Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

Here they are, a day late (sorry about that!), but I guess better late than never.  In “It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Culture” Bobo tells us that the Trump presidency will probably not be brought down by outside forces. Instead, it will implode.  Mr. Cohen says “James Comey Moves the Pendulum,” and that Trump is vulnerable. He wanted the former F.B.I. director to “lift the cloud” but it has now enveloped him.  Prof. Krugman, in “Wrecking the Ship of State,” says Trump shows the damage a bad president can do.  Here’s Bobo:

The first important part of James Comey’s testimony was that he cast some doubt on reports that there was widespread communication between the Russians and the Trump campaign. That was the suspicion that set off this whole chain of events and the possibility that could have quickly brought about impeachment proceedings.

The second important implication of the hearings is that as far as we know, Donald Trump has not performed any criminal act that would merit removing him from office.

Sure, he cleared the room so he could lean on Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn. But he didn’t order Comey to shut down the investigation as a whole or do any of the things (like following up on the request) that would constitute real obstruction.

And sure, Trump did later fire Comey. But it’s likely that the Comey firing had little or nothing to do with the Flynn investigation.

Trump was, as always, thinking about himself. Comey had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation. Trump wanted Comey to repeat that fact publicly. When Comey didn’t, Trump took it as a sign that Comey was disloyal, an unforgivable sin. So he fired him, believing, insanely, that the move would be popular.

All of this would constitute a significant scandal in a normal administration, but it would not be grounds for impeachment.

The third important lesson of the hearing is that Donald Trump is characterologically at war with the norms and practices of good government. Comey emerged as a superb institutionalist, a man who believes we are a nation of laws. Trump emerged as a tribalist and a clannist, who simply cannot understand the way modern government works.

Trump is also plagued with a self-destructive form of selfishness. He is consumed by a hunger for affirmation, but, demented by his own obsessions, he can’t think more than one step ahead.

In search of praise he is continually doing things that will end up bringing him condemnation. He lies to people who have the power to publicly devastate him. He betrays people who have the power to damage him. Trump is most dangerous to the people who are closest to him and are in the best position to take their revenge.

The upshot is the Trump administration will probably not be brought down by outside forces. It will be incapacitated from within, by the bile, rage and back-stabbing that are already at record levels in the White House staff, by the dueling betrayals of the intimates Trump abuses so wretchedly.

Although there may be no serious collusion with the Russians, there is now certain to be a wide-ranging independent investigation into all things Trump.

These investigations will take a White House that is already acidic and turn it sulfuric. James Hohmann and Joanie Greve had a superb piece in the Daily 202 section of The Washington Post. They compiled the lessons people in the Clinton administration learned from the Whitewater scandal, and applied them to the Trump White House.

If past is prologue, this investigation will drag on for a while. The Clinton people thought the Whitewater investigation might last six months, but the inquiries lasted over seven years. The Trump investigation will lead in directions nobody can now anticipate. When the Whitewater investigation started, Monica Lewinsky was an unknown college student and nobody had any clue that an investigation into an Arkansas land deal would turn into an investigation about sex.

This investigation will ruin careers far and wide. Investigators go after anybody they think can yield information on the president. Before the Whitewater investigators got to Clinton they took down Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, Webb Hubbell, Susan and Jim McDougal, and many others.

This investigation will swallow up day-to-day life. As Clinton alum Jennifer Palmieri wrote in an op-ed in the USA Today network of newspapers: “No one in a position of authority at the White House tells you what is happening. No one knows. Your closest colleague could be under investigation and you would not know. You could be under investigation and not know. It can be impossible to stay focused on your job.”

Everybody will be affected. Betty Currie, Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, finally refused to mention the names of young White House employees to the investigators because every time she mentioned a name, the kid would get a subpoena, which meant thousands of dollars of ruinous legal fees.

If anything, the Trump investigation will probably be more devastating than the Whitewater scandals. The Clinton team was a few shady characters surrounded by a large group of super-competent straight arrows. The Trump administration is shady characters through and through. Clinton himself was a savvy operator. Trump is a rage-prone obsessive who will be consumed by this.

The good news is the civic institutions are weathering the storm. The Senate Intelligence Committee put on a very good hearing. The F.B.I. is maintaining its integrity. This has, by and large, been a golden age for the American press corps. The bad news is that these institutions had better be. The Trump death march will be slow, grinding and ugly.

So, Bobo gurgles that what we’re seeing now will “probably” be worse than Whitewater.  Interesting…  James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, has said that “Watergate pales in comparison.”  Who ya gonna believe — Bobo or Clapper?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Somebody’s lying. I think we know who it is. People have habits; to lie is one of Donald Trump’s.

On May 18 Trump was asked: “Did you, at any time, urge former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in any way, shape or form, to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” The president’s response: “No. No. Next question.”

Comey, in his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says that in a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting Trump did precisely what he denies. The president asked the attorney general and his son-in-law Jared Kushner (among others) to leave the room before — one on one — broaching a matter he should never have raised. Alluding to Flynn, Trump told Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

A meticulous man, Comey immediately wrote a memo recording this improper attempt by Trump to halt the F.B.I. investigation of the former national security adviser and his dealings with Russia. Alone in the Oval Office with a president who had already tried through a veiled threat to establish a “patronage relationship,” Comey, as he explained in testimony to the committee, interpreted the president’s words as “a direction.”

How could he not? The mob slides in the knife with a let’s-hope-for-the-best smile. Trump was “hoping” for Flynn’s absolution the way King Henry II was hoping for Thomas Becket’s elimination when he wondered aloud if nobody would rid him of this “turbulent priest.” Becket was duly murdered.

Trump had fired Flynn the previous day. He was worried; Flynn knows a lot. So much, in fact, that in Vladimir Putin’s Russia he’d be dead. Indeed if Trump, from Comey’s testimony, seems more than ready to cast aside “some of my satellites” for their Russian shenanigans — perhaps even Kushner — he’s obsessive about Flynn.

The president appointed him despite warnings from Barack Obama; stuck by him for 18 days after Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, warned him that Flynn was compromised by the Russians; made his first insistent demands for “loyalty” from Comey the day after the Yates warning; fired Flynn only to ask Comey to “let this go”; and dismissed Comey for a cascade of contradictory reasons whose essence was that he’d resisted Trump’s attempts to alter the way the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation was being conducted.

Why Flynn? We will find out. My suggestion: follow the money. I’m sure that’s what Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is already doing. No doubt Mueller is also wondering what possible benign motive could lead Trump to clear the Oval Office before asking the F.B.I. director to spare Flynn.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. Russia is big; so is Trump’s problem with it. He never — never! — asked Comey what should be done to stop Russian interference in American democracy. Yet, as Comey said in his testimony: “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle.” The effort was driven “from the top of that government;” it was “about as unfake as you can possibly get.” Trump’s silence on this subversion qualifies as sinister.

Trump called Comey “a showboat.” That’s funny. Comey, conscientious to a fault, is an American patriot who understands that the law and defense of the Constitution stand at the core of the nation’s being. Dispense with them, you dispense with America. “We remain that shining city on the hill,” he insisted. Trump, by contrast, has always skirted the law and since his inauguration has shown contempt for the Constitution. The only thing that interests the president about checks and balances is how to dispense with them.

As Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, put it to me: “Trump’s business is infecting the people around him. To show loyalty you have to engage in the corrupt or mendacious behavior he engages in. So he’s a form of contagion — and Comey did not want the investigation infected.”

That’s the sum of this sordid story. Trump wanted Comey to show “loyalty,’’ by which he meant pliant subservience; he wanted him to shelve the F.B.I. investigation of Flynn; he demanded that Comey “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation by declaring that Trump was not being personally investigated; and then fired Comey for his refusal to obey the “boss.” The firing was a vain attempt to get the pressure of the Russia investigation relieved, as Trump subsequently boasted he had — to the Russians no less.

What was Trump’s motive? It’s hard to see an innocent one. His actions look like a corrupt attempt to interfere with the due administration of justice — that is, the independent F.B.I. investigation. Given Republican control of Congress, it’s very unlikely there’ll be any move to impeach until Mueller completes his inquiry. But if Mueller suggests the president could be indicted, impeachment proceedings will be hard to resist — and then, as Burbank put it, “what we might colloquially call ‘obstruction of justice’ might be deemed a high crime or misdemeanor even if it would not violate federal criminal law.”

Comey has moved the pendulum. Trump is vulnerable.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

After Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, many people on the right and even in the center tried to make the case that he wouldn’t really be that bad. Every time he showed a hint of self-restraint — even if it amounted to nothing more than reading his lines without ad-libbing and laying off Twitter for a day or two — pundits rushed to declare that he had just “become president.”

But can we now admit that he really is as bad as — or worse than — his harshest critics predicted he would be? And it’s not just his contempt for the rule of law, which came through so clearly in the James Comey testimony: As the legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin says, if this isn’t obstruction of justice, what is? There’s also the way Trump’s character, his combination of petty vindictiveness with sheer laziness, leaves him clearly not up to doing the job.

And that’s a huge problem. Think, for a minute, of just how much damage this man has done on multiple fronts in just five months.

Take health care. It’s still unclear whether Republicans will ever be able to pass a replacement for Obamacare (although it is clear that if they do, it will take coverage away from tens of millions). But whatever happens on the legislative front, there are big problems developing in the insurance markets as we speak: companies pulling out, leaving some parts of the country unserved, or asking for large increases in premiums.

Why? It’s not, whatever Republicans may say, because Obamacare is an unworkable system; insurance markets were clearly stabilizing last fall. Instead, as insurers themselves have been explaining, the problem is the uncertainty created by Trump and company, especially the failure to make clear whether crucial subsidies will be maintained. In North Carolina, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 23 percent rise in premiums, but declared that it would have asked for only 9 percent if it were sure that cost-sharing subsidies would continue.

So why hasn’t it received that assurance? Is it because Trump believes his own assertions that he can cause Obamacare to collapse, then get voters to blame Democrats? Or is it because he’s too busy rage-tweeting and golfing to deal with the issue? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s no way to make policy.

Or take the remarkable decision to take Saudi Arabia’s side in its dispute with Qatar, a small nation that houses a huge U.S. military base. There are no good guys in this quarrel, but every reason for the U.S. to stay out of the middle.

So what was Trump doing? There’s no hint of a strategic vision; some sources suggest that he may not even have known about the large U.S. base in Qatar and its crucial role.

The most likely explanation of his actions, which have provoked a crisis in the region (and pushed Qatar into the arms of Iran) is that the Saudis flattered him — the Ritz-Carlton projected a five-story image of his face on the side of its Riyadh property — and their lobbyists spent large sums at the Trump Washington hotel.

Normally, we would consider it ridiculous to suggest that an American president could be so ignorant of crucial issues, and be led to take dangerous foreign policy moves with such crude inducements. But can we believe this about a man who can’t accept the truth about the size of his inauguration crowds, who boasts about his election victory in the most inappropriate circumstances? Yes.

And consider his refusal to endorse the central principle of NATO, the obligation to come to our allies’ defense — a refusal that came as a shock and surprise to his own foreign policy team. What was that about? Nobody knows, but it’s worth considering that Trump apparently ranted to European Union leaders about the difficulty of setting up golf courses in their nations. So maybe it was sheer petulance.

The point, again, is that everything suggests that Trump is neither up to the job of being president nor willing to step aside and let others do the work right. And this is already starting to have real consequences, from disrupted health coverage to ruined alliances to lost credibility on the world stage.

But, you say, stocks are up, so how bad can it be? And it’s true that while Wall Street has lost some of its initial enthusiasm for Trumponomics — the dollar is back down to pre-election levels — investors and businesses don’t seem to be pricing in the risk of really disastrous policy.

That risk is, however, all too real — and one suspects that the big money, which tends to equate wealth with virtue, will be the last to realize just how big that risk really is. The American presidency is, in many ways, sort of an elected monarchy, in which a temperamentally and intellectually unqualified leader can do immense damage.

That’s what’s happening now. And we’re barely one-tenth of the way through Trump’s first term. The worst, almost surely, is yet to come.

Welp, it’s time to head back under the bed…

Advertisements

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: