attended his prestigious colleges and insisted that Obama’s memoir was too well-written for him to have written it, that it must have been written by a white man.

Is Trump patriarchal and misogynistic? Definitely. But, what of white supremacy?

It is clear that Trump is hero among white supremacists: He panders to them, he is slow to condemn them and when that condemnation manifests, it is often forced and tepid. Trump never seems to be worried about offending anyone except Vladimir Putin and white supremacists.

What does that say about him? How can you take comfort among and make common cause with white supremacists and not assimilate to their sensibilities?

I say that it can’t be done. If you are not completely opposed to white supremacy, you are quietly supporting it. If you continue to draw equivalencies between white supremacists and the people who oppose them — as Trump did once again last week — you have crossed the racial Rubicon and moved beyond quiet support to vocal support. You have made an allegiance and dug a trench in the war of racial hostilities.

Hill may have pushed into the realm of hyperbole with a few of her statements — it was Twitter after all — but I judge the spirit of her assessment to be true.

Either Trump is himself a white supremacist or he is a fan and defender of white supremacists, and I quite honestly am unable to separate the two designations.

That’s because they’re exactly the same thing.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

I haven’t yet read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” but it seems pretty clear to me what did, in fact, happen in 2016.

These days, America starts from a baseline of extreme tribalism: 47 or 48 percent of the electorate will vote for any Republican, no matter how terrible, and against any Democrat, no matter how good. This means, in turn, that small things — journalists acting like mean kids in high school, ganging up on candidates they consider uncool, events that suggest fresh scandal even when there’s nothing there — can tip the balance in favor of even the worst candidate imaginable.

And, crucially, last year far too many people were complacent; they assumed that Trump couldn’t possibly become president, so they felt free to engage in trivial pursuits. Then they woke up to find that the inconceivable had happened.

Is something similar about to go down with health care?

Republican attempts to destroy Obamacare have repeatedly failed, and for very good reason. Their attacks on the Affordable Care Act were always based on lies, and they have never come up with a decent alternative.

The simple fact is that all the major elements of the A.C.A. — prohibiting discrimination by insurers based on medical history, requiring that people buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion that make insurance affordable even for those with lower incomes — are there because they’re necessary. Yet every plan Republicans have offered would do away with or undermine those key elements, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance, with the heaviest burden falling on the most vulnerable.

All this should be clear to everyone by now. So you might be tempted to assume that no plan along these lines can possibly pass, let alone one that, if anything, looks worse than what we’ve seen so far. But it’s precisely because so many people assume that the threat is behind us, and have turned their attention elsewhere, that health care is once again in danger.

The sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy bill now working its way toward a Senate vote claim to be offering a moderate approach that preserves the good things about Obamacare. In other words, they are maintaining the G.O.P. norm of lying both about the content of Obamacare and about what would replace it.

In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured.

Did this bill’s sponsors — Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Ron Johnson and Dean Heller — manage to get through months of health care debate without learning anything about the issue? Maybe. But surely the rest of the Senate, not to mention much of the public, has wised up about false Republican promises. A huge majority of voters, almost two to one, consider it a good thing that previous attempts at repealing and replacing Obamacare failed.

Yet there is a real chance that Graham-Cassidy, which is similar to but even worse than previous Republican proposals, will nonetheless become law, because not enough people are taking it seriously.

As in the presidential election, we start from a baseline of extreme tribalism, in which 48 or 49 Republican senators will vote for anything, no matter how awful, that bears their party’s seal of approval. To make a bill the law, its sponsors only need to win one or two more votes.

The main reason Republican leaders couldn’t do that on previous health bills was public outrage and activism. Letters and phone calls, demonstrators and crowds at town halls, made it clear that many Americans were aware of the stakes, and that politicians who voted to take health care away from millions would be held accountable.

Now, however, the news cycle has moved on, taking public attention with it. Many progressives have already begun taking Obamacare’s achievements for granted, and are moving on from protest against right-wing schemes to dreams of single-payer. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of environment in which swing senators, no longer in the spotlight, might be bribed or bullied into voting for a truly terrible bill.

The good news is that for technical reasons of parliamentary procedure, Graham-Cassidy has to pass by the end of this month, or not at all. The bad news is that such passage is a real possibility.

So if you care about preserving the huge gains the A.C.A. has brought, make your voice heard. Otherwise we may wake up to another terrible morning after.

Bobo, solo

August 29, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “How Trump Kills the G.O.P.  It apparently just suddenly dawned on him that the Republican Party has become a vehicle for white identity and racial conflict.  What a revelation!  Some of us, however, have known that for 40 years or so.  “William” from Syracuse will have a few things to say.  Here’s Bobo:

It’s ironic that race was the issue that created the Republican Party and that race could very well be the issue that destroys it.

The G.O.P. was founded to fight slavery, and through most of its history it had a decent record on civil rights. A greater percentage of congressional Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats.

It’s become more of a white party in recent years, of course, and adopted some wrongheaded positions on civil rights enforcement, but it was still possible to be a Republican without feeling like you were violating basic decency on matters of race. Most of the Republican establishment, from the Bushes to McCain and Romney, fought bigotry, and racism was not a common feature in the conservative moment.

Between 1984 and 2003 I worked at National Review, The Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Weekly Standard. Most of my friends were Republicans.

In that time, I never heard blatantly racist comments at dinner parties, and there were probably fewer than a dozen times I heard some veiled comment that could have suggested racism. To be honest, I heard more racial condescension in progressive circles than in conservative ones.

But the Republican Party has changed since 2005. It has become the vehicle for white identity politics. In 2005 only six percent of Republicans felt that whites faced “a great deal” of discrimination, the same number of Democrats who felt this. By 2016, the percentage of Republicans who felt this had tripled.

Recent surveys suggest that roughly 47 percent of Republicans are what you might call conservative universalists and maybe 40 percent are what you might call conservative white identitarians. White universalists believe in conservative principles and think they apply to all people and their white identity is not particularly salient to them. White identitarians are conservative, but their white identity is quite important to them, sometimes even more important than their conservatism.

These white identitarians have taken the multicultural worldview taught in schools, universities and the culture and, rightly or wrongly, have applied it to themselves. As Marxism saw history through the lens of class conflict, multiculturalism sees history through the lens of racial conflict and group oppression.

According to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, for example, about 48 percent of Republicans believe there is “a lot of discrimination” against Christians in America and about 43 percent believe there is a lot of discrimination against whites.

I’d love to see more research on the relationship between white identity politics and simple racism. There’s clear overlap, but I suspect they’re not quite the same thing. Racism is about feeling others are inferior. White identitarianism is about feeling downtrodden and aggrieved yourself.

In the P.R.R.I. survey, for example, roughly as many Republicans believe Muslims, immigrants and trans people face a lot of discrimination as believe whites and Christians do. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 59 percent of those in the white working class believe white supremacist groups are a threat to the country.

But three things are clear: First, identity politics on the right is at least as corrosive as identity politics on the left, probably more so. If you reduce the complex array of identities that make up a human being into one crude ethno-political category, you’re going to do violence to yourself and everything around you.

Second, it is wrong to try to make a parallel between Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. To pretend that these tendencies are somehow comparable is to ignore American history and current realities.

Third, white identity politics as it plays out in the political arena is completely noxious. Donald Trump is the maestro here. He established his political identity through birtherism, he won the Republican nomination on the Muslim ban, he campaigned on the Mexican wall, he governed by being neutral on Charlottesville and pardoning the racialist Joe Arpaio.

Each individual Republican is now compelled to embrace this garbage or not. The choice is unavoidable, and white resentment is bound to define Republicanism more and more in the months ahead. It’s what Trump cares about. The identity warriors on the left will deface statues or whatever and set up mutually beneficial confrontations with the identity warriors on the right. Things will get uglier.

And this is where the dissolution of the G.O.P. comes in. Conservative universalists are coming to realize their party has become a vehicle for white identity and racial conflict. This faction is prior to and deeper than Trump.

When you have an intraparty fight about foreign or domestic issues, you think your rivals are wrong. When you have an intraparty fight on race, you think your rivals are disgusting. That’s what’s happening. Friendships are now ending across the right. People who supported Trump for partisan reasons now feel locked in to support him on race, and they are making themselves repellent.

It may someday be possible to reduce the influence of white identity politics, but probably not while Trump is in office. As long as he is in power the G.O.P. is a house viciously divided against itself, and cannot stand.

And many of us pray that they go the way of the Whigs.  Here’s “William” from Syracuse:

“I guess Mr Brooks is asking us to forgot the race baiting use of William (Willie) Horton by the George HW Bush campaign or the call to arms of the “great silent majority” by Richard Nixon or Pat Buchanan’s 1992 primary campaign that defined the culture wars and culminated in his fiery speech at the year’s Republican convention.

Trump is the natural and logical heir to the party envisioned by republican leaders like Nixon, Buchanan, Gingrich, Atwater and yeah even the Bushes. This line of thought goes back over 50 years not 12.

There are just fewer of us who remember that.”

Krugman, solo

August 28, 2017

Prof. Krugman asks a question in “Fascism, American Style:”  How many Republicans will refuse to collaborate?  Probably NOT,K.  Here he is:

As sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio engaged in blatant racial discrimination. His officers systematically targeted Latinos, often arresting them on spurious charges and at least sometimes beating them up when they questioned those charges. Read the report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and prepare to be horrified.

Once Latinos were arrested, bad things happened to them. Many were sent to Tent City, which Arpaio himself proudly called a “concentration camp,” where they lived under brutal conditions, with temperatures inside the tents sometimes rising to 145 degrees.

And when he received court orders to stop these practices, he simply ignored them, which led to his eventual conviction — after decades in office — for contempt of court. But he had friends in high places, indeed in the highest of places. We now know that Donald Trump tried to get the Justice Department to drop the case against Arpaio, a clear case of attempted obstruction of justice. And when that ploy failed, Trump, who had already suggested that Arpaio was “convicted for doing his job,” pardoned him.

By the way, about “doing his job,” it turns out that Arpaio’s officers were too busy rounding up brown-skinned people and investigating President Barack Obama’s birth certificate to do other things, like investigate cases of sexually abused children. Priorities!

Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.

So how did we get to this point?

Trump’s motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio, with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy. For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe closes in on the White House: Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.

Finally, standing up for white people who keep brown people down pleases Trump’s base, whom he’s going to need more than ever as the scandals creep closer and the big policy wins he promised keep not happening.

But the Trump base of angry white voters is a distinct minority in the country as a whole. Furthermore, those voters have always been there. Fifteen years ago, writing about the radicalization of the G.O.P., I suggested the hard core of angry voters was around 20 percent of the electorate; that still seems like a reasonable guess.

What makes it possible for someone like Trump to attain power and hold it is the acquiescence of people, both voters and politicians, who aren’t white supremacists, who sort-of kind-of believe in the rule of law, but are willing to go along with racists and lawbreakers if it seems to serve their interests.

There have been endless reports about the low-education white voters who went overwhelmingly for Trump last November. But he wouldn’t have made it over the top without millions of votes from well-educated Republicans who — despite the media’s orgy of false equivalence or worse (emails!) — had no excuse for not realizing what kind of man he was. For whatever reason, be it political tribalism or the desire for lower taxes, they voted for him anyway.

Given the powers we grant to the president, who in some ways is almost like an elected dictator, giving the office to someone likely to abuse that power invites catastrophe. The only real check comes from Congress, which retains the power to impeach; even the potential for impeachment can constrain a bad president. But Republicans control Congress; how many of them besides John McCain have offered full-throated denunciations of the Arpaio pardon?

The answer is, very few. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, had a spokesman declare that he “does not agree with this decision” — not exactly a ringing statement. Yet Ryan did better than most of his colleagues, who have said nothing at all.

This bodes ill if, as seems all too likely, the Arpaio pardon is only the beginning: We may well be in the early stages of a constitutional crisis. Does anyone consider it unthinkable that Trump will fire Robert Mueller, and try to shut down investigations into his personal and political links to Russia? Does anyone have confidence that Republicans in Congress will do anything more than express mild disagreement with his actions if he does?

As I said, there’s a word for people who round up members of ethnic minorities and send them to concentration camps, or praise such actions. There’s also a word for people who, out of cowardice or self-interest, go along with such abuses: collaborators. How many such collaborators will there be? I’m afraid we’ll soon find out.

Better learn now how to goose-step.

Bobo and Krugman

August 25, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “This American Land.”  He gurgles that the nation’s identity has been shaped by nature, by how our wilderness molds, inspires and binds us.  Of course, Mein Fubar and his merry gang are trying their damndest to do away with them…  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman gets to the heart of the matter in “Trump and Pruitt, Making America Polluted Again,” where he says their environmental legacy will literally be toxic.  Here’s Bobo:

We’re living in the middle of a national crisis of solidarity — rising racial bitterness, pervasive distrust, political dysfunction. So what are the resources we can use to pull ourselves together? What can we draw upon to tell a better American story than the one Donald Trump tells, one that will unite us instead of divide us, and yield hopeful answers instead of selfish ones?

One resource is the land. Throughout our history, the American identity has been shaped by nature, by how our wilderness molds, inspires and binds us. Up until now, most U.S. presidents have somehow been connected to nature. Washington surveyed, T.R. hunted, Reagan and Bush cleared brush. Trump is unusual in that he seems untouched by wilderness, by the awe and humility that comes from the encounter with nature. He only drives around golf courses, which, though sometimes lovely, are dominated, artificial forms of nature.

From the nation’s founding, Americans had a sense that their continent’s vast and beautiful abundance gave their nation a unifying destiny and mission. The land made them feel apart from Europe — their manners simpler, their admiration for practical work more fervent and their ambitions more epic:

“A European, when he first arrives, seems limited in his intentions as well as in his views,” Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur wrote, “but he very suddenly alters his scale; two hundred miles formerly appeared a very great distance, it is now but a trifle. He no sooner breathes our air than he forms schemes and embarks on designs he never would have thought of in his own country.”

The abundance mentality did not lead to decadence, but to optimism, a sense that there was room for all to spread out. It nurtured a future-minded mentality — seeing the present from the vantage point of the future.

“It requires but a small portion of the gift of discernment for anyone to foresee that providence will erect a mighty empire in America,” Samuel Adams wrote, at a time when America was 13 scraggly colonies hugging one coast. This job, constructing a new order for the ages, gave generations of Americans a sense of purpose, something to devote their lives to.

The biggest thing nature did was offer ideals. Different Americans came up with different character types for how to engage with nature. Each type offered a model for how to live an admirable life.

According to one type, character was forged by tilling the land; according to another it was forged by being tested by the land; and in another it was formed by being cleansed by the land. These types wove together to form the American mythos.

The first ideal was the Steward. This is the small yeoman farmer and craftsman who lives close to the soil — self-reliant, upright, humble before creation and bonded to his local community.

“The name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work,’” Wendell Berry wrote, “for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled.”

The second ideal was the Pioneer. This is the person who pushes against the wilderness and develops skill, courage and virility. This is the daring innovator who ushers progress by venturing to the edge of the known.

“Life consists with wildness,” Thoreau decreed. “The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees.”

The third ideal was the Elevated Spirit. This is the person who slips off the conformist materialism of commercial society and is both purified and enlarged by nature’s grandeur. This is John Muir in Yosemite, Ansel Adams in the Grand Canyon.

Such an awakened soul often comes back singing with Walt Whitman, filled with electric love for the enlarged individual, celebrating the infinite variety of life, feeling part of an endless and ancient web of connections: “I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,/and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,/I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,/By the love of comrades.”

These days I often ask people what percentage of our nation’s problems can be solved through policy and politics. Most people say that most of America’s problems are pre-political. What’s needed is a revival of values, fraternity and a binding American story.

I don’t know all the ways that revival of spirit can come about, but even in the age of the driverless car and Reddit, I suspect some of the answers are to be found in reconnecting with our ancient ideals and reconnecting with the land.

Sweet Mother of God, what drivel.  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“Imagine Donald Trump hiking in the Grand Tetons or on the Appalachian Trail…or swimming in the ocean on Cape Cod or in a country lake….or riding an Iowa farm tractor or standing side-by-side with this country’s Latino farm workers picking the nation’s crops for market.

Impossible on all counts.

Not only does Donald Trump have no connection to American ideals, he has no connection to American land, water or air…..except for land soiled by one of his golden skyscrapers or putting greens or a Confederate monument, water enriched with deregulated pollution, and sky with a HUGE Trump jet stuck in the middle of it.

Trump and his Environmental Pollution Agency will ‘connect’ with America’s land by drilling into it, bulldozing it, mining it, burning it and letting the waste flow downstream and out the industrial chimney of unfettered greed.

Instead of farming our great land with solar farms, wind farms, geothermal farms, tidal farms and alternative energy farms and jobs like a modern visionary, Donald Trump is soiling it with filthy 19th century coal.

Just the other day, Trump and Scott Pruitt ordered National Academy of Sciences researchers to stop work on an independent evaluation of health effects from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Nature has no meaning to America’s 300-alarm Presidential fire.

It’s all one big Trump Toilet to our Polluter-In-Chief.

Mother Earth is all we have, and all our Assaulter-In-Chief wants to do is grab her by the pudendum.”

Next up we have Prof. Krugman, who needs to sit Bobo down and, using very simple words, explain to him why he is such an ass:

Efforts to kill Obamacare have failed, at least for now. Tax “reform” — which really means big tax cuts for the rich — faces doubtful prospects. Indeed, these prospects may have become even more doubtful thanks to Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: Her now infamous Instagram rant may open at least a few voters’ eyes to the contempt “populist” Donald Trump’s inner circle really feels for the little people.

So many observers are asking whether Trump can restart his stalled agenda. But that turns out to be a bad question, in a couple of ways.

First, Trump doesn’t really have an agenda beyond “winning.” He has instincts and prejudices, but no interest in the details, or even the broad outlines, of policy. For example, it’s obvious that he never had any idea what was in his own party’s health care plan. And he has definitely shown no interest in turning his populist rhetoric into anything concrete.

As a result, whatever personal feuds Trump may have with the Republican establishment, that establishment — the same interest groups and ideologues who’ve been driving G.O.P. positions for decades — is setting his administration’s policy agenda.

Which brings me to my second point: While the legislative agenda does indeed appear stalled, a lot of what those interest groups want doesn’t require legislation, and is anything but stalled. This is especially true for environmental policy, where decisions about how to interpret and enforce laws already on the books can have a huge impact.

So Trump’s true legacy may well be defined not by the laws he does or more likely doesn’t pass, but by his decision to put Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt effectively acted as a servant, not of the public, but of polluting industries. That’s not an accusation; it’s confirmed by his own email trail.

Now, at a time when much of the Trump administration seems paralyzed by lack of leadership and key personnel, Pruitt is firing on all cylinders — but not because he’s making the E.P.A. more effective. On the contrary, he’s engaged in sabotage from the top, moving quickly to undermine his own agency’s mission — not just its efforts against climate change, but its role in protecting the environment across the board.

Trump won’t make America great again, but Pruitt, who clearly has Trump’s full backing, can do a lot to make it polluted again.

This is an unpopular agenda, or it would be if people knew about it.

The improvement in air and water quality since the E.P.A. was founded in 1970 is one of America’s great policy success stories. It’s also largely unsung.

When Donald Trump was young, New York’s air was filthy, and killer smogs sometimes killed hundreds; meanwhile, New York’s own governor described the Hudson as “one great septic tank.” But Trump probably doesn’t remember that or realize that regulation made the difference, and neither do many voters.

True, that could change quickly if people realized that the relatively clean air and water they take for granted was being put at risk. Think of how support for the Affordable Care Act surged once people realized that coverage for millions might really be taken away. There would be a similar but even bigger surge in support for environmental protection if, say, Republicans tried to repeal the Clean Water Act.

As I said, however, Pruitt can do a lot of harm without changing the law. He can, for example, reverse the ban on a pesticide that the E.P.A.’s own scientists say may damage children’s nervous systems. Or he can move to scrap a rule that would limit heavy-metal contamination from power-plant wastewater.

And he can cripple enforcement of the rules he doesn’t undo simply by working with Trump to starve his own agency of personnel and funds. The Trump budget released in May won’t actually become law, but it was an indication of priorities — and it called for cutting funding for the E.P.A. by 31 percent, more than any other agency.

Individually, no one of these actions is likely to be treated as front-page news, especially given everything else going on. Cumulatively, however, they will kill or cripple large numbers of Americans — for that is what pollution does, even if the damage is gradual and sometimes invisible.

By the way, if you’re wondering whether an anti-environmental agenda will at least be good for job creation, the answer is no, it won’t. Coal jobs, in particular, aren’t coming back no matter how much leeway we give corporations to blow the tops off mountains and dump toxins in waterways. This agenda will, however, be worth billions to certain campaign donors.

So don’t say that the administration’s agenda is stalled. Some parts are, but other parts are moving right along. When it comes to environmental policy, Trump will definitely change America — and his legacy will literally be toxic.

And once again I’m glad that I’m A Old and won’t have to choke on the air.

Kristof and Collins

August 24, 2017

Mr. Kristof says “We’re Journalists, Mr. Trump, Not the Enemy,” and that the president inexplicably finds it easier to condemn reporters than neo-Nazis and white supremacists.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Talks and Talks and Talks and …,” asks guess who his favorite subject was in Phoenix?  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Sigh. If only President Trump denounced neo-Nazis as passionately and sincerely as he castigates journalists.

What could be an easier task than distancing oneself from Nazis or violent white supremacists? Yet Trump manages to make it infinitely complicated — and then get distracted by self-pity and excoriate reporters for committing journalism. The key strain of his sulfurous speech in Phoenix on Tuesday was an extended attack on “dishonest” reporters (including at “the failing New York Times”).

Look, we in journalism deserve to have our feet held to the fire. We make mistakes all the time, and too often we are superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects. Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.

Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable — courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media — and that’s the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have separately tallied Trump’s lies, with The Post calculating that he has now made more than 1,000 misleading statements since assuming the presidency. That’s a grueling pace of almost five a day, and it is accelerating (at the six-month mark, it was 4.6 a day). This prevarication proliferation is an indication that John F. Kelly is unable to rein in Trump, and that the problem was not Steve Bannon but the president himself.

Trump’s caricature of journalists as dishonest is hypocritical, and it insults the courage and professionalism of my colleagues who sometimes risk their lives trying to get a story.

I’ve lost reporter and photographer friends in war zones all over the world, and have had other friends kidnapped and tortured. When Trump galvanizes crowds against reporters in the room, I worry that we may lose journalists in the line of duty not only in places like Syria but also right here at home. Trump will get people hurt.

I also worry that Trump is buoying the repressive instincts of dictators around the world. Since Trump’s election, I’ve been denied entry by Venezuela, Congo, South Sudan and Yemen, an unusual number of countries — and I wonder if foreign leaders believe that it is now easier to deny access to troublesome American journalists now that they are reviled by their own president.

Aside from Trump’s desire to reduce scrutiny and accountability, there are other theories for why Trump finds it so difficult to denounce Nazis and other racists without getting diverted into rants about journalists.

One is that he has always had a soft spot for racists, ever since as a young real estate developer he was sued by a Republican Department of Justice for systematically discriminating against blacks. Over the years he has also been quoted as saying that “laziness is a trait in blacks,” declined to distance himself from the Ku Klux Klan and periodically retweeted posts by neo-Nazis (including one from an account called @WhiteGenocideTM with a photo of the founder of the American Nazi Party).

Another theory (these are not mutually exclusive) is that Trump is simply a thin-skinned narcissist who shares the white supremacists’ sense of victimization. It was striking that in Tuesday’s speech in Phoenix, he seemed to believe that the biggest victim in Charlottesville was not Heather Heyer, who was murdered, but himself.

Yet another possibility, which previously was mostly whispered but is increasingly openly discussed even by members of Congress, is that our president is mentally unstable.

The causes of Trump’s bizarre behavior may be difficult to disentangle. But I hope that you, as members of the public, will understand what is at stake in his assault on the media. This is not about reporters and the mistakes we make, but about institutional checks on the presidency.

We appreciate, not always gracefully enough, the public’s efforts to keep us honest. We also are grateful for the outpouring of subscriptions to news organizations, and the support for organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists. The irony has been that the more Trump vilifies the media, the more the public has rallied around us — and, finally, this is helping us gain a better business model. Since Trump was elected, the stock price of the Times Company has risen by almost two-thirds. Thank you for your assistance, Mr. President!

This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history, for we are enduring an epic struggle over the principles on which our country was founded. These include the idea that a flawed free press is an essential institutional check on flawed leaders.

So may I humbly suggest that when a megalomaniacal leader howls and shrieks at critics, that is when institutional checks on that leader become a bulwark of democracy.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

A great day of triumph for Donald Trump! The president went to an American Legion convention Wednesday and read a speech off a teleprompter. Nothing weird happened. Total victory.

We now divide the president’s public addresses into two categories. There are the unremarkable and predictable ones written by someone else and the ones in which he ignores the script and just says what’s on his mind, terrifying and confusing all Americans who are not in his base.

(About the base. Polls make it very clear that 30 to 40 percent of voters are going to approve of what Trump does, no matter what. Many of them don’t mind if he comes on stage and starts talking like Uncle Fred Who Gets Drunk at Family Dinners. They enjoy Uncle Fred. Some of them are Uncle Fred.)

Any other president who went to a convention of veterans and called for Americans to “work together” would have gotten no notice whatsoever. But Trump was coming off his spontaneous appearance in Phoenix when he frightened the whole country with his rants about the media and his wild riffs of self-congratulations.

“Now you know, I was a good student,” Trump ad-libbed at his Arizona rally. “I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They’re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were. I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment and I live in the White House, too, which is really great.”

Three points about this comment, only one of which is: “Wow, the president of the United States is so insecure he finds it necessary to brag about his grades in school.” The second is that we know about as much about his actual grades in school as we do about his tax returns.

Third, at the end Trump did seem to realize that if he was going to boast about his deeply overdecorated penthouse, he should mention that the White House is nice, too. Particularly since that unfortunate story about him calling it “a real dump.”

It would be calming to the national psyche if the president refrained from ever again speaking to the American people about his true thoughts and feelings. It wouldn’t do anything to improve his performance in office, but at least we might feel less nervous, moment to moment.

Right now, every day Americans have to wonder whether the president will be sane or spontaneous. He staged an impromptu press conference on Charlottesville and defended the neo-Nazis. His ramblings in Phoenix unnerved former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who pointed out that this is the guy with the nuclear football, and called Trump’s performance “downright scary and disturbing.”

The unfair part, of course, is that when Trump just reads words he’s been given, people are so relieved he gets way too much credit. Look at the speech on Afghanistan. The plan Trump unveiled is clearly never going to improve anything. And he delivered it in a strange way, staring at teleprompters to the left and right but almost never looking directly at the TV audience. But still, it had complete sentences! He did not once mention his own personal wealth or make up facts about his election victory. The White House basked in glory.

Then came the rally in Phoenix, an excellent example of how the president wanders off the written plan and just sort of runs amok.

He blathered for 77 minutes, dissing the two local Republican senators, one of whom is suffering from brain cancer. He threatened to shut down the government if he didn’t get money for his wall. He revealed that “Washington is full of people who are only looking out for themselves” and then raced into another paean to you-know-who.

“But I don’t come to Washington for me. You know, I’ve had a great life. I’ve had great success,” he confided to the viewing world. “I’ve enjoyed my life. Most people think I’m crazy to have done this. And I think they’re right. But I enjoy it because we’ve made so much — I don’t believe that any president — I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months. I really don’t believe it.”

We are not going to go into the list of presidents who accomplished more, since it requires naming everyone who’s held the office since Warren Harding.

This is a man who can’t refrain from congratulating himself even when he’s talking about the weather. “I was over at the Yuma sector,” he told the folks in Phoenix, describing his trip to meet members of the Border Patrol. “It was hot. It was like 115 degrees. I’m out signing autographs for an hour. I was there. That was a hot day. You learn if you’re in shape if you can do that, believe me.”

Now the auditorium was full of people from Arizona. They spend their lives in ridiculous heat. It did not seem like a group who you wanted to entertain with a story about how much you suffered signing autographs when it was “like 115 degrees.”

It was actually 107. But that’s the least of our problems.

Friedman and Cohen

August 23, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom sends us “From Kabul to Baghdad, My Bird’s-Eye View.”  He says a five-nation tour offered a close look at the war on terror and disturbing context for Trump’s plans for Afghanistan.  Mr. Cohen addresses “Trump’s Afghan Illusions” and tells us that the new Afghan strategy is a mess because it has no diplomatic component.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Baghdad:

I just spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. So President Trump’s speech on Monday night was very timely for me. It was also unnerving.

It was so full of bombast and clichés, so larded with phrases like “we will break their will,” so lacking in details and, most of all, so lacking in humility in confronting a problem and a region that has vexed better men for ages that I still don’t know where he’s going — only that he is going there very definitively.

I totally agreed with the president’s remarks that our men and women serving in the Middle East “deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.” But the rank hypocrisy of this man — who has done so much to divide us in recent months to satisfy only his “base” — using our troops as a prop to extol the virtues of national unity made me sick to my stomach.

It also made me recall a lunch I had last week in the mess hall at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, with Chief Master Sgt. Cory Olson from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Olson explained that working in Afghanistan he was really disconnected from all the political turmoil in America.

And then he told me this story: “I was talking to this civilian contractor the other day who just came back from a couple of weeks’ home leave in Dallas. And this guy told me he was really relieved to get back to ‘reality’ in Kabul — because the politics back home was so crazy.”

You know that American politics has jumped the rails when a U.S. contractor is relieved to get back from America to his little base in Afghanistan.

Anyway, enough of that. Since I can’t explain Trump’s Middle East, let me explain what I saw here — three things in particular: I saw a new way of mounting warfare by the United States in Iraq. I saw in this new warfare a strategy that offers at least a glimmer of hope for Iraq, if and when ISIS is defeated. But, though only a glimpse, I saw in Afghanistan an eroding stalemate — with all the same issues that have undermined stability there for years: government corruption, distrust among Afghans and perfidious interventions by Pakistan and Iran.

The best way for me to explain what’s new in Iraq is with a scene I watched unfold on Saturday. We were at the joint strike cell in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is where multiple Air Force television feeds come in live from drones, U-2s, satellites and U.S. and coalition fighter jets. The officers there are coordinating with Iraqi Army combat forces on the ground and their U.S. military advisers embedded just behind the battlefront to hit ISIS targets as the Iraqi Army begins its push west.

Having retaken Mosul, the Iraqi Army is driving ISIS into the Euphrates River Valley, where it looks like it will make a last stand. This was the second day of the Iraqis’ thrust west and they were already meeting resistance in a small town on the road to ISIS-controlled Tal Afar. Several U.S. eyes in the sky were trained on a single-story, flat-roof building, about 30 feet wide, sandwiched between two larger buildings. Iraqi soldiers crawling toward this building were receiving lots of small-arms fire from inside, stalling their advance about 500 feet away.

Their U.S. advisers were sending all this information to the strike cell in real time. Meanwhile in the strike cell, team members sitting in front of computer screens were calculating exactly how much firepower was required to kill the ISIS fighters and not hurt any civilians who might be nearby. They did a quick tally of the remaining weapons on the American fighter aircraft in the area — seeing which had what smart bombs left.

Seconds later a call of “weapon away, 30 seconds” rang out as an F-15E released a 500-pound GPS-guided smart bomb. The screen rebroadcasting the F-15E’s targeting pod showed the bomb going straight down through the roof.

“We have splash,” said one of the controllers in a monotone as a huge plume of smoke engulfed the video screen. Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble — but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt.

The officer in charge told me that a few weeks earlier, during the campaign to retake Mosul, two Iraqi soldiers were wounded and hiding from an ISIS unit inside a building 15 yards away. Using laser targeting, the U.S. team fired a rocket whose size, direction and shape were chosen to take down only the ISIS building and make its walls fall in the opposite direction of the two pinned-down Iraqis. The rocket worked as intended and they were rescued.

This is war in Iraq today in a nutshell.

For years we’ve measured our involvement in Middle East wars by one pair of indexes — boots on the ground and killed in action. Because of that, most Americans are now paying scant attention to Iraq, where our boots on the ground have shrunk to a few thousand and where there have been just 17 U.S. military deaths since we re-engaged in Iraq to defeat ISIS in 2014.

But the real story is wings in the air. We are involved in a gigantic military enterprise in Iraq. But it’s with massive conventional air power married to unconventional special forces, who are advising the Iraqi Army that is actually doing the ground fighting. This is making our presence in Iraq much more sustainable for us and for the Iraqis.

Ironically, it might never have happened had President Barack Obama not withdrawn our combat troops from Iraq in 2011 because Iraqis couldn’t agree on a legal formula for their staying.

After that, the then-Shiite-led Iraqi government began abusing Sunnis, and ISIS emerged in response. That forced Iraqis to rethink their relationship with us. A U.S. Air Force special operations officer told me of returning to Iraq in early 2014 and meeting with the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service — the only truly professional, nonsectarian fighting unit then left in the country. The U.S. officer had come to ask the CTS what material aid the U.S. could offer in the fight against ISIS, and the CTS commander responded that he didn’t need aid. “We want you,” he said.

And so Obama began slowly reintroducing U.S. Special Forces back into Iraq and, for the first time, sending some into Syria, all in a totally new context. When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, we destroyed the government from the top down. Wetoppled Saddam’s statue. And we were advised largely by Iraqi exiles of dubious legitimacy in local eyes.

It became our war, producing iconic pictures of U.S. soldiers kicking down doors and pointing guns at cowering women.

Even though ISIS emerged after we left, we have now returned at the invitation of Iraqis from the bottom up, not exiles — making our presence much more legitimate and sustainable for any long fight. Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were forced to unify, at least minimally, to defeat ISIS, opening new possibilities.

This is Iraq’s war of liberation. They own it.

I met Marine Col. Seth Folsom, who commands a forward special operations air base, Al-Asad, in the western Iraqi desert. It was 120 degrees outside, but he had a bounce in his step.

“I was here in 2003 and in 2008,” he told me. In those days, if he had a convoy going through a town it would speed 100 miles an hour not to get shot at or blown up, pushing Iraqi cars out of the way, creating resentments. “Now we are driving with the Iraqis. It’s a paradigm shift. It doesn’t even seem like the same country to me. Now I am saying to my Iraqi counterparts, ‘What do you want to do?’”

So we are fighting a very different war in Iraq, which Trump has amped up. But you can’t grasp its true dimensions unless you go to the overall U.S. regional air headquarters in Qatar and watch on giant screens a 24/7 choreography that boggles the mind: B-52s, U-2s, F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, F-15s, A-10s, C-17s, V-22s, U-28s, C-130s, JStars, AWACs, satellites and unmanned Reapers and Predators — all fueled aloft by a fleet of KC-10 and KC-135 flying gas stations — that have conducted 23,934 strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, using 84,585 precision-guided bombs, since we came back in 2014.

There is much still to worry about. At the joint operations headquarters in Baghdad, U.S. officers plan on computer screens and the Iraqi planners on wall-size maps with markers and blue arrows representing troops that they move around. It can drive American planners crazy when speed is of the essence.

More worrying: American advisers at the joint operations headquarters told me that many of their Iraqi counterparts take their uniforms off before they go home at night. Not everyone respects them for working with the Americans, particularly in the hard-line Shiite areas. Some have even had to change houses.

And yet, they still show up, and their men still fought house-to-house to recapture Mosul, taking huge casualties. At the height of the battle for Mosul, the U.S. Air Force field hospital at Al-Asad Air Base treated many Iraqi soldiers. The U.S. officer who heads the hospital told us that when the first Iraqi wounded soldier arrived, and he desperately needed blood, the U.S. commander asked for six volunteers. Some 50 American military personnel showed up to donate.

“It is one thing for us to be respectful of the Iraqis and another to respect the Iraqis,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Dave Goldfein, remarked to me. “Today there is mutual respect. We admire their tenacity.”

All of that said, I am still wary. There is no slam-dunk here. While ISIS is on the run, lasting victory in Iraq depends entirely on whether Iraqis can come together — not just to fight a shared enemy but to build a shared government — the morning after ISIS is defeated.

Alas, there is no “power-sharing” bomb that we can drop on the Iraqi Parliament that will make Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds trust one another enough to live together as equal citizens. And there is no “culture-buster” bomb that we can drop that will burrow deep into Iraqi/Arab culture and stop them from always letting their past bury their future and instead start letting their future bury their past.

Culture always trumps strategy and only they can change their political culture. As the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, put it to me: After ISIS is defeated, Iraqis need to produce a government “for all Iraqis.” It cannot be a government where “Sunnis feel disenfranchised.” We better have in place a strategy for coaching Iraqis on power-sharing as much as we did on dynamic targeting. Otherwise, the morning after ISIS 1.0 is defeated we’ll see ISIS 2.0.

The war in Afghanistan is different. The air power component is there but U.S. Special Forces are still doing too much fighting and dying. And Trump talked on Monday night like they will now do more. And we don’t have the legitimacy you now feel in Iraq.

Personal security for our Afghan allies is still minimal. I stood on the tarmac at Bagram Airfield and listened as a U.S.-trained Afghan pilot explained that the last thing he does before climbing into the cockpit is call home to be sure his kids have not been abducted by the Taliban, who know that he works with the U.S. and have threatened him repeatedly.

Again, the fact that this pilot is still ready to fly with the U.S. shows real courage. He wants something different for his country, and he’s not alone. But is he in the majority? Clearly he’s got neighbors who don’t think that we, or the Afghan government we’re supporting, are legitimate. Culture trumps strategy.

This is going to take ages to fix, and if you fix Afghanistan, well, you fix Afghanistan. So what. If you fix Iraq with a real power-sharing accord you create a model that can radiate out across the Arab world, because Iraq is a microcosm of the Arab world, with Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and many others.

I slept well in the U.S. Embassy green zone in Baghdad, which is protected outside by Iraqis. Two nights earlier we slept at the Bagram base near Kabul and were repeatedly awakened by a blaring loudspeaker saying “take cover,” because another rocket was coming in.

For the moment — and I stress moment — we have a sustainable military strategy to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But a sustainable political outcome depends on Iraqis rising to the occasion. I do not see that in Afghanistan and I did not hear it in Trump’s speech. I fear our choices there are unchanged: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Here was Donald Trump tethered by his generals. The new-old Afghan war strategy set out by the president Monday night contained a Trump line or two — terrorists as “losers,” the nixing of “nation-building” — but was the work of the adults in the room. They forced the commander-in-chief to curtail his wilder instincts.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, both have bitter experience of Afghanistan. John Kelly, the chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, there. They were not about to let Trump declare Afghanistan “a complete waste,” as he did in 2012, and walk away.

In a sense this is reassuring. Trump is not home alone. He fires off, gets a lesson on the real world, bridles again, and is momentarily muted. Qatar, North Korea, Iran and Charlottesville: the pattern repeats itself. It’s ominous but it has not sent the world over a cliff, yet.

And now we have Afghanistan, the nearly 16-year-old war that just became Trump’s war, against the wishes of Steve Bannon, his ousted chief strategist.

The decision not to leave was the right decision; and Trump was also right to note that telegraphing future pullout dates for American troops, as President Obama did, is military folly. Ashraf Ghani, the embattled Afghan president, needs United States help in holding the line against an invigorated Taliban. But what Trump announced did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one. It amounted rather, in the tweeted words of Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, to “a set of incoherent slogans.”

Trump talked plenty about “victory” but did not even attempt to define what would constitute it. That’s because there can be no military victory in Afghanistan. The best that can be hoped for is keeping the Taliban from power, and bolstering government forces to the point the Taliban can be persuaded to sue for peace. In other words, the end game can only be diplomatic.

Yet Trump has eviscerated the State Department. He has not named an ambassador to Afghanistan; he has eliminated the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has shown no inclination to engage allies or Afghanistan’s neighbors on ways to end the war.

While the president talked distantly of reaching “a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was explicit about supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “without preconditions”: the usual disconnect.

Iran could have been helpful; Trump has rebuffed it in his Saudi love trance. Russia could have been helpful; Trump is paralyzed by his Moscow secrets with respect to President Vladimir V. Putin. So Iran and Russia will do their worst in Afghanistan. As for China, another important regional player, it did not even get a mention.

Trump invited India “to help us more with Afghanistan” — effectively holding a red rag to the Pakistani bull. The military in Pakistan will be enraged by the combination of Trump’s blunt (if justified) criticism and blandishments to India. This looks like sheer diplomatic stupidity. I wonder if the State Department, whose expertise has been flouted since January, even got to vet the speech.

The Afghan war could have been ended a long time ago when people still remembered what it was about. But the United States diverted its forces and treasure to Iraq. Then Obama, in preparing to withdraw from Iraq, tried to compensate with a hapless “surge” in Afghanistan. This is a zigzagging chapter in American military history that soldiers are not about to resolve now. The mission became a mess; some 2,400 American troops have given their lives for a moving target. Trump’s words did nothing to redress this shame.

“Trump put forward no coherent plan for finishing the war,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me. “He needs a serious diplomatic tack.”

The problem is Trump has no notion of diplomacy. He looked like an impersonator as he spoke, a man pretending to be something we know he’s not. A man of such evident moral shallowness, to whom personal sacrifice is a stranger, cannot speak of valor, bravery and heroism without becoming cringe-worthy.

He spoke of “principled realism.” His presidency has been about unprincipled recklessness: allies shunned, dalliances with dictators, environmental sabotage. The man who earlier this month could not distinguish between neo-Nazi white supremacists with blood on their hands and leftist protesters calls for America’s soldiers to come home to a country that rejects bigotry and “has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty.”

Really?

Shortly after Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his son in Afghanistan, he gave a eulogy for two marines killed in Iraq. Kelly described how, confronted by a suicide bomber in a truck, “they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight.”

For that brave act, of course, they needed something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.

Solo Bobo

August 22, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “What Moderates Believe.”  He babbles that instead of ideology, moderation is a way of coping with the complexity of the world.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump is not the answer to this nation’s problems, so the great questions of the moment are: If not Trump, what? What does the reaction to Trump look like?

For some people, the warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left. For these people, Trump has revealed an ugly authoritarian tendency in American society that has to be fought with relentless fervor and moral clarity.

For others, it’s Trump’s warrior mentality itself that must be replaced. Warriors on one side inevitably call forth warriors on the other, and that just means more culture war, more barbarism, more dishonesty and more dysfunction.

The people in this camp we will call moderates. Like most of you, I dislike the word moderate. It is too milquetoast. But I’ve been inspired by Aurelian Craiutu’s great book “Faces of Moderation” to stick with this word, at least until a better one comes along.

Moderates do not see politics as warfare. Instead, national politics is a voyage with a fractious fleet. Wisdom is finding the right formation of ships for each specific circumstance so the whole assembly can ride the waves forward for another day. Moderation is not an ideology; it’s a way of coping with the complexity of the world. Moderates tend to embrace certain ideas:

The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth. Sometimes immigration restrictions should be loosened to bring in new people and new dynamism; sometimes they should be tightened to ensure national cohesion. Leadership is about determining which viewpoint is more needed at that moment. Politics is a dynamic unfolding, not a debate that can ever be settled once and for all.

Politics is a limited activity. Zealots look to the political realm for salvation and self-fulfillment. They turn politics into a secular religion and ultimately an apocalyptic war of religion because they try to impose one correct answer on all of life. Moderates believe that, at most, government can create a platform upon which the beautiful things in life can flourish. But it cannot itself provide those beautiful things. Government can create economic and physical security and a just order, but meaning, joy and the good life flow from loving relationships, thick communities and wise friends. The moderate is prudent and temperate about political life because he is so passionate about emotional, spiritual and intellectual life.

Creativity is syncretistic. Voyagers don’t just pull their ideas from the center of the ideological spectrum. They believe creativity happens when you merge galaxies of belief that seem at first blush incompatible. They might combine left-wing ideas about labor unions with right-wing ideas about local community to come up with a new conception of labor law. Because they are syncretistic, they are careful to spend time in opposing camps, always opening lines of communication. The wise moderate can hold two or more opposing ideas together in her mind at the same time.

In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high. The harm government does when it screws up — wars, depressions — is larger than the benefits government produces when it does well. Therefore the moderate operates from a politics of skepticism, not a politics of faith. He understands that most of the choices are among bad options (North Korea), so he prefers steady incremental reform to sudden revolutionary change.

Truth before justice. All political movements must face inconvenient facts — thoughts and data that seem to aid their foes. If you try to suppress those facts, by banning a speaker or firing an employee, then you are putting the goals of your cause, no matter how noble, above the search for truth. This is the path to fanaticism, and it always backfires in the end.

Beware the danger of a single identity. Before they brutalize politics, warriors brutalize themselves. Instead of living out several identities — Latina/lesbian/gun-owning/Christian — that pull in different directions, they turn themselves into monads. They prioritize one identity, one narrative and one comforting distortion.

Partisanship is necessary but blinding. Partisan debate sharpens opinion, but partisans tend to justify their own sins by pointing to the other side’s sins. Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.

Humility is the fundamental virtue. Humility is a radical self-awareness from a position outside yourself — a form of radical honesty. The more the moderate grapples with reality the more she understands how much is beyond our understanding.

Moderation requires courage. Moderates don’t operate from the safety of their ideologically pure galleons. They are unafraid to face the cross currents, detached from clan, acknowledging how little they know.

If you have elected a man who is not awed by the complexity of the world, but who filters the world to suit his own narcissism, then woe to you, because such a man is the opposite of the moderate voyager type. He will reap a whirlwind.

Christ, what a load of horse pucky.  I love the “If you have elected” bit — actually, Bobo, Mein Fubar lost the popular vote.  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

“There might have been a time when political moderation meant something, but those times ended long ago. These days, moderation means opting for a political solution that ensures a moderate number of women have back-alley abortions, or imprisons no more than, say, ten percent of an entire minority population for non-violent drug crimes, or accepts that just a few million of the old, sick and poor will have no health care.

We know a lot more than we did a generation or two ago, and moderation and knowledge are incompatible. When you know that gay people are simply ordinary human beings and not disgusting immoral monsters who wantonly flaunt God’s laws, you can’t watch them get turned out of businesses or prevent them from bonding with the people they love.

We can’t opt for a moderate amount of global climate catastrophe, by drawing the line when Florida is under water, or when a storm of the century occurs more often than once a week.

Moderation was nowhere to be found when Barack Obama was president, and the opposition party stonewalled his every moderate initiative. And yet we’re currently watching a Congress full of moderate Republicans having trouble distancing themselves from a crotch-grabbing narcissistic megamoron who’s defending neo-Nazis, blaming their dead victims and threating nuclear war with North Korea.

There is only one way to characterize what has become of the United States, and that’s to say we’ve gone moderately insane as a nation.”