Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 10, 2017

Bobo wants someone to come up with “A Gift for Donald Trump,” and he frets over what to give the man who has everything.  “Ross McLaurin” from Houston, TX will have something to say…  In “Preserving the Sanctity of All Facts” Mr. Cohen says in a new era of “alternative facts” and the talk of “fact-based” journalism, the simple truth is under siege.  Prof. Krugman, in “When the Fire Comes,” says we should get ready for the inevitable presidential power grab.  Here’s Bobo:

If you could give Donald Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be?

My first thought was that prudence was the most important gift one could give him. Prudence is the ability to govern oneself with the use of reason. It is the ability to suppress one’s impulses for the sake of long-term goals. It is the ability to see the specific circumstances in which you are placed, and to master the art of navigating within them.

My basic thought was that a prudent President Trump wouldn’t spend his mornings angrily tweeting out his resentments. A prudent Trump wouldn’t spend his afternoons barking at foreign leaders and risking nuclear war. “Prudence is what differentiates action from impulse and heroes from hotheads,” writes the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order — building walls, offending allies and driving away the stranger and the refugee. Do I really want to make him more prudent and effective in pursuit of malicious goals?

Moreover, the true Trump dysfunction seems deeper. We are used to treating politicians as vehicles for political philosophies and interest groups. But in Trump’s case, his philosophy, populism, often takes a back seat to his psychological complexes — the psychic wounds that seem to induce him into a state of perpetual war with enemies far and wide.

With Trump we are relentlessly thrown into the Big Shaggy, that unconscious underground of wounds, longings and needs that drive him to do what he does, to tweet what he does, to attack whom he does.

Thinking about politics in the age of Trump means relying less on the knowledge of political science and more on the probings of D.H. Lawrence, David Foster Wallace and Carl Jung.

At the heart of Trumpism is the perception that the world is a dark, savage place, and therefore ruthlessness, selfishness and callousness are required to survive in it. It is the utter conviction, as Trump put it, that murder rates are at a 47-year high, even though in fact they are close to a 57-year low. It is the utter conviction that we are engaged in an apocalyptic war against radical Islamic terrorism, even though there are probably several foreign policy problems of greater importance.

It’s not clear if Trump is combative because he sees the world as dangerous or if he sees the world as dangerous because it justifies his combativeness. Either way, Trumpism is a posture that leads to the now familiar cycle of threat perception, insult, enemy-making, aggrievement, self-pity, assault and counterassault.

So, upon reflection, the gift I would give Trump would be an emotional gift, the gift of fraternity. I’d give him the gift of some crisis he absolutely could not handle on his own. The only way to survive would be to fall back entirely on others, and then to experience what it feels like to have them hold him up.

Out of that, I hope, would come an ability to depend on others, to trust other people, to receive grace, and eventually a desire for companionship. Fraternity is the desire to make friends during both good and hostile occasions and to be faithful to those friends. The fraternal person is seeking harmony and fair play between individuals. He is trying to move the world from tension to harmony.

Donald Trump didn’t have to have an administration that was at war with everyone but its base. He came to office with a populist mandate that cut across partisan categories. He could have created unorthodox coalitions and led unexpected alliances that would have broken the logjam of our politics.

He didn’t have to have a vicious infighting administration in which everybody leaks against one another and in which backstairs life is a war of all against all.

He doesn’t have to begin each day making enemies: Nordstrom, John McCain, judges. He could begin each day looking for friends, and he would actually get a lot more done.

On Inauguration Day, when Trump left his wife in the dust so he could greet the Obamas, I didn’t realize how quickly having a discourteous leader would erode the conversation. But look at how many of any day’s news stories are built around enmity. The war over who can speak in the Senate. Kellyanne Conway’s cable TV battle du jour. Half my Facebook feed is someone linking to a video with the headline: Watch X demolish Y.

I doubt that Trump will develop a capacity for fraternity any time soon, but to be human is to hold out hope, and to believe that even a guy as old and self-destructive as Trump is still 0.001 percent open to a transformation of the heart.

And there’s probably a 0.001% chance that I’ll see pigs flying past my house.  Here’s what “Ross McLaurin” had to say:

“Sure, and if only Hitler had been more like Mother Teresa, Hugo Chavez the benefit of a degree in economics and Nero a fire extinguisher.

On what rational basis do you expect a 70 year old man whose well publicized and ill advised business and personal dealings over many decades will change? My recollection is that he has been involved in over 3500 lawsuits as he attempts to bully or weasel his way out of his dealings. Why would you possibly have any transactions with such a person?

He is an artist when it comes to convincing the gullible. As good a writer as you are, you are not in that category and I don’t know why you are trying to convince me or yourself that their exists the slightest possibility that Trump will transform into someone totally different that the “Donald” that he has been parading around for decades.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Fact-based journalism is a ridiculous, tautological phrase. It’s like talking about oxygen-based human life. There is no other kind. Facts are journalism’s foundation; the pursuit of them, without fear or favor, is its main objective.

But in this time of President Trump’s almost daily “fake news” accusations against The New York Times, and of his counselor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” and of untruths seeping like a plague from the highest office in the land, there’s increasing talk of “real” or “fact-based” journalism.

That’s ominous. Fact-based as opposed to what other type? To state the obvious, fake news websites fed by kids in Macedonia to make a buck are not journalism. These sites use fabricated stuff in journalism’s garb to further political ends.

There’s a targeted “Gaslight” attack on journalists designed to make them doubt their sanity. It’s emanating from the White House and aims to drag everyone down the rabbit hole where 2+2=5.

Velocity trumps veracity. That is the puzzle and the menace of our age.

Speed and disruption have more psychological impact than truth and science. They shape the discourse. The debunking of a fake news story is seldom as powerful as the story itself. Trump says “X.” Uproar! Hordes of journalists scurry to disprove “X.” He moves on, never to mention it again, or claims that he did not say it, or insists that what he really said was “Y.”

People begin to wonder: Am I imagining this? They feel that some infernal mechanism has taken hold and is dragging them toward an abyss. The president is a reference point; if he lies, lying seeps deep into the culture. Americans start to ask: Will we ever be able to dislodge these people from power? What are they capable of?

Simon Schama, the British historian, recently tweeted: “Indifference about the distinction between truth and lies is the precondition of fascism. When truth perishes so does freedom.”

The enormity of the defiling of the White House in just three weeks is staggering. For decades the world’s security was undergirded by America’s word. The words that issued from the Oval Office were solemn. It was on America’s word, as expressed by the president, that the European continent and allies like Japan built their postwar security.

Now the words that fall from Trump’s pursed lips or, often misspelled, onto his Twitter feed are trite or false or meaningless. He’s angry with Nordstrom, for heaven’s sake, because the department store chain dropped his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line! This is the concern of the leader of the free world.

Unpresidented!

I was struck by how Paul Horner, who runs a big Facebook fake-news operation, described our times in The Washington Post: “Honestly people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

We’ve never seen anything like it because when hundreds of millions of Americans are connected, anyone, clueless or not, can disseminate what they like with a click.

Horner came up, during the campaign, with the fake news story that a protester at a Trump rally had been paid $3,500. It went viral. We’ve had fake news accounts of how Hillary Clinton paid $62 million to Beyoncé and Jay Z to perform in Cleveland, and how Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim American officer killed in Iraq, was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fake news — BREAKING! SHOCKING! — swayed the election.

Now we have President Trump suggesting that the real fake news is his negative polls — along with CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and any other news organizations that are doing their jobs: holding his authority to account and bearing witness to his acts. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s man of the shadows, thinks the media should “keep its mouth shut.” We won’t.

Sometimes I try to imagine what Trump’s Reichstag fire moment might be. In February 1933, a few weeks after Hitler became chancellor, fire engulfed the parliament in Berlin — an act of arson whose origin is still unclear. A recent New Yorker article by George Prochnik quoted the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig on Hitler’s savage reaction: “At one blow all of justice in Germany was smashed.”

From a president who loathes the press, who insults the judiciary, who has no time for American ideals of liberty or democracy, and whose predilection for violence is evident, what would be the reaction to a Reichstag fire in American guise — say a major act of terrorism?

We can only shudder at the thought.

Facts matter. The federal judiciary is pushing back. The administration is leaking. Journalism (no qualifier needed) has never been more important. Truth has not yet perished, but to deny that it is under siege would be to invite disaster.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What will you do when terrorists attack, or U.S. friction with some foreign power turns into a military confrontation? I don’t mean in your personal life, where you should keep calm and carry on. I mean politically. Think about it carefully: The fate of the republic may depend on your answer.

Of course, nobody knows whether there will be a shocking, 9/11-type event, or what form it might take. But surely there’s a pretty good chance that sometime over the next few years something nasty will happen — a terrorist attack on a public place, an exchange of fire in the South China Sea, something. Then what?

After 9/11, the overwhelming public response was to rally around the commander in chief. Doubts about the legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote and was installed by a bare majority on the Supreme Court were swept aside. Unquestioning support for the man in the White House was, many Americans believed, what patriotism demanded.

The truth was that even then the urge toward national unity was one-sided, with Republican exploitation of the atrocity for political gain beginning almost immediately. But people didn’t want to hear about it; I got angry mail, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, whenever I pointed out what was going on.

Unfortunately, the suspension of critical thinking ended as such suspensions usually do — badly. The Bush administration exploited the post-9/11 rush of patriotism to take America into an unrelated war, then used the initial illusion of success in that war to ram through huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bad as that was, however, the consequences if Donald Trump finds himself similarly empowered will be incomparably worse.

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

But what’s even worse is the way Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, framed the issue: Nordstrom’s business decision was a “direct attack” on the president’s policies. L’état, c’est moi.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power:

[Trump’s tweet, which I can’t figure out how to get in here, reads as follows:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!]

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it. So who are these people?

It certainly won’t be Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It won’t be Jeff Sessions, his new attorney general, with his long history of contempt for voting rights. It might be the courts — but Mr. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize judicial oversight in advance.

What about Congress? Well, its members like to give patriotic speeches. And maybe, just maybe, there are enough Republican senators who really do care about America’s fundamental values to cross party lines in their defense. But given what we’ve seen so far, that’s just hopeful speculation.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.

Brooks and Cohen

February 7, 2017

Bobo still can’t quite find it in himself to admit what’s happening in the Alt-White House…  Today he presented us with “Where History Is Being Made,” in which he gurgles that Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few things to say.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Queen for a Free Trade Deal,” says Theresa May’s Brexit-buffeted Britain offers a bridge to Trump, but Europe mulls a rampart.  Theresa May has lost her mind, and Parliament has declined to hear from Mein Fubar.  Here’s Bobo:

James and Deborah Fallows have always moved to where history is being made. In the 1980s, when the Japanese economic model seemed like the wave of the future, the husband and wife team moved to Japan with their school-age children. Then, after 9/11, they were back in Washington, with James writing a series of essays for The Atlantic about what might go wrong if the U.S. invaded Iraq.

In 2006, they moved to China and both wrote books about China’s re-emergence. Over the past few years they have been flying around the U.S. (James is a pilot), writing about the American social fabric — where it’s in tatters and where it’s in renewal. That was pretty prescient in the lead-up to the age of Trump.

James and Deb have an excellent sense of where world-shaping events are taking place at any moment — and a fervent commitment to be there to see it happen.

Their example has prompted what I call the Fallows Question, which I unfurl at dinner parties: If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?

Let’s start with a little historical perspective.

If you had responded to the Fallows Question in 1968 you would have moved to California, both to the Bay Area and to Orange County. That would have put you at the epicenter of the ’60s counterculture, and also at the center of the Reaganite conservatism that arose in response.

By 1974, the most important place to be was the offices of the magazine Ms. For all its excesses, feminism has been the most important and the most salutary change of our lifetimes.

By the 1980s, the big historical changes had to do with capitalism and finance, so either Japan or Wall Street was the place to be. In the early 1990s, Europe was the place to witness the end of communism and the false dawn of global peace. By the ’90s, Silicon Valley was the most important driver of world historical change.

The Fallows were clearly right to go witness the rise of China, but by 2006 I could also argue that equally important events were happening in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus, with the crumbling of the modern Middle East.

By 2010, the Fallows Question would have taken you to the neuroscience departments at universities like N.Y.U., Harvard and U.S.C., where cognitive scientists were rewriting our understanding of the human mind. By 2015, it would have taken you to working-class Ohio to witness the populist upheaval that is driving current global politics.

Today, I’d say the most pivotal spot on earth is Washington, D.C. The crucial questions will be settled there: Can Donald Trump be induced to govern in some rational manner or will he blow up the world? Does he represent a populist tide that will only grow or is some other set of ideas building for his overthrow? Are the leading institutions — everything from the Civil Service to the news media to the political parties — resilient enough to correct for the Trumpian chaos?

Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.

I sent the Fallows Question to the Fallows themselves, and they agreed in part with my Washington answer. But they also said that the most important place to be now might be places like Erie, Pa.; Fresno, Ca.; and Columbus, Ohio.

Trump’s presence in the White House may push change to the local levels. In these cities, the Fallows argue, citizen participants are coping with declining industries, creating new civic cultures, assimilating waves of immigration, collaborating across party lines to revive everything from arts programs to tech seedbeds.

If you want to “observe” history, the Fallows say, go to Washington. If you want to “participate,” go elsewhere.

That’s a good argument, but I suppose I should close by widening the possibilities. After all, few knew about Martin Luther in 1517 or what Deng Xiaoping would unleash in 1977. So maybe the most important spot on earth right now is to be found at:

An evangelical church in Brooklyn that has come up with a style of faith that satisfies the spiritual needs of blue America.

A National Front office in Paris where a French Stephen Bannon is plotting the final destruction of the European Union.

A bio lab somewhere where researchers are finding ways to tailor cancer treatment to each patient’s particular genetic makeup, thus lengthening lives and restructuring the phases of the typical human life.

A set of universities, headquartered in Mauritius and spread throughout Africa, that will unleash the human potential of that continent at exactly the moment when the African future, in many places, is most promising.

Most people can’t up and move in search of history. They’re tied down by work, family and spiritual commitments. But you only go around once in life, so if you can swing it, you might as well be where the action is.

Gawd…  Here’s what “gemli” had to say about this:

“The most important spot on earth right now is Vienna, where teams of psychiatrists trying to find out what’s wrong with our president.

There is no safe place we can move to as long as he is in charge. His personality is dissociating before our eyes. Either he can’t tell truth from fiction, which indicates mental disease, or he intentionally lies about self-evident truths, which indicates mental disease. At official gatherings he wallows in personal aggrandizement, followed by disparagement of some irrelevant critic.

The swirl and turmoil of being thrust inept and unprepared into the presidency have caused him to issue inconsistent, contradictory and irrational orders. As long as he’s president his missives will have the force of his office behind them, and will set courts and countries into disarray.

Republicans in Congress must recognize by now that the promise of his presidency will not advance their interests. There is no way to carry on business as usual. Democrats are rebelling, people are marching in the streets, foreign leaders are mystified and Putin is laughing.

There is no church, no bio-lab, and no university that will matter if things continue to destabilize.

So if I were the Fallows, I might head for a 1960s-era fallout shelter. Il Doofus hasn’t been president for three weeks, and already the world going to hell in a handbasket.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Sunderland, England:

From this northeastern town that has lost its shipyard, its coal industry and its glass manufacturers in recent decades emerged the first signal that Britain was to change course. After the Sunderland Brexit vote came in — 61.3 percent in favor of leaving the European Union — there was little doubt how last June’s referendum would go.

Nissan, the Japanese automaker, had warned against a vote to leave. It is now the largest private-sector employer in the area, with 6,700 people working at its plant and tens of thousands more in the supply chain. Workers didn’t care. Like tens of millions of people across Britain and the United States, they were ready for disruption: to heck with the tired advice of politicians, multinational corporations and bankers.

Prime Minister Theresa May has since intervened with Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, and the company recommitted to the plant last year. Still, Ghosn has said Nissan will “re-evaluate the situation” once the terms of Britain’s exit from a single market of a half-billion people are agreed. Those negotiations will take years.

That’s Britain’s situation in a nutshell: uncertain, unfamiliar and unsteady. The country has cut loose from its European ties; nobody is sure where it’s drifting, although May’s coddling of President Donald Trump has been insistent.

“None of us saw this coming,” Charlie Nettle, the head of marketing and business development at AV Dawson, a logistics company, told me. Behind him, in a vast warehouse, I could see some 30 tons of rolled steel, much of it destined for Nissan. “There was a massive divide between management and the work force across the board. We told workers management was voting to stay in and a lot of important international relationships were at stake. But they felt overlooked by politicians. This was their chance to be heard.”

Nettle said that after the vote, three companies that had been in negotiations on investments in the region that would have involved Dawson pulled out. Since then things have settled down somewhat, but, “We are still in this period where people are nervous about making investment decisions. That’s a bad thing.”

It will go on for a while. May has been trying to reposition Britain. It’s a tough exercise in that geography is immovable. Europe, rejected, sits next door. Sometimes it seems that she’s intent on turning Britain from a leading European power into America’s malleable little Euro-appendage. Well, she might say, that’s what the people wanted.

In fact, it’s unclear what the people voted for. Some 48 percent wanted to remain. The “Brexiters” were a motley band driven mainly by anti-immigration anger, sentimental nationalism, resentment of globalized elites, economic fears, phobias about Germany and Brussels — all whipped up by post-truth politicians. The European Union was little more than a convenient scapegoat for a host of anxieties. Now May is casting around for faraway friends to offset the damage.

Her first stop and priority was Washington. With unseemly and unprecedented haste she invited Trump for a state visit: the queen for a Europe-offsetting free trade deal. It was enough to make Britons squirm, especially with talk of Churchill thrown in.

This clumsy move has prompted a petition against the visit signed by more than 1.8 million people, a statement from the speaker of the House of Commons that Trump is unfit to address Parliament, and musings as to whether Prince Charles and Trump will get into a fist fight over global warming. May has been on the defensive about Trump’s pointless anti-Muslim immigration and refugee ban.

At the same time, siding with a president who wants to break up the European Union has not done May any favors as Brexit negotiations loom. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is unimpressed. “Our sucking-up to Trump when Trump is anti-E.U. is making our relationship with Europe more difficult,” Hugo Dixon, the editor of InFacts, a pro-European publication, said.

The May government has tried to portray Britain as Europe’s bridge to Trump. Bridge, schmidge: That did not wash. “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter,” the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, observed. In Europe there is serious questioning about what kind of ally Trump’s America is and whether a bridge — or a rampart — is needed.

As May shifts to a more pro-Israel stance, in apparent deference to Trump, and hurries to Turkey to conclude a fighter jet deal (going light on Turkey’s human rights record), a new post-Brexit British foreign policy takes shape. For now, it does not look edifying.

Brexit is the rift that will keep on giving.

Back in Sunderland, Ross Smith, the director of policy at the Chamber of Commerce, told me: “Hopefully, the negotiations will take years. We don’t want to fall off a cliff.”

Harry Trueman, the deputy leader of the Sunderland City Council, was wearing a Trump tie he bought in New York. “It’s the only thing Trump can produce,” Trueman told me. Then he showed me the label: “Handmade in China.”

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 3, 2017

Bobo has surpassed himself this time…  He’s extruded a thing called “A Return to National Greatness” in which he moans that the true American myth is dynamic and universal, yet the countermyth of Trump and Bannon is winning, and he also has the unmitigated gall to inform his readers that people on the left aren’t patriotic.  Maybe he should consider the differences between patriotism and jingoism…  There will be a response from a reader.  Mr. Cohen, in “United States to Australia: Get Lost,” says it is grotesque for Trump to dismiss Australia’s stranded refugees as the next “Boston bombers.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Menace,” says this isn’t a strategy; it’s a syndrome.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal, tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America. More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.

The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting, turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and what that civilization contributed to the human story.

It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics), Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England (literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America (science).

In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.

Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.

That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.

But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.

The myth has been bruised, too, by the humiliations of Iraq and the financial crisis. By a cultural elite that ignored the plight of the working class and thus broke faith with the basic solidarity that binds a nation.

And so along come men like Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with a countermyth. Their myth is an alien myth, frankly a Russian myth. It holds, as Russian reactionaries hold, that deep in the heartland are the pure folk who embody the pure soul of the country — who endure the suffering and make the bread. But the pure peasant soul is threatened. It is threatened by the cosmopolitan elites and by the corruption of foreign influence.

The true American myth is dynamic and universal — embracing strangers and seizing possibilities. The Russian myth that Trump and Bannon have injected into the national bloodstream is static and insular. It is about building walls, staying put. Their country is bound by its nostalgia, not its common future.

The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning. The policies that emanate from it are surprisingly popular. The refugee ban has a lot of support. Closing off trade is popular. Building the wall is a winning issue.

The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism. It has exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.

We are in the midst of a great war of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage.

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project?

Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

He’s become a national disgrace.  Here’s what “chickenlover” from Massachusetts had to say to him:

“”The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
And do you know why this myth is winning? It is the result of relentless, non-stop barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigrants, anti-common sense that has been spewing from Fox News for the past two decades. It is the result of pundits like you who have been pushing the GOP agenda over the same period. It is the result of the GOP which has been unwilling to challenge this downward trend. Where were you when Obama was delegitimized from day one by Mitch McConnell and his pals? No wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.
Unfortunately, even though you helped make it, we all own it now. Why, for that matter, even in this column you write, “That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Why do you stop at Reagan? You are still unwilling to include Obama as part of that rich American tradition. Why? Obama saved the American economy that was ravaged and savaged by his predecessor. He saved the auto industry. Don’t you remember?
If you as a scholar and a pundit do not see the need to include Obama in that list, why do you expect the average American will? Little wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”

Net up we have Mr. Cohen:

Let’s imagine for a moment Rex Tillerson, the newly installed secretary of state, awakening to this tweet from President Trump about an important American ally:

“Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

First, the “illegal immigrants” are in fact desperate people fleeing conflict whose status as refugees has in most cases been officially recognized. Second, as refugees, they have the right, under the Geneva Conventions, of which the United States is a signatory, to be treated “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Third, the “thousands” are in fact about 1,250 of the 2,500 men, women and children who, for more than three years now, have been marooned on two remote South Pacific islands, Manus and Nauru, in appalling conditions that have seen suicide, deaths through negligence, a killing, and relentless mental abuse. Fourth, this “dumb deal” reflects the pressing Australian interest in finding a way out of its predicament with the refugees and the American interest in strengthening its Australian alliance at a time when United States Marines are rotating through Darwin and China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Fifth, diplomacy is about identifying shared interests; it stands no chance when the tweeted tantrums of a tempestuous president constitute Washington’s highest-level communications with a world held in America-first contempt.

The notion must cross Tillerson’s mind that Trump’s inaccurate tweet is needless provocation of a friend; that simultaneously infuriating Asian and European allies may not be smart; and that his task will be a thankless one as Trump’s White House coterie hatches seat-of-the-pants policy and leaves his already restive State Department to deal with weighty issues in Luxembourg and the Solomon Islands.

Let’s further imagine that all this passes through Tillerson’s head before he grabs the Washington Post and discovers that Trump has taken his Australia bashing further. He has hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after telling him it’s his “worst call by far” with world leaders (behind Vladimir Putin, of course), and accused Turnbull of preparing to send the next “Boston bombers” America’s way.

At which point Tillerson must really be wondering — as is the rest of the world after two weeks of fast-tracked chaos from Trump. The president wants to run the United States like his business, with scant accountability and contempt for rules. Fine, except that bankruptcy is the worst conceivable outcome for a business whereas nuclear war is the worst conceivable outcome for America and all of humanity. Trump is in way over his skis.

From the pointless, counterproductive, prejudice-reeking temporary ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries to a botched Navy SEAL raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, the same traits of haste and imprudence have been apparent. Trump is a propagator of mayhem at the head of a TV- and Twitter-driven movement whose goal is to circumvent democratic institutions through the exercise of hypnotic and disorienting power. He is only incidentally the president.

That is already clear, as is the fact that Trump’s embrace of Putin was not some weird whim but reflected a fundamental alignment of values around bigotry, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, calculated religious absolutism, 21st-century big-data autocracy and hatred of the media. The president therefore feels more “allied” with Russia than with America’s European allies, whose values run counter to his.

“The worst deal ever” — as Trump put it according to the Washington Post — was signed in September in New York by Anne C. Richard, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and Rachel Noble, deputy secretary of Australia’s department of immigration. It was kept secret, however, until Nov. 12, four days after the election, because refugees, particularly Muslims from the Middle East, were such a sensitive issue in the campaign.

“We really want to mothball these places,” Richard recalls Australian officials telling her, referring to Manus and Nauru. They have become an acute embarrassment to Australia. The United States got help with some national security issues in return, as well as Australian commitments to take more refugees from Central America.

Poor Turnbull who’s white and conservative and might therefore have thought he could get on the right side of Trump. No way! Many of the refugees are Iranians persecuted by the Islamic Republic. There’s no surer way to drive the president to paroxysms than to suggest he extend a hand to Muslims, signed accords between allies notwithstanding.

I went to Manus last year with the photographer Ashley Gilbertson to see the suffering. It’s not easy to get in; Australia does not want prying eyes. I met a young Iranian, Benham Satah, who has a college degree in English and has languished there since Aug. 27, 2013. His roommate, another Iranian called Reza Barati, was killed by a local mob in 2014.

“Sometimes I cut myself,” Satah told me, “so that I can see my blood and remember, oh yes! I am alive.”

It is grotesque and offensive for Trump to dismiss these stranded, mistreated human beings as “Boston bombers.” Muslim equals terrorist is an idea that sullies America.

What refugees like Satah want by an overwhelming majority is not more violence but the dignity that comes with a job, a roof over their heads and decent schooling for their children. Vetting to enter the United States takes at least 18 to 24 months — one reason nobody from Manus or Nauru has moved yet despite Australian hopes they’d all be scooped up by a C-130. The vetting is already “extreme” — Trump’s word.

For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice and give Tillerson inspiration to be brave.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.

The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.

But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?

There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Thanks, Comey.

Brooks and Cohen

January 31, 2017

Bobo has extruded another mealy-mouthed whine about how “those” Republicans, over there, betrayed his party.  Cripes.  In “The Republican Fausts” he gurgles that they struck a deal with the devil, Donald Trump, that comes at too high a price.  It’s always “them,” you know, “those” Republicans WAAAAY over there — Bobo has no responsibility whatsoever…  “Soxared, 04-07-13” will have something to say in rebuttal.  Mr. Cohen considers “The Abnormal Presidency of Donald Trump” and says his immigration measures reflect a streak of gratuitous cruelty.  Here’s Bobo:

Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.

Their position was at least comprehensible: How many times in a lifetime does your party control all levers of power? When that happens you’re willing to tolerate a little Trumpian circus behavior in order to get things done.

But if the last 10 days have made anything clear, it’s this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

In the first place, the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policy making.

The administration has swung sharply antitrade. Trump’s economic instincts are corporatist, not free market. If Barack Obama tried to lead from behind, Trump’s foreign policy involves actively running away from global engagement. Outspoken critics of Paul Ryan are being given White House jobs, and at the same time, if Reince Priebus has a pulse it is not externally evident.

Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.

It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.

Third, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench.

The administration could have simply tightened up the refugee review process and capped the refugee intake at 50,000, but instead went out of its way to insult Islam. The administration could have simply tightened up immigration procedures, but Trump went out of his way to pick a fight with all of Mexico.

Other Republicans have gone far out of their way to make sure the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or on Arabs, but Trump has gone out of his way to ensure the opposite. The racial club is always there.

Fourth, it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty. The Trump administration is often harsh and never kind. It is quick to inflict suffering on the 8-year-old Syrian girl who’s been bombed and strafed and lost her dad. Its deportation vows mean that in the years ahead, the TV screens will be filled with weeping families being pulled apart.

None of these traits will improve with time. As former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”

The danger signs are there in profusion. Sooner or later, the Republican Fausts will face a binary choice. As they did under Nixon, Republican leaders will have to either oppose Trump and risk his tweets, or sidle along with him and live with his stain.

Trump exceeded expectations with his cabinet picks, but his first 10 days in office have made clear this is not a normal administration. It is a problem that demands a response. It is a callous, bumbling group that demands either personal loyalty or the ax.

Already one sees John McCain and Lindsey Graham forming a bit of a Republican opposition. The other honorable senators will have to choose: Collins, Alexander, Portman, Corker, Cotton, Sasse and so on and so on.

With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.

What a fucking little weasel he is…  (Apologies to all 4-legged weasels.)  Here’s what “soxared, 04-07-13” had to say:

“Well, Mr. Brooks, the sky is falling.

Take a look at he image that accompanies your essay. The Republican (a/k/a, White Man’s) retreat at Philly last week was a good ole boy campfire. Notice the glee on the faces of Mitch McConnell, the architect of the Tea Party movement (racist resistance to the black president) and John Cornyn, his fellow saboteur to his (appropriately) right. Your president’s arms are outstretched in a “what now?” appeal? Indeed, what now?

Paul Ryan defended his president’s draconian anti-Muslim ban, a stunning 180 from the campaign trail (“this is not conservatism”). Mr. Brooks, it’s really way past time that you and others with your audience cease with the mantra of respectability when it comes to “conservatism.” It’s really a cover for intolerance, for misogyny, for xenophobia, for protectionism; not for “the base,” but for the anonymous billionaires in the shadows, the Saurons and Voldemorts who run this country, from the county level to the SCOTUS.

Your littering of President Obama is entirely uncalled-for. He has nothing to do with the catastrophe that has descended upon our nation, courtesy of you and the GOP. “Leading from behind?” Yes, from behind an impenetrable wall of recalcitrance and denial, a huge Congressional middle finger to the “will of the people”. Twice.

Where was your patriotism, Mr. Brooks, as a town crier? Did you warn against this day when you stood silent as your party gouged and savaged Barack Obama?

No. 45 is all yours.”

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

For Ghassan and Sarmad Assali, naturalized Americans from Syria, 14 years of efforts to bring their family to the United States from Damascus unraveled this weekend at the stroke of Donald Trump’s pen.

They had applied in 2003 for Ghassan’s two brothers and their families to join them in Allentown, Pa., where Ghassan works as a dentist. Finally, last month, after an interview in Jordan, the relatives were granted immigrant visas. The Assalis bought and furnished a house for them.

“They landed at 7:45 a.m. Saturday,” said Sarmad, who goes by the name Sue. “We got a call from Philadelphia airport telling us if you’re waiting for somebody they’re not coming out. My husband said, ‘You’re joking.’ ”

The family was sent back to Damascus, arriving Sunday night.

Of course, Trump cares nothing for the plight of the Assalis’ Damascus relatives, who arrived about 15 hours after the president signed an executive order on Friday suspending all immigration from Syria and six other mainly Muslim countries, and barring entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. In fact, he cares nothing for Syria. Trump’s airy mention of creating safe zones in the war-ravaged country was an example of how the American president’s word — the basis of global stability since 1945 — has already ceased to mean anything. It’s noise.

Trump insisted his decision was designed to keep America safe, but the measure was rushed, uncoordinated, sloppy, arbitrary and punitive — the work of an impulsive man driven by anti-Muslim prejudice. Hatched by his inner circle in contempt of normal procedure, it has provoked a crisis. Trump has fired the acting attorney general who questioned its legality.

People are now stranded, many diplomats at the State Department outraged (Trump has told them to quit), allies agitated, artists and athletes disgusted by this un-American act. Former President Barack Obama, scarcely out of office, has dissented.

As my colleague Scott Shane noted, citing studies by Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, no one since 9/11 “has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.”

A draft dissent memo circulating at the State Department noted that, “A vanishingly small number of terror attacks on U.S. soil have been committed by foreign nationals who recently entered the United States on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.”

It said: “We are better than this ban.”

As Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, observed of Trump’s order on the Lawfare blog: “This is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

And here we get to the president’s character, doubly important when, as in the Trump White House, personality dominates process.

For well over a decade Trump hosted a successful TV show that hinged on a spectacle of controlled cruelty — his summary dismissal of a contestant with the words “You’re fired!” All the action built toward the tantalizing moment when Trump brought down the guillotine.

No doubt the experience offered him insights into the human fascination with power, as well as the human capacity for pleasure in others’ suffering. Certainly, in just 10 tumultuous days as president of the United States, Trump has demonstrated a streak of gratuitous cruelty.

There is no other explanation for such a pointless measure that inflicts so much pain.

Here in Britain a petition started this weekend against a planned State visit later this year by Trump has already gained some 1.5 million signatures. The government of Prime Minister Theresa May, desperate for Trump’s favor to offset its Brexit travails, has had to scramble to reassure British dual nationals who may have an Iraqi passport, for example, that they can enter the United States.

Sir Mo Farah, the British Olympic gold medalist who was born in Somalia, and whose family lives in the United States, wrote: “On 1st January this year, her majesty the Queen made me a knight of the realm. On 27th January, President Donald Trump seems to have made me an alien.”

The measure has given many this feeling they no longer belong. Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini has British and Iranian passports, holds a green card, has an American husband and two American children, and works in Washington as executive director of the International Civil Society Action Network. She told me she’s unsure if she should travel to Germany in a few days on business.

“It’s just insane,” she told me. “May talks about Churchill, but it feels like she’s appeasing Trump.”

Trump does not retreat. He does not admit mistakes. That is not his style. This month, in tweets, he has written, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” and he has accused two prominent and dissenting Republican senators of “always looking to start World War III.”

Impetuosity allied to cruelty combined with immense power equals trouble. The current storm would cause a normal man who’s a neophyte in a big job to reflect on other approaches. But is anything about Trump normal?

No, Mr. Cohen.  This has been yet another installment of SASQ.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

January 27, 2017

Oh, poor, poor Bobo.  He’s got a BAD case of buyer’s remorse.  In “The Politics of Cowardice” he moans that the party of Trump is a far cry from the party of Reagan.  Actually, Bobo, not all that far.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Closing of Trump’s America,” says a rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last.  Or browns last.  Don’t forget about that moronic wall, Roger.  In “Making the Rust Belt Rustier” Prof. Krugman says that manufacturing will decline faster under President Trump.  But of course it will be Obama’s fault, right?  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment from “James Landi” of Salisbury, MD:

This is a column directed at high school and college students. I’m going to try to convey to you how astoundingly different the Republican Party felt when I was your age.

The big guy then was Ronald Reagan. Temperamentally, though not politically, Reagan was heir to the two Roosevelts. He inherited a love of audacity from T.R. and optimism and charm from F.D.R.

He had a sunny faith in America’s destiny and in America’s ability to bend global history toward freedom. He had a sunny faith in the free market to deliver prosperity to all. He had a sunny faith in the power of technology to deliver bounty and even protect us from nuclear missiles.

He could be very hard on big government or the Soviet Union, but he generally saw the world as a welcoming place; he looked for the good news in others and saw the arc of history bending toward progress.

When he erred it was often on the utopian side of things, believing that tax cuts could pay for themselves, believing that he and Mikhail Gorbachev could shed history and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

The mood of the party is so different today. Donald Trump expressed the party’s new mood to David Muir of ABC, when asked about his decision to suspend immigration from some Muslim countries: “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place.”

Consider the tenor of Trump’s first week in office. It’s all about threat perception. He has made moves to build a wall against the Mexican threat, to build barriers against the Muslim threat, to end a trade deal with Asia to fight the foreign economic threat, to build black site torture chambers against the terrorist threat.

Trump is on his political honeymoon, which should be a moment of joy and promise. But he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Instead of savoring the moment, he’s spent the week in a series of nasty squabbles about his ratings and crowd sizes.

If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”

Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005.

Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition.

In the summer of 2015, according to a Pew Research Center poll, Republicans said free trade deals had been good for the country by 51 to 39 percent. By the summer of 2016, Republicans said those deals had been bad for America by 61 percent to 32 percent.

It’s not that the deals had changed, or reality. It was that Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and his dark fearfulness became the party’s dark fearfulness. In this case fear is not a reaction to the world. It is a way of seeing the world. It propels your reactions to the world.

As Reagan came to office he faced refugee crises, with suffering families coming in from Cuba, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filled with optimism and confidence, Reagan vowed, “We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society,” and he delivered on that promise.

Trump faces a refugee crisis from Syria. And though no Syrian-American has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil, Trump’s response is fear. Shut them out.

Students, the party didn’t used to be this way. A mean wind is blowing.

Here’s hoping that no students believe this line of horse pucky…  And here’s what “James Landi” had to say to Bobo:

“UGH! David’s alt-reality reinvents Reagan, and air-brushes out the ugly, unacceptable, cynically divisive and un American dark side of reactionary radical racist Reagan. The Philadelphia, Mississippi, “welfare queen” Reagan, the Grenada invasion Reagan, the Beirut bombing Reagan, the Iran Contra Reagan, the anti-EPA Reagan, the cynical divisive B grade movie actor who set the anti-intellectual tone and substance for what has devolved into the modern day Party of Lincoln.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Donald Trump is an ahistorical man. He knows nothing of European history and cares less, as his cavalier trashing of the alliance and union that ushered the Continent from its darkest hours demonstrates.

He knows little enough of American history to have chosen as his rallying cry “America First,” a slogan with a past clouded by allies-be-damned isolationism at the start of World War II. (Or perhaps that’s why he embraced it.)

The president does not even know the history of the C.I.A., as his self-regarding speech before the hallowed Memorial Wall showed. This was desecration of patriotic sacrifice through advanced narcissistic disorder.

He called the speech a “home run.”

Great. Terrific. Phenomenal. Tremendous. Fabulous. Beautiful. How Trump has hollowed out these words. How arid, even nauseating, he has made them. They mean nothing. They are space-fillers issuing with a thudding regularity from his uncurious mind, and in the end of course they are all about him. Emptying words of meaning is an essential step on the road to autocratic rule. People need to lose their bearings before they prostrate themselves.

From Trump’s White House there now seeps a kind of ignorance mixed with vulgarity and topped with meanness that I find impossible to wash from my skin. I wake up to its oleaginous texture.

This is worse than had seemed possible: Trump’s inexhaustible obsession with the crowd size at the inauguration; his constant untruths; his perverse inability to accept that he won the election, to the point that he wants to investigate the popular vote that he lost; his startling lust for torture, walls, banishment and carnage.

“The world is a total mess,” he told David Muir of ABC. Funny, I travel the world and that was not my impression a week ago.

The president does not like Muslims. That, too, is clear. It was obvious when he called during the campaign for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. It was obvious when he showed contempt for the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq. It is obvious now as he attempts to justify a planned suspension of visas for Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis and citizens of four other majority Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as a temporary ban on almost all refugees.

A rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last. “It’s not the Muslim ban,” Trump insisted to Muir. No. It’s just a ban on lots of Muslims.

Trump said, in the ABC interview, that the people to be barred “are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.” He declared: “They’re ISIS.”

There is no credible evidence for this wild claim, a smear on entire populations. (Saudi Arabia, the source of most 9/11 terrorists, is unsurprisingly not on the list.)

In their overwhelming majority refugees are fleeing violence in their homelands, not plotting it against the United States. They do not put their little children in dinghies on the high seas because they have a choice but because they have no choice.

Screening to get into the United States is already rigorous, one reason only a tiny fraction of some 5 million Syrian refugees have come here.

A Cato Institute study of refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 and 2015 found that the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.

This is policy fed by anger and prejudice, not reason. The wall announcement has already provoked a damaging clash with Mexico. The proposed visa and refugee measures are not about keeping America safe. They are conceived to nurture an atmosphere of nationalist xenophobia.

Trump has been right to call jihadi Islamist terrorism by its name. But conflating a religion of 1.6 billion people with it is no way to fight it. As for his promise of safe areas within Syria, we will see.

I am lucky enough to live in Brooklyn Heights with a view out over the East River to lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. So while watching President Donald Trump’s dark inaugural speech a week ago I was able at the same time to glance out at the torch that symbolizes American openness and generosity of spirit.

As Trump’s “AMERICA FIRST,” “AMERICA FIRST” echoed across my living room I thought of Emma Lazarus’ words inscribed on the pedestal of the statue:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Friedrich Trump, a penniless German immigrant, was one of those “huddled masses” back in 1885. Lucky he did not attempt to enter the America taking shape under his grandson.

Over time, but not without struggle, I believe the torch will prove stronger than Trump’s fear-filled jingoistic darkness. With the stranger comes renewal. America cannot be itself without it, and Americans will fight for their idea. It is, after all, how they became who they are.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump will break most of his campaign promises. Which promises will he keep?

The answer, I suspect, has more to do with psychology than it does with strategy. Mr. Trump is much more enthusiastic about punishing people than he is about helping them. He may have promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare, or take health insurance away from the tens of millions who gained coverage under Obamacare, but in practice he seems perfectly willing to satisfy his party by destroying the safety net.

On the other hand, he appears serious about his eagerness to reverse America’s 80-year-long commitment to expanding world trade. On Thursday the White House said it was considering a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico; doing so wouldn’t just pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, it would violate all our trading agreements.

Why does he want this? Because he sees international trade the way he sees everything else: as a struggle for dominance, in which you only win at somebody else’s expense.

His Inaugural Address made that perfectly clear: “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” And he sees punitive tariffs as a way to stop foreigners from selling us stuff, and thereby revive the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.”

Unfortunately, as just about any economist could tell him — but probably not within his three-minute attention span — it doesn’t work that way. Even if tariffs lead to a partial reversal of the long decline in manufacturing employment, they won’t add jobs on net, just shift employment around. And they probably won’t even do that: Taken together, the new regime’s policies will probably lead to a faster, not slower, decline in American manufacturing.

How do we know this? We can look at the underlying economic logic, and we can also look at what happened during the Reagan years, which in some ways represent a dress rehearsal for what’s coming.

Now, I’m talking about the reality of Reagan, not the Republicans’ legend, which assigns all blame for the early-1980s recession to Jimmy Carter and all credit for the subsequent recovery to the sainted Ronald. In fact, that whole cycle had almost nothing to do with Reagan policies.

What Reagan did do, however, was blow up the budget deficit with military spending and tax cuts. This drove up interest rates, which drew in foreign capital. The inflow of capital, in turn, led to a stronger dollar, which made U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive. The trade deficit soared — and the long-term decline in the share of manufacturing in overall employment accelerated sharply.

Notably, it was under Reagan that talk of “deindustrialization” and the use of the term “Rust Belt” first became widespread.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Reagan-era manufacturing decline took place despite a significant amount of protectionism, especially a quota on Japanese car exports to America that ended up costing consumers more than $30 billion in today’s prices.

Will we repeat this story? The Trump regime will clearly blow up the deficit, mainly through tax cuts for the rich. (Funny, isn’t it, how all the deficit scolds have gone quiet?) True, this may not boost spending very much, since the rich will save much of their windfall while the poor and the middle class will face harsh benefits cuts. Still, interest rates have already risen in anticipation of the borrowing surge, and so has the dollar. So we do seem to be following the Reagan playbook for shrinking manufacturing.

It’s true that Mr. Trump appears ready to practice a much more extreme form of protectionism than Reagan, who avoided outright violations of existing trade deals. This could help some manufacturing industries. But it will also drive the dollar higher, hurting others.

And there’s a further factor to consider: The world economy has gotten a lot more complex over the past three decades. These days, hardly anything is simply “made in America,” or for that matter “made in China”: Manufacturing is a global enterprise, in which cars, planes and so on are assembled from components produced in multiple countries.

What will happen to this enterprise if the United States takes a meat ax to the agreements that govern international trade? There will, inevitably, be huge dislocation: Some U.S. factories and communities will benefit, but others will be hurt, bigly, by the loss of markets, crucial components or both.

Economists talk about the “China shock,” the disruption of some communities by surging Chinese exports in the 2000s. Well, the coming Trump shock will be at least as disruptive.

And the biggest losers, as with health care, will be white working-class voters who were foolish enough to believe that Donald Trump was on their side.

Or, as was pointed out in “Blazing Saddles,”:

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

Solo Bobo

January 24, 2017

Bobo has extruded a very special turd for us this morning.  It’s called “After the Women’s March” and in it he gurgles that the protesters’ central issues were built on identity politics, and identity politics is too small to create a movement to counter Donald Trump.  David Brooks can’t identify “identity politics” on his side of the fence, but boy, oh boy, he’s sure it’s the goddam libruls’ major problem.  “Soxared, 04-07-13” will have something to say to him.  But here’s Bobo’s shiny new turd:

The women’s marches were a phenomenal success and an important cultural moment. Most everybody came back uplifted and empowered. Many said they felt hopeful for the first time since Election Day. But these marches can never be an effective opposition to Donald Trump.

In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities. But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.

Second, there was too big a gap between Saturday’s marches and the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements — the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.

It’s significant that as marching and movements have risen, the actual power of the parties has collapsed. Marching is a seductive substitute for action in an antipolitical era, and leaves the field open for a rogue like Trump.

Finally, identity politics is too small for this moment. On Friday, Trump offered a version of unabashed populist nationalism. On Saturday, the anti-Trump forces could have offered a red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement.

Instead, the marches offered the pink hats, an anti-Trump movement built, oddly, around Planned Parenthood, and lots of signs with the word “pussy” in them. The definition of America is up for grabs. Our fundamental institutions have been exposed as shockingly hollow. But the marches couldn’t escape the language and tropes of identity politics.

Soon after the Trump victory, Prof. Mark Lilla of Columbia wrote a piece on how identity politics was dooming progressive chances. Times readers loved that piece and it vaulted to the top of the most-read charts.

But now progressives seem intent on doubling down on exactly what has doomed them so often. Lilla pointed out that identity politics isolates progressives from the wider country: “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

Sure enough, if you live in blue America, the marches carpeted your Facebook feed. But The Times’s Julie Bosman was in Niles, Mich., where many women had never heard of the marches, and if they had, I suspect, they would not have felt at home at one.

Identity-based political movements always seem to descend into internal rivalries about who is most oppressed and who should get pride of place. Sure enough, the controversy before and after the march was over the various roles of white feminists, women of color, anti-abortion feminists and various other out-groups.

The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now. Trump carried a majority of white women. He won the votes of a shocking number of Hispanics.

The central challenge today is not how to celebrate difference. The central threat is not the patriarchy. The central challenge is to rebind a functioning polity and to modernize a binding American idea.

I loathed Trump’s inaugural: It offered a zero-sum, ethnically pure, backward-looking brutalistic nationalism. But it was a coherent vision, and he is rallying a true and fervent love of our home.

If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.

The march didn’t come close. Hint: The musical “Hamilton” is a lot closer.

So now the nation as a whole has to embrace “biblical morality?”  Old Testament or New, Bobo?  And if you choose New you might tell the Y’all Qaeda/Talibangelical howlers on your side of the fence to read a bit more about Jesus and what he really said and stood for.  They don’t seem to have a clue.  Now here’s the comment from “soxared, 04-07-13:”

“Mr. Brooks, this is a new low, even for you: a cheap, condescending, paper-thin finger-wagging to women to stay home, bake cookies and stand by your man. Identity politics is the left’s bête noir? Pray tell, then, what are identity politics on the Right?

One of the false “tropes,” as you put it, is the Right’s “adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order.” Mitch McConnell’s usurpation of a president’s Constitutional prerogatives are now praised because the said president was black?

Marching is protest, Mr. Brooks, and right-thinking American women were appalled that Donald Trump, his mind, heart, hands and history dwelling in the gutter, was nonetheless excused, accepted and approved for admitting to sexual predation. And you sniff at women’s indignation and protest?

A serious problem with America, Mr. Brooks, are American women, like those in Niles, Michigan who “would not have felt at home” protesting their degradation in a hostile, male-dominated society? No, I suppose not; they were too busy being the doormats that they were weaned to be from mother’s milk; women who have given up.

I think, Mr. Brooks, that you’re underestimating the resolve of American women who see this Neanderthalic administration as one giant box-cutter.  You don’t think that McConnell’s opposition to President Obama was “identity politics” writ rather large? Was not he, all by his lonesome, the seminal point of the Tea Party, racist reaction?

So women have no identity?”

Brooks and Krugman

January 20, 2017

In “The Internal Invasion” Bobo babbles that America can unite by containing the new president.  And “gemli” from Boston is pissed, and tells Bobo a thing or two.  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Unready,” says the new president will be corrupt and crazy, but he’ll also be incompetent.  Here’s Bobo:

This is a remarkable day in the history of our country. We have never over our centuries inaugurated a man like Donald Trump as president of the United States. You can select any random group of former presidents — Madison, Lincoln, Hoover, Carter — and none of them are like Trump.

We’ve never had a major national leader as professionally unprepared, intellectually ill informed, morally compromised and temperamentally unfit as the man taking the oath on Friday. So let’s not lessen the shock factor that should reverberate across this extraordinary moment.

It took a lot to get us here. It took a once-in-a-century societal challenge — the stresses and strains brought by the global information age — and it took a political system that was too detached and sclerotic to understand and deal with them.

There are many ways to capture this massive failure, but I’d rely on the old sociological distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. All across the world, we have masses of voters who live in a world of gemeinschaft: where relationships are personal, organic and fused by particular affections. These people define their loyalty to community, faith and nation in personal, in-the-gut sort of ways.

But we have a leadership class and an experience of globalization that is from the world of gesellschaft: where systems are impersonal, rule based, abstract, indirect and formal.

Many people in Europe love their particular country with a vestigial affection that is like family England, Holland or France. But meritocratic elites of Europe gave them an abstract intellectual construct called the European Union.

Many Americans think their families and their neighborhoods are being denuded by the impersonal forces of globalization, finance and technology. All the Republican establishment could offer was abstract paeans to the free market. All the Democrats could offer was Hillary Clinton, the ultimate cautious, remote, calculating, gesellschaft thinker.

It was the right moment for Trump, the ultimate gemeinschaft man. He is all gut instinct, all blood and soil, all about loyalty over detached reason. His business is a pre-modern family clan, not an impersonal corporation, and he is staffing his White House as a pre-modern family monarchy, with his relatives and a few royal retainers. In his business and political dealings, he simply doesn’t acknowledge the difference between private and public, personal and impersonal. Everything is personal, pulsating outward from his needy core.

The very thing that made him right electorally for this moment will probably make him an incompetent president. He is the ultimate anti-institutional man, but the president sits at the nerve center of a routinized, regularized four-million-person institution. If the figure at the center can’t give consistent, clear and informed direction, the whole system goes haywire, with vicious infighting and creeping anarchy.

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

The real fear should be that Trump is Captain Chaos, the ignorant dauphin of disorder. All the standard practices, norms, ways of speaking and interacting will be degraded and shredded. The political system and the economy will grind to a battered crawl.

That’s ultimately why this could be a pivotal day. For the past few decades our leadership class has been polarized. We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month. For America to thrive, people across government will have to cooperate and build arrangements to quarantine and work around the president.

People in the defense, diplomatic and intelligence communities will have to build systems to prevent him from intentionally or unintentionally bumbling into a global crisis. People in his administration and in Congress will have to create systems so his ill-informed verbal spasms don’t derail coherent legislation.

If Trump’s opponents behave as clownishly as he does — like the congressmen who are narcissistically boycotting the inaugural — the whole government will get further delegitimized. But if people redouble their commitment to constitutional norms and practices, to substance and dignity, this thing is survivable.

Already you see the political system uniting to contain Trump. In negotiations on the Hill, administration officials feel free to ignore his verbiage on health care and other issues. Members of his team are already good at pretending that Trump doesn’t mean what he clearly does mean, on matters of NATO and much else.

I’ve been rewatching “Yes, Minister” these days. That was a hilarious British sitcom about a permanent government apparatus that contained and overruled a bumbling political master. America will need a beneficent version of that sort of clever cooperation.

With Trump it’s not the ideology, it’s the disorder. Containing that could be the patriotic cause that brings us together.

Shove it, Bobo.  And while you’re at it, here’s a YOOGE plate of salted rat dicks for you, and a comment from “gemli:”

“Congressman John Lewis is boycotting the inauguration. Does he strike anyone as clownish? Maybe the humor is lost on a man who had his head bashed in by ignorant racist thugs. Maybe he wants to send the signal that things are not normal by refusing to show tacit approval of a man who has appointed similar thugs, ideologues and incompetent fools to his cabinet.

We’re not obligated to make a pact with the devil. We needn’t listen to conservatives like Mr. Brooks, who spent years preparing the political soil in which a malignant weed has taken root. We should be stunned by the bitter irony of the claim that Lewis and his cohort are behaving narcissistically when they refuse to watch a power-hungry, ignorant and psychologically unstable narcissist grope the bible and befoul the oath of office.

Brooks says we should pretend that things are normal. He says we should work within the system that obstructed an honorable man like Barack Obama, and that has promised to undo everything he stood for. We should embrace the decision of clueless voters who had no idea where their self-interests lay. We should bend our knee to the Bannons and the Carsons and the Ryans and to the Wall Street thieves who now guard the economy we depend on to survive.

We’re not getting the gemeinschaft or the gesellschaft. We’re getting the frickenshaft, and we’re not obliged to kneel before these idiots and take it.”  Amen.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Betsy DeVos, whom Donald Trump has nominated as education secretary, doesn’t know basic education terms, doesn’t know about federal statutes governing special education, but thinks school officials should carry guns to defend against grizzly bears.

Monica Crowley, selected as deputy national security adviser, withdrew after it was revealed that much of her past writing was plagiarized. Many other national security positions remain unfilled, and it’s unclear how much if any of the briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration have even been read.

Meanwhile Rex Tillerson, selected as secretary of state, casually declared that America would block Chinese access to bases in the South China Sea, apparently unaware that he was in effect threatening to go to war if China called his bluff.

Do you see a pattern here?

It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the incoming administration would be blatantly corrupt. But would it at least be efficient in its corruption?

Many Trump voters certainly thought they were choosing a smart businessman who would get things done. And even those who knew better may have hoped that the president-elect, his ego finally sated, would settle down to running the country — or at least delegate the boring business of governing America to people actually capable of doing the job.

But it’s not happening. Mr. Trump hasn’t pivoted, matured, whatever term you prefer. He’s still the insecure, short-attention-span egomaniac he always was. Worse, he is surrounding himself with people who share many of his flaws — perhaps because they’re the sort of people with whom he is comfortable.

So the typical Trump nominee, in everything from economics to diplomacy to national security, is ethically challenged, ignorant about the area of policy he or she is supposed to manage and deeply incurious. Some, like Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice as national security adviser, are even as addicted as their boss to internet conspiracy theories. This isn’t a team that will compensate for the commander in chief’s weaknesses; on the contrary, it’s a team that will amplify them.

Why does this matter? If you want a model for how the Trump-Putin administration is likely to function (or malfunction), it’s helpful to recall what happened during the Bush-Cheney years.

People tend to forget the extent to which the last Republican administration was also characterized by cronyism, the appointment of unqualified but well-connected people to key positions. It wasn’t as extreme as what we’re seeing now, but it was striking at the time. Remember “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”? And it caused very real damage.

In particular, if you want some notion of what Trump governance is likely to look like, consider the botched occupation of Iraq. People who knew anything about nation-building weren’t wanted; party loyalists — and corporate profiteers — took their place. There’s even a little-known connection: Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the mercenary outfit that, among other things, helped destabilize Iraq by firing into a crowd of civilians.

Now the conditions that prevailed in Iraq — blind ideology, contempt for expertise, effective absence of any enforcement of ethics rules — have come to America, but in a far more acute form.

And what will happen when we face a crisis? Remember, Katrina was the event that finally revealed the costs of Bush-era cronyism to all.

Crises of some kind are bound to occur on any president’s watch. They appear especially likely given the crew that’s coming in and their allies in Congress: Given the stated priorities of the people about to take charge, we could very well see collapsing health care, a trade war and a military standoff with China just in the next year.

But even if we somehow skirt those dangers, stuff always happens. Maybe there will be a new economic crisis, helped along by the rush to undo financial regulation. Maybe there will be a foreign affairs crisis, say over adventurism in the Baltics by Mr. Trump’s good friend Vladimir. Maybe it will be something we’re not thinking about. Then what?

Real crises need real solutions. They can’t be resolved with a killer tweet, or by having your friends in the F.B.I. or the Kremlin feed the media stories that take your problems off the front page. What the situation demands are knowledgeable, levelheaded people in positions of authority.

But as far as we know, almost no people meeting that description will be in the new administration, except possibly the nominee for defense secretary — whose nickname just happens to be “Mad Dog.”

So there you have it: an administration unprecedented in its corruption, but also completely unprepared to govern. It’s going to be terrific, let me tell you.

Solo Bobo

January 17, 2017

Bobo seems to be suffering from buyer’s remorse.  In “Lord of Misrule” he whines that we’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king.  Um, what’s this “we” shit, Bobo?  The “we” to which I belong racked up 3 million more votes for our candidate.  It’s your crowd that saddled us with the Trumpocalypse.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say about this as well.  Here’s Bobo:

King David was most compelling when he danced. Overcome by gratitude to God, he stripped down to his linens and whirled about before the ark of the covenant — his love and joy spilling beyond the boundaries of normal decorum.

His wife, Michal, the daughter of King Saul, was repulsed by his behavior, especially because he was doing it in front of the commoners. She snarked at him when he got home for exposing himself in front of the servants’ slave girls like some scurrilous fellow.

The early Christians seem to have worshiped the way David did, with ecstatic dancing, communal joy and what Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence.” In her book “Dancing in the Streets,” Barbara Ehrenreich argues that in the first centuries of Christianity, worship of Jesus overlapped with worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry. Both Jesus and Dionysus upended class categories. Both turned water into wine. Second- and third-century statuettes show Dionysus hanging on a cross.

But when the church became more hierarchical, the Michals took over. Somber priest-led rituals began to replace direct access to the divine. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus urged, “Let us sing hymns instead of striking drums, have psalms instead of frivolous music and song, … modesty instead of laughter, wise contemplation instead of intoxication, seriousness instead of delirium.”

When elites try to quash the manners and impulses of the people, those impulses are bound to spill out in some other way. By the Middle Ages the cathedrals were strictly hierarchical, so the people created carnivals where everything was turned on its head. During carnival (Purim is the Jewish version), men dressed like women, the people could insult the king and bishops, drunkenness and ribaldry was prized over sober propriety.

As Ehrenreich puts it, “Whatever social category you had been boxed into — male or female, rich or poor — carnival was a chance to escape from it.”

Sometimes the celebration took on an enthusiasm that is hard for us to fathom. In 1278, 200 people kept dancing on a bridge in Utrecht until it collapsed and all were drowned.

The carnivals were partly a way to blow off steam, but in hard times they served as occasions for genuine populist revolts. In 1511, a carnival in Udine, Italy, turned into a riot that led to the murder of 50 nobles and the sacking of more than 20 palaces.

Carnival culture was raw, lascivious and disgraceful, and it elevated a certain social type, the fool.

There were many different kinds of fools: holy fools, hapless fools, vicious fools. Fools were rude and frequently unabashed liars. They were willing to make idiots of themselves. The point of the fool was not to be admirable in himself, but to be the class clown who had the guts to talk back to the teacher. People enjoyed carnival culture, the feast of fools, as a way to take a whack at the status quo.

You can see where I’m going with this. We live at a time of wide social inequality. The intellectual straitjackets have been getting tighter. The universities have become modern cathedrals, where social hierarchies are defined and reinforced.

We’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king. Donald Trump exists on two levels: the presidential level and the fool level. On one level he makes personnel and other decisions. On the other he tweets. (I honestly don’t know which level is more important to him.)

His tweets are classic fool behavior. They are raw, ridiculous and frequently self-destructive. He takes on an icon of the official culture and he throws mud at it. The point is not the message of the tweet. It’s to symbolically upend hierarchy, to be oppositional.

The assault on Representative John Lewis was classic. He picked one of the most officially admired people in the country and he leveled the most ridiculous possible charge (all talk and no action). It was a tweet devilishly well crafted to create the maximum official uproar. Anybody who writes for a living knows how to manipulate an outraged response, and Trump is a fool puppet master.

The sad part is that so many people treat Trump’s tweets as if they are arguments when in fact they are carnival. With their conniption fits, Trump’s responders feed into the dynamic he needs. They contribute to carnival culture.

The first problem with today’s carnival culture is that there’s an ocean of sadism lurking just below the surface. The second is that it’s not real. It doesn’t really address the inequalities that give rise to it. It’s just combative display.

This is a resolution I’m probably going to break, but I resolve to write about Trump only on the presidential level, not on the carnival level. I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets. I really wish some of my media confreres would do the same.

Well.  That was an especially rancid pile.  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

Wait just a second—if electing a Fool King is a reaction to social injustice and rigid hierarchies, then why elect a Republican? Democrats have been fighting to loosen the chains for the last century. Republicans are the ones locking up the population, thumping the Bible, dragging us into wars and legislating bathroom behavior.

So what is this Fool King a protest against? He’s marching under a banner that says Down with Affordable Medical Care! Keep Salaries Low! Build a Wall! Fight the Nazis in the FBI! All Hail Mother Russia!

He tweets like a disturbed adolescent Internet troll. And yet David Brooks says that those of us who react to his foolish tweets are feeding into his dynamic. That’s just shifting the blame onto sensible people who point out that the emperor has no clothes. Possibly in a Russian hotel room. With two leaky hookers.

I can see why Mr. Brooks may want to disown his party’s chosen champion, but the rest of us aren’t obliged to pretend that things are normal.

The Fool King is not remotely presidential, so it’s not possible to write about him only on the presidential level. That’s what got us to this incomprehensible mess: millions of Americans looked at this festering blister of a candidate and thought that he was presidential.

The inauguration will not only be a victory for an illegitimate president. It will also be a victory for the illegitimate voter.”

Brooks and Krugman

January 13, 2017

This is lovely.  Both Bobo and Prof. Krugman have addressed the same problem today.  And Bobo thinks he has a thing or two to say about the economics of health care…  He asks “Do Markets Work in Health Care?” and says that there’s psychology as well as economics in a consumer-based system.  “Gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Prof. Krugman, who actually KNOWS a thing or three about economics, addresses “Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions” and says magical thinking won’t work on health care.  Here’s Bobo:

Believe it or not, we’re not really going to have to spend the next four years wading through wonky drudgery of Russian spy dossiers and hotel sex cameras. At some point we’re going to have a thrilling debate over the most scintillating question in health care policy.

The Republicans are going to try to replace Obamacare. They’re probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms.

As you know, the American health care system is not like a normal market. When you make most health care decisions you don’t get much information on comparative cost and quality; the personal bill you get is only vaguely related to the services; the expense is often determined by how many procedures are done, not whether the problem is fixed.

You wouldn’t buy a phone this way.

The Republicans are going to try to introduce more normal market incentives into the process. They are probably going to rely on refundable tax credits and health savings accounts so everybody can afford to shop for their own insurance and care.

This would still be nothing like a free-market system — it would still be a highly regulated, largely public benefit — but it would rely more on consumer incentives.

The crucial question is: Do market incentives work in health care?

This is really two questions. The economic one: Would market mechanisms improve quality and reduce costs? The psychological one: Do people want the extra cognitive burden of shopping for health care, or would they rather offload those decisions to someone else?

Most progressives say markets don’t work. They point back to a famous essay the economist Kenneth Arrow wrote in 1963, which is the same year the Beach Boys had a huge hit with “Surfer Girl.”

Arrow argued that there are several features that make health care unlike normal markets. People’s needs for health care are unpredictable, unlike food and clothing. The doctor-patient relationship is unique and demands a high level of trust, empathy and care. Providers know much more about medicine than patients do, so the information is hopelessly asymmetric. Patients on a gurney can’t really make normal choices, and payment comes after care, not before.

These are all solid points, especially the doctor-patient one. But health care has become less exceptional over time. The internet and other mechanisms help customers acquire a lot more information. Sophisticated modeling helps with unpredictability in a bunch of fields.

We put our lives in the hands of for-profit companies all the time. I spent part of my week learning from an aviation mechanic how hard manufacturers work to prevent pieces of metal from shredding through the cabin if an engine explodes. Airplanes are ridiculously safe.

Proponents of market-based health care rely less on theory and more on data. The most fair-minded review of the evidence I’ve read comes from a McKinsey report written by Penelope Dash and David Meredith. They noted that sometimes market forces lead to worse outcomes, but “we have been most struck by health systems in which provider competition, managed effectively, has improved outcomes and patient choice significantly, while at the same time reducing system costs.”

There’s much research to suggest that people are able to behave like intelligent health care consumers. Work by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard and others found higher-performing hospitals do gain greater market share over time. People know quality and flock to it.

Furthermore, health care providers work hard to keep up with the competitors. When one provider becomes more productive, the neighboring ones tend to as well.

There are plenty of examples where market competition has improved health care delivery. The Medicare Part D program, passed under President George W. Bush, created competition around drug benefits. The program has provided coverage for millions while coming in at 57 percent under the cost of what the Congressional Budget Office initially projected. A study of Indiana’s health savings accounts found the state’s expenses were reduced by 11 percent.

Laser eye surgery produces more patient satisfaction than any other surgery. But it’s generally not covered by insurance, so it’s a free market. Twenty years ago it cost about $2,200 per eye. Now I see ads starting at $250 an eye.

There’s a big chunk of evidence that market incentives would work in health care, especially in non-acute care. The harder problem for Republicans may be political. This is a harried society. People may not want the added burdens of making health care decisions on top of all the others. This is a distrustful society. People may not trust themselves or others to make decisions. This is an insecure society. People may not want what they perceive as another risk factor in their lives.

The policy case for the Republican plans is solid. Will they persuade in this psychological environment? I doubt it.

Bobo doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that Lasix surgery is optional, and can be considered in the same camp as plastic surgery.  I doubt that many cancer patients will defer treatment until the price comes down…  But then again, Bobo is a maroon.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“The reason we have Obamacare is because the market-friendly days of old were not friendly to sick people. They were friendly to the markets at the expense of the sick. John Boehner went into a purple-tongued apoplectic rage when Obamacare was passed, not because it would help millions of the uninsured sick, but because it would inconvenience the ability of the free market to prey on them.

Health care is not a commodity, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity, and the richest nation in the world should have found a way to provide medical care to the people whose lifetime of labor made it so. Instead of worrying about how health care will impact insurance companies, we should wonder how other advanced nations manage to provide low-cost, quality care to their citizens, and why we can’t.

Martin Shkreli is the poster boy for the free-market approach to health care. He may have seemed like an extreme example, but he was a piker when it came to robbing people blind for what were inexpensive drugs. How does his strategy differ from our current system, in which the U.S. isn’t allowed to negotiate drug prices?

There is one definitive and fool-proof test for determining the most compassionate and cost-effective health-care system that will support the needs of all our citizens: if Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress are for it, run screaming in the other direction. You’ll always be right.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Thanks, Comey.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is now investigating the way the F.B.I. director conveyed the false impression of an emerging Clinton scandal just days before the election, even as he said nothing about ongoing investigations into Russian intervention and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That action very probably installed Donald Trump in the White House. And it’s already obvious that the incoming commander in chief will be a walking, tweeting ethical disaster.

On the other hand, he’s also dangerously delusional about policy.

Some Republicans appear to be realizing that their long con on Obamacare has reached its limit. Chanting “repeal and replace” may have worked as a political strategy, but coming up with a conservative replacement for the Affordable Care Act — one that doesn’t take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans — isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible.

But it seems that nobody told Mr. Trump. In Wednesday’s news conference, he asserted that he would submit a replacement plan, “probably the same day” as Obamacare’s repeal — “could be the same hour” — that will be “far less expensive and far better”; also, with much lower deductibles.

This is crazy, on multiple levels.

The truth is that even if Republicans were settled on the broad outlines of a health care plan — the way Democrats were when President Obama took office — turning such an outline into real legislation is a time-consuming process.

In any case, however, the G.O.P. has spent seven years denouncing the Affordable Care Act without ever producing even the ghost of an alternative. That’s not going to change in the next few weeks, or ever. For the anti-Obamacare campaign has always been based on lies that can’t survive actual repeal.

A prime example is the pretense that health reform hasn’t helped anyone. “Things are only getting worse under Obamacare,” declared Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, last week. Yet the reality is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without insurance since reform went into effect — and an overwhelming majority of those covered by the new health exchanges are satisfied with their coverage.

How have Republicans nonetheless been able to get away with this lie? Part of the answer is that many of the newly insured don’t know that they’re being covered via Obamacare, or at any rate don’t realize that they will lose coverage if it’s repealed.

But that will change if repeal proceeds. For example, the percentage of nonelderly white adults without insurance fell by almost half from 2010 to 2016, from 16.4 to 8.7, a gain surely concentrated in the Trump-supporting white working class. Repeal would send that number right back up, and there would be no hiding the damage.

Meanwhile, Republicans have made hay over this year’s increase in insurance premiums. But this looks very much like a one-time adjustment; and the broader picture is that health costs have actually gone up much more slowly since Obamacare was enacted than they did before, in part due to the law’s cost-control features, which have worked far better than most expected.

And if the Affordable Care Act is killed, myths about its costs will be replaced by the reality of soaring bills for millions of Americans who don’t realize how much the act has helped them.

But won’t Trumpcare solve all these problems, by offering something much better and cheaper? Not a chance.

Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do have a philosophy — and it’s all about less. Less regulation, so that insurers can turn you down if you have a pre-existing condition. Less government support, so if you can’t afford coverage, too bad. And less coverage in general: Republican ideas about cost control are all about “skin in the game,” requiring people to pay more out of pocket (which somehow doesn’t stop them from complaining about high deductibles).

Implementing this philosophy would deliver a big windfall to the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut from Obamacare repeal, and it would mean lower premiums for a relatively small number of currently healthy individuals — especially if they’re rich enough that they don’t need to worry about high deductibles.

But the idea that it would lead to big cost savings over all is pure fantasy, and it would have a devastating effect on the millions who have gained coverage during the Obama years.

As I said, it looks as if some Republicans realize this. They may go ahead with repeal-but-don’t-replace anyway, but they’ll probably do it because they believe they can find some way to blame Democrats for the ensuing disaster.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, gives every impression of having no idea whatsoever what the issues are. But then, is there any area of policy where he does?

No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.

Brooks and Rosenthal

January 10, 2017

In “Bannon Versus Trump” Bobo gurgles that the larger battle is over whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party.  Will become?  Really, Bobo?  WILL become?  With Sessions as the possible new Attorney General?  Mr. Rosenthal, in “Republican Hypocrisy on Trump’s Nominees,” says Mitch McConnell used to be demanding when it came to presidential nominees. How times have changed.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment by “soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, IL:

It’s becoming clear that for the next few years American foreign policy will be shaped by the struggle among Republican regulars, populist ethno-nationalists and the forces of perpetual chaos unleashed by Donald Trump’s attention span.

The Republican regulars build their grand strategies upon the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace. The regulars seek to preserve and extend this order, and see Vladimir Putin as a wolf who tears away at it.

The populist ethno-nationalists in the Trump White House do not believe in this order. Their critique — which is simultaneously moral, religious, economic, political and racial — is nicely summarized in the remarks Steve Bannon made to a Vatican conference in 2014.

Once there was a collection of Judeo-Christian nation-states, Bannon argued, that practiced a humane form of biblical capitalism and fostered culturally coherent communities. But in the past few decades, the party of Davos — with its globalism, relativism, pluralism and diversity — has sapped away the moral foundations of this Judeo-Christian way of life.

Humane capitalism has been replaced by the savage capitalism that brought us the financial crisis. National democracy has been replaced by a crony-capitalist network of global elites. Traditional virtue has been replaced by abortion and gay marriage. Sovereign nation-states are being replaced by hapless multilateral organizations like the E.U.

Decadent and enervated, the West lies vulnerable in the face of a confident and convicted Islamofascism, which is the cosmic threat of our time.

In this view, Putin is a valuable ally precisely because he also seeks to replace the multiracial, multilingual global order with strong nation-states. Putin ardently defends traditional values. He knows how to take the fight to radical Islam.

It’s actually interesting to read Donald Trump’s ideologist, Bannon, next to Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin. It’s like going back to the 20th century and reading two versions of Marxism.

One is American Christian and the other orthodox Russian, but both have grandiose, sweeping theories of world history, both believe we’re in an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, both seamlessly combine economic, moral and political analysis. Both self-consciously see themselves as part of a loosely affiliated international populist movement, including the National Front in France, Nigel Farage in Britain and many others. Dugin wrote positively about Trump last winter, and Bannon referred to Dugin in his Vatican remarks.

“We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things,” Dugin has written, “of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy and political correctness — everything that is the face of the Beast, the Antichrist.”

“We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said, “particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”

Last week’s intelligence report on Russian hacking brought the Republican regulars, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, into direct conflict with the ethno-nationalist populists. Trump planted himself firmly in the latter camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him.

If Trump were as effective as Putin, we’d probably see a radical shift in American grand strategy, a shift away from the postwar global consensus and toward an alliance with various right-wing populist movements simmering around the globe.

But Trump is no Putin. Putin is theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable. When Bannon, Michael Flynn and others try to make Trump into a revolutionary foreign policy president, they will be taking on the entire foreign policy establishment under a leader who may sympathize with them, but is inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.

I’m personally betting the foreign policy apparatus, including the secretaries of state and defense, will grind down the populists around Trump. Frictions will explode within the insanely confusing lines of authority in the White House. Trump will find he likes hanging around the global establishment the way he liked having the Clintons at his wedding. In office he won’t be able to fixate on ISIS but will face a blizzard of problems, and thus be dependent on the established institutions.

The result may be a million astounding tweets, but substantively no fundamental strategic shift — not terrible policy-making, but not good policy-making, either.

The larger battle is over ideas, whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party like the National Front or the U.K. Independence Party. In this fight the populists might do better. There’s something malevolently forceful about their ideology, which does remind you of Marxism in its early days. There’s something flaccid about globalism, which is de-spiritualized and which doesn’t really have an answer for our economic and cultural problems.

In short, I suspect Steve Bannon is going to fail to corral the peripatetic brain of Donald Trump. But he may have more influence on the next generation.

If Bannon influences the next generation then I’m profoundly glad that I only have a few more years to live.  Here’s the comment from “soxared, 04-07-13:”

“Mr. Brooks, this column defines the utter chaos to come. And when Stephen Bannon is the architect of the next president’s worldview, well, we’re not at the lip of the abyss, we’re already plummeting.

Bannon, quite frankly, is a white nationalist. He’s Dylann Roof without the rap sheet of nine souls destroyed. Bannon is the lieutenant in the army of the “Judeo-Christian West” that has drawn a line in the sand against multiculturalism. As I read this devil’s script for international anarchy, all I could think of was that Bannon and Vladimir Putin’s own Bannon, Aleksandr Dugin have in mind a joint dual national program to eliminate Islam from the world’s face and, in the process, begin the systematic subjugation of mankind, those peoples not to their liking. Bannon, please recall, will be at Trump’s elbow in the Oval Office.

The absolutism of both Bannon and Dugan, are quite terrifying. The danger to our Republic, though, is the next president. It has been amply documented that his infinitesimal attention span is the last link in the chain of sanity. Its end is perilously close.

Leavening the loaf in the hellish oven until it is ripe are your GOP “ethno-nationalist populists.” Start with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the Senate and House leaders, who worked assiduously to mine President Obama’s tenure with failure; both are viciously hostile to democracy. Putin is their soul mate, all things considered.

The “cosmic threat of our time” is the looming Trump administration.”

And now here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Constitution and American tradition provide lots of ways for a president to exercise executive power.

The president can, for example, create an agenda and propose legislation to Congress to carry it out; appoint cabinet members, with the Senate providing its advice and consent, and use the platform of the presidency to talk to Americans about important issues.

When the modern-day Republicans are in charge of the White House and Congress, of course, law, tradition and principle have little meaning.

Senator Mitch McConnell once said his party’s most important task was to deny Obama a second term. In February 2009, he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid, then the majority leader, saying there could be no action on Obama’s nominees pending a long list of demands, including completion of reviews by the Office of Government Ethics. McConnell only escalated when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014 and by last year he was refusing even to consider any Supreme Court nomination Obama might make.

So how will things be with our new Republican president?

We don’t really know what agenda Donald Trump will pursue, since he didn’t offer anything like a realistic one to voters. He takes office thanks to the obsolete and undemocratic Electoral College, as the second Republican president in a row to be rejected by a substantial majority of voters.

With the inauguration less than two weeks away, it’s certainly looking as if McConnell’s Republican Senate majority will do a complete about-face and rush through Trump’s appointments without the process on which senators used to insist.

McConnell and his cronies have crammed the Senate schedule full of confirmation hearings for Trump’s selections for major cabinet officials, including several of the biggest positions for this Wednesday.

Unfortunately, not all of these candidates have been through the customary vetting process. Last week, the Office of Government Ethics informed congressional Democrats that it had not yet had time to screen all of the Trump appointees, which created “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.” Democrats want to delay some hearings until the candidates can be vetted.

McConnell’s response to Democrats’ concerns has been typically cynical and hypocritical.

This year, he’s telling Democrats to “grow up.” “All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” he said on Sunday.

Ethics review is hardly a “little procedural complaint,” especially since the Trump camp reportedly did far less than previous presidential transition teams to vet candidates before nominating them. Of course, since Trump won’t clear up the endless conflicts of interest involving his business interests and those of his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom he is appointing to a senior White House role, why should we expect him to be concerned about his appointees’ conflicts?

If you think Trump’s partisan handmaidens in Congress are going to do the vetting for him, then you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics. What you can expect is a once-over-lightly review by the Republicans and efforts to thwart any Democrats who try to do the vetting.

So what about the “bully pulpit” that the presidency is going to give Trump once he takes office? The problem is that we are not supposed to take anything that Trump says seriously.

On Monday, Trump tore into Meryl Streep for mentioning in her Golden Globes speech that he had mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during the campaign. Trump said, as he had before, that he had never mocked Kovaleski, despite videos viewed millions of times online that show him doing exactly that.

The problem, according to Trump’s chief propagandist, Kellyanne Conway, is that people are actually paying attention to what Trump says.

“You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth,” Conway sneered. Instead, she said, we should all “look at what’s in his heart.”

After Trump was elected, he told Times editors, reporters and business executives that he wasn’t interested in prosecuting Hillary Clinton anymore. The next day, he was smirking triumphantly while his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”

Does he believe in his heart that Clinton should be behind bars? Or does he believe what he said in a crowded conference room at The Times the day before? Or neither?

The sad truth is, we’re never going to know. We will never be able to trust what Trump tells us about his principles, his policies and his intentions as president — if he bothers to tell us anything at all. Mostly, we’re all just supposed to read his mind.