Stephens and Collins

Well, the Times has a new op-ed dude, Bret Stephens.  In “How Trump May Save the Republic” he tries to convince us that we are protected, for the time being, by the president’s stupidity.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Is Terrible at Firing!” and adds watch out, Your Holiness, here comes Donald.  Here’s Mr. Stephens:

The question in the title of Timothy Egan’s latest column for The Times is “Who Will Save the Republic?” My answer is Donald Trump, of course.

I mean this in the Anna Sebastian sense — Madame Sebastian being the shrewd, sinister and very Teutonic mother played by Leopoldine Konstantin in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 classic, “Notorious.”

Anna’s adult son, Alexander (Claude Rains), is part of a group of well-heeled Nazis living and scheming revenge in Brazil when he marries Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful young woman he deems trustworthy because her father was a convicted German spy.

Too late, Alexander realizes that Alicia is really an American agent, and that exposure of the fact will mean certain death for him at the hands of his fellow Nazis. When he confesses the problem to mother, she responds with the most reproachful reassurance in movie history:

“We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity — for a time.”

Just so with our 45th president. His views are often malevolent, and his conduct might ultimately prove criminal. But we, too, are protected, for a time, by the enormity of his stupidity.

So much was clear back in January, when Trump dropped his refugee ban on the public, like a dunce trying to squash a snail by dropping a brick on it, only to have it land on his own foot.

There were constitutional ways by which the administration might have made good on some of its obnoxious immigration promises. Trump managed to alight on the unconstitutional ones. His loud embrace as a political candidate of a comprehensive Muslim ban sealed its fate in court once he was president.

Tuesday’s dismissal of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director fits the pattern. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that a man whose signature line in showbiz was “You’re fired” turns out to be spectacularly incompetent even in this respect.

The president’s letter dismissing Comey revealed more about the president’s legal anxieties than it did about the director’s job performance. It was announced before it was delivered. Its supposed rationale — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case — could not withstand a cursory examination of Trump’s motives. It had the effect of rehabilitating Comey’s once-tarnished reputation, while tarnishing Rosenstein’s once-sound one.

What was meant to quash an investigation into the obscure tangle of Trump’s possible Russia connections is now certain to revive it. The Senate will be hard-pressed to confirm an F.B.I. director who is an obvious political lackey. And anyone who takes the job will feel honor bound to pursue the investigation with maximum legal and bureaucratic muscle.

This is how we save the Republic — one self-inflicted Trumpian political wound after another.

All the more so since Trump seems to be digging in. The president is now threatening to cancel all live White House press briefings while issuing ill-concealed threats against the former director. On Friday, he tweeted that “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Hang on: There could be tapes? Can someone please ask Bill Safire in heaven to drop in on Richard Nixon in purgatory so they can walk us through this one together?

In corporate life, the usual practice when firing someone is either to say nothing or to say something nice, on the theory that the unlucky person is likelier to respond in kind. Trump has now given his former director the opportunity and incentive to do the opposite. Congressional hearings, should they happen, will be fun.

What makes all this so much more astonishing is how unnecessary it is, at least from Trump’s point of view.

If the president has nothing to fear from a Russia investigation, then why not let it run its course toward exoneration or irrelevance? If he does have something to fear, then Comey — distrusted by Republicans and Democrats alike — would have been his ideal foil. Trump’s critics can now take heart that, no, we won’t soon be moving on from l’affaire russe.

On Friday, I asked an astute source with long experience in the intelligence community if he suspects a smoking gun.

“I would guess there is something on paper or derived through witness questioning that has given the bureau an opening, assuming that Trump’s actions are in response to growing concern about the Russian probe,” he replied, while adding the caveat, “Since we’re talking about Trump, a rampantly insecure ego, such an assumption isn’t mandatory.”

I’d add another caveat: Incompetence may protect us — but as Madame Sebastian knew, only for a while. The blunders may often be self-defeating, but not always. Trump is our president. The enormity of his stupidity, inescapably, is also our own.

Speak for yourself, Bret.  It wasn’t the American people (2+ million fewer of whom voted for Mein Fubar) that hacked the election and obsessed over emails.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump is going to meet soon with the pope. How do you think that will go? Maybe when Trump emerges, he’ll announce that Francis promised him canonization. Then the Vatican will deny it. Then Sean Spicer will hold a press conference in which he will explain that the president was simply working off a memo written by the deputy secretary of state.

Then a reporter will point out that the State Department doesn’t have any deputy secretaries yet. Then we will hear another complaint about “gotcha journalism.”

Look, it wouldn’t be any weirder than what we’ve been through this week.

The president managed to fire F.B.I. chief James Comey in the most unseemly, strange and borderline ridiculous manner humanly possible. A third of Trump’s letter of dismissal was an expression of gratitude for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” That sounded sort of fishy, since Comey did not have a reputation for running around town assuring people they were not currently suspected of any crimes.

On the night the message was delivered, Spicer starred in what we will call the White House Shrubbery Incident, briefing the press corps in the dark, near a cluster of bushes by the West Wing.

He was not hiding in the foliage! Stop passing around that story! Although he did make it clear he was prepared to bolt if anybody tried to get a picture. (“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off.”)

During the conference in deep shadows, Spicer informed the media that the decision to fire Comey was based entirely on a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “It was all him. … No one from the White House. That was a Department of Justice decision.”

We will now pause to identify Rod Rosenstein. He had been deputy attorney general for two weeks. Before that he was U.S. attorney in Maryland, a very well-regarded public servant. Let that be an important lesson, people. Whatever you do, do not take a job in the Trump administration. Before you’ve got your desk organized, you’ll be involved in a national scandal. Or in a bush.

“At the very minimum he was being used — they were using his reputation to try and wipe up their mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a phone interview. Rosenstein has agreed to meet with the full Senate next week. Let’s hope he says something very useful and interesting. Otherwise he’ll be known for the rest of his life as The Memo Guy.

Since nothing ever happens in this White House that is not instantly followed by a contradicting story, by the end of the week the president was claiming it was all his idea to fire Comey. That version did seem way more believable than the idea that Trump was reacting to something he had read. The memo was only three pages long, but still.

Then he went Watergate. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump twittered.

“You would think they’d have learned a lesson,” mused Nixon aide John Dean. “But Trump doesn’t seem to have much of an institutional memory. If any.”

Hmm. In an NBC interview, in which Trump was eager to make it clear that he had fired Comey without considering any supporting documents, the president said his decision was all about “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” We will now take a moment to recall what previous chief executive had the peculiar habit of referring to himself in the third person. Hint: He liked to, um, record stuff.

The whole world, of course, wanted to know whether there was indeed some kind of taping system in the Oval Office. The White House had no comment on Trump’s comment.

“The president has nothing further to add on that,” said Spicer. Three times, in fact. Spicer also said that “the tweet speaks for itself.” As do they all.

What happens next? Should we be talking impeachment? (Remember the magic warning: Mike Pence.)

And by the way, who would you rather have as press secretary, Sean Spicer or his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Spicer vanished for a while after that late-night press conference, but he was on Navy Reserve duty, not crouching under the hydrangeas. While he was gone we had Sanders, who previously starred as manager of her father Mike Huckabee’s 2016 presidential campaign. She contradicted herself about a billion times, but with a lot of spunk.

Or neither? Trump suggested that perhaps “the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

Do you think the written responses would have lots of unnecessary punctuation, and quotation marks in strange places like Trump’s tweets do? Or would they just be transcriptions of those ‘tapes’?

And most important of all, do you think he’ll be wired when he meets with the pope?


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