Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Krugman

August 7, 2017

In “America’s Whiniest ‘Victim'” Mr. Blow says Trump is a reflection of the new Whiny Right.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s Next For Progressives?” and tries to make a case for prioritizing children, not single-payer.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is the reigning king of American victimhood.

He is unceasingly pained, injured, aggrieved.

The primaries were unfair. The debates were unfair. The general election was unfair.

“No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he laments.

People refuse to reach past his flaws — which are legion! — and pat him on the back. People refuse to praise his minimal effort and minimal efficacy. They refuse to ignore that the legend he created about himself is a lie. People’s insistence on truth and honest appraisal is so annoying. It’s all so terribly unfair.

It is in this near perfect state of perpetual aggrievement that Trump gives voice to a faction of America that also feels aggrieved. Trump won because he whines. He whines in a way that makes the weak feel less vulnerable and more vicious. He makes feeling sorry for himself feel like fighting back.

In this way he was a perfect reflection of the new Whiny Right. Trump is its instrument, articulation, embodiment. He’s not so much representative of it but of an idea — the waning power of whiteness, privilege, patriarchy, access, and the cultural and economic surety that accrues to the possessors of such. Trump represents their emerging status of victims-in-their-own-minds.

The way they see it, they are victims of coastal and urban liberals and the elite institutions — economic, education and entertainment — clustered there. They are victims of an economy evolving in ways, both technical and geographic, that cuts them out or leaves them behind. They are victims of immigration and shifting American demographics. They are victims of shifting, cultural mores. They are victims of Washington.

No one speaks to these insecurities like the human manifestation of insecurity himself: Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is their death rattle: That unsettling sound a body makes when death nears.

But, Trump’s whining is not some clever Machiavellian tactic, precisely tuned for these times. Trump’s whining is genuine. He pretends to be ferocious, but is actually embarrassingly fragile. His bravado is all illusion. The lion is a coward. And, he licks his wounds until they are raw.

Now, pour into this hollow man Steve Bannon’s toxic, apocalyptic nationalism and his professed mission — “deconstruction of the administrative state” — and you get a perfect storm of extreme orthodoxy and extreme insecurity.

Trump becomes a tool of those in possession of legacy power in this country — and those who feel that power is their rightful inheritance — who are pulling every possible lever to enshrine and cement that power. Suppressing the vote. Restricting immigration. Putting the brakes on cultural inclusion.

Make America great again. Turn back the clock to a time when privileges of whiteness were supreme and unassailable, misogyny was simply viewed as an extension of masculinity, women got back-alley abortions and worked for partial wages, coal was king and global warming was purely academic, and trans people weren’t in our bathrooms or barracks. The good old days.

Now the power of the presidency is deployed in this pursuit. The only thing that holds the line against absolute calamity is the fact that Trump lacks focus and hates work.

I have found that a close cousin of extreme caviling is sloth. As Newsweek puts on this week’s cover, he is a “Lazy Boy.”

He may keep himself busy with things he considers to be work, but his definition of that word and mine do not seem to be in alignment. Twitter tantrums, obsessive television viewing, holding campaign-style rallies to feed his narcissistic need for adulation. Those things to me do not signal competence, but rather profound neurosis. True productivity leaves little space for this extreme protestation.

And, not only is he a lazy whiner, he’s also a projectionist: He is so consumed by his insecurities that he projects them onto others. Trump branded Ted Cruz a liar, when he himself wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him in the face. He blasted Hillary Clinton as being crooked, when he himself was crooked. He sneered at President Obama’s work ethic — among many other things — but Trump’s own work ethic has been found severely wanting.

In 2015, Trump said, “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done.” He continued: “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.”

Lies.

Trump has spent an unseemly amount of time away from the White House, playing golf, and is at this very moment on a 17-day vacation.

Trump is like the unfaithful spouse who constantly accuses the other of infidelity because the guilt of his or her own sins has hijacked their thinking and consumed their consciousness. The flaws he sees are the ones he possesses.

This projection of vice, claiming of victimhood, and complaining about vanishing privileges make Trump an ideal front man for the kind of cultural anxiety, desperation and anger that disguises itself as a benign debate about public policy.

Today’s Republicans could teach IMAX a thing or two about projection.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

For now, at least, the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act appears dead. Sabotage by a spiteful Trump administration is still a risk, but there is — gasp! — a bipartisan push to limit the damage, with Democrats who want to preserve recent gains allying with Republicans who fear that the public will blame them for declining coverage and rising premiums.

This represents a huge victory for progressives, who did a startlingly good job of marshaling facts, mobilizing public opinion, and pressuring politicians to stand their ground. But where do they go from here? If Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House, what will they do with the opportunity?

Well, some progressives — by and large people who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries — are already trying to revive one of his signature proposals: expanding Medicare to cover everyone. Some even want to make support for single-payer a litmus test for Democratic candidates.

So it’s time for a little pushback. A commitment to universal health coverage — bringing in the people currently falling through Obamacare’s cracks — should definitely be a litmus test. But single-payer, while it has many virtues, isn’t the only way to get there; it would be much harder politically than its advocates acknowledge; and there are more important priorities.

The key point to understand about universal coverage is that we know a lot about what it takes, because every other wealthy country has it. How do they do it? Actually, lots of different ways.

Look at the latest report by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, comparing health care performance among advanced nations. America is at the bottom; the top three performers are Britain, Australia, and the Netherlands. And the thing is, these three leaders have very different systems.

Britain has true socialized medicine: The government provides health care directly through the National Health Service. Australia has a single-payer system, basically Medicare for All — it’s even called Medicare. But the Dutch have what we might call Obamacare done right: individuals are required to buy coverage from regulated private insurers, with subsidies to help them afford the premiums.

And the Dutch system works, which suggests that a lot could be accomplished via incremental improvements in the A.C.A., rather than radical change. Further evidence for this view is how relatively well Obamacare, imperfect as it is, already works in states that try to make it work — did you know that only 5.4 percent of New Yorkers are now uninsured?

Meanwhile, the political logic that led to Obamacare rather than Medicare for all still applies.

It’s not just about paying off the insurance industry, although getting insurers to buy in to health reform wasn’t foolish, and arguably helped save the A.C.A.: At a crucial moment America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry lobbying organization, and Blue Cross Blue Shield intervened to denounce Republican plans.

A far more important consideration is minimizing disruption to the 156 million people who currently get insurance through their employers, and are largely satisfied with their coverage. Moving to single-payer would mean taking away this coverage and imposing new taxes; to make it fly politically you’d have to convince most of these people both that they would save more in premiums than they pay in additional taxes, and that their new coverage would be just as good as the old.

This might in fact be true, but it would be one heck of a hard sell. Is this really where progressives want to spend their political capital?

What would I do instead? I’d enhance the A.C.A., not replace it, although I would strongly support reintroducing some form of public option — a way for people to buy into public insurance — that could eventually lead to single-payer.

Meanwhile, progressives should move beyond health care and focus on other holes in the U.S. safety net.

When you compare the U.S. social welfare system with those of other wealthy countries, what really stands out now is our neglect of children. Other countries provide new parents with extensive paid leave, provide high-quality, subsidized day care for children with working parents and make pre-K available to everyone or almost everyone; we do none of these things. Our spending on families is a third of the advanced-country average, putting us down there with Mexico and Turkey.

So if it were up to me, I’d talk about improving the A.C.A., not ripping it up and starting over, while opening up a new progressive front on child care.

I have nothing against single-payer; it’s what I’d support if we were starting fresh. But we aren’t: Getting there from here would be very hard, and might not accomplish much more than a more modest, incremental approach. Even idealists need to set priorities, and Medicare-for-all shouldn’t be at the top of the list.

Blow and Collins

August 3, 2017

In “Feasting on False and Fake” Mr. Blow says the lies are the root of all this evil.  Ms. Collins has a question in “A Week Without Trumps…:”  Why — WHY — is the White House not giving us any more theme weeks?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump continues his savage assault on truth, honesty and candor.

In two weeks time, one of Trump’s lawyers has been proven a liar for repeatedly claiming that Trump had not been involved at all in the drafting of the misleading statement that his son Donald Jr. issued about his now-infamous meeting with Russians in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

As The Washington Post reported Monday:

“Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to The New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was ‘not a campaign issue at the time.’ ”

Then, on Tuesday, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the elder Trump had played a role, saying, “The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.”

In short, this whole line of defense that White House had maintained for weeks was a complete fairy tale, another blatant lie from the perpetual fountain of lies.

During a July 25 interview with the Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker, Trump said of his debased speech at the Boy Scouts’ Jamboree: “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them.” The only problem is that, as Politico reported this week: “The Boy Scouts of America, however, apologized to its members after the speech and then said Wednesday that the organization was not aware of any calls between its leaders and Trump.”’

Monday, Trump said: “As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and they’re close to 80 percent stoppage. Even the president of Mexico called me — they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”

The problem: As ABC News reports, “The Mexican government says President Enrique Peña Nieto did not call U.S. President Donald Trump to compliment his immigration policies, as Trump had claimed” and “An American official confirmed that no telephone conversation recently occurred between Trump and Peña Nieto.”

But perhaps most disturbing and despicable is an allegation in a lawsuit filed by Rod Wheeler, a private detective who was hired by the family of Seth Rich, an aide for the Democratic National Committee who was fatally shot last summer in Washington, to investigate his death.

The claim is that the White House and a wealthy friend of Trump used Fox News to manufacture and promote a fake news story — using this dead man’s body, and ignoring his family’s agony — to “shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.” Wheeler is also a Fox News contributor.

Fox published the article but was forced to retract it. According to The New York Times, “The retracted article, citing law enforcement sources, said Mr. Rich had shared thousands of D.N.C. emails with WikiLeaks — a theory that would undercut the assertions that Russia had interfered in the election on behalf of Mr. Trump.”

If this is true, it is the lowest of the low. It would implicate the White House in a most callous lie and it would further make laughable the “News” in “Fox News.”

All politicians try to manage news coverage and messages. They all try to put the most positive spin on things. They all are prone to hyperbole.

But this is another thing altogether. It is separate, distinct and unique. We have never seen an occupant of the Oval Office who is actually allergic to the truth. We have never had an enemy of honesty.

I keep coming back to the lying because I believe everything else flows from it.

If Trump had been upfront and candid about his and his cohorts’ dealings with Russia, had not lied about President Barack Obama supposedly wiretapping phones in Trump Tower, had released his tax returns and not tried to make James Comey commit to some sort of oath of allegiance, maybe we wouldn’t need a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s Russia connections.

If Trump hadn’t lied about three million people voting illegally, we wouldn’t be diverting resources to a ridiculous voter integrity commission. Maybe we could focus on the real problems: voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering. As Nate Cohn pointed outWednesday on the Upshot: “Heading into the 2018 midterms, data and conventional wisdom agree: Gerrymandering is a big reason the G.O.P. has a real chance to retain control of the House, even if the Democrats score a clear win” in the overall popular vote.

If Trump had been honest in his fake outreach to black voters during the campaign — “What the hell do you have to lose?” — the attack on civil rights by this Justice Department would make sense. The reversal on private prisons, the review of consent decrees, the return to the failed drug policies of the ’90s would make sense. If Trump had been honest, the absolutely outrageous news reported by The Times this week would make sense:

“The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.”

The lies are the root of all this evil. It not only impedes normal functioning and normal processes, it has destroyed a common basis on which to operate. The presidency is being used as tool of degradation rather than uplift.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

So much outcry about chaos at the White House. Who’s in? Who’s out? Yet we’ve failed to consider one important question.

What happens to the Weeks?

They’ve been such an administration highlight. Who can forget White House Infrastructure Week? Or Energy Week? Or the current American Dream Week, which the president celebrated by calling for a 50 percent cut in legal immigration?

Reince Priebus was said to have been a big Week maven, and he’s been, um, disappeared. Which is why I’m sort of worried about the end of a great new national tradition.

We still haven’t heard what the next Week is supposed to be. Do you think John Kelly got rid of them? That man cannot stop cleaning house.

All modern presidents have promoted themes they want us to think about, but the current administration has been a pioneer in packaging things into Weeks and then staging lots of events to remind us about their topic. President Trump also generally proposes a bill on the same subject, which Congress promptly rejects.

This happened even during Infrastructure Week — who among us doesn’t like infrastructure? But Trump hasn’t been able to get his act together on a package of projects, so he started the week off with a call for privatizing the air traffic control system, which the Senate commerce committee cheerfully vetoed.

Also, to be fair, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a letter from a 10-year-old boy from Virginia who wants to mow the White House lawn. And that’s going to happen. “It’s our responsibility to keep the American dream alive for kids like Frank,” she told the media.

Because this administration has been so danged exciting, it’s easy to merge the Weeks with unrelated presidential events of the moment. So we’ll also remember Infrastructure Week as the one when the fired F.B.I. director testified before Congress. And that during American Dream Week, a golfing story revealed that Trump had called the White House “a real dump.”

But even when the White House is in control of the timing, the Weeks tend to go awry.

Obviously, the idea of having the president give a speech to the Boy Scouts during Heroes Week was planned. But it’s a good bet the planners didn’t expect him to brag to the kids about winning the election, snipe at his political opponents and tell a really long story about a friend who sold his business and bought a big yacht.

Scout leaders were somewhat unnerved by the performance, but Trump, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said “the head of the Boy Scouts” had called him to say “it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them.” The head of the Boy Scouts immediately denied that. Sanders told a press briefing that the president was talking about someone else.

So that was American Heroes Week. Plus the speech to law enforcement officials in which Trump appeared to advocate police brutality. Which Sanders told a press briefing was just a joke.

“The president went out of his way this week to give a special honor to some very special people,” said Lara Trump, the host of a brand-new news program on the president’s Facebook site, as she recounted some of the White House events. She is the wife of Eric Trump, otherwise known as the adult son not currently under investigation for talking with Russians.

Until now we have known Lara as an animal rights activist. Perhaps she could get us a White House Be Kind to Animals Week, in which her father-in-law would have to appear in public with a dog or a cat. This is the first president since James K. Polk who does not have a pet. All this could change in a wink of a Week.

There are all kinds of ways we could turn the Weeks around to the national interest. For instance, the State Department appears to be struggling to get the normal day-to-day business done for lack of staff. Perhaps we could have a Who Wants to Be Ambassador to Norway Week. The press secretary could read letters from 10-year-old volunteers, and on Friday the president could draw a name from a hat.

One of my favorite Weeks was Energy Week, when Trump and Rick Perry went around vowing to make the nation “energy dominant,” a concept so much more manly than energy independent. But still educational. “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand,” Perry said during a coal mining promotion. “You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.”

And then, of course, there was Made in America Week, which Trump observed by requesting visas to hire foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago.

And Workforce Development Week, when Trump and daughter Ivanka met with C.E.O.s to discuss worker training. And Tech Week, when Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with top executives of technology companies.

“I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week because there’s so much fake news out there,” Lara Trump told her audience.

What about a Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Week?

Blow and Krugman

July 31, 2017

In “Satan in a Sunday Hat” Mr. Blow says the White House is a jungle of wild accusations, out-of-control egos and slithering strivers.  Prof. Krugman has a question: “Who Ate Republicans’ Brains?”  He outlines four decades of intellectual and moral deterioration.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s foul-mouthed, preening, narcissistic flack, Anthony Scaramucci, made a string of jaw-dropping statements last week — including accusing chief strategist Steve Bannon of using the president for rapacious self-aggrandizement, comparing this impulse in Bannon to autofellatio — but perhaps none were more telling and important than this statement on White House leaks Scaramucci made last week on CNN:

“There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.”

There are countless Americans — among them the nearly 74 million American voters who voted for someone other than Trump in November, and likely an increasing number of those who did vote for him — who have taken it as their mission to save America from Trump.

But the idea that, in addition to liberals, progressives, resisters, and, oh, I don’t know, anyone with an inkling of patriotism, this desire to protect the country may well exist among some rock-ribbed Republicans and may in fact extend all the way to the corridors of the White House offers some solace.

Acknowledging this is by no means an act of exaltation or absolution. Quite the contrary: It illustrates these Republicans’ absolute depravity and ideological ambition. They know well that this man is unfit and ruinous, and yet they remain his parasitic henchmen. They are willing to use Trump for gain, and leaks for leverage.

They may love the country, but not enough. They may be loyal to Trump, but not enough. They may relish their newfound power, but that power is also not enough.

This White House is now a jungle of wild accusations, out-of-control egos, lurking bigotry, and slithering strivers: The grass outside the Oval Office is full of snakes, and the person inside that office is no better, maybe even worse. Watching them turn on one another, devour one another, in what has become a grotesque, animalistic spectacle of dysfunctions, might for some bring a perverse pleasure because it exposes Trump and his supposed managerial acumen as an abject fraud.

I am not one of those people.

I take no joy in it; I am utterly embarrassed by it. But I also know that this war of West Wing rivals serves a beneficial purpose of distracting Trump from his disastrous agenda, undermining his efforts at obfuscation and outright lying, and casting sunlight on the scheming that Trump would like to keep hidden from the media truth-tellers he tries to defame and discredit.

These leakers — whether they are people who are angling to harm a White House adversary and thereby increase their positions on this totem of travesties, or actual moles animated by a sense of civic morality — have exposed this administration as a marauding band of incompetent, unprincipled, self-mutilating posers.

You can’t transform mountebanks into menschen. Character is like concrete: You can make an impression when it’s freshly poured, in its youth, one could say, but when it sets, it’s impervious to alteration. Trump has always been vile, dishonorable and dishonest. That hasn’t changed even when draped by the history, majesty and pageantry of the presidency.

The leakers continue to reveal this fact and Trump’s fraudulence, something that has sent mini-Trump Scaramucci into a fit of pique. This is why Scaramucci said in his profanity-laced interview with The New Yorker: “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the president’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people.”

But there seemed to be one target in particular of Scaramucci’s bloodlust: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

In that same New Yorker interview, Scaramucci said of Priebus, “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” The reporter, Ryan Lizza, also wrote that Scaramucci said that Priebus will “be asked to resign very shortly.”

On Thursday on CNN’s New Day,” Scaramucci compared his relationship with Priebus to that of infamous biblical brothers: “Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is repairable or not. That will be up to the president.”

For the record, in the religious text Cain lures Abel into a field and kills him.

On Friday, as Scaramucci had foretold, Priebus was driven out as chief of staff. The accursed Cain wins again.

It is clear that Scaramucci is trying to create a work environment of terror and timidity in which no one will talk to reporters without fear of extreme retribution. Whatever little trust had survived among the White House staff has been trampled by Scaramucci’s arrival.

He is Trump’s mercenary, looking to pile up bodies on the White House funeral pyre. For Scaramucci, this is all about access, power and, oh yes, money. The only thing Scaramucci seems to care more about than what he makes is how people look — he oddly keeps making hair and makeup jokes, and he once asked, inappropriately and apropos of nothing, a female interviewer from New York magazine, “How old are you?” He continued: “You look good. No lines on your face. What are you, a Sagittarius?”

No, Mooch, she’s a professional, and the sign is “stop.” This man is what we used to call a “Satan in a Sunday hat.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When the tweeter-in-chief castigated Senate Republicans as “total quitters” for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, they showed zombie-like relentlessness in their determination to take health care away from millions of Americans, shambling forward despite devastating analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, denunciations of their plans by every major medical group, and overwhelming public disapproval.

Put it this way: Senator Lindsey Graham was entirely correct when he described the final effort at repeal as “terrible policy and horrible politics,” a “disaster” and a “fraud.” He voted for it anyway — and so did 48 of his colleagues.

So where did this zombie horde come from? Who ate Republicans’ brains?

As many people have pointed out, when it came to health care Republicans were basically caught in their own web of lies. They fought against the idea of universal coverage, then denounced the Affordable Care Act for failing to cover enough people; they made “skin in the game,” i.e., high out-of-pocket costs, the centerpiece of their health care ideology, then denounced the act for high deductibles. When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion.

But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.

And that kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism — that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit,” because it was all about creating a Republican majority — so “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

The problem is that once you accept the principle that it’s O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying — or even to remember what it’s like to seek the truth.

The right’s intellectual and moral collapse didn’t happen all at once. For a while, conservatives still tried to grapple with real problems. In 1989, for example, The Heritage Foundation offered a health care plan strongly resembling Obamacare. That same year, George H. W. Bush proposed a cap-and-trade system to control acid rain, a proposal that eventually became law.

But looking back, it’s easy to see the rot spreading. Compared with Donald Trump, the elder Bush looks like a paragon — but his administration lied relentlessly about rising inequality. His son’s administration lied consistently about its tax cuts, pretending that they were targeted on the middle class, and — in case you’ve forgotten — took us to war on false pretenses.

And almost the entire G.O.P. either endorsed or refused to condemn the “death panels” slander against Obamacare.

Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can’t expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.

And let’s be clear: we’re talking about Republicans here, not the “political system.”

Democrats aren’t above cutting a few intellectual corners in pursuit of electoral advantage. But the Obama administration was, when all is said and done, remarkably clearheaded and honest about its policies. In particular, it was always clear what the A.C.A. was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it — and it has, for the most part, worked as advertised.

Now what? Maybe, just maybe, Republicans will work with Democrats to make the health system work better — after all, polls suggest that voters will, rightly, blame them for any future problems. But it wouldn’t be easy for them to face reality even if their president wasn’t a bloviating bully.

And it’s hard to imagine anything good happening on other policy fronts, either. Republicans have spent decades losing their ability to think straight, and they’re not going to get it back anytime soon.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

July 27, 2017

In ” ‘First They Came For…’ ” Mr. Blow says all the targets of Trump’s ire must push back with a united front before it is too late.  In “No Insurance, But For 3 Days, Health Care Is Within Reach” Mr. Kristof says aid group set up to help in poor nations now focuses on U.S. needs.  Ms. Collins says “Wow, Trump Can’t Terminate,” and that coming soon we’ll have American Irony Week.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It is no longer sufficient to brand Donald Trump as abnormal, a designation that is surely applicable but that falls significantly short in registering the magnitude of the menace.

The standard nomenclature of normal politics must be abandoned. What we are witnessing is nothing less than an assault on the fundamentals of the country itself: on our legacy institutions and our sense of protocol, decency and honesty.

In any other circumstance, we might likely write this off as the trite protestations of a man trapped in a toddler’s temperament, full of meltdowns, magical thinking and make believe. But this man’s vindictiveness and mendacity are undergirded by the unequaled power of the American president, and as such he has graduated on the scale of power from toddler to budding tyrant.

This threat Trump poses — to our morals, ethics, norms and collective sense of propriety — may be without equal from a domestic source.

Everything he is doing is an assault and matters on some level.

His desecration of the Boy Scouts’ national jamboree matters. Not only did he turn his appearance before the boys into a political rally in which they booed both former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he seemed to be appealing to their basest instincts.

What exactly did Trump mean when he regaled the boys with the story of the real-estate developer William Levitt, who, as Trump put it:

“Sold his company for a tremendous amount of money. And he went out and bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life. I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”

As the boys start to make noise, Trump responds, “Should I tell you? Should I tell you?” and then proceeds to say:

“You’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life.”

Is this a version of Trump’s “locker room talk,” that phrase he used to excuse his genital-grabbing comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape? This may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme, but it matters. The fact that its shelf life felt like only a few hours before the next outrage underscores the degree to which our national consciousness is being barraged by the man’s violations.

But yes, it matters too, just as Trump’s obsession with Obama and Clinton matters.

Also, his public trolling of Attorney General Jeff Sessions matters. The fact that he’s enraged at Sessions for taking the appropriate ethical step and recusing himself from the Russia investigation matters. The fact that Trump essentially told The New York Times on the record that he would not have chosen Sessions if he’d known Sessions wouldn’t have stood firm in protection of him, matters.

Trump’s continuous attacks on the media matter.

His pushing of the Republicans’ callous Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan — a plan that would strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, and a plan that Trump has demonstrated no particular policy knowledge of — matters.

Trump’s tweet yesterday — on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman desegregating the armed forces, no less — that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” matters. There are thousands of trans people already serving in the military. The idea that a man with five draft deferments would dictate that people who volunteer to serve should not be allowed to is beyond outrageous — and it matters.

Trump’s pushing us closer to international military conflict matters.

And yes, the plodding Russia investigation, which to Trump is an agitation and threat, like an irremovable thorn in his flesh, matters.

This has come as a great shock and demoralizer to many Americans, not necessarily because they didn’t think Trump was capable of such depravity, but because they simply were unprepared for the daily reality of living a nightmare.

There is an enduring expectation, particularly among American liberals, that progress in this society should move inexorably toward more openness, honesty and equality. But even the historical record doesn’t support that expectation.

In reality, America regularly experiences bouts of regression, but fortunately, it is in those regressive periods that some of our greatest movements and greatest voices had found their footing.

President Andrew Jackson’s atrocious American Indian removal program gave us the powerful Cherokee memorial letters. The standoff at Standing Rock gave us what the BBC called “the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years.”

Crackdowns on gay bars gave us the Stonewall uprising. America’s inept response to the AIDS epidemic gave us Act Up and Larry Kramer. California’s Proposition 8 breathed new life into the fight for marriage equality and led to a victory in the Supreme Court.

The racial terror that followed the Emancipation Proclamation gave us the anti-lynching movement, the N.A.A.C.P., W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and James Weldon Johnson.

Jim Crow gave us the civil rights movement, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Congressman John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and James Baldwin.

The latest rash of extrajudicial killing of black people gave us Black Lives Matter.

The financial crisis and the government’s completely inadequate response to it gave us Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent.

A renewed assault on women’s rights, particularly a woman’s right to choose, gave us, at least in part, the Women’s March, likely the largest march in American history.

This is not an exhaustive list, but just some notable examples.

It is a way of illustrating that the fiery crucible is where the weapons of resistance are forged; it is where the mettle of those crusading for justice, equality and progress are tested.

Unlike the examples listed above, Trump’s assault is intersectional and nearly universal. Multiple populations are being assaulted at once, across race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual identity.

So, in this moment of regression, all the targets of Trump’s ire must push back with a united front, before it is too late.

As Martin Niemöller so famously put it:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Wise, VA:

For a man who needed 18 teeth pulled, Daniel Smith was looking chipper.

Anxious, too, for he was facing a pair of forceps. But Smith, 30, a contractor with no health or dental insurance, who hadn’t seen a dentist in more than 20 years, was looking forward to an imminent end to the pain and rot in his mouth.

“I’ve always worked, since I was 14, but I’ve never had dental insurance,” Smith told me. After his teeth are out, he has a lead on low-cost dentures.

“I’d like to have a straight smile,” he said. “I’ve never had one in my life.”

All around Smith were uninsured patients receiving free dental or medical care, including dozens of men and women in side-by-side dental chairs in the open air. Organizers mercifully arranged the long line of people waiting to have teeth pulled so that they were facing away from those currently enduring extractions.

The patients swamped the county fairground here for a three-day health extravaganza of free care organized by Remote Area Medical, an aid group that holds these events across the country. This one involved about 1,400 volunteers serving 2,300 men and women who needed care of every kind.

Some patients camped out for three days at the fairground gate before the clinic opened to make sure they would be treated.

The health fair reminded me of scenes I’ve witnessed in refugee camps in South Sudan. But here in America?

The sight is a wrenching reminder of how many Americans slip through the cracks. No other advanced country permits this level of suffering — and if the G.O.P. health care plan goes through, millions more will lose their health coverage.

“Walking around, listening to people, it breaks your heart,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, whom I encountered on the fairground. “We need a healthy work force, and this is a disgrace.”

“Shame on us as a nation,” McAuliffe added. “This is an embarrassment to our country.”

That’s what I feel, too: humiliation that Americans need to be rescued by a group originally intended to help people in the world’s poorest countries (mixed with pride at the altruistic spirit that attracted so many volunteers, paying their own expenses to come here). To me, the fundamental lesson is that even under Obamacare, too many people don’t have coverage, and we urgently need a single-payer universal health care system along the lines of Medicare for all.

Remote Area Medical is the brainchild of Stan Brock, 81, a onetime British cowboy who in the 1950s managed one of the world’s biggest ranches, overseeing 50,000 cattle in Guyana in South America.

When he was badly injured by a wild horse, Brock was told it would be a 26-day hike to the nearest doctor. So he recovered on his own — but began to think about supplying health care to deprived areas.

Brock ended up founding Remote Area Medical to work in places like the Amazon, Haiti and Uganda. But then one day he had a call from Sneedville, Tenn., where the hospital had just closed and the dentist moved out. “Can you come here?” the caller asked.

Brock loaded a dental chair on the back of a pickup truck and brought in a dentist as well — and 150 people lined up, desperate for oral care. The result is that while it continues some international work, Remote Area Medical also treats people in the world’s superpower.

Brock is a character: He discovered a species of bat that is named for him, and today he has no home but unrolls a pad each evening and sleeps on the floor of Remote Area Medical’s permanent offices in Tennessee. At 5 a.m. on the first day here, Brock opened the gate and began admitting people eager for care.

As they surged past, many stopped to thank him; one man had tears in his eyes as he did so.

“I wish Mr. Trump would come,” Brock told me. “The health of these people is appalling.”

Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid have helped, but this health fair underscores glaring gaps in American coverage, especially for dental and vision care, in ways that affect us all.

In the vision tent, a patient couldn’t see even the biggest letter at the top of the eye chart. As he waited for glasses, a volunteer asked, “And how did you get here?”

“Oh, I drove.”

Jennifer Jolliffee, a volunteer, told of a 6-year-old boy who had behavioral problems, couldn’t read and struggled at school. Then he had his first vision screening, and his parents learned that he could barely see. Soon he was looking around in wonderment through glasses.

In another area of the fairground, doctors saw patients in private “rooms” created by sheets dangled from strings with clothespins. In one such room, Dr. Ross Isaacs saw William Powers, a former bulldozer operator with severe kidney problems, and outlined how Powers could maximize his chances of a kidney transplant. “I’ve got hope again,” Powers told me as he left.

As for Dr. Isaacs, he put it this way: “The success of this event is an indictment of our health care system.”

And I wonder how many of the people treated there voted for Trump, because of “economic anxiety.”  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Pick your favorite irony:

1) Donald Trump turns out to be terrible at firing people.

2) The White House celebrates its “American Heroes Week” by banning transgender volunteers from serving in the military.

3) Thanks to the president’s harangues, we are actually starting to feel sympathy for Jeff Sessions.

I can definitely understand if you want to pick No. 2, especially since Trump just finished observing “Made in America Week” with an application to hire 70 foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago.

But let’s talk for a minute about the way our president gets rid of unwanted members of his administration. It’s a monument to passive-aggressive ineptitude. With Sessions, Trump has been broadcasting his displeasure to the world for more than a week without making the obvious follow-through.

And this was the guy who made “You’re fired!” his calling card. Clearly, he brought a lot of fiction to reality TV. Clay Aiken, a onetime contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” recently told an interviewer that Trump actually “didn’t decide who got fired on ‘Apprentice,’” and had to be fed his lines by producers.

Not exactly a shock, but watching the president in action over recent weeks, you have to wonder how he’d have functioned if he ran that show without prompting.

On Sunday, “Celebrity Apprentice” promises “fireworks” when Donald Trump tells other people he has no confidence in Rhoda, the beleaguered fashion model and ferret breeder. It will be the seventh week in which the real estate superstar has said unpleasant things about Rhoda to her friends, family and American viewers. Tension rises as contestants wait to see if their mentor will continue his strategy or send a bodyguard to deliver the bad news to Rhoda in person.

Trump’s attempts to drive Sessions out of office without actually confronting him began last week with his famous New York Times interview and then escalated through press conferences and the social media (“VERY weak”). In one tweet Trump referred to Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.” Now “beleaguered” means under attack, and this was sort of like taking a jackhammer to the street in front of your house and then complaining to the city about potholes.

On another occasion Trump said he was “disappointed” in Sessions. This was during a press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in which the president took a few questions after praising Hariri for being “on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.” Carping minds noted that Hariri actually has a power-sharing arrangement with Hezbollah, which controls most of the people in his cabinet. But if you wanted a president who was going to split hairs, you should have voted for somebody else.

O.K., I know, I know.

Trump appears completely unaware that he’s beginning to look like the worst terminator in history. Introducing Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, at an event this week, the president jovially said that Price had better get the health care bill passed through Congress, “otherwise, I’ll say: ‘Tom, you’re fired.’ I’ll get somebody.”

This was at that Boy Scouts jamboree when Trump did such a great job of impersonating your Uncle Fred Who Gets Drunk at Family Dinners. How many of you think the Boy Scouts have been yearning for the day when the president would come to their big event, tell the teens that their federal government is a “sewer,” recount a long and incoherent story about a real estate developer who went off to make whoopee on his yacht, and brag incessantly about having won the election? On the plus side, Trump did not misrepresent the Scout position on Hezbollah.

Trump has been complaining a lot about Sessions’s lack of loyalty, which might have confused people who remembered that Sessions was the first senator to endorse his presidential campaign, back in February of 2016. You’d think that standing up to fellow Republicans who regarded Trump as a dangerous lunatic should have merited a little bit of long-run gratitude.

Trump cleared all that up, however, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal where he explained that Sessions’s endorsement was “not like a great loyal thing,” but merely an insignificant politician trying to feed off his star power and crowd-drawing charisma. (“He was a senator from Alabama. … He looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me.”)

Now Trump wants Sessions gone so he can replace him with an attorney general who will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions can’t do it because he recused himself from all things Russia-related.

Mueller’s probe into the Trump camp’s relationship with Russia terrifies the president, especially if it involves an investigation of Trump family finances. So obviously, we are rooting for Sessions to stay right where he is … and, um, keep persecuting immigrants, ratchet up imprisonments for nonviolent crimes and maybe go back to his old dream of imposing the death penalty on marijuana dealers.

Well, I told you this was about irony.

Blow and Krugman

July 24, 2017

In “The Kook, ‘the Mooch’ and the Loot” Mr. Blow says the communications problem in this administration is that no one cares about the truth.  Prof. Krugman tells us “Health Care Is Still in Danger” and that the cruelty remains, and the lies just keep coming.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Friday, a “president” with no political experience brought on a communications director with no communications experience.

Trump tapped Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street snake investment huckster, to be the new communications director, a move that caused Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who The New York Times reported“vehemently disagreed with the appointment,” to resign.

So, let me get this straight: Spicer was just fine with regularly walking out to that podium to spew and spin Trump’s lies, but hiring “the Mooch,” as Scaramucci is known, was the back-breaker? O.K., whatever, Sean.

This illustrates best what is wrong with this communications shop, and by extension, this administration: No one is concerned with the truth; they are only concerned with their own trajectories.

Nothing about this White House communications department was ever about communicating. On the contrary, it has always been about deception, concealment and equivocation. Informing the public was never the mission. Flattering Trump was the mission. But in the end, Trump will never be satisfied, because successful communications for him is to get people to buy his pack of lies, and that isn’t really working the way it once did.

Nothing will change with jthe arrival of the Mooch Communications Office because nothing has changed about the kook in the Oval Office. (Some may find that descriptor harsh, but I find no appellation too coarse to express my outrage over Trump’s character, behavior and agenda. If anything, no word feels grave enough to properly express it.)

Trump is suffering horrendous approval ratings, an impotent legislative agenda and his irrepressible impulse to shove his foot in his mouth. There is no real way to better package this disaster.

For that reason, I found this shake-up far less interesting than the developments last week about the inexorably advancing Russia investigation.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not interested in palace intrigue; I’m interested in the increasing possibility of prison and maybe even impeachment.

Think about all that happened last week: Donald Trump Jr. and the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were invited to testify in open session before the Senate Judiciary Committee about that shady meeting they had in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. And Trump gave an astoundingly bizarre interview to The New York Times in which he publicly slammed his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and drew a “red line,” warning that Mueller should not investigate the Trump family’s business dealings.

Reuters reported: “The Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. after his father won the Republican nomination for the 2016 U.S. presidential election counted Russia’s F.S.B. security service among her clients for years, Russian court documents seen by Reuters show.”

The Times also reported: “Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly.”

The Times report continued: “Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”

Not only did NBC report that “Marc Kasowitz is no longer leading the president’s group of private lawyers,” Politico reported that Mark Corallo, spokesman for the Trump legal team, resigned because he “was concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters.”

If people on Trump’s legal payroll are worried that they aren’t being told the truth, how worried should the rest of us be? Very, I would venture.

Then there was the Washington Post report: “Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut” Mueller’s Russia investigation, “building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.”

The Post continued: “Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people.”

I understand the press giving a lot of attention to the drama of changing press people, but that doesn’t even register against the import of what’s happening on the Russia investigation front.

All those things that have never made sense — Trump’s warm-and-fuzzies for Vladimir Putin, the mass amnesia about meetings with Russians by people connected to the Trump campaign, Trump’s prickly protectiveness about releasing financial details and documents, including his tax returns — must be made to make sense.

Mueller will not be threatened, the investigation will not be closed or constricted and the truth will be known. Incriminating personal communications are often hard to find, but financial records are often also kept by third parties and tell their own story.

As they say, follow the money.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will Senate Republicans try to destroy health care under cover of a constitutional crisis? That’s a serious question, based in part on what happened in the House earlier this year.

As you may remember, back in March attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act seemed dead after the Congressional Budget Office released a devastating assessment, concluding that the House Republican bill would lead to 23 million more uninsured Americans. Faced with intense media scrutiny and an outpouring of public opposition, House leaders pulled their bill, and the debate seemed over.

But then media attention moved on to presidential tweets and other outrages — and with the spotlight off, House leaders bullied and bribed enough holdouts to narrowly pass a bill after all.

Could something similar happen in the Senate? A few days ago the Senate’s equally awful version of repeal and replace — which the C.B.O. says would leave an extra 22 million people uninsured — seemed dead. And media attention has visibly shifted off the subject, focusing on juicier topics like the Russia-Trump story.

This shift in focus is understandable. After all, there is growing evidence that members of the Trump inner circle did indeed collude with Russia during the election; meanwhile, Trump’s statements and tweets strongly suggest that he’s willing both to abuse his pardon power and to fire Robert Mueller, provoking a constitutional crisis, rather than allow investigation into this scandal to proceed.

But while these developments dominate the news, neither Mitch McConnell nor the White House have given up on their efforts to deprive millions of health care. In fact, on Saturday the tweeter-in-chief, once again breaking long-established rules of decorum, called on the audience at a military ceremony, the commissioning of a new aircraft carrier, to pressure the Senate to pass that bill.

This has many people I know worried that we may see a repeat of what happened in the spring: with the media spotlight shining elsewhere, the usual suspects may ram a horrible bill through. And the House would quickly pass whatever the Senate comes up with. So this is actually a moment of great risk.

One particular concern is that the latest round of falsehoods about health care, combined with the defamation of the C.B.O., may be gaining some political traction.

At this point the more or less official G.O.P. line is that the budget office — whose director, by the way, was picked by the Republicans themselves — can’t be trusted. (This attack provoked an open letter of protest signed by every former C.B.O. director, Republicans and Democrats alike.) In particular, the claim is that its prediction of huge losses in coverage is outlandish, and that to the extent that fewer people would be covered, it would be due to their voluntary choices.

In reality, those C.B.O. predictions of coverage losses are totally reasonable, given the Senate bill’s drastic cuts to Medicaid — 26 percent by 2026, and even deeper in the next decade. You have to wonder how someone like Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia could even consider supporting this bill, when 34 percent of her nonelderly constituents are on Medicaid. The same goes for Jeff Flake of Arizona, where the corresponding number is 29 percent.

And on those claims that it’s O.K. if people drop coverage, because that would be their own choice: It’s crucial to realize that the Senate bill would degrade the quality of subsidized private insurance, leading to a huge rise in deductibles.

Current law provides enough in subsidies that an individual with an income of $26,500 can afford a plan covering 70 percent of medical expenses, which, the C.B.O. estimates, implies an $800 deductible. The Senate bill reduces that standard of coverage to 58 percent, which would raise the implied deductible to $13,000, making the insurance effectively useless. Would deciding not to buy that useless insurance really be a “choice”?

By the way, remember when Republicans like Paul Ryan used to denounce Obamacare because the insurance policies it offered had high deductibles? It’s hypocrisy all the way down.

In short, the Senate bill is every bit as cruel and grotesque as its critics say. But we need to keep reminding wavering senators and their constituents of that fact, lest they be snowed by a blizzard of lies.

I’m not saying that everyone should ignore Trump-Putin-treason and all its ramifications: Clearly, the fate of our democracy is on the line. But we mustn’t let this mother of all scandals take up all our mental bandwidth: Health care for millions is also on the line.

And while ordinary citizens can’t yet do much about the looming constitutional crisis, their calls, letters, and protests can still make all the difference on health care. Don’t let the bad guys in the Senate do terrible things because you weren’t paying attention!

Blow and Kristof

July 20, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy,” and there is a profound but predictable obstacle blocking Trump’s legislative agenda: His own incompetence.  In “If Dr. Trump Were Your Surgeon…” Mr. Kristof has come up with a nightmare scenario:  Imagine Republican leaders were in charge of your medical care.  Well, Nick, if you’re a woman they’re already meddling…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have finally found something about Donald Trump’s arrogation of the presidency in which to take comfort: his absolute ineptitude at legislative advancement.

The country may well be saved from some of Trump’s most draconian impulses by some of Trump’s most pronounced flaws: his lack of seriousness, his aversion to tedium and his gnat-like attention span.

The embarrassing faltering of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act might be both history lesson and harbinger. Republicans in Congress weren’t prepared with a workable plan, and Trump never had any plan. He campaigned on applause-line policies: Anything that roused a response from his rabid adherents, he repeated and amplified. He never gave details because the details didn’t exist, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand and articulate them if they did.

Trump was simply a megaphone for the primal screams of Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton haters flipping out over the cultural anxiety accompanying the ascension of women and minorities.

He helped people find the language and the platform to disguise racial worry as economic worry. He helped people who inherently, in many cases maybe even subconsciously, loathe women, at least when they aspire to equality or power, to loathe Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to more power.

Trump has a habit of keeping company and confidence with the racially offensive. The fact that Steve Bannon is his chief strategist and has an office in the White House should be proof enough.

But there are other examples. Notably, last summer Trump claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a racial slur to refer to Barack Obama, but just seconds later Trump was hoping that Putin would like him. Trump said:

“I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? … He has a total lack of respect for President Obama. No. 1, he doesn’t like him and No. 2, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected and I hope he likes me.”

Now of course this could all be a lie. Our president lies the way other people breathe — with a complete absence of effort. But true or false, it is a curious story to relay. The president claimed that he was “shocked” at the racial epithet, but not too shocked to abandon a desire for Putin’s favor. If you don’t unequivocally reject intolerance, you are passively — and in some cases, actively — encouraging it.

(Also, I thought Trump said he never met Putin. Oh, well …)

Anyway, this kind of base, dog-whistle anger-aggregation was the Trump campaign specialty, and it — in addition to Russia’s assistance, voter suppression and some folks’ heritage panic — propelled Trump to victory.

But now that Trump is in office, the real work of governing begins — not just the flash of rallies, the ovations of the obsequious, the thrilling one-liners. He now has to both focus on the big picture and fuss over the fine detail.

This is simply beyond him. For simpletons, things must be made simple. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green, author of the new book “Devil’s Bargain,” told Anderson Cooper that building a border wall was just a framing device used by his advisers to get him to remember to discuss immigration.

According to Green:

“It’s one of Trump’s greatest hits but it wasn’t Trump’s idea. Two of his staffers, Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, came up with it as a device to keep Trump, whose attention famously wanders, focused on the issue of immigration reform because they thought that was so important. So, Trump tried it out at a speech in Iowa, the crowd responded.”

Imagine that: We now have a “president” so incapable of linear thought that his own advisers had to give him a four-letter word to remind him of one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

It is possible that part of the reason Trump never developed many of his policies was because neither he nor anyone else thought in a million years that he would win. But another explanation is that Trump simply lacks the capacity for complex thought.

He is an instinctual creature, living on a steady diet of TV, Twitter and turpitude. There is no appetite for the intellectual. There is no desire for depth. There is no tolerance for truth.

Trump’s defect may be America’s defense.

Sure, there is much damage that Trump can do both domestically and abroad to diminish this country and its people. He has already said that he is willing to let Obamacare collapse because his policy impotence failed to score political victory. Yes, folks, we have traded “the buck stops here” leadership for Trump’s “I’m not going to own it” cowardice. (On Wednesday, at a lunch with Republican senators, Trump boomeranged back to his original insistence that lawmakers must pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Go figure.)

Trump is a cold shadow of the president Obama was.

Comforts are hard to come by in the age of Trump, but I believe that we can take some small solace in the fact that the man is simply too intellectually deficient, in both practice and policy, to impose all of the heartless directives his campaign rhetoric threatened.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

It’s a dark and stormy night, and the hospital corridor is eerily illuminated by lightning flashes as Dr. Trump and Dr. McConnell enter a patient’s room and approach the bed of a young woman, Janet.

“We have the best health care plan ever for you!” Dr. Trump says exultantly, to a thunderclap outside. “Tremendous! I’m the best! I take care of everybody.” He uses his stethoscope to listen to Janet’s heart, and frowns slightly.

“Er, doctor?” Janet says. “I think my heart is on my left side, not the right.”

“Let me double-check,” Dr. Trump replies, and he hurriedly moves the stethoscope over. “Who knew health could be so complicated?”

He looks into Janet’s eyes, holds her hand in his own, and says in a silky voice, “Beautiful Janet, you’re in such great shape.”

Janet, creeped out by the doctor’s inappropriate bedside manner, pulls back her hand and tightens her gown around her neck. Dr. Trump doesn’t notice and continues: “Your heart is a disaster. You need a new one, and that’s why we suggest a transplant. We don’t happen to have a replacement ready for you, but never mind.

“Normally we do ‘remove and replace,’” Dr. Trump adds. “But in this case, if we can’t settle on a replacement, we’ll just do a flat removal. Nothing to worry about. Huge benefits. Huge!”

Dr. McConnell tries to smile reassuringly, but succeeds only in looking constipated. “Once your heart is out,” he explains, “there’ll be new urgency to solve the problem.”

Janet’s eyes have grown wide, so Dr. McConnell attempts reassurance: “Anyway, I’ve never found a heart necessary.”

Janet bites her lip. “You know, you’re the only doctors who ever said my heart had to come out,” she says. “My previous cardiologist, Dr. Obama, tweaked my diet and medications, and it was ticking along fine.”

“NO, it’s a disaster!” Dr. Trump bellows. “That Obama — it’s all his fault. Don’t listen to any other doctors!”

“I just want to be informed,” she says softly.

“Horrible idea!” Dr. Trump says, and then he pats his pockets down. “What did I do with my phone? I have a thought for a great tweet: ‘A closed mind is a terrible thing to waste.’ I know I had my phone during my last surgery, because I tweeted, and then I set the phone down — oh, no! I bet I left it ——”

“In the operating room?” Janet asks.

“In the patient.”

Janet gulps, and her anxiety increases as a peal of thunder is followed by a shrill alarm sounding from a patient’s room somewhere down the corridor. Very politely, she explains that maybe she doesn’t want surgery after all.

“Fine!” replies Dr. Trump. “Go ahead and die. Your heart is failing. It’s a disaster. And it’s all their fault.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s the Democrats,” Dr. Trump says, and a flash of lightning captures his eyes rolling crazily. “We may be running the hospital, but they’re to blame.”

“Don’t you have any other patients you need to see?” she asks. “And maybe you should put that scalpel down?”

“Don’t you see?” Dr. Trump says, as a thunderclap shakes the hospital. “You’re going to die anyway. All Obama’s patients are dying. I’ve always said, let the patient fail.”

“But I’m not failing,” Janet replies firmly. “I’m fine. Just a little nervous watching you with that scalpel.”

Dr. Trump shakes his head. “No, you’re imploding,” he insists. “I can see it. You’re self-destructing.”

“Help!” Janet calls out. “I can’t breathe.”

Dr. McConnell looks sadly at Dr. Trump. “I knew this would happen. But maybe it’s time to move on so we can work on our hospital tax plan? You know, if we just make the medical assistants and custodians pay a surcharge, we can give a break to surgeons. The result will be a leap in innovation that will benefit everybody.”

“Help!” Janet cries weakly.

Dr. Trump looks down at her and shakes his head as she lies gasping. “So sad but inevitable,” he says. “She was bound to implode. Always going to fail. That’s what happens when you get a Kenyan-born doctor. The patient dies on her own.”

“But, but,” Janet tries to speak, “the problem is that you’re stepping on my oxygen hose. You’re the problem.”

Dr. Trump steps more firmly on the hose. “Poor Janet is imploding right in front of us. Democrats created the mess. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it.” He checks for a pulse, finds none, and doesn’t realize he’s checking in the wrong spot. “O.K., Dr. McConnell, I’m just going to FaceTime my buddy Vladimir, and then on to the tax plan?”

“Take my heart,” Janet moans in her last breath, and a thunderclap drowns out her death rattle. “You need it.”

Blow and Krugman

July 17, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Savagely Mauls the Language,” and that listening to the president speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision.  Prof. Krugman, in “Republicans Leap Into the Awful Known,” says the terrible truth about their health plans isn’t debatable.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I know that there are things of graver consequence in Donald Trump’s regime than his diction, but as a person whose vocation concerns him with language, I am simply appalled by Trump’s savage mauling of that language.

His usage isn’t only idiosyncratic or some act of bungling idiocy, although it is surely both. But his usage is also a way of reducing language to the point that it is meaningless because the use of it is mindless, and in that compromised state, language becomes nearly worthless. As a consequence, truth becomes relative, if not altogether removed.

You see, Trump’s abuse of language isn’t simply a thing to blithely mock.

It is something with which we must all take great umbrage, because it has the power to degrade truth itself.

Yes, I could focus on the disastrous and callous Republican health care bill inching closer to a vote in the Senate.

Yes, I could use my energy and column inches to continue to catalog the thickening intrigue of the Russia investigation, and in particular, thegrowing number of people in the meeting where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer.

The revelations keep coming, although Trump Jr., in an exchange with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, promised that what we knew at that time was “everything” there was to know. Either there is a new definition of “everything” of which I’m unaware, or Trump Jr. is doing what the Trumps do: lie until there is no alternative but to tell the truth, and even then only reveal as much truth as circumstances compel.

Trying to draw the truth out of these people is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip — impossible.

I would submit that the Trumps lie in two ways: first, by directly and intentionally saying things they know well aren’t true, and second, by obfuscating with linguistic obtuseness, by overusing a nebulous relativism and by spouting an excess of superlatives to stand in for meaningful description and disclosure.

So, let’s take Trump’s responses during a press conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France last week. (By the way, that trip was marked by an embarrassingly pronounced inelegance by Trump, from the casual sexism of commenting on the French first lady’s bodyto the awkwardtestosterone-measuring handshakes.)

Trump has several verbal tics. One is that when he’s trying to flatter and finagle, everything is beautiful: countries, cities, people, bills, questions, even chocolate cake.

As The Washington Post pointed out last week:

“Beautiful” is one of President Trump’s favorite words. He’s used it at least 1,500 times on Twitter and in speeches since he began running for office, according to the database at Factbase. He uses it indiscriminately, the way a teenager might use ‘cool.’”

It is a device rather than a descriptor.

There was more: During the press conference with Macron, Trump twice referred to the 39-year-old Trump Jr. (who is the same age as the Macron, by the way) as a “young man.” That’s a stretch, but one used to make the Mini-Monster sound more innocent than his emails suggest he is.

At one point, Trump exclaimed: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” Actually, everyone who was awake in history class and reads books knows that. Alas, “a lot” is a relative term. More importantly, this is, I believe, projection, one of Trump’s compulsive traits. What he is guilty of is exactly what he accuses others of being guilty of. I would wager that Trump didn’t know that France was our oldest ally until preparing for this trip.

Trump complains endlessly about the media using anonymous sources, but Trump himself is addicted to anonymous sourcing, as demonstrated during the press conference. Trump discussed the Russian lawyer who met with his son:

“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”

Who is “somebody”? Why are you repeating something at an official press conference with another head of state in another country that you freely admit may be wrong? And if you admit that it may be wrong, how can you state declaratively that “she was here because of Lynch”?

Trump also seemed to crack the door on revisiting his hugely reckless withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, but then added, “But we will talk about that over the coming period of time.” What does that mean? It means nothing, is what it means. It means, “I’m saying things amenable to the French while I’m in France because I’m like a chameleon: a lizard who can adjust his appearance for his environment.” That “coming period of time” will never come.

Listening to Trump speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision. It’s as if he puts language through a meat grinder and what emerges is nearly unrecognizable, in either comprehension or certitude.

Covfefe.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Sometime in the next few days the Congressional Budget Office will release its analysis of the latest version of the Republican health care plan. Senator Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to prevent a full assessment, for example by trying to keep the C.B.O. from scoring the Cruz provision, which would let insurers discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, everyone expects a grim prognosis.

As a result, White House aides are already attacking the C.B.O.’s credibility, announcing in advance that whatever it says will be “fake news.” So why should we believe the budget office, not the Trump administration? Let me count the ways.

First, this White House already has a record of constant, blatant lying about health care that is, as far as I can tell, without precedent in modern history. Just a few days ago, for example, Vice President Mike Pence made the completely false assertion that Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid led to a cutback in aid for the disabled — a lie that the state’s government had already refuted. On Sunday, Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, claimed that the Senate bill would cover more people than current law — another blatant lie. (You can’t cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid and insurance subsidies and expect coverage to grow!)

The point is that on this issue (and others, of course), the Trump administration and its allies have negative credibility: If they say something, the default assumption should be that they’re lying.

Second, the C.B.O. is hardly alone in its negative assessments of Republican health care plans. In fact, just about every group with knowledge of the issue has reached similar conclusions. In a joint letter, the two major insurance industry trade groups blasted the Cruz provision as “simply unworkable.” The American Academy of Actuaries says basically the same thing. AARP has condemned the bill, as has the American Medical Association.

Third, contrary to White House disinformation, the C.B.O. actually did a pretty good job of predicting the effects of the Affordable Care Act, especially when you bear in mind that the act was a leap into the unknown: We had very little experience of how an A.C.A.-type system would work.

True, the C.B.O. overestimated the number of people who would buy insurance on the exchanges the act created; but that was partly because it overestimated the number of employers who would drop coverage and send their workers to those exchanges. Overall gains in coverage have been reasonably well in line with what the C.B.O. projected — especially in states that expanded Medicaid and did their best to make the law work.

Finally — and this seems to me to be the most compelling argument of all — predicting the effects of destroying the A.C.A. is much easier than predicting the consequences when it was enacted, because what the Senate bill would do, pretty much, is return us to the bad old days. Or to put it another way, what McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz are selling is a giant leap into the known, taking us back to a system whose flaws are all too familiar from recent experience.

After all, before Obamacare, most states had more or less unregulated insurance markets, similar to those the Senate bill would create. Many of these states also had skimpy, underfunded Medicaid programs, which would be the effect of the bill’s brutal Medicaid cuts.

So while careful, nonpartisan modeling, the kind the C.B.O. excels in, is important, you don’t need a detailed analysis to know what American health care would look like if this bill passes. Basically, it would look like pre-A.C.A. Texas, where 26 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured.

And lack of insurance wouldn’t be the only problem: Many people would have “junk insurance” — insurance with deductibles so large or coverage limitations so extensive as to be effectively useless when needed.

Now, some people might be satisfied with that outcome. Hard-core libertarians, for example, don’t believe making health care available to those who need it is a legitimate role of government; letting some citizens go bankrupt and/or die if they get sick is the price of freedom as they define it.

But Republicans have never made that case. Instead, at every stage of this political fight they have claimed to be doing exactly the opposite of what they’re actually doing: covering more people, making health care cheaper, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill spin here; we’re talking about black is white, up is down, dishonesty so raw it’s practically surreal. This isn’t just an assault on health care, it’s an assault on truth itself.

Will this vileness prevail? Your guess is as good as mine about whether Mitch McConnell will hold on to the 50 senators he needs. But the mere possibility that this much cruelty, wrapped in this much fraudulence, might pass is a horrifying indictment of his party.

And you can bet your last dime that when the shit hits the fan with this thing the Democrats will be blamed.  It’s how the Republicans and their base (which is truly base) roll.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

July 13, 2017

In “Scions and Scoundrels” Mr. Blow says Donald Trump’s corruption is a family affair.  Mr. Kristof says “All Roads Now Lead to Kushner” and that the president’s son-in-law has lots of explaining to do.  Ms. Collins has created “A Donald, Jr. Cheat Sheet” for us, and has questions: Who is Worst Trump Child? Will the family stick together? Is Emin a good singer?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

What befalls a country riven by a dynasty of deception and disrepute? What comes of a country being forced by its puerile “president” to retreat from its world leadership, set to a soundtrack of world mockery? What to make of an enterprise of corruption that Trump calls a family when they abandon any semblance of propriety and all things we once found appropriate?

The America that I know and love is hanging by a thread, and Trump’s scandalous camarilla is playing with the shears.

The latest shoe to drop is that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort (campaign chairman at the time) met last summer in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer because, according to emails released by Trump Jr., he was told that he would receive dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father.

Trump Jr.’s response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is clear evidence of collusion and pushing disturbingly close to the possibility of other crimes including treason, although not quite there yet, from what is publicly known at this point.

This may well be the clearest link so far between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but it is far from the first act of misconduct. The entire Trump political era has been an extended exercise in misconduct.

Trump is president by a combination of the most despicable factors: a Russian cyberattack, voter suppression, racial anxiety and rampant sexism. People will struggle to explain it in other terms, and some will do so with dazzling language that apes the tone and tenor of intellectualism, but at its base an explanation that ignores those factors is a lie. It is a lie that covers a cyst. It is a lie that shields a sickness. It is a lie that excuses the inexcusable.

Donald Trump is president because a multiethnic, forward-thinking coalition twice elected a black man president and in so doing sent pulsing waves of fear down the spine of the traditional power structure in America. Barack Obama represented a fast-approaching future in which whiteness is not synonymous with power, in which power is more widely shared.

Therein lies an inherent insecurity, if you held a legacy claim to security simply by accident of birth and a systematic oppression of people who would compete with you for that security.

Donald Trump is president because American sexism, misogyny and patriarchy know no bounds. All politicians have flaws; Clinton had flaws. I could fill this column enumerating them. But as Bernie Sanders was fond of saying during the campaign, “On her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

On Trump’s best day, he was worse than the other Republican candidates. And yet, he won the nomination, and that man — the worst of the worst — beat a woman who had more qualifications on the first page of her résumé than he could ever have achieved in his whole pathetic life.

And now that man and his spawn — born into nefariousness and groomed by nepotism — are waging an all-out war on the country he is supposed to lead.

Trump has attacked every traditional institution in this country, from the judiciary to the press. But possibly the most dangerous and destructive has been his assault on the truth itself.

After Trump Jr. hid the meeting with the Russian lawyer, then acknowledged it, then had a rolling list of lies about the purpose of it, then was forced to release emails about the meeting that proved not only him but the entire Trump camp to be liars, he gave an interview to the Trumps’ favorite state propaganda machine, Fox News. His father chimed in on Twitter:

“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

Everything in that tweet is not only a lie, but it is in diametrical opposition to the truth. But that is Trump’s tactic: Don’t shade the truth with a little lie; destroy the truth with an enormous lie. Consider the truth and then say the exact opposite is true. It is so disconcerting that it must be entertained and investigated because it is so foreign to honest people.

Trump Jr. wasn’t “open, transparent and innocent.” He is devious, knavish and guilty as sin.

I say that we must learn to discard as dishonest everything emanating from this White House. If it’s not a lie (and it often is), it’s a diversion.

Yes, listen to his speeches and read his tweets. Being an informed, engaged citizen demands that you remain aware of what the country’s so-called leader is thinking and doing.

But then shunt it aside. It’s all garbage and a waste of mental bandwidth. You only have to remember this: These people are not to be trusted. Their greatest interest is in their own enrichment. They believe that they exist in a space above the law and outside the rules.

Run everything that you hear from the White House through this filter: The “presidency” is a blasphemy and Trump is not only a disgrace but also an assault on the culture and the country.

And take comfort in this eternal truth: For all things, there comes an end.

Not soon enough, not soon enough…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For a year, the refrain from the Trump camp has been a defiant mix of “Lock her up,” “but the emails” and “fake news.”

Now it turns out that what was fake wasn’t the news but the Trump denials, that the truly scandalous emails were in the Trumps’ own servers and that the person who may have committed a felony is actually Donald J. Trump Jr.

The writer Stephen King put it this way: “The news is real. The president is fake.”

The question is where this goes next. I suggest two directions.

First, look beyond Donald Trump Jr. to Jared Kushner and to President Trump himself.

Second, explore how Trump Jr.’s attempt at collusion with Russians may relate to the bizarre effort by Kushner to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin.

To back up, just in case you’ve been stuck on a desert island, here’s what you missed this week. Donald J. Trump Jr. received an email in June 2016, eight days after his father clinched the Republican nomination for president, that said the Kremlin had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. … This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.

Trump Jr. didn’t call the F.B.I.; instead, he responded, “I love it.” He apparently arranged a phone call to discuss the material (we don’t know that the call happened or, if it did, its content), and then set up a meeting for him, Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a person described in the emails as a “Russian government attorney.”

In other words, informed of a secret Kremlin effort to use highly sensitive information about a former secretary of state (presumably obtained by espionage, for how else?) to manipulate an American election, Trump Jr. signaled, “We’re in!”

“This was an attempt at collusion,” noted Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It may or may not have amounted to a felony, for soliciting a foreigner to contribute something “of value” in connection with an American election. The Predict-It betting website now lists gambling odds about whether Trump Jr. will be indicted.

The Trumps’ defense is that the meeting was a “nothingburger” with no follow-up. That would be more compelling if the Trumps hadn’t previously denied at least 20 timesthat such a meeting had ever taken place. Their credibility is in tatters.

Crucially, this is bigger than Donald Trump Jr.

The Trumps insist that the president himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.

Then there’s Kushner. Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Kushner, whose response was to attend the meeting, although he apparently left within 10 minutes. Kushner later neglected to report the meeting and others with Russians on his SF-86 forms to receive national security clearance (intentional omission is a felony).

The meeting gave the Kremlin potential blackmail material against the Trumps, and thus possibly leverage over them.

In addition, McClatchy reports that investigators in Congress and the Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.

Then there was the extraordinary initiative by Kushner in the transition period to set up the secret communications channel. There’s no indication that the channel was actually established, and the assumption has been that the communications would have required visits to Russian consulates — which would be bizarre.

But Barton Gellman, a careful national security writer, has another theory. He notes that James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.

Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.

One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.

Not gonna happen.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Nobody can talk about anything but Donald Trump Jr. and his Kremlin connections. You probably have some questions. Fire away.

If Donald Jr. got convicted of a crime, do you think his father would pardon him?

When the latest story about adventures with the Russians first appeared, the president did seem uncharacteristically reserved. He announced, through a spokeswoman, that his son “is a high-quality person,” which sounded as though Junior was a washer-dryer on sale at the mall.

It made you wonder if Dad was trying to distance himself a bit. However, Trump finally took to Twitter and announced: “This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” That sounded much more sympathetic, unless you want to note that the finale of most witch hunts is not executive clemency.

Who do you think is Worst Trump Child?

Junior has certainly rocketed into the lead. Although frankly, if the president is playing Godfather in this particular drama, all the grown sons are Fredo.

That includes son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was in on the meeting with that Russian attorney who was supposed to be bearing dirt on Hillary Clinton. Which Kushner neglected to mention on disclosure forms he filled out when he went to work at the White House. As senior adviser on Middle East peace, reorganizing government, combating drug abuse, China and Mexico.

Eric gets credit for keeping a low profile. Really, he hasn’t said anything very strange since he compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing. Except for the time he said nepotism was “a beautiful thing.”

So is the family going to stick together?

The Trumps are acquiring different lawyers now, and cynics might presume that eventually somebody’s going to turn on somebody. If so, my money’s on Jared.

What about Mike Pence?

The vice president, a spokesman said crisply, “is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.” If Trump originally sounded a bit cool, Pence was Antarctica, pre-global warming.

Who really set up the meeting between Junior and that Kremlin-connected lawyer — the pop singer from Russia or the British P.R. guy who keeps posting pictures of himself in funny hats?

We do like that P.R. guy, Rob Goldstone, who also announced on Facebook when he checked into Trump Tower for the secret meeting. But Emin Agalarov, the singer, seems to be the central figure. His father, Aras, is a billionaire oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. He met the Trumps when the Agalarovs paid almost $20 million to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.

Emin is also the executive vice president of his dad’s business, allegedly in charge of the malls and restaurants. You can see how he and Junior would bond.

Is Emin a good singer?

His website says that his “rock star good looks” have made him “a household name in Russia.” It also brags that he was “the first person ever to persuade Donald Trump to appear in a music video.” That was during the Miss Universe pageant, which seems slated to become the most politically important entertainment event since Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

“EMIN was WOW!” Trump tweeted after the singer performed at the pageant. The woman who was Miss Australia told The Financial Times recently that he was terrible. (“Us girls all knew he had zero talent.”)

So somewhere in between those two things.

Junior certainly appears to have agreed to accept political help from a close connection of the Russian government. Is there any possible explanation that doesn’t involve collusion?

Well, the Trump family apparently had a deal with the Agalarov family to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow. It was put on hold when Donald ran for president. But it’s possible that Junior was trying to keep Emin happy because he was hoping to eventually get the plan back on track.

So you could certainly argue that the president’s son was only pretending he was working with a foreign power trying to manipulate the results of the American election. When his real motives were just making a profit off the presidency. Be fair.

What ever happened to the other Russian all the Trump people were talking to during the campaign — the jolly ambassador?

Ah, Sergey Kislyak. Great guy for a party. So much fun that national security adviser Michael Flynn couldn’t stop chatting him up. So easy to be with that Jeff Sessions didn’t even remember they’d met.

He’s going home. The Russians are reportedly replacing him with a guy who helped plan an invasion of Ukraine.

How are we supposed to feel about the way the Don Jr. crisis has brought the administration to a standstill?

If the question comes up at a party, feel free to choose one of the following responses:

A) Fine by me.

B) Is this going to require a discussion of that health care bill?

C) Damn, we’re never going to get an ambassador to Norway.

Blow and Krugman

July 10, 2017

In “Putin Meets His Progeny” Mr. Blow says Trump is full of lies and Putin is full of tricks. Who to believe?  The reasonable answer to that question is “None of them, Katie.”  Prof. Krugman says “Three Legs Good, No Legs Bad” and considers Obamacare versus the party of no ideas.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Team Trump wants us all to get over this annoying Russia thing and just move on. Sorry sir, not going to happen.

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man whose thumb was all over the scale that delivered Trump’s victory. It was like a father meeting his offspring. But was it their first meeting? Maybe, maybe not.

For years Trump claimed not only that he had met Putin, but also that the two men had a great relationship.

Then in July 2016 came the about-face. At a news conference, Trump said, “I never met Putin,” and “I don’t know who Putin is.” This, coincidentally, was the same news conference at which he encouraged Russia’s cyberattack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Thereafter, Trump would repeatedly deny meeting Putin or knowing him.

Clearly, Trump having a great relationship with Putin, and Trump not knowing Putin at all, cannot both be true.

I say this to remind you of something that you can never allow to become normal and never allow to become acceptable: Our “president” is a pathological liar. He lies about everything, all the time. Lying is his resting condition.

Therefore, absolutely nothing he or his team says is to be believed, ever.

With that in mind, we are told by Rex Tillerson, our secretary of state and the man upon whom Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship, that Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” and that Trump repeatedly “pressed” Putin on the issue, and of course Putin denied, again, Russian involvement.

The Russians say Trump accepted Putin’s denial, although the White House denied that account. Trump is full of lies and Putin is full of tricks. Who to believe?

Tillerson’s telling gives pause.

When asked if Trump spelled out consequences Russia would face for their attack on our election, Tillerson said Trump and Putin focused on “how do we move forward” because “it’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed-upon resolution of that question between the two nations.” At another point, Tillerson said Trump and Putin agreed to establish a working-level group “around the cyber issue and this issue of non-interference.”

This is also outrageous. I didn’t get the sense that Trump strongly asserted as fact that Russia attacked our elections or that Trump would seek to punish Russia. The readout tells the opposite story, one of Russia being let off the hook. And this whole business of setting up a cybersecurity working group with the Russians is like inviting the burglar to help you design your alarm system.

In a Twitter tirade Sunday morning, Trump wrote: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion. …”

But Trump’s opinion, as expressed the day before his meeting with Putin, was that the source of the attack was something of an open question. At a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, Trump said: “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries.”

This is a slap in the face to our intelligence community that has unanimously rendered their verdict: It was Russia!

Trump continued on Twitter: “…We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”

No, sir, this is not the time to “move forward” with Russia, but rather time to “move forward” against it.

Last week, CNN reported that “Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts in the U.S., according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who say they have noticed an increase since the election.”

CNN continued: “The officials say they believe one of the biggest U.S. adversaries feels emboldened by the lack of a significant retaliatory response from both the Trump and Obama administrations.”

And on Saturday, The New York Times reported on another undisclosed meeting between members of Trump’s campaign and people connected to the Kremlin, writing:

“Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.”

The Times continued: “The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” The Times pointed out that the meeting “is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign.”

America is under sustained, possibly even accelerated, attack by a foreign power, the same one that attacked our election, and Trump not only wavers on the source of the attack, but also refuses to condemn the culprit and in fact has a penchant for praising him. This whole thing stinks to high heaven, and we must press on until we uncover the source of the rot.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will 50 Republican senators be willing to inflict grievous harm on their constituents in the name of party loyalty? I have no idea.

But this seems like a good moment to review why Republicans can’t come up with a non-disastrous alternative to Obamacare. It’s not because they’re stupid (although they have become stunningly anti-intellectual). It’s because you can’t change any major element of the Affordable Care Act without destroying the whole thing.

Suppose you want to make health coverage available to everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions. Most of the health economists I know would love to see single-payer — Medicare for all. Realistically, however, that’s too heavy a lift for the time being.

For one thing, the insurance industry would not take kindly to being eliminated, and has a lot of clout. Also, a switch to single-payer would require a large tax increase. Most people would gain more from the elimination of insurance premiums than they would lose from the tax hike, but that would be a hard case to make in an election campaign.

Beyond that, most Americans under 65 are covered by their employers, and are reasonably happy with that coverage. They would understandably be nervous about any proposal to replace that coverage with something else, no matter how truthfully you assured them that the replacement would be better.

So the Affordable Care Act went for incrementalism — the so-called three-legged stool.

It starts by requiring that insurers offer the same plans, at the same prices, to everyone, regardless of medical history. This deals with the problem of pre-existing conditions. On its own, however, this would lead to a “death spiral”: healthy people would wait until they got sick to sign up, so those who did sign up would be relatively unhealthy, driving up premiums, which would in turn drive out more healthy people, and so on.

So insurance regulation has to be accompanied by the individual mandate, a requirement that people sign up for insurance, even if they’re currently healthy. And the insurance must meet minimum standards: Buying a cheap policy that barely covers anything is functionally the same as not buying insurance at all.

But what if people can’t afford insurance? The third leg of the stool is subsidies that limit the cost for those with lower incomes. For those with the lowest incomes, the subsidy is 100 percent, and takes the form of an expansion of Medicaid.

The key point is that all three legs of this stool are necessary. Take away any one of them, and the program can’t work.

But does it work even with all three legs? Yes.

To understand what’s happened with the A.C.A. so far, you need to realize that as written (and interpreted by the Supreme Court), the law’s functioning depends on lot on cooperation from state governments. And where states have in fact cooperated, expanding Medicaid, operating their own insurance exchanges, and promoting both enrollment and competition among insurers, it has worked pretty darn well.

Compare, for example, the experience of Kentucky and its neighbor Tennessee. In 2013, before full implementation of the A.C.A., Tennessee had slightly fewer uninsured, 13 percent versus 14 percent. But by 2015Kentucky, which implemented the law in full, had cut its uninsured rate to just 6 percent, while Tennessee was at 11.

Or consider the problem of counties with only one (or no) insurer, meaning no competition. As one recent study points out, this is almost entirely a red-state problem. In states with G.O.P. governors, 21 percent of the population lives in such counties; in Democratic-governor states, less than 2 percent.

So Obamacare is, though nobody will believe it, a well-thought-out law that works where states want it to work. It could and should be made to work better, but Republicans show no interest in making that happen. Instead, all their ideas involve sawing off one or more legs of that three-legged stool.

First, they’re dead set on repealing the individual mandate, which is unpopular with healthy people but essential to making the system work for those who need it.

Second, they’re determined to slash subsidies — including making savage cuts to Medicaid — in order to free up money that they can use to cut taxes on the wealthy. The result would be a drastic rise in net premiums for most families.

Finally, we’re now hearing a lot about the Cruz amendment, which would let insurers offer bare-bones plans with minimal coverage and high deductibles. These would be useless to people with pre-existing conditions, who would find themselves segregated into a high-cost market — effectively sawing off the third leg of the stool.

So which parts of their plan would Republicans have to abandon to avoid a huge rise in the number of uninsured? The answer is, all of them.

After all these years of denouncing Obamacare, then, Republicans have no idea how to do better. Or, actually, they have no ideas at all.

Blow and Krugman

July 3, 2017

In “The Hijacked American Presidency” Mr. Blow says a madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.  Prof. Krugman, in “Oh! What a Lovely Trade War!,” says hey, let’s do something stupid to please the base.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. Trump himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.

Last week, when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast. The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked. His tweet was just another pebble on a mountain of vulgarities. This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity. Trump was being Trump: the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency. We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump. His fate is their fate. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not. If Trump goes down, they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king. A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it. It is what it is and has been from day one: The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.

We must say without ceasing, and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged. We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance. We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced, in ways we cannot calculate, by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting power to which he may only have access because a foreign power hostile to our interests wanted him installed. We must remember that he has not only praised that foreign power, he has proven mysteriously averse to condemning it or even acknowledging its meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election — including a criminal investigation — and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news. These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing list of states publicly refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt.”

But in fact the commission itself is the political stunt. The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist. Trump simply lied when he said that he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes. And then he established this bogus commission — using taxpayer money — to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie that he should never have told.

This commission is classic Trump projection: There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is instead tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week, CNN reported:

“The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the president is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.”

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue. He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics. He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass. Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Donald Trump declared that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”? It was a rare moment of self-awareness for the tweeter-in-chief: He may, briefly, have realized that he had no idea what he was doing.

Actually, though, health care isn’t all that complicated. And Republican “reform” plans are brutally simple — with the emphasis on “brutally.”

Trump may be the only person in Washington who doesn’t grasp their essence: Take health insurance away from tens of millions so you can give the rich a tax cut.

Some policy subjects, on the other hand, really are complicated. One of these subjects is international trade. And the great danger here isn’t simply that Trump doesn’t understand the issues. Worse, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

According to the news site Axios, Trump, supported by his inner circle of America Firsters, is “hell-bent” on imposing punitive tariffs on imports of steel and possibly other products, despite opposition from most of his cabinet. After all, claims that other countries are taking advantage of America were a central theme of his campaign.

And Axios reports that the White House believes that Trump’s base “likes the idea” of a trade war, and “will love the fight.”

Yep, that’s a great way to make policy.

O.K., so what’s complicated about trade policy?

First, a lot of modern trade is in intermediate goods — stuff that is used to make other stuff. A tariff on steel helps steel producers, but it hurts downstream steel consumers like the auto industry. So even the direct impact of protectionism on jobs is unclear.

Then there are the indirect effects, which mean that any job gains in an industry protected by tariffs must be compared with job losses elsewhere. Normally, in fact, trade and trade policy have little if any effect on total employment. They affect what kinds of jobs we have; but the total number, not so much.

Suppose that Trump were to impose tariffs on a wide range of goods — say, the 10 percent across-the-board tariff that was floated before he took office. This would directly benefit industries that compete with imports, but that’s not the end of the story.

Even if we ignore the damage to industries that use imported inputs, any direct job creation from new tariffs would be offset by indirect job destruction. The Federal Reserve, fearing inflationary pressure, would raise interest rates. This would squeeze sectors like housing; it would also strengthen the dollar, hurting U.S. exports.

Claims that protectionism would inevitably cause a recession are overblown, but there’s every reason to believe that these indirect effects would eliminate any net job creation.

Then there’s the response of other countries. International trade is governed by rules — rules America helped put in place. If we start breaking those rules, others will too, both in retaliation and in simple emulation. That’s what people mean when they talk about a trade war.

And it’s foolish to imagine that America would “win” such a war. For one thing, we are far from being a dominant superpower in world trade — the European Union is just as big a player, and capable of effective retaliation (as the Bush administration learned when it put tariffs on steel back in 2002). Anyway, trade isn’t about winning and losing: it generally makes both sides of the deal richer, and a trade war usually hurts all the countries involved.

I’m not making a purist case for free trade here. Rapid growth in globalization has hurt some American workers, and an import surge after 2000 disrupted industries and communities. But a Trumpist trade war would only exacerbate the damage, for a couple of reasons.

One is that globalization has already happened, and U.S. industries are now embedded in a web of international transactions. So a trade war would disrupt communities the same way that rising trade did in the past. There’s an old joke about a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — running over the victim a second time. Trumpist trade policy would be like that.

Also, the tariffs now being proposed would boost capital-intensive industries that employ relatively few workers per dollar of sales; these tariffs would, if anything, further tilt the distribution of income against labor.

So will Trump actually go through with this? He might. After all, he posed as a populist during the campaign, but his entire economic agenda so far has been standard Republican fare, rewarding corporations and the rich while hurting workers.

So the base might indeed like to see something that sounds more like the guy they thought they were voting for.

But Trump’s promises on trade, while unorthodox, were just as fraudulent as his promises on health care. In this area, as in, well, everything, he has no idea what he’s talking about. And his ignorance-based policy won’t end well.