Blow, Kristof, and Collins

Mr. Blow has a question in “The Complexities of James Comey:”  Is it fair to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?  Oh, hell yes, Charles, hell yes.  In “On a Portland Train, the Battlefield of American Values” Mr. Kristof says the best of our nation materialized against the worst on a fateful commute in Oregon.  Ms. Collins says “Oh Dear.  The Trumps Keep Multiplying.”  She tells us the family is so busy, their government and personal interests are a blur.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no other way to put it: Former F.B.I. Director James Comey tragically botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton, no doubt playing a part in her losing and Donald Trump’s being elected.

But it is also true that Comey may be a linchpin in undoing the mistake he made.

Trump was completely out of bounds when he fired Comey — the man who was leading an investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign — and then bragged to the Russians about the firing.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey “to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

“ ‘I hope you can let this go,’ the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.”

The question of whether Trump’s ask, Comey’s continuance and Trump’s subsequent firing of Comey constitutes obstruction of justice looms large.

Now CNN is reporting that “Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.”

This is shaping up to be a high-drama media event.

But the clarity of good vs. evil isn’t as clear-cut here as I would like it to be. To me it registers more as a matter of degrees: A good man exposed for colossal mismanagement versus a wretched man craning toward monstrosity.

You see, Comey is simultaneously hero and villain, and presumably right where he likes to be: in the spotlight.

In an extensive report on Comey in April, The Times painted a picture of a man who sought desperately not to appear political but who was not immune to the lure of self-promotion and publicity.

As The Times put it:

“For Mr. Comey, keeping the F.B.I. out of politics is such a preoccupation that he once said he would never play basketball with President Barack Obama because of the appearance of being chummy with the man who appointed him. But in the final months of the presidential campaign, the leader of the nation’s pre-eminent law enforcement agency shaped the contours, if not the outcome, of the presidential race by his handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations.”

The Times also added that Comey made his decision to treat the handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations during the campaign in such vastly different ways “with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.”

A Vanity Fair profile of Comey went further:

“One observer cites Comey’s willingness to say, ‘I know what’s right,’ even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, ‘There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work.’ ”

I don’t doubt the integrity and intent of this modern-day Achilles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a heel.

It is hard to know exactly how to consider Comey. Are the beans he may spill about Trump to be considered absolution for the sins he committed concerning Clinton’s email? Must we simply choose the lesser of two evils in an epic battle: a man of integrity who made a huge error in judgment over a man who lacks integrity and whose judgments are near absolute in their erroneousness?

Is it fair to believe sincerely that Comey should indeed have been fired, just not at this time, in this way, for this reason? Is it fair and right to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?

No matter which way I think about it, I’m torn.

And yet, I wait with the greatest of anticipation for Comey’s testimony. Will he confirm the existence of contemporaneously produced memos by him that reportedly document his unease with his interactions with a newly elected Trump? If so, how many memos are there and what do they say?

Will he directly contradict the story that the White House, including Trump, has told?

Will this be a clash of the titans or an arm wrestle of egos?

Whether or not there is a case against Trump for obstruction of justice is likely to hinge in large part on what Comey says and what, if any, proof he can produce.

Comey is one of the people who damned us to the reign of Trump, and Comey may be one of the only people who can save us from it.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

America may seem leaderless, with nastiness and bullying ascendant, but the best of our nation materialized during a moral crisis on a commuter train in Portland, Ore.

A white man riding on that train on Friday began screaming anti-Muslim insults at a black 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old Muslim friend wearing a hijab. One can imagine people pretending not to hear and staring fiercely down at their phones; instead, three brave passengers stepped forward to protect the girls.

The three were as different as could be. One was a 23-year-old recent Reed College graduate who had a mane of long hair and was working as a consultant. Another was a 53-year-old Army veteran with the trimmest of haircuts and a record of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third was a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student on his way to a job at a pizzeria. What united the three was decency.

When they intervened, the man harassing the girls pulled a knife and slashed the three men before fleeing. Rick Best, the veteran, died at the scene. Taliesin Namkai-Meche, the recent Reed graduate, was conscious as he waited for an ambulance. A good Samaritan took off her shirt to cover him; she recounted that some of his last words were: “I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.” He died soon after arriving at the hospital.

Another passer-by stanched the bleeding of the student poet, Micah Fletcher, and called his mother to tell her to go to the hospital — but played down the injuries to avoid terrifying her. Fletcher underwent two hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat and is recovering.

Police arrested Jeremy Christian, 35, a white supremacist, and charged him with the murders. The train attack doesn’t fit America’s internal narrative of terrorism, but it’s a reminder that terrorism takes many forms. Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by a Muslim terrorist (odds of one in six million) than for being Muslim (odds of one in one million), according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina.

In tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration. In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive — if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.

I’d been dispirited by recent events. President Trump’s overseas trip marked an abdication of American leadership, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluding that Europe can no longer rely on the United States. The Trump budget was intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant, with cuts in global AIDS funding alone that may cost one million lives.

Today’s White House seems to stand for nothing loftier than crony capitalism and the scapegoating of refugees, Muslims and immigrants. To me, Trump “values” are primarily narcissism, nepotism and nihilism.

And this is infectious: Cass Sunstein of Harvard cites psychology research indicating that Trump has made it more acceptable for Americans to embrace xenophobia. I wrote last year that “Donald Trump is making America meaner,” prompting bigotry in rural Oregon where I grew up, and around the country.

We don’t know whether the murderer on the Portland train felt empowered to scream at a Muslim girl because of Trump’s own previous Islamophobic rants, any more than we can be sure that Trump’s denunciation of reporters led a Montana candidate to body slam a journalist. But when a president incites hatred, civilization winces.

If all that is one thread of America, another is represented by those three men who stepped forward on that train. It’s also represented by the good Samaritans who helped them when they were stabbed, by the countless people who joined vigils to honor the victims and who donated more than $1 million in a few days for the families of those killed and for the survivor.

It’s terrific that the White House eventually acknowledged these heroes in a tweet. But it would have been more convincing if the tweet came sooner and from Trump’s own @realDonaldTrump account rather than the @Potus account mostly managed by his staff.

What the three men in Oregon understood, but the White House doesn’t, is that in a healthy society, Islamophobia doesn’t disparage just Muslims, racism doesn’t demean blacks alone, misogyny hurts more than women, xenophobia insults more than immigrants. Rather, we are all diminished, so we all have a stake in confronting bigotry.

Best, the veteran, had three teenage children and a 12-year-old daughter, and I hope his kids understand that their dad died challenging a venomous intolerance that threatens our social fabric. He fell on the battlefield of American values. He deserves the chance to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

One thing I’ve learned in my reporting career is that side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best. The test for all of us is whether we can similarly respond to hatred and nihilism with courage and, in the dying words of Namkai-Meche, with “love.”

After coming out of surgery, weak but indomitable, Fletcher wrote a poem that offers us guidance. According to the Oregonian, it read in part:

“I, am alive.

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another.”

And last but not least we get to Ms. Collins:

The kids are not alright.

Let’s see now. Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is under investigation for weird cloak-and-daggerish meetings with the Russians. Ivanka just took a bunch of money from the Saudis for her favorite charity. Eric and Don Jr. are traveling the world to promote Trump hotels and golf courses while being looked after by the Secret Service on our dime.

Tiffany is going to law school. If only the others were in law school.

Pop question: Who’s your favorite mini-Trump? I’m sort of attached to Eric, the one who compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing.

In theory, Eric and Don Jr. are supposed to be totally unconnected to the government, running the family business in a manner so separate from the president that they might easily be working in a totally different dimension.


“I do not talk about the government with him and he does not talk about the business with us. That’s kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it’s something we honor,” Eric told Forbes earlier this year.

Then, Forbes reported, about “two minutes later” Eric volunteered that he’d still be making “profitability reports and stuff like that” to the president. He and Dad are, Eric added, “pretty inseparable.”

Darned tootin’. Besides traveling the world to publicize Trump golf courses and hang out with potential investors, Eric and Donald Jr. are also working the political side of the street. The boys recently met with Republican leaders to discuss 2018 election plans. (Don Jr., by the way, is the one who was recently off shooting prairie dogs during their breeding season.)

Eric’s wife, Lara, was at the meeting, too. More relatives! When she’s not talking with Republican leaders, Lara is active in an animal rights group called the Beagle Freedom Project. It helps find homes for dogs that were used in scientific studies, which is commendable. On the other hand, one of its leaders spent six years in jail for harassing research workers.

Her father-in-law isn’t really into pets, which is now looking like a good thing. Given the way he operates, if Trump had, say, a cocker spaniel it would probably now be deputy secretary of agriculture.

Lately, the Trump relatives we’ve been hearing most about are Ivanka, an official presidential adviser, and her husband, Jared, whose portfolio includes modernizing government and bringing peace to the Middle East. They recently accompanied the president on his overseas trip — the one that began in Saudi Arabia with fun festivities and the glowing orb.

While the Trumps were there, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates announced they were honoring Ivanka by donating $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs.

Perhaps you remember a presidential debate last fall in which Trump denounced the Clinton Foundation for accepting money from conservative Arab nations like, um, Saudi Arabia. (“You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people who push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.”) Ah, well.

Jared’s current issue is the mysterious back channel he attempted to set up with the Russians. Like so very many things involving this administration, it’s a controversy in which the most positive interpretation is that he had no idea what the hell he was doing.

In December Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russia bank, to talk about setting up a special communication system, apparently so he could talk without American intelligence overhearing.

It had to be disastrous in some way, since Mike Flynn was involved. Among the possible explanations:

A) The incoming administration had directed a 36-year-old real estate developer with no government experience to solve the Syrian crisis while keeping the whole thing secret from everybody except Vladimir Putin.

B) Jared was trying to do a favor for his sister-in-law Lara by setting up a channel to smuggle abused beagles out of Russia.

C) This is something about Russian money backing Trump businesses.

I am of course going for the beagles. But feel free to be cynical.

“We know Kushner’s business operations are in constant need of loans and investors. It’s highly suspicious,” said Fred Wertheimer of the good-government group Democracy 21. He used to specialize in campaign finance reform, but now Wertheimer lives in a world where a president’s daughter joins Dad at a dinner with the Chinese president the very same day she receives trademark rights for selling Ivanka Trump glitz in China.

And speaking of sleazy contacts with foreign investors, last week Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley called for an investigation into “potentially fraudulent statements and misrepresentations” made by a Chinese company promoting deals that seemed to involve U.S. visas for financiers who made big investments in a luxury condo project in New Jersey.

The condos are being developed by Kushner Companies and were being marketed by Jared’s sister. Yes! There’s no end to them.

Stay the course, Tiffany.

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