Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

August 16, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom weighs in on “Charlottesville, ISIS and Us” and says pluralism is America’s strength, both at home and abroad.  Tell that to the nest of Nazis in the White House, Tommy.  Mr. Bruni, in “Can’t Eclipse the American Spirit,” says what’s happening in the heavens is a bonanza on earth.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Al Udeid, Qatar:

I’ve been on the road since the Charlottesville killing. I am traveling around the Arab world and Afghanistan with the chief of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein; his civilian boss, the Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson; and their aides. We’re currently at the giant Al Udeid Air Base, from which America’s entire ISIS-Syria-Iraq-Afghanistan air war is run.

With all the news from Charlottesville, I was feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then I looked around me here, and the connection with Charlottesville became obvious. Just one glance at our traveling party and the crews at this base and you realize immediately why we are the most powerful country in the world.

It’s not because we own F-22s. And it surely isn’t that we embrace white supremacy. It’s because we embrace pluralism. It’s because we can still make out of many, one.

I am a pluralism supremacist.

How could I not be? I look around me and see our Air Force chief, who is of Eastern European Jewish descent, reporting to a woman Air Force secretary, who was among the early women graduates of the Air Force Academy and whose senior aide is an African-American woman lieutenant colonel. The base commander here in Qatar, overseeing the whole air war, is of Armenian descent, and his top deputy is of Lebanese descent.

In the control center I’m introduced to the two Russian-speaking U.S. servicemen who 10 to 12 times a day get on the local “hotline” with the Russian command post in Syria to make sure Russian planes don’t collide with ours. One of the servicemen was born in Russia and the other left Kiev, Ukraine, just five years ago, in part, he told me, because he dreamed of joining the U.S. Air Force: “This is the country of opportunity.”

Then we get a briefing from the combat innovation team, which is designing a new algorithm for dynamic targeting with colleagues in Silicon Valley. I ask their commander about his last name — Ito — and he explains, “My dad is from Cuba and my mother is from Mexico.” The intelligence briefing was delivered by “Captain Yang.”

The very reason America is the supreme power in this region is that the U.S. military can take all of those different people and make them into a fist. And the very reason we are stuck in this region and can’t get out is that so many of the nation-states and people here are fighting only for their exclusivist dreams of supremacy — Shiite supremacy, Sunni supremacy, Alawite supremacy, Taliban supremacy, Turkish supremacy and Persian supremacy.

With a few exceptions, they can’t generate self-sustaining power-sharing. Which is why we keep defeating the worst of them and they keep losing the peace, because the best of them can never share power long enough and deep enough to build lasting stability.

None of the U.S. military people here talk U.S. politics. But I do. As a citizen, I say they deserve a commander in chief who does not need three tries to grudgingly denounce violent white supremacists. Pluralism is our true source of strength at home and abroad. It has to be nurtured, celebrated and protected from its enemies everywhere and always.

Now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk strategy. We toured the command center here with its wall-size screens that take the data from satellites, drones, manned aircraft, cyber, sensors, human intelligence and aerial refueling tankers and meld them into a series of strategic targeting decisions. Watching the choreography of all this is both chilling and mesmerizing.

We are moving “from wars of attrition to wars of cognition,” explained General Goldfein. These new integrated systems are simultaneously “state of the art, unparalleled — and too slow for the future.”

On one recent day you could look up at those screens and find a Syrian fighter jet preparing to drop bombs near U.S. special forces in Syria. The Syrian jet is about to be blown out of the sky by a U.S. fighter jet, while two Russian fighters watch from a higher altitude and a stealth U.S. F-22 watches the Russians watching the U.S. plane watching the Syrian.

While that is all happening, the coastal Syrian surface-to-air system lights up as Turkish, Jordanian and Israeli jets buzz in and out of theater. And almost daily an Iranian-made drone being directed from the back of an R.V. by Iranian Revolutionary Guards members in the desert of eastern Syria is hunting for U.S. special forces. We’ve shot down a couple of those, too.

If you tried to sell this very real drama to a video game company, it would be rejected as unrealistic.

Just one U.S. fighter jet over Syria — and we have them in the air now 24/7 — has to be aerially refueled eight or nine times during its eight-hour mission. Add in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on any given day the Air Force is coordinating as many as 60 KC-135 tankers (aerial gas stations) operating over these three countries.

Meanwhile, ISIS is buying drones from online shopping sites, jury-rigging them with GoPro cameras and grenades and dropping them on U.S. and Iraqi troops, or it’s armor-plating S.U.V.s, loading them with explosives and a suicide bomber and turning them into Mad Max vehicles driven right into our troops or our allies.

The good news? ISIS, having been largely defeated in Iraq, will most likely be defeated in Syria, too, by Americans, Kurds, Russians, Syrians, Iranians and pro-Iranian militias. The bad news? There is a good chance that ISIS’ territory will ultimately fall under Iran’s sway.

Preventing that would require the Arab-Sunni Muslim world to get its act together, but it is as weak and divided as ever. That’s why Iran now indirectly controls four Arab capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Sana and Damascus. And what is really scary is that it controls them at a pretty cheap price through proxies. We can defeat ISIS extremism, with our pluralistic fighting machine, but the one thing we can’t do is create Sunni-Shiite pluralism and power-sharing to replace it. Which is why we keep getting dragged back — not to make things better but, as always, to prevent the bad from becoming the awful.

I wanted it to be otherwise, but it’s not. We tried. So, do we just keep trying? You can’t visit one of these huge U.S. bases built since 9/11, see the dedication of the young men and women, and the sophistication of the systems they have built, and not wonder: What if all of this talent and energy and idealism and pluralism were applied not to propping up a decrepit Arab state system against Iran, but instead fixing the worst neighborhoods of Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit?

We need to have a national discussion about this.

Yeah.  I’m sure we’ll get around to that after 3 or 4 Friedman Units.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Situated on a busy thoroughfare and oh so romantically named, the 1st Interstate Motel in Casper, Wyo., could stand improvement. Eight of its nine reviewers on Trip Advisor gave it the lowest rating possible, and they weren’t shy about their reasons. “Absolutely filthy.” “Two empty liquor bottles under the bed.” “Foul smell.” “Horrible smell.” “Hell hole.”

But you can snag a room this coming Sunday and Monday for only $1,211 a night, according to my recent search on hotels.com.

A bargain! No, really. The initially advertised rate was $1,346, for two queen beds. For a kitchenette as well, it was $1,616, later discounted to $1,454. Act now while supplies last.

What the 1st Interstate Motel has in lieu of an endurable odor is an exalted latitude: Casper lies on the path of towns and cities from Oregon to South Carolina that are set to experience a total eclipse on Monday. And this eclipse is a total mind-blower.

I don’t mean astronomically — moon smothers sun, day turns to night, birds freak out, all of that. I mean entrepreneurially. What’s happening in the heavens is a bonanza here on earth, in this money-minded patch of purple mountains, fruited plains and Donald Trump-branded properties called the United States.

Our response affirms that we Americans haven’t completely lost our savvy or our way. True, we failed to sniff out and stanch a presidential disaster in the making, and we’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis. But we still know a prime interplanetary opportunity when we see one.

The eclipse is precisely that. I’m not well versed in matters of the cosmos — I’ve never even made it through a whole episode of “The Big Bang Theory” — so I’ll describe its rareness in a vocabulary that I and most of you probably better understand. Envision a month in which the president didn’t golf. Imagine a sentence in which he didn’t brag. Fantasize a speech of his that made you proud. The eclipse is that rare.

Contradicting its name, it reveals rather than obscures many aspects of the American character. It’s a portal to the crafty, stagy, venal sum of us.

We Americans are marketers above all else. I wasn’t more than a few minutes into my eclipse research when I learned of the claim that Hopkinsville, Ky., makes to being “the point of greatest eclipse,” a reference to how long the eclipse will last there: 2 minutes 40 seconds.

To exploit this blessing, Hopkinsville has rebranded itself “Eclipseville,” built a snazzy website using that term and orchestrated an array of events. You can combine eclipse viewing with bourbon tasting, which didn’t surprise me, or with scuba diving, which did. When I think Kentucky, I somehow don’t think coral reefs.

You can of course purchase Eclipseville swag: fleece blankets, twill caps, T-shirts in sizes going all the way up to XXXL. We Americans merchandize, and we Americans swell.

We Americans splurge. For sale on a popular site for handmade crafts, there’s a $1,224 “solar eclipse diamond ring” with a series of gems that change colors incrementally from yellow to black and back again, thus evoking “the moon’s journey as it eclipses the sun.”

We Americans congregate. All along the eclipse’s path, there are small outdoor theaters and large outdoor stadiums in which eclipse watchers will come together, each with his or her own protective eclipse eyewear, of which there seem to be thousands of varieties. I’ve yet to order mine. We Americans procrastinate.

There are eclipse concerts, too. In Jefferson City, Mo., a band will play selections from a particular Pink Floyd album, and if anyone out there is guessing “The Wall” or “Animals” and not “Dark Side of the Moon,” you’re eclipse-grounded and must stay indoors.

In Columbia, S.C., a philharmonic orchestra will perform the soundtrack from a certain intergalactic epic. Savor the “Star Wars Musiclipse.”

We Americans sometimes connive, if we’re being honest and not letting our vanity eclipse the truth. In Oregon in particular there have been complaints that hotels canceled or “lost” reservations made long ago so that they could jack up prices, then blamed … computer glitches! That’s my new preferred explanation for Trump’s election.

We Americans are resourceful — evident in how many are poised to wring dough from their domiciles. According to Airbnb, there will be more than 50,000 “guest arrivals” tied to eclipse viewing, in comparison with fewer than 11,000 in the same geographic area a week earlier.

A week after the eclipse, a room at the 1st Interstate Motel reverts to $63 a night. That’s savings of more than $1,000 from the eclipse rate! Amazing what a galactic phenomenon will do — and what we Americans will do with it.

Bobo and Bruni

August 15, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “How to Roll Back Fanaticism.”  He gurgles that modesty is the most powerful answer. It means having the courage to see the world as complicated and progress as a product of balancing competing truths.  Just like Mein Fubar, right Bobo?  Cripes…  Mr. Bruni says “President Trump Cannot Redeem Himself” and that his new words on Charlottesville — muted and late — weren’t enough.  Here’s Bobo, followed by a very brief comment by “JBC” from Indianapolis:

We’re living in an age of anxiety. The country is being transformed by complex forces like changing demographics and technological disruption. Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnamable dread about the future. People will do anything to escape it.

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.

Trump gave people a quick pass out of anxiety. Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites. The problems are clear, and the answers are easy. He has loosed a certain style of thinking. The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.

In the White House you have pseudo-intellectuals like Steve Bannon who think the world is secretly controlled by the “deep state.” You have memos like the one written by the recently fired Rich Higgins, positing a massive worldwide conspiracy involving the A.C.L.U., the Muslim Brotherhood, the United Nations and global Marxism. The alt-right, which has emerged in support of the Trump administration, is marked by the same conspiratorial epistemology. It provides explanations for complex events that allow its followers to avoid anxiety. The leaders of the alt-right claim to possess superior understanding that pierces through the myths that blind common mortals.

The world is secretly controlled by the globalists. The Sandy Hook school shooting never happened. There’s a child abuse ring run by Clintonites out of a pizzeria in Northwest D.C. All the ambiguities of life can be explained by pointing to the malevolent webs of secret power that only you — you precious, superior few — can see and understand.

From here it’s a short leap to those losers in Charlottesville. If the alt-right thinks the globalists secretly and malevolently control society, the neo-Nazis go back to the original version and believe that a conspiracy of Jewish bankers does. For them, tribalism is not only a way to feel some vestige of pride in their own lonely selves, it’s also an explanatory tool. The world can be a bewildering place, but not if you see it as a righteous war between whites and blacks, between straights and gays. The neo-Nazis are not the first group to discover that war is a force that can give an empty life meaning, even a race war.

The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

The temptation is simply to blast the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, the Trumpkins and the rest for being bigoted, vicious and hate-filled. And some of that is necessary. The boundaries of common decency have to be defined.

But throughout history the wiser minds have understood that anger and moral posturing are not a good antidote to rage and fanaticism. Competing vitriols only build on each other.

In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set. It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems. Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths — between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity. There’s always going to be counter-evidence and mystery. There is no final arrangement that will end conflict, just endless searching and adjustment.

Modesty means having the courage to rest in anxiety and not try to quickly escape it. Modesty means being tough enough to endure the pain of uncertainty and coming to appreciate that pain. Uncertainty and anxiety throw you off the smug island of certainty and force you into the free waters of creativity and learning. As Kierkegaard put it, “The more original a human being is, the deeper is his anxiety.”

Over the next few months I’m hoping to write several columns on why modesty and moderation are superior to the spiraling purity movements we see today. It seems like a good time for assertive modesty to take a stand.

And now here’s “JBC,” destroying Bobo in 24 words:

“So basically Brooks wants Obama back, a man who embodied the modesty and respect for the complexity of the world in which we live.”

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

We saw Donald Trump’s true colors on Saturday, when he was given the chance — a ready-made moment for presidential grace — to denounce the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., and instead found wrongdoing “on many sides.” That was Trump minus the pressure and the planning. That was his initial instinct, his first impulse.

We saw a different palette at a lectern in the White House on early Monday afternoon, but it was pure artifice, and muted and unpersuasive because of that.

Sure, he got some of the brush strokes right: the succinct assertion that “racism is evil”; the specific callout of the “K.K.K.” and “white supremacists”; the remembrance — finally — of Heather Heyer, who died as a consequence of the precise hatred that it took him more than two days to name.

But we should note that just hours before he stepped up to that lectern, supposedly to make things right, he used that infernal Twitter account of his to taunt a black chief executive, Kenneth Frazier, for resigning from an administration advisory board. That was unscripted Trump. And he was peeved and hostile, not penitential and healing.

We should also note that he began his brief statement on Monday by congratulating himself on the American economy and implicitly taking credit for what he said were a million new jobs. This is what our self-consumed, ungenerous president prefers to do — brag. He thumps his chest when he should be on his knees.

Atone? Adjust? Inspire? These are outside of his character and beyond his ken. We can’t hope for any better, not at this point. And neither can his fellow Republicans, who find themselves at another juncture — maybe the most important one yet — where they must decide whether to continue showing him allegiance or carve out greater space between him and them. They’re no doubt judging the politics of it all and looking to the numbers. How I wish they’d judge the morality of it all and look to their souls.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather that Trump said what he did on Monday than maintain his silence, which was breathtaking, galling — and spectacularly revealing. He needed to speak, and to say some of the very words he did.

But the length of his delay upped the ante on his delivery, which was passionless. He barely cleared the bar of grudging. He fell miles short of stirring:

“Justice will be delivered.” “No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws.” “We are all made by the same Almighty God.” “Racism is evil.”

Amen, amen, amen and amen, but this preacher’s sermons have been wildly inconsistent and as often designed to divide as to unite. That was his path to power, one much uglier than most politicians travel, and his election didn’t do what so many of the Republicans who reluctantly supported him hoped that it would and make him a bigger person.

No, Trump is the yardstick by which all other Republicans measure large. He makes you yearn for leaders you never in your wildest dreams considered yearn-worthy.

When, before Trump, did you find yourself wishing that someone could just summon the courage, clarity and compassion of … Ted Cruz? If only the Texas senator were our president! Back on Saturday, when Trump was still hemming, hawing and hiding, Cruz released a statement superior to what Trump, with more time and the help of many aides, delivered on Monday.

“The Nazis, the K.K.K. and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred they propagate,” Cruz said. “These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail.”

He was emphatic and eloquent. So were Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, and Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. As I heard their voices and read their words, I saw a glimmer of something positive: Trump’s failings are prompting G.O.P. leaders to enunciate certain principles in a clearer and more unequivocal way than they did before. Because of him, they’re drawing lines in the sand — at least semantically.

Of course the winds of opportunism and convenience could wipe out those lines in an instant. Of course Republicans have upbraided Trump before, only to hug him anew.

But there can be no doubt: He’s past the point of hugging. His pretend amends at the White House on Monday didn’t color him warm, cuddly and redeemed. They were just Trump trying to get through another miserable day. And you, Republican members of Congress, have to figure out how your party and the rest of us get through the next miserable years.

Friedman and Bruni

August 9, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom decides to tell us a thing or two in “Democrats, Start Aiming for the Gut.”  He says Trump’s campaign genius was pushing the right buttons with voters.  In “Sorry, Mike Pence, You’re Doomed” Mr. Bruni says Faust made a better bargain than Donald Trump’s vice president did.  Here’s TMOW:

I was talking the other day to a wise executive friend and he recalled for me something his favorite boss liked to say: When people rise to the top of an organization and get power, they usually do one of two things: “They either swell or they grow.”

Donald Trump has swollen.

Every character flaw he had before taking office — from his serial lying to his intellectual laziness to his loyalty just to himself and his needs — has grown only larger and more toxic as he has been president. He seems not to have grown a whit in the job. He has surprised only on the downside — never once challenging his own base with new thinking or appearing to be remotely interested in being president of all the people, not just his base.

What strikes me most about Trump, though, is how easily he still could become more popular — fast — if he just behaved like a normal leader for a month: if he reached out to Democrats on health care, taxes or infrastructure; stopped insulting every newsperson who writes critically about him; stopped lying; stopped tweeting inanities; and actually apologized for some of his most egregious actions and asked for forgiveness. Americans are a forgiving people.

With the Dow at 22,000 and unemployment at 4.3 percent, oh my God, this guy could actually become more popular outside his base without much effort. That’s scary. But, as I said, it would require Trump doing something he has shown no ability or willingness to do — to grow in office, not just swell.

Still, Democrats would be wise not to count on Trump swelling forever or on Robert Mueller taking him down. Whatever happens, Democrats need to win the argument with at least some Trump/G.O.P. voters. There are many ways for Democrats to counter any new and improved Trump. I’d start by acknowledging a simple fact: Some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them!

That is, Trump’s core base of support — those people who he says would stick by him even if he shot someone “in the middle of Fifth Avenue” — are people who have heard and appreciated all his nativist dog whistles: from his slur that Barack Obama was not born in America to his focus on voter suppression to his restricting transgender people in the military to his reversing affirmative action and imposing immigration restrictions. That white nationalist constituency is beyond the reach — for good reason — of any Democratic candidate.

But Trump did not win, and could not win again, with that group alone. His genius was expanding beyond that nativist core with just enough votes in the right places to get him over the top — by pushing other buttons. These were things that many conservative and centrist voters believe in their guts, even if they don’t articulate them.

Trump connects with these gut issues and takes them in a destructive direction. It’s vital for Democrats to connect with them and take them in a constructive direction.

What issues? Here’s my list:

• We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

• The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism — gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism — and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

• Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

• Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

Voters don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. And when you connect with voters in their guts, they feel respected, and when they feel respected, they will listen to anything — including big issues that are true even if Democrats believe them. Such as the fact that a majority of Americans like Obamacare and want to see it built to last, and a majority of Americans do not like the way Trump is despoiling the environment and bringing back coal.

Indeed, the biggest wind power states in America — Texas, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — are all red states. The Democrats literally have the wind at their backs on health care and clean energy.

But to be heard, they need candidates who can pass a gut check with the more moderate Trump/G.O.P. voters. Just 10 percent of Trump voters would suffice. Trump’s core base is solid, but he’s clearly losing the soft support around his core. Democrats can grow into the soft support — as long as they’re smart and Trump continues to just swell.

Yeah, Tommy — pandering to people who voted for Trump is the way to go.  SURE it is.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The other day, from the Naval Observatory in Washington, you heard a howl of such volume and anguish that it cracked mirrors and sent small forest animals scurrying for cover. Vice President Mike Pence was furious. He was offended. Someone — namely, my Times colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns — had dared to call him out on the fact that he seemed to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid.

Problem No. 1: His president is still in the first year of his first term. Problem No. 2: That president is Donald Trump, who doesn’t take kindly to any glimmer that people in his employ are putting their vanity or agenda before his. Just ask Steve Bannon. Or Anthony Scaramucci. They were too big for their britches, and Trump snatched their britches away.

The Times report put Pence in similar peril, so he pushed back with an operatic outrage that showed just how close to the bone it had cut. When a story’s actually wrong, you eviscerate it, exposing its erroneous assertions without ever breaking a sweat. When it’s a stink bomb at odds with your plotting, you set your jaw, redden your face and proclaim it “disgraceful,” never detailing precisely how.

That was Pence’s route. And his rancor, I suspect, reflects more than the inconvenient truths that Martin and Burns told. It’s overarching. It’s existential. On some level, he must realize that he’s in a no-win situation. Without Trump he’s nothing. With Trump he’s on a runaway train that he can’t steer or brake. If it doesn’t crash, Trump can scream down the tracks straight through 2020. If it does, Pence will be one of the casualties.

So why has Pence formed a political action committee, the only sitting vice president ever to do so? Why is he taking all these meetings, building all these bridges? I guess there could be some imaginable future in which Trump falls and Pence is left standing strong enough to soldier on. But mostly he’s in denial, and he’s living very dangerously.

Many Republicans wonder if Trump will remain in the picture and viable in 2020. He could implode — even more than he already has, I mean. He could be run out of town, one way or another. He could stomp off. The scenarios are myriad, and to prepare for them, Pence indeed needs an infrastructure and a network of his own. But there’s simply no way to assemble those without looking disloyal to Trump and courting the wrath of alt-right types who know how to go on a Twitter jihad.

Other would-be successors to Trump aren’t in the same bind. They don’t owe Trump what Pence does. They never pledged Trump complete allegiance. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, whose unofficial 2020 campaign commenced even before Trump’s inauguration, can raise money, stage news conferences, take up residence on CNN and pick apart Trump’s proposals all he wants. It won’t endear him to Trump’s base, but it won’t make him a marked man.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska can style himself as a humble, homespun remedy to Trump’s cupidity and histrionics. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas can take a calibrated approach, more hawkish than Trump on foreign policy but eager to link arms with him on immigration.

Pence, though, is squeezed tight into a corner of compulsory worship. And despite his behind-the-scenes machinations, he has done a masterful job of appearing perfectly content there.

In news photographs and video, you catch other politicians glancing at the president in obvious bafflement. Not Pence. Never Pence. He moons. He beams. It’s 50 shades of infatuation. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t muster a more mesmerizing performance, and it’s an unusually florid surrender of principles.

I’m not referring to policy and the fact that before he agreed to become Trump’s running mate, he blasted Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, tweeting that it was “offensive and unconstitutional,” and fiercely advocated free trade. I’m referring to Pence’s supposed morality.

He trumpets his conservative Christianity and avoids supping alone with any woman other than his wife, then turns around and steadfastly enables an avowed groper with a bulging record of profanely sexual comments.

He publishes a testimonial, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invokes Jesus while vowing never to repeat such political ugliness in the future, then turns around and collaborates with a politician whose ugliness knows no limit.

No wonder he wants and expects a reward as lavish as the White House itself: He sold his soul. But I don’t think he studied the contract closely enough and thought the whole thing through.’

There’s no political afterlife in this equation, just the loopy, mortifying limbo in which he and so many of Trump’s other acolytes dwell.

Maybe the howling is cathartic. Won’t change a thing.

Friedman and Bruni

July 26, 2017

I guess because there doesn’t seem to be much of anything going on in the country worth commenting on The Moustache of Wisdom has decided instead to discuss “Self-Driving People, Enabled by Airbnb.”  He says that the company known for room rentals now offers guided “experiences.”  Mr. Bruni considers “Donald Trump’s Dominatrix” and says technically, he defeated her, but emotionally, not so much. Here’s TMOW:

Roughly a decade ago two new “platform” companies burst out of California. The one that dominated the headlines was called Uber, which created a platform where with one touch of your phone you could summon a cab, direct the driver, pay the driver and rate the driver. It grew like a weed — as all kinds of people became taxi drivers in their spare time. But Uber made clear that its ultimate goal was self-drivingcars.

The other was called Airbnb. It created a trust platform so efficient that people all over the world were ready to use it to rent out their spare bedrooms to total strangers. Airbnb is growing so fast that it’s now adding the equivalent of one entire Hilton hotel chain’s worth of rooms for rent each year.

But while Uber aspires to self-driving cars, Airbnb has a different goal: enabling what I call self-driving people.

And that’s why I won’t be surprised if in five years Airbnb is not only still the world’s biggest home rental service, but also one of the world’s biggest jobs platforms. You read that right. Very quietly Airbnb has been expanding its trust platform beyond enabling people to rent their spare rooms to allowing them to translate their passions into professions, and thereby empower more self-driving people.

Don’t worry: I don’t own stock in Airbnb. (Wish I could.) But I’ve been following it nearly from its inception through conversations with one of its founders, C.E.O. Brian Chesky, and I highlight the latest step in its evolution because I think it provides part of the answer to one of the most vexing societal questions we face today: Will machines and robots take all our jobs?

Answer: Only if we let them — and Airbnb is creating a platform to not let them. It all started with people who were renting rooms saying to their customers: “Hey, hope you enjoy the room. By the way, I’m also a great cook; would you like me to prepare a dinner party for you?” Or, “I’m an amateur historian; would you like me to give you a tour of the city?” Now this trend has just taken off.

“We created a garden and planted one plant — and that was home-sharing,” explained Chesky over breakfast in San Francisco. “And now we’re seeing what other things can grow in this garden.”

To see what’s growing, go to Airbnb’s site and click not on “homes” but on “experiences.” You’ll find an endless smorgasbord of people turning their passion into profit and their inner artisan into second careers.

Take for instance the team of Luca & Lorenzo. They explain in endearing broken English: “We are 100 percent Italian food lovers; we were used to cook with our grandmothers since we were child. We continued to have this passion through the years, so it makes sense founded our company Lovexfood.”

For $152 a person, they will take seven people visiting Florence, Italy, on a trip to “make pasta from scratch in the woods outside the city” in an “old house … surrounded by a garden with aromatic plants. We are between the hills where is produced the famous Chianti wine.”

In Dublin, for $85 a person, John will introduce you to low-light photography and then take you on an evening tour of some of the city’s most interestingly lit locations, ending in his studio, where he’ll “help you to edit and retouch your photographs, taking them to the next level for social media and print.”

In London, for $84 a person, you can learn in three hours how to “make a one-of-a-kind hat with a professional millinery designer,” Sarah, using “an array of feathers, flowers, lace and tulle.” A “traditional English breakfast complete with finger sandwiches and an assortment of cakes” is included.

For $35 a person, Lee Marvin will take five people in Havana on a tour of three-on-three neighborhood basketball games. “Christina” posted a message on his site on July 18, saying: “I signed my teenage son up for this & it was one of the best activities of the trip. It was supposed to end at 8 p.m. or so. Well, my son felt so welcomed that he & Lee Marvin’s gang hung out for several hours after they played basketball. They learned about each other’s lives, told jokes, talked sports and really bonded. Talk about a great emersion into the Cuban culture.” Also, not a bad way for a Cuban to earn $175 a night, minus Airbnb’s commission.

For $99 a person and five hours in Los Angeles, Antonio will teach your group how to “make a custom piñata with an esteemed pâper-maché artist” in the piñata district. Tools, “tamales and pan dulce” from Antonio’s favorite places are all included.

And for $37 each, Naky will take your group on a four-hour tour of Lisbon to “see the city through the eyes of an African immigrant.” You’ll explore “the African continent’s influence on the city and visit areas where African immigrants live, work, and play.” Naky is originally from Togo and has “a passion for history.”

No wonder Airbnb’s “experiences” site has grown tenfold this year.

Tourists visiting a foreign country try to understand the culture by going to a museum and viewing “art by dead people,” noted Chesky. “Why not learn how to make art yourself, taught by a living artist in that culture and immerse yourself in the artist’s world? These are experiences you can bring back with you!”

Chesky believes that the potential for Airbnb experiences could be bigger than home-sharing. I agree.

“The biggest asset in people’s lives is not their home, but their time and potential — and we can unlock that,” he explained. “We have these homes that are not used, and we have these talents that are not used. Instead of asking what new infrastructure we need to build, why don’t we look at what passions we can unlock? We can unlock so much economic activity, and this will unlock millions of entrepreneurs.”

When he retires, said Chesky, age 35, “I’d like to say that Airbnb created 100 million new entrepreneurs in the world.” I wouldn’t bet against him. Because the world is full of artisans and people with passions waiting to be unlocked.

In America, though, there is a surplus of fear and a poverty of imagination in the national jobs discussion today — because “all we are focusing on are the things that are going away,” said Chesky. “We need to focus on what’s coming. Do we really think we’re living in the first era in history where nothing will ever again be created by humans for humans, only by machines? Of course not. It’s that we’re not talking about all of these human stories.”

Indeed, the beauty of this era is that you don’t need to wait for Ford to come to your town with a 25,000-person auto factory. Anyway, that factory is now 2,500 robots and 1,000 people. The future belongs to communities that learn to leverage their unique attributes, artisans and human talent.

There is no Eiffel Tower in Louisville, Ky., but there are amazing bourbon distilleries popping up all over, creating myriad tourist opportunities; there are no pyramids in Detroit, but there is a bountiful history of Motown music and all kinds of artists now creating boutique concerts and tours for visitors to experience it.

Is this the only answer for the American middle-class jobs challenge? Of course not. There is no one answer. That’s the point.

We have to do 50 things right to recreate that broad middle class of the ’50s and ’60s, and platforms like Airbnb’s are just one of them. (Having universal health care to create a safety net under all of these budding entrepreneurs would be another.) But you have to be inspired by how many people are now finding joy and income by mining their passions.

“A tourist is someone who does things that locals who live there never do,” said Chesky. Airbnb’s experiences platform is now enabling visitors to live like locals — even though they’re guests and, in the process, enrich the local community and create new employment. Any town can play.

So much of what companies did in the past, concluded Chesky, “was unlocking natural resources to build the stuff we wanted.” Today’s new platforms are unlocking human potential to “be the people we wanted.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

At this point I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump has gone beyond taunting and demonizing Hillary Clinton to a realm of outright obsession.

He’s stalking her.

He can’t stop tweeting about her. Can’t stop muttering about her. On Monday he addressed tens of thousands of boy scouts at their Jamboree, and who should pop up in his disjointed thoughts and disheveled words? Clinton. He dinged her, yet again, for having ignored voters in Michigan, which he won.

The Jamboree, mind you, was in West Virginia.

And it brought together dewy-eyed adolescents, not dyspeptic acolytes of the Heritage Foundation. Some weren’t yet out of puberty, most were well under voting age, and nearly all cared more about — I don’t know — camping gear, crafts projects and merit badges than whether the Democratic nominee should have made an additional stop in Grand Rapids and maybe scarfed down a funnel cake in Kalamazoo while she was at it.

But Trump doesn’t meet his audiences on their terms. He uses each as a sounding board for his vanities, insecurities, delusions and fixations. Clinton factors mightily into all of these. She’s his psychological dominatrix.

He keeps telling us that he’s president and we’re not. Does he know that he’s president and she’s not? Does he realize that most Americans can go a whole day, an entire week — verily, a month! — without picturing her at a rostrum, hearing the melody of her stump speech or repeating, “I’m with her”?

At least they could if Trump would shut up about her. I understand that he misses her, but, sheesh, send some Godiva chocolates and move on.

Many political observers have been marveling at recent tweets of his that blasted Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, for not reinvestigating and potentially prosecuting Clinton for supposed crimes. He ripped into Sessions anew at a brief news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

But the other half of that equation is Clinton, and it’s just as remarkable that more than eight months after Election Day, Trump is still hauling his vanquished opponent out for public ridicule and marching her toward the stockade. Did Barack Obama do that with John McCain or George Bush with Al Gore or Bill Clinton with the previous George Bush? No, no and no.

Many political observers have noted Trump’s hyperconsciousness of Barack Obama, who was also mentioned in those remarks to the boy scouts, which were so inappropriately political and self-centered that parents actually lodged complaints.

But Clinton is more precious to him. While he merely itches to erase Obama from the history books, he’s desperate to keep her at the center of every page. Beneath all of his braggadocio about the genius of his campaign strategy and the potency of his connection to blue-collar Americans, he knows that he made it to the White House largely because many voters didn’t want her there and he was Door No. 2.

So he reminds them of that. Over and over again.

It would be one thing if he had amassed a trove of accomplishments and watched his approval ratings climb. But the opposite is true, so he depends on a foil who flatters him, a fork in the road that he can portray as rockier and swampier. That’s Clinton’s role, and it’s more important than Jared’s and Ivanka’s and the Mooch’s combined. They whisper sweet nothings. She saves him from damnation.

Don’t look at his campaign’s relationship with Russia. Look at hers with Ukraine! Don’t focus on Don Jr.’s incriminating emails. Focus on her missing ones! And while you’re at it, tally up how many of her donors are on Robert Mueller’s staff and take fresh note of her big-dollar speeches. Seldom has a scapegoat grazed in such a profusion of pastures.

He’s more or less back to chanting “lock her up,” as if it’s early November all over again. He has frozen the calendar there so that he can perpetually savor the exhilaration of the campaign and permanently evade the drudgery of governing and the ignominy of his failure at it so far.

Nov. 8 is his “Groundhog Day,” on endless repeat, in a way that pleases and pacifies him. That movie has a co-star, Clinton. If he dwells in it, he dwells with her. He can no more retire her than Miss Havisham, in “Great Expectations,” could put away her wedding dress. Clinton brings Trump back to the moment before the rose lost its blush and the heartache set in.

During the second of their three debates, he was accused of shadowing her onstage, but that was nothing next to the way he pursues her now. His administration slips further into chaos; he diverts the discussion to her. She’s the answer to evolving scandals. She’s the antidote to a constipated agenda — or so he wagers. What stature he has inadvertently given her. And what extraordinary staying power.

Kristof and Bruni

July 23, 2017

In “Jared Kushner’s Got Too Many Secrets to Keep Ours” Mr. Kristof says the president’s son-in-law is a security risk and shouldn’t be a senior White House adviser.  Mr. Bruni also discusses Kusher in “Jared Kushner, the Prince of Having it Both Ways.”  He says Kushner throws his weight around. Then floats above it all. But gravity has a way of catching up.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For all that we don’t know about President Trump’s dealings with Russia, one thing should now be clear: Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House, and he should not have a security clearance.

True, no proof has been presented that Kushner broke the law or plotted with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. But he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

Here’s the bottom line: Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

Until the situation is clarified, such a person simply should not work in the White House and have access to America’s most important secrets.

Kushner is set to be interviewed Monday in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first meeting with congressional investigators. I hope they grill him in particular about the attempt to set up a secret communications channel and whether it involved mobile Russian scrambling devices.

Similar issues arise with Ivanka Trump. The SF-86 form to get a national security clearance requires inclusion of a spouse’s foreign contacts, so the question arises: Did Ivanka Trump list the Russians whom Kushner spoke with? If they were intentionally omitted, then that, too, is a felony.

Look, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may well be innocent of wrongdoing, and in general I agree with them much more than I do with, say, Steve Bannon. I suspect that the couple are a moderating influence on the administration, and I believe that some of the derision toward Ivanka has a sexist taint that would arouse more outrage if a liberal were the target.

All that acknowledged, it’s still untenable for someone to remain as a senior White House official with continued access to secrets while under federal investigation for possible ties to the Kremlin.

The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner is a focus of a federal inquiry, and McClatchy has reported that investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation, which Kushner oversaw, colluded with Russians on Moscow’s efforts to spread fake news about Hillary Clinton. The cloud is so great that even some Republicans are calling for Kushner to be ousted from the White House.

“It would be in the president’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House, not only Donald Trump but also Ivanka and Jared Kushner,” Representative Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, told a television interviewer.

Increasingly, the national security world fears that there is something substantive to the suspicions about the president and Russia. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.

Why has Trump persistently stood with Vladimir Putin rather than with allies like Germany or Britain? Why did Trump make a beeline for Putin at the G-20 dinner, without an aide, as opposed to chat with Angela Merkel or Theresa May? Why do so many Trump team members have ties to Russia? Why did Trump choose a campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had been as much as $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests and was vulnerable to Moscow pressure?

Why the unending pattern of secrecy and duplicity about Russia contacts?

Trump’s defensiveness on Russian ties is creepy. Why did he take the political risk of firing Jim Comey? Why is he so furious at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself? Why does he apparently contemplate the extreme step of firing Bob Mueller during his investigation into the Russia ties?

If the Trump team is innocent and expects exoneration, why would it work so hard on a secret effort aimed at discrediting Mueller, as The Times reported? Why would Trump be exploring pardons for aides, family members and himself, as The Washington Post reported?

One thing you learn as a journalist is that when an official makes increasingly vehement protestations of innocence, you’re probably getting warm. So, listening to the protests from Trump, I’d say that Mueller is on to something.

What’s particularly debilitating is the way the news and scandals keep dribbling out, making a mockery of White House denials and the president’s credibility. If Trump has nothing to hide, he should stop trying to hide stuff.

No one should find any satisfaction in Trump’s difficulties, for this credibility crisis diminishes not just his own influence but also American soft power around the world. This isn’t a soap opera but a calamity for our country, affecting how others see us.

At least one leader of an American ally tells me that his government suspects that there was collusion with Moscow. I sympathize with our counterintelligence officials, who chase low-level leakers and spies even as they undoubtedly worry that their commander in chief may be subject to Kremlin leverage or blackmail.

There’s no good way to manage a president who is a potential security risk (other than the standard protocol that he not meet Russians without another U.S. official present, and Trump escaped that constraint in Hamburg, Germany). But at least we can keep his son-in-law, while under investigation for possible felonies and collusion with Russia, from serving as a top White House official.

It’s time for Jared Kushner to find another job.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

On Monday, Jared Kushner is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but not so that we can listen. Not so that we can watch. It’s a closed-door affair, meaning that unlike Jeff Sessions, Kushner gets to dance in the dark.

How fitting. We always see his fingerprints but never hear his voice. He throws his weight around, then floats above it all. No wonder the president’s lawyers and various White House aides and advisers are fed up with him. He’s there but not there: a meddlesome ghost. A puff of smoke.

He got the emails about emissaries of a foreign adversary bearing dirt, but — what do you know? — read right over the subject line that said “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” No flashing lights in those proper nouns. No blaring sirens in those particular adjectives.

He attended the Trump Tower meeting, but stayed for only 10 minutes, a grace period that apparently doesn’t count. I guess it’s like canceling the on-demand movie rental shortly after the opening credits roll. No fee. No foul.

He failed to inform the F.B.I. about dozens of meetings with foreign officials during the campaign and the transition, but that was ostensibly a harmless oops. Someone prematurely hit “send.” Happens with Amazon orders. Can happen just as easily with an application for the highest level of security clearance.

And so what if he had to update that form multiple times? He’s new to all of this government gobbledygook. Not so new that he can’t reinvent the government, broker peace in the Middle East, spearhead our negotiations with countries elsewhere in the world, make headway against the opioid epidemic, reform the criminal justice system and still carve out time to tackle the slopes of Aspen with Ivanka and the kids. But paperwork? Be reasonable. He’s Superman. He’s not Ant-Man, the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, too.

Too bad, because he’s in way over his faintly tousled hair, and that becomes clearer and clearer as the probes into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia intensify.

His actions are under scrutiny. Why was he trying to set up a private back channel for communications with Russia? Did he furnish Russian players with the fruits of the campaign data operation that he supervised? Have his business interests profited from his proximity to the president? CNN reported on Friday that Chinese-language promotions for a New Jersey real estate development by Kushner Companies specifically mention that “the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect’ Jared Kushner.”

Mr. Perfect indeed. Perfectly opportunistic. Perfectly armored in the rosiest self-regard. And perfectly reflective of his father-in-law in those ways and a few others.

He and the president once ran family businesses and now run the White House like one, with a narrowly drawn circle of trust and a suspiciousness of — and chilliness toward — those outside it. Note that Sean Spicer’s resignation came little more than a week after reports that Kushner was in a lather about press aides not devising more forceful and creative ways to answer negative coverage of the Russian meeting. And rest assured that Spicer’s departure won’t be the last.

Kushner and the president blithely straddle irreconcilable contradictions to get what they want. But in Kushner’s case — in Ivanka Trump’s, too — that has been an especially perverse spectacle. He and she are the prince and princess of having it both ways.

They expect our gratitude for their supposed (and only occasionally successful) efforts to tame Trump. But they’re also the ones who worked so mightily to put him in a position where, untamed, he can do such damage. It’s as if they deliberately shattered a glass, grabbed a broom and then solicited applause for their sweeping.

They cover for the president still. Smack in the middle of his cockamamie interview with The Times last week, Ivanka dropped by the Oval Office so that her daughter, Arabella, could give Grandpa a kiss. How precious. How humanizing. How entirely choreographed.

Grandpa spent the duration of his campaign mocking the establishment swells who migrate to enclaves like Davos, Switzerland, and Sun Valley, Idaho, for high-altitude, highfalutin conferences on the conundrums of modern life. That didn’t stop Kushner and Ivanka from joining those very swells in Sun Valley a week and a half ago for precisely such a symposium-on-the-slopes.

I’m told that their presence had a dampening effect on formal panels and informal conversations — how do you take issue with Trump when there’s family listening in? — and that a few glares came their way. I wonder if they even noticed.

They’re outsiders when that’s politically advantageous, insiders as soon as the canapés come around. Not long before Sun Valley they swanned up to the Hamptons for a party at the home of the Washington Post pooh-bah Lally Weymouth. There, in one of the global elite’s premier beachheads, they chatted radiantly with Democrats, whom Trump demonizes, and members of the news media, which Trump has cast as an enemy of the American people.

It’s an elaborate moral jujitsu they perform. There’s one constant — their self-advancement and self-preservation — but Kushner may be overplaying his hand.

His counsel to Trump has been flawed, to say the least. He reportedlylobbied for the firing of James Comey, which didn’t turn out so well. Maybe the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director — a move blessed by Kushner, over the objections of Reince Priebus, the chief of staff — will prove wiser. I have my doubts.

Cast as one of the president’s most dependable assets, Kushner could in fact be a significant liability, someone whose escapades — by turns grabby and cavalier — give investigators and detractors a whole extra sandbox of improprieties to rummage through.

I hear that he feels persecuted. Wronged. In that regard, too, he’s like his father-in-law, though Trump wears his self-pity, fury and ruthlessness right out front, for the whole world to see. Kushner puts a pale mask of calm and courteousness over his.

Maybe the senators who question him on Monday will pry it off. Maybe they’ll actually bring some color to his face. We won’t be able to witness what happens. But we’ll find out.

Bruni, solo

July 16, 2017

In “Six Long Months of President Trump” Mr. Bruni says he’s right. He has been plenty busy — doing damage that won’t fade soon.  Here he is:

From the beginning, people around me talked nonstop about the end.

How long could Donald Trump’s presidency possibly last? Would impeachment or the 25th Amendment undo him? Before Trump, few of us even knew of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to decree the president unfit. But suddenly everybody was up to speed, and no sooner had Trump been inaugurated than the “would you rather” question du jour became him versus Mike Pence. All-purpose lunacy or religious zeal: Choose your governance. Pick your poison.

Part of this, yes, reflected the company I keep. It doesn’t brim with Trump enthusiasts. But more of this came down to Trump himself — the lidless grandiosity, the bottomless vulgarity, the lies atop lies upon lies. I’ll never forget his second day in office, not just because he used an appearance at the C.I.A. to crow at great length about his many Time magazine covers and to insist, despite ready evidence to the contrary, that any beef of his with intelligence agencies was a media invention. It stays with me because of a text message I received from a journalist who covers him as well as any other, understands him better and was utterly flabbergasted by that display.

“We’re all going to die,” it said. While there was jest and hyperbole in that, there was also genuine alarm and the dark realization that Trump would not be transmogrified by the oath of office into anything approaching a dignified, responsible statesman. No, his extra power was just making him extra mean, and what we saw before Nov. 8 was what we got from Jan. 20 onward: a child in a man’s suit, a knave in a knight’s armor, a dangerous experiment with unforeseeable consequences.

They’re more seeable now. As of Thursday, July 20, Trump will have inhabited the presidency for a full six months, and we can reach certain conclusions with a measure of confidence.

No one can yet say how or when it ends. His dim namesake’s antics, evasions and omissions have reinvigorated talk of impeachment, but Republican lawmakers’ statements last week don’t support that scenario. With rare exception, the sternest words came from the most predictable quarters and hardly rose to the level of revolt. Maybe that’s a relief. Can you imagine Trump, with his thin skin and martyr complex, in the throes of impeachment? He’d wail and thrash and tear down everything around him. I mean, more than now.

We have to stop rolling our eyes when he brags about how much he has done, because he’s right. He has done plenty.

With his stances on climate change, trade and refugees and with all the air kisses blown at Vladimir Putin, he has altered our place in the world and splintered its postwar framework. Don’t be reassured by the recent pleasantries between him and Emmanuel Macron: Much of Western Europe is reeling from what it considers a surrender of American leadership. This, post-Trump, may be reparable. But I wonder if our sturdiest allies will ever feel quite the same way about this country again.

With his first Supreme Court appointment, he showed what he would almost surely do with a second and third: fully indulge the social conservatives who are one of the most dependable components of his base. If he lasts a full term and the Senate remains, as is likely, in Republican hands after the 2018 midterms, he could leave behind a court that leans sharply to the right for a generation to come.

With his sloppiness, scandals and inner circle ofarrogant neophytes, he is frittering away time. That’s hardly a singular accomplishment, but we can’t afford more government paralysis and procrastination. Infrastructure that’s no longer competitive (or safe), a tax code crying out for revision, a work force without the right skills: When do we fix this? How far behind do we fall?

And what, in the meantime, happens to Americans’ already shriveled faith in Washington? Trump’s election reflected many voters’ exasperation with the status quo and sense of permanent estrangement from some gilded clique of winners. He was their pyrrhic retort. How much hotter will their anger burn when they realize they got played?

I’m more likely to win a season of “The Bachelorette” than he is to build that incessantly promised wall. His professed disdain for Wall Street was a campaign-season pose, abandoned the minute he started assembling his administration. Health care that’s better, cheaper and more universal? Oh, please.

It’s possible that Trump’s fans will never blame him, because of one of his most self-serving and corrosive feats: the stirring of partisanship and distrust of institutions into the conviction that there’s no such thing as objective truth. There are only rival claims. There are always “alternative facts.” Charges of mere bias are the antiquated weapons of yesteryear; “fake news” is the new nullifier, and it’s a phrase so dear to him that his unprincipled acolytes are building on it. Last week a Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, lashed out at the “fake news industrial complex.” Trump reportedly swooned.

What happens to a democracy whose citizens not only lose common ground but also take a match to the idea of a common reality? Thanks in part to Trump, we may find out. He doesn’t care about civility or basic decency, and even if he did, he lacks the discipline to yoke his actions to any ideals. The Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik expressed it perfectly, telling me, “His presidency is what happens when you have road rage in the Oval Office.”

I was just 9 when Richard Nixon resigned and a teenager during the Jimmy Carter years. I began paying close attention only with Ronald Reagan. He and every one of his successors bent the truth, to varying degrees. He and every successor had a vanity that sometimes ran contrary to the public good. But none came close to Trump in those regards.

None shrugged off conflicts of interest the way he does. None publicly savaged women (and men) based on their looks or supposed cosmetic surgery. None made gloating a trademark of his public discourse. Two scoops for Trump, one for everybody else. He’s president and you’re not. The pettiness radiates outward, as does the viciousness and lack of ethics — to his lawyers, to his kin. And it’s more than just coarse spectacle. It’s an assault on what it means to be president and what the presidency means. The injury to the office won’t be quick to heal.

I can’t shake two incidents in particular. A few weeks before his inauguration, Trump tweeted a New Year greeting that was, instead, a spitball thrown at anyone who hadn’t genuflected before him. Last month, he coaxed his cabinet members to kiss his ring as the television cameras rolled. Those grotesque bookends affirmed that he is changeless and that he rules as he lives, for Trump and Trump alone.

Still I try for optimism: We won’t all die.

But suffer? Count on it.

Kristof and Bruni

July 12, 2017

In “The Trumps Embraced a Russian Plot” Mr. Kristof says the email exchange with Donald Trump Jr. should have led him to call the F.B.I. and report a foreign effort to interfere in the U.S. election. Instead, he embraced the plot.  Mr. Bruni, in “Mini-Donald’s Major Fail,” says the president’s dim namesake just made things exponentially worse.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The astonishing email just released by Donald Trump Jr., setting up the meeting last year with a Russian lawyer, is devastating for the White House. Above all, it underscores that the Trump family knew of a secret Russian campaign to interfere in the American election — and embraced it.

Read the whole email exchange, but here’s the key paragraph: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

This passage undermines the Trump and White House position in three crucial ways — not attributed to vague “sources” but in black and white documentary form. Here’s what the email does:

1. It shows that the Russian government was behind the effort. This is the Kremlin, not random Russians.

2. The Russian government is offering “sensitive” information and “official documents” that would incriminate Hillary Clinton. The clear implication is that this material is stolen by spies, probably hacked, for how else would the Russian government have it?

3. The offer is part of a pattern of the Russian “government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Put these three points together, and it’s clear from the email that the Russian government has picked sides and is trying to secretly affect the outcome of the American presidential race by providing stolen information about a former secretary of state. For months, the Trumps have been publicly doubting that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election, when Donald Trump Jr. had email evidence of this effort in June 2016!

The moment he got this email, Donald Trump Jr. should have called the F.B.I. That’s what the Al Gore campaign did in 2000 when it received a Bush campaign briefing booklet. It’s one thing to do opposition research; everybody does that. It’s another thing to use stolen information secretly provided by a rival nation where journalists and dissidents end up dead.

Instead of calling the F.B.I., Donald Trump Jr. responded “I love it.”

He then summoned Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort to join the meeting. In other words, informed of a covert Russian effort to use espionage to interfere with the U.S. election, he embraced it.
I don’t know whether this is criminal. I do know that it’s disgraceful.

This is also arguably “soft collusion,” acceptance of a foreign power’s interference in an election for one’s own benefit. Whether there was a quid pro quo and “hard collusion,” we’ll have to see. We do have the outlines of a quid pro quo, in which each side was signalling what it wanted: The Trump campaign wanted dirt on the Clintons, and Russia wanted an easing of sanctions if Trump was elected.

After this meeting, the Trumps or the White House denied at least eight times that such a meeting had taken place. That is duplicity on top of collusion.

Nobody should be heartened by this. It’s a sad day for the country.

Aww, Nick — what’s a little light treason between friends?  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sometimes the apple is also considerably dimmer than the tree. And sometimes the apple must be thrown under the bus so that the tree and a few of its most crucial limbs don’t tumble to the forest floor, where they’ll be chopped up and used as firewood by Democrats.

Is that the fruity fate of Donald Trump Jr.?

On Tuesday morning, he released a chain of emails from June of last year that prove that he was eager to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a representative of Russia, that the information was indeed characterized as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father’s presidential bid and that he held a meeting in the hopes of learning more.

It was, for my money, the most jaw-dropping development yet in an already-surreal presidency, and making sense of it requires some conjecture.

But evaluating the damage doesn’t. This erodes whatever credibility President Trump and those in his inner circle had left (which wasn’t much). Adamantly and incessantly, they have characterized questions about the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with Russia as ludicrous — a “witch hunt,” in their preferred parlance.

And yet here is a document showing that the notion of such a concerted effort was dangled before the eyes of Trump’s eldest son, who responded with glee — “I love it,” he wrote — and hauled his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, who was then the campaign’s chairman, into a meeting about it.

With the walls now closing in around Donald Jr., I wouldn’t be surprised if he says that he didn’t really believe the written claim that this was “very high level and sensitive information” from the Russian government itself.

But evaluate any and all spin from him through the lens of his evasions and empty grandstanding to date. When The New York Times first disclosed the meeting in an article on Saturday, he released a statement implying that the meeting’s purpose was to discuss Russian adoptions.

A day later, he significantly changed his story, admitting in a new statement that he had been led to expect material “helpful to the campaign” and that he cut the meeting off when the Russian lawyer who came to Trump Tower diverted the discussion toward adoptions. Read the statement: Bizarrely and hilariously, it’s so focused on the lawyer’s bait-and-switch and Donald Jr.’s disappointment that it boldly confirms how badly he’d craved dirt and how misleading his initial response to The Times was. Like I said: dim.

The emails released on Tuesday make clear how incomplete both of those versions were, and they appear to contradict his insistence in the second statement that Kushner and Manafort knew nothing about the meeting’s intent.

The release of the emails, at least, is no head scratcher: Donald Jr. apparently believed that The Times was about to publish them anyway and figured that if he beat us to the punch, he’d make it look as if he had nothing to hide. He tweeted that he wanted “to be totally transparent.”

Right. “Transparent” has as much to do with his last four days as “modest” does with his father’s entire 71 years.

And flash back to July 24 of last summer, which was just a month and a half after the meeting with the Russian lawyer, and Donald Jr.’s response when the CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked him about the Clinton campaign’s assertion that Russians could be engaged in “a plot to help Donald Trump.”

“It just goes to show you their exact moral compass,” Donald Jr. said, in what will go down as one of the most priceless instances ever of the psychological phenomenon of projection.

He railed to Tapper about “lie after lie” from the Clinton camp, said they’d “do anything to win,” and — my favorite part — claimed that if a Republican were making the kinds of wild allegations of Russian meddling that they were, there’d be a call “to bring out the electric chair” for that person. The electric chair, no less!

Well, he’s on the hot seat now, and the days — by which I mean 48 hours ago — when we were all worked up about Ivanka Trump’s presumptuous place at the G-20 table suddenly seem quaint. That actually is a nothingburger in the context of this whopper.

Of course Papa pooh-poohed it, releasing a statement Tuesday afternoon that vouched, “My son is a high-quality person.” I can buy that Donald Jr. is too low-wattage a political operative to have understood that his Russia hugging was extraordinary and possibly treasonous, but not that he considered it virtuous.

I wonder whether Ivanka actually factors into this. Among the Trump children, she always sopped up the most lavish praise from Dad and drew the most media fascination. She was cast as his secret weapon. Such a designation eluded Donald Jr. When he met with the Russian lawyer, was he clumsily trying to maneuver his way to greater utility, favor and relevance?

Instead, in the grand tradition of ne’er-do-well namesakes, he brought his sire grief.

There’s no proof that Donald Trump Sr. knew of the meeting with the Russian lawyer, though there’s this: In the week between its scheduling and its occurrence back in June 2016, he made public remarks in which he said he’d be delivering a special speech about Clinton’s wrongdoing that was set — oh so interestingly, in retrospect — for a few days after the meeting. But that meeting, we’re now told, was a bust, with no great trove of Clinton-wounding revelations, and the speech didn’t happen as promised.

It will be interesting to watch the president’s next moves. Enamored of loyalty and deaf to charges of nepotism and conflict of interest, he has kept his kids in a tight circle around him. But to survive, he may have to push this bad apple away.

Bruni, solo

July 9, 2017

Mr. Bruni asks “Why Does Donald Trump Keep Dissing Jews?”  He says the answer is a verdict on his unconventional, ungenerous presidency.  Here he is:

When something happens once, it’s a curiosity. Twice, it’s a coincidence.

Three times or more, it’s a pattern.

And Donald Trump has established a pattern of offending — or at the very least ignoring — Jews. The most recent example was just last week, when he declined to pay his respects at a Holocaust memorial in Warsaw that other American presidents routinely visited.

What’s going on? The answer, in my view, isn’t quite as dark as many of his detractors would paint it. But it’s disturbing nonetheless, and his blunders when it comes to Jews speak volumes about his limitations as a person and liabilities as a president.

But first, the record: He’d been in office just a week when International Holocaust Remembrance Day rolled round and his administration issued a statement that bizarrely omitted any specific mention of Jews. Administration officials made no apology, saying that millions of people who weren’t Jewish died in the Holocaust and that by not singling out any one group of victims, the White House had taken a more “inclusive” approach.

Then there was an initial, strange silence from Trump and his aides about a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats around the country in January and February.

In May, in Israel, Trump insisted on a much shorter stop at Yad Vashem, an important Holocaust memorial and museum, than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush had made, and he stuck to that plan even as many Israelis and American Jews cried foul. The tone-deaf breeziness of his approach was accentuated by the message he left in the visitors’ book: “It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing & will never forget!” As Yair Rosenberg of the Jewish magazine Tablet tweeted, it was “basically just what teenagers write in each other’s high school yearbooks.”

Ivanka Trump went to the Warsaw memorial in her father’s stead, though Trump softened that blow somewhat by mentioning, in his big Warsaw speech, that “the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens.”

Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, and the couple’s key roles in the White House mean that Trump has observant Jews at the very core of his presidency — and of his life.

But that didn’t stop him from making remarks to Jewish Republican donors in December 2015 that seemed to play into an anti-Semitic stereotype. “I’m a negotiator — like you folks,” he said, later adding: “Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”

During his presidential campaign, he embraced the favor of groups and people who trafficked in white supremacy. He re-tweeted material from proudly anti-Semitic Twitter feeds, and prompted a furor by promoting an image that placed Hillary Clinton’s face atop a pile of cash and beside a six-pointed star on which “most corrupt candidate ever” was written.

The website PolitiFact concluded that it was “unlikely that the Trump campaign intended to put out a Star of David image. In fact, the campaign moved to replace the star with a circle when the image gained attention.” Even so, PolitiFact noted, Trump had an unusual habit of “using social media to broadcast material that comes from sources with a history of spreading racism, anti-Semitism or white supremacy.”

I’m not convinced that Trump is much of an anti-Semite, any more than I’m convinced that he’s much of a homophobe. (Racism and sexism are another matter.) But I think he’s so thirsty for, and intoxicated by, whatever love comes his way that he’s loath to rebuff the sources of it.

A prominent Jewish Republican put it well. “I think Trump is such a pathological narcissist that the act of telling people who love you that you reject them — he can’t get around that,” he told me, interpreting Trump’s reasoning this way: “What can be wrong with them? They’re for me!”

Trump is disinclined to denounce any constituency or tactics that elevate him to the throne, where he’s sure that he belongs. The outcome validates even the ugliest and most divisive ascent.

“I don’t think he’s goading these people or associating with them because he shares their views,” the Republican added. “I do think that he’s so insensitive about the presidency — about the responsibilities of the leader of the free world — that he doesn’t realize it’s not enough to say, once or twice, ‘I don’t agree with them.’ He doesn’t realize that you have to be very clear.” And he doesn’t realize — or care — that he’s validating and encouraging them.

He doesn’t understand the message of zipping through Yad Vashem when predecessors lingered, because he’s less concerned with the weight of his office than with the whims and convenience of Donald Trump. It’s all about him, always — and if he’s sure in his own heart that he’s good with Jews, then he shouldn’t have to prove it.

Go back to his mini-tantrum during a White House news conference in February, when a reporter for a Jewish magazine tried to ask him whether he was paying proper heed to the anti-Semitic bomb threats. Trump interpreted the question as an indictment not of his behavior but of his being — “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life!” he trumpeted — and turned the discussion toward the big, bad media. Forget about any persecution of Jews. Let’s talk about the persecution of Trump.

You can be only so considerate to others when you never stop considering yourself. And the flamboyantly nonconformist culture of Trump’s presidency has downsides. This administration shrugs off and throws away some rituals and niceties that do matter to people, estranging them in the process.

Gay Pride Month came and went without even a banal word of recognition from the White House. So while Trump likes to crow, in a hallucinatory fashion, that gays love him, we made do in June with a tweet from his outsourced conscience, by which of course I mean Ivanka.

Some of this is Steve Bannon and his ilk. Their idea of nationalism is chilly to the recognition of subgroups, including Jewish Americans.

Some of it boils down to an absent professionalism. Trump isn’t matching the respectful choreography of other presidents because there’s no one in his inner circle familiar with the dance. Kushner, Bannon, Stephen Miller and Reince Priebus are all new to this kind and level of work. They lack institutional memory, along with any awareness of how easily those blind spots become insensitivity.

I can’t know definitively how Trump feels about Jews or gays or a whole lot else. But I can see clearly his sloppiness and self-absorption, and they’re cause enough for alarm.

Bruni, solo

July 5, 2017

In “Chris Christie’s Tutorial in Hubris” Mr. Bruni says that what he and Donald Trump market as defiance is darker and more destructive.  Here he is:

We can scoff and sneer at those images of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on his beachfront imperium, or we can learn from them. As he took in the sun, he doled out a lesson, the same one that Donald Trump is delivering on a daily basis and in a grander fashion:

Beware the politician who doesn’t give a damn for decorum. What he markets as irreverence can be something coarser and more perverse.

It can lead to ruin. Christie’s approval rating from New Jersey voters was just 15 percent — the lowest for any current governor in the country and the worst in his state’s history — before his weekend repose on what turned out to be quicksand. He could sink into single digits after this. Negative integers aren’t entirely out of the question.

I hope Trump is watching, but I have my doubts. The Christie family’s swimwear pageant isn’t the kind that he’s known to ogle. Plus, he surely turns the channel when the visage on the screen isn’t his own.

The stories of the disgraced New Jersey governor and the disgraceful American president overlap. Christie was “Trump before Trump,” Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa in an article published late Monday. “He does what he wants to do, and his success can be traced to that. But there are consequences, of course, when you work that way.”

Steele could as easily have been talking about Trump, and when Costa referred to the “defiance that has both lifted and hobbled Christie’s political career,” he brought to mind Trump’s temperament and trajectory, whether he meant to or not.

The twins of tantrum, Christie and Trump had almost identical political appeals. They mocked propriety. They broke rules. They assertively peddled the impression that as happy as they were to make friends, they were even happier to make enemies, because that meant that they were fully in the fight.

In an era of resentment and anger, many voters thrilled to the spectacle. The problem with other politicians, these voters legitimately reasoned, was too much indulgence of vested interests and too cowardly an obeisance to convention. If you didn’t slaughter the sacred cows, you’d never get to the tastiest filet.

But Christie and Trump proved to be butchers of a more indiscriminate and self-serving sort, and both demonstrated that there’s a short leap from headstrong to hardheaded and from defiant to delusional. Bold nonconformity can be the self-indulgent egotist’s drag.

Yes, Christie called out fools in certain circumstances where they deserved it and steamrolled opponents who stood in the way of some plans that were wholly defensible. And he was seemingly immune to any of the subsequent caricatures of him as a bully.

But he was also deaf to inevitable and entirely fair questions about his behavior. As Nick Corasaniti noted in The Times this week, he was caught “using a state helicopter paid for by taxpayers to attend his son’s baseball game.” He let King Abdullah of Jordan treat him and his family to a $30,000 weekend in a posh hotel.

He was blind to how he would come across when, in his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, he took such a gaudy star turn that the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was reduced to a cameo. Christie bucked traditional manners, all right. He bucked them all the way to jaw-dropping megalomania.

Make no mistake: For all their flamboyant pugnaciousness, the Christies and Trumps of the political world are chasing adulation every bit as much as their peers are — maybe more so. They’re just taking a deliberately muddier route, and if they don’t get there, they’re more likely to wear their failure as a badge of honor and to dig in with a destructive arrogance.

When Christie was asked whether, despite a shutdown of the state government, he would steal away to the manse on the shore that’s a perk of his office, he unabashedly answered yes.

“That’s just the way it goes,” he said. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”

Translation: I’m governor and you’re not. Where have we heard a formulation like that before?

Trump and Christie somehow decided that you have to govern by middle finger if you want to avoid governing by pinkie finger. But there’s a digit in between: a middle ground. It’s where real leadership and true effectiveness lie.

Christie’s disrepute and dashed ambitions confirm as much. So does the ongoing insult of Trump’s presidency. They show that if you embrace a politician who talks too frequently and proudly about not caring what anyone thinks, you’ll wind up in the clutch of a politician whose last refuge is not caring what anyone thinks. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Friedman and Bruni

June 28, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom says “Trump Is China’s Chump” and that the president doesn’t look like a savvy negotiator to Asia-Pacific business and political leaders.  Quelle surprise, Tommy!  Mr. Bruni ponders “The Misery of Mitch McConnell” and says as he rushes a bad bill, he drags the Senate to new lows.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Hong Kong:

Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Trump’s measure and concluded that — far from being a savvy negotiator — he’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in this region and helping make China great again.

These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by an event that got next to no attention in the U.S. but was an earthquake out here — and a gift that will keep on giving America’s allies pain and China gain for years to come. That was Trump’s decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal in his first week in office — clearly without having read it or understanding its vast geo-economic implications.

(Trump was so ignorant about TPP that when he was asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015 he suggested that China was part of it, which it very much is not.)

Trump simply threw away the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geo-economic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets. Trump is now trying to negotiate trade openings with China alone — as opposed to negotiating with China as the head of a 12-nation TPP trading bloc that was based on U.S. values and interests and that controlled 40 percent of the global economy.

It is hard to think of anything more stupid. And China’s trade hard-liners are surely laughing in their sleeves.

“When Trump did away with TPP, all your allies’ confidence in the U.S. collapsed,” a senior Hong Kong official told me.

“After America stopped TPP, everyone is now looking to China,” added Jonathan Koon-shum Choi, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong. “But China is very smart — just keeping its mouth shut.”

Beijing is now quietly encouraging everyone in the neighborhood to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, China’s free-trade competitor to TPP, which, unlike TPP, lacks environmental or labor standards; China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; and its One Belt, One Road development project.

Carrie Lam, the new chief executive of Hong Kong, told me that TPP countries like Australia are quickly reaching out to Hong Kong to forge closer and freer trade ties, now that the Americans have pulled TPP down. It’s a “pity” that the Americans are leaving, she said, but “this will give our country this opportunity to lead.” China is not just looking for growth, she added, but also for “influence.”

Just to remind: TPP was a free-trade agreement that the Obama team forged with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

It was not only the largest free-trade agreement in history, it was the best ever for U.S. workers, closing loopholes Nafta had left open. TPP included restrictions on foreign state-owned enterprises that dumped subsidized products into our markets, intellectual property protections for rising U.S. technologies — like free access for all cloud computing services — but also anti-human-trafficking provisions that prohibited turning guest workers into slave labor, a ban on trafficking in endangered wildlife parts, a requirement that signatories permit their workers to form independent trade unions to collectively bargain and the elimination of all child labor practices — all to level the playing field with American workers.

Yes, like any trade deal, TPP would have challenged some U.S. workers, but it would have created opportunities for many others, because big economies like Japan and Vietnam were opening their markets. For decades we had allowed Japan to stay way too closed, because it was an ally in the Cold War, and Vietnam, because it was an enemy. Some 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners were coming into the U.S. duty-free already, while our goods and services were still being hit with 18,000 tariffs in their countries — which TPP eliminated.

That’s why the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that U.S. national income would have grown by some $130 billion a year by 2030 with TPP — not huge, just a nice boost for U.S. workers, businesses and diplomats.

“TPP would have encouraged C.E.O.s, logistics managers and others to place their bets on the world’s single largest trading zone, one that would have been dominated by the U.S., the largest and most developed economy in it,” economics writer Adam Davidson observed in The New Yorker.

Countries like Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore made big concessions to the U.S. to be part of TPP — precisely because they wanted America embedded in their own economies, as a hedge against Chinese economic domination. A young Vietnamese businessman I met at a Wharton economic forum in Hong Kong asked me, “Do we have to choose between Russia and China now?”

The other people we disappointed, explained James McGregor, author of “One Billion Customers: Lessons From the Front Lines of Doing Business in China,” are China’s economic reformers: They were hoping that the emergence of TPP “would force China to reform its trade practices more along American lines and to open its markets. … We failed the reformers in China.”

Out here everyone gets it: China has Trump’s number. Its officials were afraid of him at first — with his tough trade talk. But they quickly realized how easy it was to distract him with shiny objects, like promises to defuse the North Korea threat for him or by giving stale sector-specific trade concessions, such as for American beef exports to China — things China has promised multiple presidents before — that Trump could brag about.

Beijing watched Trump threaten to abandon America’s adherence to the one-China policy if he did not get trade concessions — and then just fold the minute China’s president, Xi Jinping, said he would not take a phone call from Trump unless he reaffirmed the “One-China” policy.

And China just invited Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on an official visit for early next year, red carpet and all. As my colleague Keith Bradsher reported, China, for the first time, has arrested Chinese labor-rights activists who were working undercover to investigate a Western supply chain — specifically, factories near Hong Kong that made shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands. Moral of the story: Take care of the emperor’s daughter and everything will be fine.

You have to admire the Chinese combination of toughness, patience and savvy. One day I hope America again will have a president with such attributes — not a sucker for flattery, not an ignorant ideologue who rips up treaties he hasn’t even read, not a made-for-television negotiator who throws his best leverage out the window — the ability to negotiate with China as the head of a trading bloc controlling 40 percent of the world’s economy — before he sits down at the table.

We may call him “Trump” in America, but here it’s pronounced “Chump.”

Tommy, we did have the kind of president you yearn for — he’s been out of office for about 6 months now.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

For a good laugh, or rather cry, zip backward to the beginning of 2014, when Democrats still had control of the Senate, and listen to Mitch McConnell’s lamentations about the way they were doing business.

“Major legislation is now routinely drafted not in committee but in the majority leader’s conference room,” he declaimed on the Senate floor. “Bills should go through committee.” He pledged that if Republicans were “fortunate enough to gain the majority next year, they would.”

In a speech a few months later at the American Enterprise Institute, he said, “The greatest way to ensure stability in our laws is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in some way in the passage.” He railed about the lack of transparency from Democrats and the damage they’d done “to the spirit of comity and respect that the public has every right to expect from their leaders.”

“If Republicans were fortunate enough to reclaim the majority in November, I assure you, my friends, all of this would change,” he vowed anew.

Republicans were fortunate enough. McConnell became the majority leader. And if you can find committee hearings, transparency, full participation, comity, respect or anything akin to good faith in the way he just tried to ram his health care bill through the chamber, then I want you on the hunt for the yeti and, pretty please, the Fountain of Youth.

His approach may prove fatal: On Tuesday, he had to postpone any vote on the legislation until after July 4.

Then again, perhaps he isn’t really chasing success. One intriguing theory is that he has no yen for stripping insurance from tens of millions of Americans and having it come back to bite Republicans. But he must go convincingly through the motions, lest President Trump mewl and right-wing donors carp that he isn’t seizing his best chance to drive a stake through Obamacare’s heart.

Whatever the case, it’s a sorry turn for a man who paid such lip service to the courtesy and collaboration that supposedly distinguished the Senate, which he did, in his way, seem to revere.

Unlike more telegenic colleagues, he never yearned to be president. He aspired to recognition as a master of the world’s “greatest deliberative body,” as the Senate is often described.

But since Trump’s inauguration, that body has been a sort of couch potato, slow to rouse to its rightful labors. Committees aren’t busily marking up bills.

And what McConnell has displayed isn’t mastery so much as bullying. Bye-bye to the 60 votes needed to proceed to confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. He did away with that to smooth Neil Gorsuch’s passage.

Farewell to deliberation. McConnell did away with that, too. Back when the Senate considered Obamacare, there were scores of hearings and exhaustive analyses of the evolving legislation’s text. McConnell held no hearings for his bill. He spurned feedback from outside groups. An uncomely cabal of 13 men patched it together in the equivalent of a subterranean bunker, with the initial hope of a vote just a week after they emerged from hiding and brought it into the light.

I asked two former senators, a Republican and a Democrat, what they made of all this. Both mourned a long, steady erosion of bipartisanship that McConnell hardly owns.

“I actually think he’s done as well as he could with the cards he’s been dealt,” the Republican, Judd Gregg, told me, saying that McConnell is no doubt correct in his assumption that Democrats aren’t eager to work with him. They’re too consumed by contempt for Trump.

The Democrat, Bob Kerrey, characterized McConnell as a “creature of these very partisan times” who in some ways merely reflects them. But Kerrey said that when McConnell blocked any vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for the better part of a year, “he went way too far.”

Until now, McConnell has evaded the degree of demonization that you might expect. He’s too pale a blur to arouse passion, and as an object of fascination, he can hold neither bow nor arrow to the dimpled deer hunter who reigns over the other side of the Capitol.

The tote board of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hypocrisies is more painstakingly maintained, and during the 2016 campaign, every step of his tango with Trump was scrutinized to smithereens. McConnell receded. He was the Jan Brady to Ryan’s Marcia.

But he has always been the ruthless one. In 2010, when he was the minority leader, he stated unabashedly that Republicans’ pre-eminent goal was to send Obama packing after one term.

Harry Reid, a Democrat, was then the majority leader, and after he eliminated the filibuster for all executive branch nominations apart from those for the Supreme Court, McConnell said, “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”

It was. But because of McConnell, it’s a time now to be sadder still.

Mitch McConnell is a poisonous old shit who should die a slow and painful death from a wasting disease.  This is the man who refused to meet with the March of Dimes, the group that funded his polio treatment, and had people in wheelchairs arrested and dragged out of their chairs for protesting outside his office.  Fuck you, Mitch.