Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

May 17, 2017

In “It’s Chicken or Fish” The Moustache of Wisdom says elected Republicans won’t stand up to Trump’s abuse of power, like his asking James Comey to halt the Flynn-Russia inquiry, so now we have a choice.  (He seems pissed…)  Mr. Bruni considers “Trump’s Leaky Fate” and says maybe the most potent check on the president is the aghast people around him.  Here’s TMOW:

Since President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

And this question will surely get louder with the report that Trump asked Comey in February to halt the investigation into the president’s former national security adviser.

But we already know the answer: No.

The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.

It has not been without costs. Trump has made every person in his orbit look like either a “liar or a fool,” as David Axelrod put it. So call off the search. There will be no G.O.P. mutiny, even if Trump resembles Captain Queeg more each day.

That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

And the one thing I admire about Trump and his enablers: They are not afraid of, and indeed they enjoy, exercising raw power against their opponents. They are not afraid to win by a sliver and govern as if they won by a landslide.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the power to block President Barack Obama from naming a Supreme Court justice and he did not hesitate to use it, the Constitution be damned.

Trump had the power to appoint climate deniers to key environmental posts and he did it — science be damned. And Trump had the power to fire Comey, even though it meant firing the man investigating him for possible collusion with Russia, and Trump did just that — appearances be damned.

Democrats and independents should not be deluded or distracted by marches on Washington, clever tweets or “Saturday Night Live” skits lampooning Trump. They need power. If you are appalled by what Trump is doing — backed by House and Senate Republicans — then you need to get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face, by running for Congress as a Democrat or an independent, registering someone to vote for a Democrat or an independent, or raising money to support such candidates.

Nothing else matters.

The morally bankrupt crowd running today’s G.O.P. are getting their way not because they have better arguments — polls show majorities disagreeing with them on Comey and climate — but because they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say. And they will use that power to cut taxes for wealthy people, strip health care from poor people and turn climate policy over to the fossil fuel industry until someone else checks that power by getting a majority in the House or the Senate.

Personally, I’m not exactly a rabid Democrat. I’m more conservative on issues of free trade, business, entrepreneurship and use of force than many Democratic candidates. I think the country would benefit from having a smart conservative party offering market and merit-based solutions for our biggest challenges — from climate to energy to education to taxes to infrastructure — that was also ready to meet Democrats halfway. But there is no such G.O.P. today. The party has lost its moral compass.

Just think about that picture of Trump laughing it up with Russia’s foreign minister in the Oval Office, a foreign minister who covered up Syria’s use of poison gas. Trump reportedly shared with him sensitive intelligence on ISIS, and Trump refused to allow any U.S. press in the room. The picture came from Russia’s official photographer. In our White House! It’s nauseating. And the G.O.P. is still largely mute. If Hillary had done that, they would have shut down the government.

That’s why for me, in 2018, the most left-wing Democratic candidate for House or Senate is preferable to the most moderate Republican, because none of the latter will confront Trump. And Trump’s presidency is not just a threat to my political preferences, it is a threat to the rule of law, freedom of the press, ethics in government, the integrity of our institutions, the values our kids need to learn from their president and America’s longstanding role as the respected leader of the free world.

That’s why there are just two choices now: chicken or fish — a Democratic-controlled House or Senate that can at least deter Trump for his last two years, or four years of an out-of-control president. This G.O.P. is not going to impeach him; forget that fantasy. Either Democrats get a lever of power, or we’re stuck emailing each other “S.N.L.” skits.

So, I repeat: Run as, raise money for or register someone to vote for a Democrat or independent running for House or Senate on Nov. 6, 2018. Nothing else matters.

It’s chicken or fish, baby. It’s just chicken or fish.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

For a president so given to fantasy and fond of alternative facts, Donald Trump has been right about one thing all along: His government is a shockingly leaky vessel.

Thank heaven for that.

It’s not judges or senators who will save us from the worst of Trump, which is most of Trump. His undoing will come from within. Be as cynical as you want about Washington — I certainly indulge myself — but there remain insiders with consciences, and some of them actually work for the president. They’re willing to work against him if circumstances warrant it. Circumstances have been warranting it, and here we are.

What we’re witnessing is astonishing. I don’t mean Trump’s actions — including the reports that he divulged highly classified information to Russian visitors and had asked James Comey to lay off Michael Flynn — though those absolutely qualify. I mean how reliably these details reached journalists. I mean how reliably Trump’s outrageous behavior always reaches journalists, as government officials use the very media that he demonizes to expose his malfeasance, ridicule his cluelessness, warn Americans about his intentions and head him off at the pass.

This much leaking this soon in an administration is a powerful indication of what kind of president we have. He is so unprepared, shows such bad judgment and has such an erratic temper that he’s not trusted by people who are paid to bolster him and who get the most intimate, unvarnished look at him. Some of them have decided that discretion isn’t always the keeping of secrets, not if it protects bad actors. They’re right. And they give me hope.

In one of those nifty and incredibly revealing confluences of news developments, the story about Trump’s dangerously loose lips with the Russians came out on the same day that the hosts of “Morning Joe” spoke of Kellyanne Conway’s privately admitted disgust for Trump, at least back during the campaign.

This was Conway they were talking about, the high priestess of hyper-spin, who can look at the smallest droplet in the largest goblet and pronounce the glass half full. Even she saw the emptiness of Trump. Even she cringed. And if that’s the case, there must be more cringing around the president than we realized.

It’s getting worse and worse. Last week in particular demonstrated that. He gives his lieutenants lies to peddle, creates avoidable messes and then rails if underlings don’t grab their mops and clean up with sufficient cheer and success. Aides will suck up a whole lot for proximity to power, and partisans will make enormous compromises in the name of the team. But at the end of the day, they’re human. They have limits, dignity and the mobile phone numbers of dozens of reporters.

Trump should understand that. He’s always telling us how smart he is but showing us the opposite, and as our parents always warned us, actions speak louder than words.

Foolish: to demand such fierce loyalty from the people around you but give precious little in return. It loosens their lips.

Foolish: to continue to treat the Russians with a double scoop of courtesy — here, guys, take a gander at this Islamic State intelligence! — amid a continuing investigation into, and intensifying suspicions about, your exact degree of coziness with Moscow.

If he was wagering that his words to the Russians would never leave the room, well, that’s proof of yet more foolishness. With Trump, everything has been leaving the room, by some route or another. If he hasn’t learned that yet, he’s uneducable.

There are people around Trump who see him for who and what he is. There are people who work in his administration not because they have high hopes for him but because they have modest hopes that they can bend things in a better direction or mitigate damage. None of them were setting themselves up to be moles. But some are playing that part.

And so we knew, even before Trump sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt, that the White House was spinning a fairy tale about why the president fired Comey. We knew about possible policy changes regarding climate change and L.G.B.T. rights before Trump was ready to publicize them, because aides checked and balanced him with leaks to the media.

We discovered this week that an administration official had presented to Trump, and that he believed, a fake cover of a Time magazine from the 1970s that warned of an impending ice age. And we were briefed on his imprudent conversation with the Russians.

All of this came from within, and much of it reflects a concern for country — and for truth — that’s greater than any concern for Trump. Foolish: the failure to account for some aides’ decency and patriotism.

“Don’t be tattletales” was another caution from our parents, but it was imperfect — or at least incomplete. Sometimes tattling is all that keeps danger at bay. Swampy as Washington can be, it still harbors creatures who understand that.

Friedman and Bruni

May 10, 2017

There wasn’t anything to post yesterday, hence the radio silence.

Today in “Owning Your Own Future” The Moustache of Wisdom says if you stop learning you could find yourself without a job.  Mr. Bruni considers “The Filthy Metaphor of Rome” and says the best of Italy’s capital shines brightly. The rest? Not so much.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Palo Alto, California:

Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say … not quite. I’d say income anxiety and the stress over what it now takes to secure and hold a good job.

I believe the accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and, now, lifelong learning. More people can’t keep up, and clearly some have reached for leaders who promise to stop the wind.

Let me elaborate through a few conversations, starting with Brian Krzanich, the C.E.O. of Intel, who recently remarked to me: “I believe my grandchildren will not drive.”

Since he has teenage daughters, that means self-driving vehicles should be fully deployed in 25 years, at which time you won’t “steer” your car but will program it on a smartphone or watch or glasses. Sounds like fun — unless you’re one of the millions who drive a truck or cab for a living.

But don’t think you’re safe as an accountant, either.

Mark Bohr, Intel’s senior fellow for technology, explained to me that Intel’s main workhorse microprocessor today is the 14-nanometer chip it introduced in 2014. It packs 37.5 million transistors per square millimeter. By the end of 2017, thanks to Moore’s Law, Intel will begin producing a 10-nm chip that will pack “100 million transistors per square millimeter — more than double the previous density with less heat and power usage,” said Bohr.

If you think machines are smart today … wait a year. It’s this move from 14-nm to 10-nm chips that will help enable automakers to shrink the brain of a self-driving car — a brain that has to take in sensor data from 360 degrees and instantly process whether it’s a dog, a human, a biker or another car — from something that fills a whole trunk to a small box under the front seat, so these cars can scale.

When you get that much processing power, putting out that much data exhaust with ever-improving software, you create a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history. We can see trends we never saw, predict when engine parts will break and replace them before they do, with great savings, and we can optimize everything — from the most energy-saving flight path for an airplane to the ideal drilling path for a natural gas well.

I recently visited the control room at Devon Energy, a large oil and gas producer, in Oklahoma City. It’s half a floor of computer screens displaying data coming out of every well Devon is drilling around the world.

At the bottom of each screen are two boxes that blew my mind. One box displays how much money was budgeted to drill that particular well per foot, and the other box displays — in real time — how much the drilling of that well is actually costing, as it bores through different rocks, and it’s updated every foot!

A typical well might involve sending pipe two miles down and then turning horizontally for two miles east or west — with such precision it can hit a seam of gas as small as 20 feet wide!

If you’re working on a Devon oil rig today, you’re holding a computer, not just an oily wrench. And if you’re getting a degree in auto mechanics at a community college today, it’s not to be a “grease monkey.” It’s to be a repairman for a computer with wheels.

The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.

And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.

That’s why education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan likes to say: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”

Some are up for that, some not; and many want to but don’t know how, which is why the College Board has reshaped the PSAT and SAT exams to encourage lifelong learning.

“We analyzed 250,000 students from the high school graduating class of 2017 who took the new PSAT and then the new SAT,” College Board president David Coleman told me. “Students who took advantage of their PSAT results to launch their own free personalized improvement practice through Khan Academy advanced dramatically: 20 hours of practice was associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT to the SAT — double the average gain among students who did not.

“Practice advances all students without respect to high school G.P.A., gender, race and ethnicity or parental education. And it’s free. Our aim is to transform the SAT into an invitation for students to own their future.”

So the tough news is that more will be on you. The good news is that systems — like Khan-College Board — are emerging everywhere to enable anyone to accelerate learning for the age of acceleration.

Step back from all of this and it’s clear that thriving countries today won’t elect a strongman. They’ll elect leaders who inspire and equip their citizens to be strong people who can own their own futures.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Rome:

This city tells an ancient story.

It also tells a modern one.

Behold the Colosseum. The other day I did, and I was blown away, not by its link to the past but by its luster in the present. On previous trips to Rome and during the two years I lived here, I knew it as a gray and grimy relic. Now it’s stripped of soot and the color of ivory, thanks to an elaborate cleanup.

But a few hundred yards away, in a hilltop park, there’s badly cracked pavement, wildly unkempt grass and oodles of trash, because there’s trash almost everywhere in Rome, whose officials keep promising — and failing — to get the problem under control. That’s the first thing that Romans mention if you ask them about their city these days. It’s also the second and third.

“A tragic situation,” Massimiliano Tonelli told me. “No other country in Europe has a capital in this condition.”

Tonelli doesn’t just bemoan it. He, along with other Romans, chronicles it, on a sadly popular website, Roma Fa Schifo (“Rome Sucks”), that he helped to found. It posts pictures of such eyesores as defaced subway signs, Dumpsters that are disappearing under mountains of uncollected garbage and even, recently, a man in a kitschy gladiator costume taking a leak in public. Type the hashtag #degrado (“degradation”) into Twitter and up comes a gallery of similar scenes.

They’re not new. The website has been around for almost a decade. But the situation is arguably worse than usual and more demoralizing than ever, because Romans last year elected a young new mayor from a young new political party who pledged to turn things around. Almost 11 months later, she has done nothing of the kind.

On top of which, there’s the shocking, mocking contrast of monuments that gleam for tourists while everyday Rome reeks for its residents. The contradiction constantly reminds Italians that “the public sector is inefficient and totally disorganized while the private sector functions better,” Tonelli said.

A roughly $30 million donation from Tod’s, the Italian shoemaker, is financing a sorely needed restoration of the Colosseum. The impressive scrubbing of the Spanish Steps, which was completed last year, reflected a $1.7 million investment by the jeweler Bulgari, which has a flagship store close by. Fendi forked over some $3 million for the rejuvenation of the Trevi Fountain. It glistens as it hadn’t for decades.

And that’s happy news, for the most part. An Italian government strapped for money is smartly tapping private philanthropy to protect its cultural heritage, which is a vital engine of its economy. And it hasn’t let these companies stamp their names or logos prominently on centuries-old travertine.

But this new reliance on corporate munificence could set up a dynamic by which only the most famous landmarks get face-lifts, because they generate the publicity that donors want. Income inequality: the monumental version.

And the government’s own impotence is brought into starker relief by what Tom Rankin, an architect in Rome, described as “a general context of blight around these sparkling monuments.”

“People who have a stake in these things are really frustrated,” he told me.

It’s not just the trash. It’s the profusion of unlicensed street vendors. The riot of untamed weeds. The erratic public transportation. The obstacle course of cars parked where they shouldn’t be. The treacherous bulges and dips of unrepaired streets.

“Did anyone trip and break their leg?” Elizabeth Minchilli, a Roman tour guide and food writer, asked me when I mentioned that I’d been leading my siblings and their spouses around the city. “The streets are full of holes. Everybody you talk to these days has knee problems, ankle problems, hip problems.”

She also asked if I’d noticed an explosion in the bird population, which she pinned on the garbage. “They have bird fights over Piazza Venezia,” she said, adding that she’d seen, amid Rome’s domes and cupolas, “a sea gull swooping down to attack a pigeon that was being attacked by a crow.” She might have been describing a horror movie co-directed by Fellini and Hitchcock.

I did notice the birds but even more so the butts: cigarettes cast away and never swept up. I counted them to distract myself as I ran beside the bilious water of the Tiber, slaloming around broken glass and swatting away mosquitoes, which seem to be enjoying a boom of their own.

Later I climbed the Spanish Steps, freshly gleaming. From the top I could see the glory of Rome. I could also see how so many Italians — and plenty of other Westerners — feel that they live in some perverse shadow of affluence, and how anger and cynicism flower. There’s a perch from which all is magnificent. There’s another that’s for the birds.

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom considers “President Trump’s Real-World Syria Lesson” and says doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.  Mr. Cohen considers “Trump’s Gifts to China” and says the Trump foreign policy is: Shout loud and carry a little stick.  Mr. Bruni considers “Jared Kushner: Man of Steel” and says the president’s faith in his son-in-law is magical thinking.  Here’s TMOW:

With each passing day our new president is discovering that every big problem he faces is like Obamacare — if there were a good, easy solution it would have been found already, and even the less good solutions are more than his own party is ready to pay for or the country is ready to tolerate.

But on Tuesday, tragically, Trump got this lesson in foreign policy via a truly vile poison-gas attack on Syrian civilians, many of them children, reportedly perpetrated by the pro-Russian, pro-Iranian, murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad.

President Trump came to office with the naïve view that he could make fighting ISIS the centerpiece of his Middle East policy — and just drop more bombs and send more special forces than President Barack Obama did to prove his toughness. Trump also seemed to think that fighting ISIS would be a bridge to building a partnership with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

It was naïve because ISIS does not exist in a vacuum — nor is it the only bad actor in the region. ISIS was produced as a Sunni Muslim reaction to massive overreach by Iran in Iraq, where Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the Iraqi government forces of Nouri al-Maliki tried to crush all vestiges of Sunni power in that country and make it a vassal of Iran. (If you think ISIS is sick, Google the phrase “power drills to the head and Shiite militias in Iraq” and you will discover that ISIS did not invent depravity in that part of the world.)

The Iranian/Shiite onslaught against Iraqi Sunnis ran parallel with Assad’s Shiite-Alawite regime in Syria, turning what started out as a multisectarian democracy movement in Syria into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Assad figured that if he just gunned down or poison-gassed enough Syrian Sunnis he could turn their democracy efforts into a sectarian struggle against his Shiite-Alawite regime — and presto, it worked.

The opposition almost toppled him, but with the aid of Russia, Iran and Iran’s Hezbollah militia, Assad was able to pummel the Syrian Sunnis into submission as well.

ISIS was the deformed creature created by a pincers movement — Russia, Iran, Assad and Hezbollah in Syria on one flank and Iran and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq on the other. When Trump said he wanted to partner with Russia to crush ISIS, it was music to the ears of Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Like everyone else, they figured they could manipulate Trump’s ignorance to their advantage.

So, last week, someone named “Rex Tillerson” (who, I am told, is the U.S. secretary of state) declared that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” — as if the Syrian people will be having an Iowa-like primary on that subject soon. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made the same point even more cravenly, telling reporters that the United States’ “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Is there any wonder that Assad felt no compunction about perpetrating what this paper described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks in years in Syria,” killing dozens of people in Idlib Province, the last major holdout for Syrian rebels.

Mind you, Donald Trump did not cause this Syria problem, and he is right to complain that it was left in his lap by the Obama team, which had its own futile strategy for dealing with Syria — trying to negotiate with Russia and Iran, the key players there, without creating any leverage on the ground.

But if you’re looking for a culprit for why America has refused to intervene in Syria, you have to look both to your left and to your right.

“The only obstacle to putting real U.S. military leverage into Syria is democracy in America,” explained the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.” “The American public simply does not want to spend the blood and treasure to produce what would probably be a less awful but still not good outcome in Syria.” And that is a byproduct of the failed George W. Bush interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alas, though, I now think doing nothing is a mistake. Just letting Assad keep trying to restore control over all of Syria will mean endless massacres. A negotiated power-sharing solution is impossible; there is no trust.

The least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops. That should at least stop the killing — and the refugee flows that are fueling a populist-nationalist backlash all across the European Union.

It won’t be pretty or easy. But in the Cold War we put 400,000 troops in Europe to keep the sectarian peace there and to keep Europe on a democracy track. Having NATO and the Arab League establish a safe zone in Syria for the same purpose is worth a try. And then if Putin and Iran want to keep the butcher Assad in Damascus, they can have him.

It’s either that, President Trump, or get ready for a lot more days like Tuesday. As I said, every problem is like Obamacare — never as easy as you thought to fix. The least bad alternatives can be forged only by a compromise in the middle, and, like your hotels, they’ll all soon have your name on them.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Singapore:

The United States meets China this week in a position of weakness. Since taking office, Donald Trump has handed China a strategic gift by abandoning a trade pact designed to offset Chinese power in the region, been obliged to grovel after offending China over Taiwan, and turned President Xi Jinping of China into an unlikely poster boy for climate change concern and an open global trading system.

So much for the art of the deal; to Asian nations like Singapore worried about China’s aggressive territorial expansion in the South China Sea, American policy under Trump has looked more like a blink-first exercise.

Now Trump — having given the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, the full Mar-a-Lago – is obliged to give Xi the same at his Florida resort. (Angela Merkel, merely the German chancellor, need not apply.)

Top of the Florida menu is North Korea and how far China will help Trump in rolling back Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile program. The thousands of acres of new land built by China in the form of artificial islands or expanded reefs in the Spratly Islands off the coast of the Philippines — an extraordinary act of lawless territorial expansionism — will also be part of the discussions. Then of course there’s bilateral trade and Trump’s unhappiness with the $347 billion U.S. deficit last year — although with North Korea’s belligerent Kim now in a position to hit Japan, that feels like a manageable irritant in the symbiotic U.S.-Chinese economic entanglement.

China will not satisfy the United States on North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said “strategic patience” is over. But what does that mean? A pre-emptive American strike is nearly unthinkable given Kim’s ability to blow up Seoul. It sounds like what the Trump administration has specialized in: bluster. The Trump foreign policy doctrine: Shout loud and carry a little stick. When Trump tells The Financial Times that he can “totally” solve North Korea without China’s help, everyone shrugs at his saber-rattling.

China has leverage over Kim, but its “strategic patience” with him is infinite. Its priority is the survival of the totalitarian regime as a buffer. The dictator is China’s insurance against a nuclear-armed united Korea at its doorstep. Millions of North Koreans flooding over its border in the event of a regime collapse is the last thing China wants.

To Trump’s demands to deliver Kim, China is likely to shrug. Especially if the president (unlikely scenario) does what he should and tells Xi that China’s artificial-island push for regional dominance in the South China Sea is unacceptable.

In the long run any effective North Korea policy will probably have to begin with acceptance that denuclearization is no longer possible and stringent curtailment of Kim is the best bet. Diplomacy is a word that Trump might usefully add to his vocabulary.

For countries from Vietnam to Singapore, its absence has been alarming. Trump’s decision to rip up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious free-trade arrangement including many countries in the region but not China, was reckless. China’s pressure on Singapore to choose between the United States and Beijing — something Singapore rightly refuses to do — is typical of the increasingly heavy-handed Chinese regional approach. With the T.P.P. dead, China is emboldened.

Already last year it had impounded some Singaporean military vehicles to signal impatience with Singapore’s close relations with Taiwan. It has also been critical of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore when he raises concerns over China’s South China Sea aggrandizement. For the Chinese, “silence is golden” when it comes to all that new land for runways, radars and the like in waters far from its shore. But for Singapore, the sea is its lifeline. It cannot stay quiet; and it needs offsetting American power in Asia to keep those sea-lanes open.

Here we get to the nub of what should be on the Trump-Xi agenda. As Razeen Sally, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told me: “In the end it’s about free people and open societies. Are we going to have more or less of that in this part of the world? That is why more Chinese domination in Asia would be so ominous.”

But of course the Trump foreign policy is an experiment in a valueless, transactional approach to the world from which the American idea has been stripped.

Anthony Miller, an American businessman in Japan, wrote to me recently about a meeting with a senior Japanese university official who had asked him why Japan should align itself with America if there is no longer “a mutual belief in democracy, free trade and liberal values.” Miller concluded of Trump: “The damage he is doing to the underpinnings of liberal democracy is tremendous.”

When Lee, the Singapore prime minister, called Trump in early December he mentioned the free trade agreement between the United States and Singapore. The then president-elect, I was told, had no idea of its existence. Nor did Trump know that the United States has a trade surplus with Singapore.

Unpreparedness is bad. It’s worse when combined with bluster and recklessness. That’s why China is winning.

And last but not least we come to Mr. Bruni:

Why don’t we just stitch him a red cape, put him in spandex, affix a stylized “S” to his chest and be done with it?

SuperJared has taken flight.

He’s President Trump’s point man with the Chinese, having finalized the details of the big meeting at Mar-a-Loco later this week. He was Trump’s middleman with the Mexicans not long ago.

“A shadow secretary of state,” The Washington Post called Jared Kushner, and that was well before he traveled to Iraq on Monday, beating the actual secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to one of the most consequential theaters of American foreign policy.

Kushner’s to-do list, not Tillerson’s, contains the small, pesky item of brokering a durable truce between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump said to the 36-year-old real estate scion, who has absolutely no background in diplomacy, from the stage of an inaugural party.

The precise strategy is under wraps. As Henry Kissinger, an informal adviser to Kushner and others in the Trump administration, told Annie Karni of Politico in mid-February: “It’s not clear to me in what way he’s in charge of it, whether he’s in charge of it with supervision from the White House, or whether he’s supposed to be the actual negotiator. Nor has it been defined what they’re negotiating about.”

Mere details! Just leave things to Kushner. He’ll figure it out in those down moments when he’s not supervising the brand new Office of American Innovation, whose modest ambition is a full-scale reorganization of the federal government that makes it more efficient.

His plan on that front is clear. He’ll simply do everything himself. Take note: When you file your taxes in about two weeks, you can send them either to the Internal Revenue Service or to Kushner. He’ll be chipping in with the auditing.

I jest, and I do so in line with the mocking tone of the media’s continuing tally of tasks being piled on Kushner’s plate. But Kushner’s many mandates aren’t a laughing matter. They’re a reflection of some of Trump’s most unsettling traits as president, and Kushner is a symbol of his delusions.

Trump keeps expanding Kushner’s bloated portfolio while leaving key agencies woefully understaffed, and that’s “a sign that he doesn’t know how government works,” said a former Bush administration official who has had extensive dealings with Kushner.

“There’s no deputy secretary of state,” the official told me. “There’s no deputy secretary of defense.” He ticked off an array of other unfilled positions, insisted that these gaps can’t all be chalked up to some noble desire to shrink government and said that they pretty much prevent any meaningful follow-through on whatever bold ideas Kushner might hatch. “Trump just thinks, ‘Oh, yeah, Jared’s in charge of that.’ In charge of what? What’s he running? You need a bureaucratic infrastructure.”

Trump’s overreliance on Kushner illustrates the extraordinary premium he places on loyalty. Kushner’s status as a visionary is entirely disputable: His real-estate company was a birthright, not a start-up, and as an article by Charles Bagli in The Times this week demonstrated, one of Kushner’s key acquisitions, the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue, turned into an albatross. But he married Ivanka. He’s family. And he chose the political ambitions of his father-in-law over his own previous reputation as a reasonably enlightened man.

Kushner also exemplifies the degree to which Trump not only prizes the fresh eyes of people from outside of politics, which is sensible, but downright fetishizes them, which isn’t. To the extent that the administration is staffed, it teems with government naïfs, and that has been apparent in the botched composition and rollout of executive orders and in the failed attempt to undo Obamacare.

Trump’s cavalier attitude toward conflicts of interest is manifest in Kushner, who was reportedly talking about government business with the Chinese ambassador even as his family’s company sought Chinese investment for that skyscraper.

So is Trump’s magical thinking. The president seems to see certain people as exempt from the laws of gravity, and he has accorded Kushner a place snug beside him in that pantheon. He keeps telling us that he can predict the future, and he keeps telling himself that Kushner can juggle more than even the most seasoned, brilliant White House aides of yesteryear pulled off. Kushner doesn’t seem to be quibbling.

I’m told by insiders that when Trump’s long-shot campaign led to victory, he and Kushner became convinced not only that they’d tapped into something that everybody was missing about America, but that they’d tapped into something that everybody was missing about the two of them.

Kushner was reborn with new powers, and to the heavens he ascended.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.

Friedman and Bruni

March 29, 2017

In “Trump Is a Chinese Agent” The Moustache of Wisdom says ignoring climate change and the benefits of clean energy only helps a rival.  Mr. Bruni says “Devin Nunes is Dangerous” because he’s so deep in the tank for Donald Trump that he needs scuba gear.  Here’s TMOW:

The big story everyone is chasing is whether President Trump is a Russian stooge. Wrong. That’s all a smoke screen. Trump is actually a Chinese agent. He is clearly out to make China great again. Just look at the facts.

Trump took office promising to fix our trade imbalance with China, and what’s the first thing he did? He threw away a U.S.-designed free-trade deal with 11 other Pacific nations — a pact whose members make up 40 percent of global G.D.P.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership was based largely on U.S. economic interests, benefiting our fastest-growing technologies and agribusinesses, and had more labor, environmental and human rights standards than any trade agreement ever. And it excluded China. It was our baby, shaping the future of trade in Asia.

Imagine if Trump were negotiating with China now as not only the U.S. president but also as head of a 12-nation trading bloc based on our values and interests. That’s called l-e-v-e-r-a-g-e, and Trump just threw it away … because he promised to in the campaign — without, I’d bet, ever reading TPP. What a chump! I can still hear the clinking of champagne glasses in Beijing.

Now more Asian nations are falling in line with China’s regional trading association — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — which has no serious environmental, intellectual property, human trafficking or labor standards like TPP. A Peterson Institute study said TPP would “increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion” by 2030, without changing total U.S. employment levels. Goodbye to that.

But Trump took his Make China Great campaign to a new level on Tuesday by rejecting the science on climate change and tossing out all Obama-era plans to shrink our dependence on coal-fired power. Trump also wants to weaken existing mileage requirements for U.S.-made vehicles. Stupid.

O.K., Mr. President, let’s assume for a second that climate change is a hoax. Do you believe in math? There are now 7.5 billion people on the planet, and there will be 8.5 billion by 2030, according to the United Nations population bureau — and most will want to drive like us, eat protein like us and live in houses like us. And if they do, we’ll eat up, burn up, smoke up and choke up the planet — and devour our fisheries, coral reefs, rivers and forests — at a pace we’ve never seen before. Major cities in India and China already can’t breathe; wait for when there are another billion people.

That means that clean power, clean water, clean air, clean transportation and energy-efficient buildings will have to be the next great global industry, whether or not there is climate change. The demand will be huge.

So what is China doing? Its new five-year plan is a rush to electric cars, batteries, nuclear, wind, solar and energy efficiency — and a cap-and-trade system for carbon. Trump’s plan? More coal and oil. Hello? How can America be great if we don’t dominate the next great global industry — clean power?

The U.S. state leading in clean energy innovations is California, which also has the highest vehicle emissions standards and the strictest building efficiency codes. Result: California alone has far more advanced energy jobs than there are coal miners in America, and the pay is better and the work is healthier. In January 2016, CNNMoney reported that nationally the U.S. “solar industry work force is bigger than that of oil and gas construction, and nearly three times the size of the entire coal mining work force.”

“More than half the electric vehicles sold in the U.S. are sold in California,” said Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “If there are two jurisdictions hellbent on transformation, it is China and California. There have been 200 million E.V.s sold in China already. They’re called electric bicycles, which cost about $400 — quiet, not contributing to congestion or pollution, and affordable.”

China is loving this: It’s doubling down on clean energy — because it has to and it wants to leapfrog us on technology — and we’re doubling down on coal, squandering our lead in technology.

It was bitterly ironic that on the same day that President Trump took America on a great leap backward to coal, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Tencent Holdings Ltd. bought a 5% stake in Tesla Inc., giving the backing of China’s most valuable company to the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker as it prepares to launch its first car aimed at the mass market. … Having a powerful friend in China could help Tesla as it eyes further global expansion. Big Chinese tech companies have backed a wave of green-car start-ups in the country recently.”

If you liked buying your oil from Saudi Arabia, you’ll love buying your electric cars, solar panels, efficiency software and batteries from China.

Finally, Trump wants to slash the State Department and foreign aid budgets and make it harder for people to immigrate to America, particularly Muslims. This opens the way for China to expand its influence across the developing world and signals the smartest math and science students in the world to start their start-ups overseas and not in America.

NBC News reported last week that applications from foreign students, notably from China, India and the Middle East, “are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.”

So you tell me that Trump is not a Chinese agent. The only other explanation is that he’s ignorant and unread — that he’s never studied the issues or connected the dots between them — so Big Coal and Big Oil easily manipulated him into being their chump, who just tweeted out their talking points to win votes here and there — without any thought to grand strategy. Surely that couldn’t be true?

Oh, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  You can bet your fat butt that it IS true.  And worse.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Representative Devin Nunes obviously fancies himself Jason Bourne. To sneak onto the White House grounds for that rendezvous with an unnamed source last week, he switched cars and ditched aides, vanishing into the night.

But Senator Lindsey Graham looks at him and sees a different character. Graham said on the “Today” show on Tuesday that Nunes was bumbling his way though something of an “Inspector Clouseau investigation,” a reference to the fantastically inept protagonist of the “Pink Panther” comedies.

I salute Graham’s movie vocabulary. I quibble with his metaphor. While Clouseau was a benign fool, there’s nothing benign about Nunes’s foolishness.

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes, a California Republican, is a principal sleuth in the paramount inquiry into whether members of the Trump campaign were in cahoots with Russia, and from all appearances, he either doesn’t want to know the answer or has determined it already — in President Trump’s favor.

Democrats are rightly calling on him to recuse himself. They’ve been joined in their alarm by Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. As Graham summoned the specter of Clouseau, McCain said on “CBS This Morning” that “something’s got to change.”

“Otherwise,” he continued, “the whole effort in the House of Representatives will lose credibility.”

But Nunes was defiant when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday whether he would continue to guide that effort, saying, “Why would I not?”

Oh, many reasons.

Let’s start here: The Intelligence Committee isn’t supposed to be a partisan arm of the majority party (though it has behaved that way in the past). And any collusion with the White House is a betrayal of its special oversight role.

But Nunes is so deep in the tank for Trump that he needs scuba gear. With his words and deeds, he has labored mightily to redirect attention from Trump’s alleged wrongdoing to his claims of persecution, recasting villain as victim. It’s Trump’s gratitude that he’s after, not the truth.

When politicians on both sides of the aisle upbraided Trump for his baseless accusations about the wiretapping of Trump Tower, Nunes swooped in to say, “I don’t think we should attack the president for tweeting.” But Twitter was hardly the issue. The president’s paranoid hallucinations were.

When James Comey, the F.B.I. director, appeared before Nunes’s committee to confirm his own agency’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties, Nunes changed the subject to the media’s acquisition of classified information, going on about leaks, leaks, leaks. He sounded more like a plumber than a politician.

And when Nunes gathered reporters around him two days later, it was to say that he’d seen secret documents suggesting that people around Trump may indeed have been subject to surveillance by our government.

This was Nunes at his most irresponsible. To the casual listener, he was insinuating that Trump’s wiretapping charges weren’t so very far from the mark. But they were, and Nunes had to acknowledge that as he clarified his remarks. He was talking about the surveillance of Americans who happened to be in contact with foreign players whose communications were the real subjects of concern. He had no evidence — zilch — of any eavesdropping that targeted Trump.

This week we learned that Nunes got that information during that rendezvous, details of which he has not provided to his fellow committee members, just as he failed to share the information itself with Democrats on the committee before he went public with it.

All of this is irregular enough to peg him as a puppet of the Trump administration or a complete boob. Either way, he has surrendered his investigation’s integrity — and his own.

A Republican insider who once worked closely with him described him to me as an “overeager goofball” who can’t see “the line between ingratiating and stupid.” The insider said that Nunes crossed that line with John Boehner, the former House speaker, who gave him the committee chairmanship but grew weary of Nunes’s indiscriminate pep and constant bumming of his cigarettes.

My source wondered why Paul Ryan hadn’t kept a closer watch on Nunes, given his shortcomings. “No one is asking him to bring the potato salad to the Mensa picnic,” my source said.

Salad and more salad: Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, complained to reporters on Tuesday afternoon that “if the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection.”

Spicer is right that we’re obsessed with Russia, wrong that it’s as random as condiments. We’re obsessed because every signal from the administration and its allies is that they don’t want us looking any further or any closer, and Nunes’s Bourne identity is the most glaring signal of all.

If Trump and his associates have nothing to hide, why all the cloak and dagger? And why such clumsiness?

Because they’re all such ghastly buffoons.

Kristof and Bruni

March 25, 2017

In “Trump’s Triumph of Incompetence” Mr. Kristof says he has crafted an administration in his own image: vain, narcissistic and dangerous.  Mr. Bruni, in “Trump and Ryan Lose Big,” says the Republican answer to Obamacare is a legislative trainwreck.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

One of President Trump’s rare strengths has been his ability to project competence. The Dow Jones stock index is up an astonishing 2,200 points since his election in part because investors believed Trump could deliver tax reform and infrastructure spending.

Think again!

The Trump administration is increasingly showing itself to be breathtakingly incompetent, and that’s the real lesson of the collapse of the G.O.P. health care bill. The administration proved unable to organize its way out of a paper bag: After seven years of Republicans’ publicly loathing Obamacare, their repeal-replace bill failed after 18 days.

Politics sometimes rewards braggarts, and Trump is a world-class boaster. He promised a health care plan that would be “unbelievable,” “beautiful,” “terrific,” “less expensive and much better,” “insurance for everybody.” But he’s abysmal at delivering — because the basic truth is that he’s an effective politician who’s utterly incompetent at governing.

It’s sometimes said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Trump campaigns in braggadocio and governs in bombast.

Whatever one thinks of Trump’s merits, this competence gap raises profound questions about our national direction. If the administration can’t repeal Obamacare — or manage friendly relations with allies like Mexico or Australia — how will it possibly accomplish something complicated like tax reform?

Failure and weakness also build on themselves, and the health care debacle will make it more difficult for Trump to get his way with Congress on other issues. As people recognize that the emperor is wearing no clothes, that perception of weakness will spiral.

One of the underlying problems is Trump’s penchant for personnel choices that are bafflingly bad or ethically challenged or both. Mike Flynn was perhaps the best-known example.

But consider Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism adviser to the president. Gorka, who is of Hungarian origin, founded an extremist right-wing party in Hungary in 2007, and The Forward has published articles claiming that Gorka had ties to the anti-Semitic Hungarian right and is a sworn member of a Nazi-allied group in Hungary called Vitezi Rend.

Members of the organization use a lowercase v as a middle initial, and The Forward noted that Gorka has presented his name as Sebastian L.v. Gorka.

Gorka’s background might have become a problem when he immigrated to the U.S., for the State Department manual says that Vitezi Rend members “are presumed to be inadmissible.” Karl Pfeifer, an Austrian journalist who has long specialized in Hungarian affairs, told me that Gorka unquestionably had worked with racists and anti-Semites in Hungary.

Gorka and the White House did not respond to my inquiries. But Gorka told The Tablet website that he had never been a member of Vitezi Rend and used the v initial only to honor his father. He has robust defenders, who say he has never shown a hint of racism or anti-Semitism.

As Ana Navarro, a G.O.P. strategist, tweeted: “Donald Trump attracts some of the shadiest, darkest, weirdest people around him.”

In fairness, Trump has also appointed plenty of solid Republicans: Jim Mattis, Elaine Chao, H. R. McMaster, Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin and more. And Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is a first-rate lawyer.

Yet Trump’s record of appointments over all suggests a lack of interest in expertise. I’m not sure that this is “the worst cabinet in American history,” as a Washington Post opinion writer put it, but it might be a contender. The last two energy secretaries were renowned nuclear scientists, one with a Nobel prize, while Trump appointed Rick Perry — who once couldn’t remember the department’s name.

Trump appointed his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel. He chose Jason Greenblatt, another of his lawyers, to negotiate Mideast peace. He picked Omarosa Manigault, who starred with him on “The Apprentice” and has a record of inflating her résumé, to be assistant to the president.

The director of Oval Office operations is Keith Schiller, a former Trump bodyguard best known for whacking a protester. And the Trump team installed as a minder in the Labor Department a former campaign worker who graduated from high school in 2015, according to ProPublica.

So see the failure of the Republican health care bill through a larger prism: The measure collapsed not just because it was a dreadful bill (a tax cut for the wealthy financed by dropping health coverage for the needy). It also failed as a prime example of the Trump administration’s competence gap.

Democrats may feel reassured, because ineptitude may impede some of Trump’s worst initiatives. But even if Trump is unable to build, he may be able to destroy: I fear that his health care “plan” now is to suffocate Obamacare by failing to enforce the insurance mandate, and then claim that its spasms are inevitable.

Of all the national politicians I’ve met over the decades, Trump may be the one least interested in government or policy; he’s absorbed simply with himself. And what we’re seeing more clearly now is that he has crafted an administration in his own image: vain, narcissistic and dangerous.

And we’re only 60 days in…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

For seven years — seven years — Republicans thundered about the evils of Obamacare, yearned for the day when they could bury it and vowed to do precisely that once the ball was in their hands.

Last week proved that this had all been an emotional and theatrical exercise, not a substantive one. The ball was in their hands, and they had no coherent playbook. No real play. They scurried around the Capitol with their chests deflated and their tails between their legs.

For the entirety of his campaign, Donald Trump crowed about his peerless ability to make deals, one of which, he assured us, was going to be a replacement for Obamacare that would cut costs without leaving any Americans in the lurch.

Last week proved that there was no such swap, that he hadn’t done an iota of work to devise one and that he was spectacularly unprepared to shepherd such legislation through Congress. As his promise lay in tatters at his feet, he gave a delusional interview to Time magazine about what an infallible soothsayer he is, then tried to shift the blame to Democrats.

He’s not delivering Americans from cynicism about government. He’s validating that dark assessment, with a huge assist from Paul Ryan and a cast of House Republicans who had consistently portrayed themselves as sober-minded, mature alternatives to those indulgent, prodigal Dems, if only they had a president from their party who would let them work their magic.

They have that president. Behold their magic.

Their exact complaints about the birth of Obamacare became the actual details of the stillbirth of Trumpcare or Ryancare or whatever we’re supposed to call the botch that they came up with.

It was a bill of far-reaching consequence stitched together behind closed doors, with a flurry of last-minute deals struck only to placate holdouts. It was pushed on lawmakers not as essential policy but as essential politics: The president needed a win, and the party had to make good on an incessantly repeated pledge.

“Because we said we would” became the motivating force for the legislation. If that’s the way self-proclaimed grown-ups govern, give me toddlers.

Trump is indeed prophetic. Washington under him doesn’t resemble the same old swamp. It looks like a sandbox. There’s commotion aplenty, noise galore and not much evidence of adult supervision.

What happened last week wasn’t governance. It was petulance. Republicans floundered in their attempts to come up with a replacement for Obamacare because the truth, which they know but refuse to say out loud, is that many of their constituents have benefited from, and have come to depend on, the changes wrought by Obamacare.

That’s not some rose-colored endorsement of what always was a messy, imperfect response to this country’s health care woes. But that’s the fact of the matter, and it’s a principal reason for the confusion and delays of last week. Ryan, Trump and others who had devoted so much oratorical energy to demonizing Obamacare felt that they needed a symbolic victory — any symbolic victory — but discovered that they couldn’t ignore the price.

Some Republican governors, many Republican moderates and voters far and wide were balking. In one Quinnipiac poll, only 17 percent of them said that they favored the emerging Republican alternative to Obamacare, while 56 percent opposed it.

Dazed by developments, the president who had recently opined that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated” just wanted an end to things. Late Thursday he issued an ultimatum, decreeing that on Friday, the House had to vote on the bill — which had been revised to remove maternity care and mammograms as benefits that insurers had to provide — or forevermore forfeit its chance to do away with Obamacare. The art of the deal devolved into the spectacle of the tantrum.

Then, late Friday, the bill was withdrawn, because it seemed to be a lost cause — barring some miracle. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” Ryan admitted.

That Trump isn’t good at details and follow-through comes as no surprise. Ryan’s miscalculations are the greater revelation. He knows Congress, purports to know policy and yet produced a wretched bill that smelled as bad to the more centrist members of his caucus as it did to the most conservative ones.

And he moved it to the front of the line, ahead of other initiatives, so that the public’s first glimpse of negotiations between the president and Congress in a government under a single party’s control was an ugly sight indeed.

For the two terms of the Obama presidency, Republicans in Congress perfected their posture as the party of no, becoming so comfortable in that role that they still seem somewhat baffled to find themselves in a new one.

And no isn’t enough, especially not when it comes to Obamacare, which has been around long enough to plant deep roots in American life. There’s no repealing without some replacing, and Republicans were so fixated on the first part of the equation that they never grappled adequately with the second.

Their limited preparation and lack of agreement would matter less if they had strong leadership in the White House. Instead they have Trump, who lashed out at Democrats and pretended that the collapse of the health care bill was some sort of perverse or eventual triumph. There has also been murmuring from his administration about how Ryan led them all astray, and it bodes ill for the Trump-Ryan relationship going forward.

“Convenient how Trump flips from an all-powerful master negotiator to well-intentioned simpleton duped by Snidely Ryan at the drop of a hat,” tweeted the conservative columnist Ben Shapiro.

So very convenient and so very Trump, who manages to strut regardless of circumstances. There’s an inverse relationship between his adoration of himself and the prospects for his presidency. As the latter wanes, the former waxes.

“I assume this is going to be a cover,” he said to Michael Scherer of Time, referring to the interview. “Have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers — nobody’s had more covers.”

Scherer responded that, to the best of his knowledge, “Richard Nixon still has you beat. But he was in office for longer, so give yourself time.”

“O.K., good,” Trump said. “I’m sure I’ll win.”

Just spell his name right, folks. Just put him on the cover. That’s all that matters, and if Nixon is the yardstick, that’s fine, so long as Trump measures bigger.

He assured Scherer that all was swell, telling him, “I’m president and you’re not.”

That’s a rare Trump statement that will survive fact-checking. And that clinches it: If ever we name a poet laureate of the sandbox, the title will be Trump’s.

Friedman and Bruni

March 22, 2017

In “Calling On a Few Good Men” TMOW pens an open letter to the adults in the Trump administration with the most integrity.  Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  What on earth has led you to believe that there are any adults with any integrity at all in the Mein Fubar administration?  One of your shining examples, SOS Tillerson, decided to snub NATO and swan off to Russia instead…  Mr. Bruni has a question in “Tweeting Toward Oblivion:”  Can Donald Trump ditch his imagined grievances and save his presidency?  No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.  Here’s TMOW:

Memo To: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point and served as a cavalry officer. Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies.

I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last “few good men” who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.

The last time our country faced such a cancer on the presidency, the Republican Party’s leadership stood up and put country before party to get to the truth. But today’s G.O.P. is a pale imitation of that party. With a few exceptions, it has declared moral bankruptcy and abdicated its responsibility to draw any red lines for President Trump.

To begin, I ask those of you who honored our country as military officers how you would have reacted if your commanding officer had charged his predecessor with a high crime that violated his constitutional oath — and then a few weeks later this charge was exposed as false by the top military judge advocate?

And Secretary Tillerson, how would your former corporate board have reacted if a top executive at Exxon Mobil had accused a predecessor of a major act of malfeasance and the F.B.I. then told the board the claims were false?

Would you military men have simply said, “Sorry, I just do artillery” or “I’m just staying in my lane”? And Secretary Tillerson, would you only have said, “I just do diplomacy”?

Knowing some of you, I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that you would have taken so seriously your oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, or abide by the highest corporate standards, that you’d have felt impelled to say or do something.

Well, your boss has engaged in such a smear against his predecessor. But Trump’s party, his daughter, his sons, his son-in-law, his chief strategist, his spokespeople all want us to just move on, to give him a pass, and his attorney general is already so tainted that he’s had to recuse himself.

And that is why I’m coming to you few good men.

I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act — to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing and apologizes to President Obama, and unless he releases his tax returns to eliminate any questions regarding what we now know is already an eight-month-old F.B.I. investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign to hack our last election.

Surely none of you believes it’s O.K. for a president to smear his predecessor and then stand by the charge even when it is exposed as a lie.

I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.

I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”

There is a profound sense of loss in the world today that the optimistic, inclusive, generous, rule-of-law America that so many foreigners grew up admiring is disappearing. A poll by Germany’s ARD media group found that the percentage of Germans who think the U.S. is a “trustworthy ally” dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent last month.

Trump inherited a “daunting inbox” in foreign policy, but unfortunately “he is making it much worse,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a valuable new book, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” Trump’s embrace of “protectionism and hostility to immigrants — when the real culprit is new technologies that are eliminating existing jobs and an educational system that is not preparing Americans for new ones — and his rhetoric and policies are increasing doubts overseas about American dependability.” Without an urgent course correction, added Haass, we could end up “not with America first, but with America alone.”

Preventing that is the job of you five good men. I’m certain that none of you would let your children behave with the kind of dishonesty Trump showed in his tweets about Obama — and then just walk away. If you did that you’d consider yourself a failure as a parent. The same is now at stake for you as public servants.

If you say and do nothing when the nation’s leader smears his predecessor — and then maintains his fantasy as fact — not only will he never have the credibility to call on any other country to uphold the highest standards for rule of law, democracy and human rights, but neither will all of you. We will become a lesser country and the world a more dangerous place.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump faces a stark choice. He can tweet, or he can govern.

He can indulge his persecution complex, firing off missives that compare Barack Obama to Joseph McCarthy and American intelligence officers to Nazis, or he can recognize it as a gateway to disgrace and irrelevance.

He can make his presidency about his own viscera, or he can make it about the country’s welfare. He can do what feels cathartic in the moment, or he can do what’s constructive in the long run. He can dabble in bright colors and shiny objects, or he can deal in durable truths.

I’m focusing on Twitter because it teases out his worst traits. It’s the theater for vainglorious, vindictive, impulsive Trump, and it was the realm in which he made the wild accusations that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. On Monday, James Comey debunked those charges, certifying them as the gaseous fulminations we more or less knew they were.

And through much of Tuesday, Trump’s personal Twitter account essentially went dark. There was nothing from the hours around dawn, which is when he typically visits with his darkest vapors. There was only anodyne stuff later on: a shout-out to the scientists at NASA, a salute to American farmers.

Either someone in his orbit convinced him, at least briefly, of the damage he was doing and the miserable situation he’s in, or Trump himself summoned some wisdom and restraint. He must be capable of that. Can he continue it?

It could be argued that every presidency is a tug of war between private demons and the public interest, between the commander in chief’s indulgence of his own psychological needs and his attentiveness to the hard work of America. With Trump it’s a furiously pitched battle, and the demons are way out ahead.

One of them hasn’t received the attention it warrants. With all our condemnations of Trump the bully, we’ve overlooked Trump the bullied, which is the version more likely to bring him down. I mean the Trump who’s hellbent on believing that he’s up against ruthless enemies; the Trump who must amplify every stride by casting it as a triumph over formidable odds; the Trump who’s throwing a pity party for himself the likes of which few of his predecessors ever attempted.

His election somehow brought this Trump to the fore. In a paradox as strange as everything else about him, victory played handmaiden to a feeling of victimization: his own and the country’s.

It’s precisely that feeling — “a sense of persecution bordering on faith,” as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman wrote in The Times on Monday — that brought about the wiretapping tweets.

But it has also brought about many other ill-advised tweets and ill-considered public statements, enveloping Trump in a foul air of grievance. If it’s not the Mexicans taking advantage of him and of us, it’s the Australians or the Germans or the Chinese. Take your pick.

The “deep state” is out to get him. The leaks are a plot against him.

Sometimes his mewling has an obvious prompt. When your approval ratings have sunk as low as his — a recent Gallup tracking poll showed that only 37 percent of Americans were pleased with his performance — you have an obvious investment in calling such surveys rigged and wrong, as Trump is still doing.

But other whimpering is absurdly conceived and needlessly divisive. During Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington last week, he ranted about an unjust trade imbalance between Germany and the United States, crediting Germany with smarter negotiators. But there are no such negotiators. We trade not specifically with Germany but with the European Union as a whole.

It’s possible that he doesn’t know that. It’s also possible that he chose to disregard a detail that would have complicated and maybe nullified his complaint. Why let the facts get in the way of a tantrum that he then transferred to Twitter, where he bellowed that Germany owed money for its defense to the United States and NATO?

It’s funny: Comey’s testimony on Monday made clear that someone does have a right to feel put upon. That someone is Hillary Clinton. He stressed how “hated” she was by Vladimir Putin. He also confirmed that before Election Day, intelligence officers were looking into whether Putin and the Russians were meddling in the election because of that hatred. At the time Comey said nothing about that, even as he announced that the F.B.I. was taking a fresh look at newly discovered Clinton emails.

Trump is no victim. He’s the luckiest man alive — or has been, until now.

But his allies “have begun to wonder if his need for self-expression, often on social media, will exceed his instinct for self-preservation,” Thrush and Haberman wrote. He can vent his emotions or exercise his responsibilities. The decision belongs to him, the consequences to all of us.

Friedman and Bruni

March 8, 2017

In “Peanut Butter on the Trump Team’s Chins” The Moustache of Wisdom says the president’s apologists are embarrassing.  Mr. Bruni, in “Ben Carson’s Gray Matter,” says the good doctor’s precision with words isn’t exactly surgical.  Here’s TMOW:

For many years the famous Crystal Palace dinner theater in Aspen featured a cabaret song that every audience loved: “The Peanut Butter Affair.”

It told the story of a C.E.O. who had gone to work one day, without properly washing his face, and still had a lump of peanut butter on his chin. But none of his employees dared to tell him.

When he got home, though, his wife told him it was there and he was appalled. But he was even more appalled when he showed up for work over the next few days and eventually “every jerk from the chairman to the clerk had a lump of peanut butter on his chin.”

That spoof of underlings who witlessly mimic their bosses came to mind as I listened to Trump aides and allies justifying the president’s Saturday morning Twitter rant alleging — without any evidence — that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower phones be tapped during the 2016 campaign. It seemed like the whole Trump team was putting peanut butter on their chins. The only question was who had the biggest lump.

My vote goes to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told ABC’s “This Week” that President Trump “is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.” Unspecified information that he’s seen? U.F.O.s that he’s seen? How is that a standard for accusing his predecessor of a vile crime? Give that woman a four-year supply of Peter Pan.

But Sanders is just a flack. More troubling was watching an honorable soldier, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, dab on some Skippy and defend Trump’s claim on CNN, saying that “the president must have his reasons.”

Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the President has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.

Trump ran for office promising to protect Americans from terrorists, immigrants and free trade agreements. But who will protect us from him? If our president is willing to casually throw under a bus our most elemental principles of presidential conduct — such as, you don’t accuse your predecessor of a high crime without evidence, just to divert attention away from your latest mess — we have a real problem.

We have so many big, hard things we need to do, but big hard things can only be done together. And that takes a leader who can bring us together to do things worthy of our energies and dedication — like proper health care reform, immigration reform, tax reform and infrastructure investment, or properly working with China and Russia where we can and drawing red lines where we must.

But it also requires trust in the integrity of that leader — that when things get tough, the leader won’t bail and shoot his aides and followers in the back. There is not a G.O.P. congressman or U.S. ally abroad who today is not asking: Can I trust this guy when the going gets tough, or will Trump lay a fact-free Twitter rant on me? Can I even trust sharing information with him?

Government moves “at the speed of trust,” observes Stephen M. R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust.” “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. … That one thing is trust.”

Despite a bizarre number of meetings with Russians, no proof has surfaced that Trump’s team colluded with Russia. What our top three intelligence services have declared, though, is that Russia did hack our election on Trump’s behalf. And as more of our lives move to cyberspace, understanding exactly how that was done, how it is probably being done in European elections right now and how to deter this new weapon from undermining the West, which is Russia’s goal, is a vital security issue. Without an electoral process we can trust, we’re sunk.

Sadly, most of the Republican Party today is morally AWOL, preferring to sweep the Russian hacking under the carpet rather than have a credible, independent investigation. That will lead people to question any collaboration Trump tries with Moscow.

Moreover, one day soon something will happen — in North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran — that will require him to make a judgment call. Trump will have to look the American people in the eye and say: “Trust me — I decided this based on the best information and advice of the intelligence community.” Or, “Trust me, we needed to work with Russia on this.”

And who will believe him? There is nothing more dangerous than a U.S. president who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us through a crisis. But that’s what happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries. Or as the “Peanut Butter” song warns, “Strange to think what a guy can do just because everybody thinks he’s right.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I need Ben Carson in my head.

In my hippocampus, to be exact.

According to Carson, the human brain stores a perfect, indelible record of everything that it has seen, heard and done, and if he just drilled a hole through my skull and planted electrodes in the right region, bingo! I’d have access to the whole wondrous trove.

Drill, baby, drill. I need the access. As things stand now, I lose 45 minutes every week to the retrieval of forgotten passwords, and I recently got three-quarters of the way through a mystery before realizing that I knew whodunit, how he dun it and why he dun it. I’d already read the book.

Carson, our brand-new housing secretary, made an introductory, supposedly inspirational speech to federal employees this week, and while this kind of thing normally doesn’t wind up in the news, there’s nothing normal about Carson.

During the speech, he went on the tangent about the brain that I just described, and while, granted, he’s a renowned neurosurgeon and I’m an expert on little more than semicolons, I do question his assertion that with proper cerebral stimulation, someone can “recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago.” Maybe “Green Eggs and Ham.” But “The Mill on the Floss”?

Several of Carson’s fellow brain experts scoffed at this claim, though there was much louder scoffing at a subsequent stretch of his remarks that described America as a magnet for dreamers who arrived with “all of their earthly belongings in their two hands, not knowing what this country held for them.”

He continued:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Sometimes Twitter goes berserk because it’s Twitter, other times because it should. “Their dream?” tweeted the movie director Ava DuVernay. “Not be kidnapped, tortured, raped.”

I was transfixed by “even longer, even harder, for less.” Not to be a stickler, but that doesn’t quite cover the distance between the sweatshop and the plantation.

On ABC’s talk show “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg recalled previous odd statements by Carson, noting that “the man who thought the pyramids were built for grain silos” and who “called the Big Bang theory ridiculous” was back with “a brand-new epic.”

“Were the slaves really thinking about the American dream?” she asked. “No, because they were thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ” It’s a thought I myself have had after listening to Carson.

Carson is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet, and he’s a great lesson — for the left as well as the right — that sensitivity is a function of sensibility, not merely of complexion or membership in a given identity group.

A black person can bumble into racially hurtful comments. A female executive can turn a blind eye to sexism in the ranks below her. A gay person can ignore or indulge homophobia. Diversity increases the odds that an organization sees the world more acutely, accurately and empathetically. But it’s not the end of the effort, and it’s no guarantee.

Carson rose from hardship to acclaim and riches. He performed awe-inspiring surgeries. He also suggested that prison causes homosexuality, which he separately likened to bestiality, and that Planned Parenthood aimed, through abortions, to limit the black population. He compared Obamacare to slavery.

He’s a riveting jumble and an important reminder that brilliance and competence along one axis hardly ensures brilliance or even coherence along another. Although we like to tag people as geniuses or fools — it’s a stark, easy taxonomy — they’re more complicated and compartmentalized than that.

Carson is enraptured by what people can be made to remember. I’m fascinated by what they choose to forget. Just before Trump nominated Carson to be housing secretary, one of Carson’s principal campaign advisers said that the good doctor knew far too little about the federal government to work in it. Trump decided to pay that no heed.

During the campaign, Trump said that incidents of aggression in Carson’s youth revealed a “pathological temper” and lumped him together with pedophiles, explaining: “You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological — there’s no cure for that.”

But Carson shrugged that off when Trump came around with a glitzy job offer. It was all water under the hippocampus.

In his speech on Monday, Carson said, “There is nothing in this universe that even begins to compare with the human brain and what it is capable of.” He got that much right, and how.

Friedman and Bruni

March 1, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Tony Blair’s Lesson for President Trump,” says the parallels between Brexit and Trumpism are profound.  In “Donald Trump’s Military Preening” Mr. Bruni says his call on Tuesday night for a rebuilt military is about vanity, not safety.  Here’s TMOW:

It’s too bad Democrats wouldn’t enlist a foreigner to deliver their rebuttal to President Trump’s address to Congress. They could have just replayed the speech given 11 days earlier by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

It was a passionate appeal to his country to reject its version of Trumpism. Blair said the U.K. must reconsider Brexit, the narrowly won 2016 vote to withdraw from the European Union.

It is a speech worth reading because the parallels between Brexit and Trumpism are profound. At their core, both seek to undermine the big systems that have stabilized the globe and spread prosperity, security, rule of law, democracy and openness after two world wars: the European Union, the global trading system, Nafta, NATO, the United Nations and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Brexit and Trumpism argue for abandoning or diminishing all of these in favor of an economic nationalism that will — supposedly painlessly — make Britain and America better off.

Playing with these big systems is dangerous, not because they don’t need improving — they do — but because many of the prescriptions — let’s just put up a wall or exit — will make things so much worse for so many more people. The critics are great at pointing out the flaws of these systems, but they always forget to mention the hundreds of millions of people they lifted from poverty to prosperity and the extraordinary 70 years of peace they maintained since the end of World War II.

In their place, the Brexiters and Trumpsters want to return us to a globe of everyone-for-themselves nationalisms that helped to foster two world wars. They speak of leading grand “movements.” Their vow is “rip it, don’t fix it.” As Blair noted, “The one incontrovertible characteristic of politics today is its propensity for revolt.”

It’s dangerous nonsense. In the Cold War era the world was glued together by these global institutions and by the fear and the discipline of two superpowers. In the post-Cold War era the world was glued together by these big global systems and a U.S. hegemon. We’re now in the post-post Cold War world, when U.S. leadership and the glue of these big global systems are needed more than ever — because the simultaneous accelerations in technology, globalization and climate change are weakening states everywhere, spawning super-empowered angry people and creating vast zones of disorder.

If we choose at this time to diminish America’s global leadership and these big stabilizing systems — and just put America first, thereby prompting every other country to put its own economic nationalism first — we will be making the gravest mistake we possibly could make.

That was a big part of Blair’s speech. Blair is unpopular in the U.K. — but that’s precisely what liberated him to say what many in British politics know to be true but won’t say: Brexit was a stupid idea, based on an old political fantasy of a minority of conservatives; it was sold with bogus data; and following through on it will make Britain poorer, weaker and more isolated — and Europe more unstable.

“The British pound is down around 12 percent against the euro and 20 percent against the dollar since the Brexit referendum,” he noted. “This is the international financial market’s assessment of our future prosperity: We will be poorer. The price of imported goods in supermarkets is up, and thus so is the cost of living.”

The way Blair described Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to executing Brexit — no matter what — sounded just like G.O.P. leaders’ support for Trump’s ideas after they had denounced them as utterly crackpot during the presidential campaign. “Nine months ago,” Blair said of May, “she was telling us that leaving would be bad for the country, its economy, its security, and its place in the world. Today, it is apparently a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ for greatness.”

Blair added: “May says that she wants Britain to be a great, open trading nation. Our first step in this endeavor? To leave the largest free-trade bloc in the world. She wants Britain to be a bridge between the E.U. and the U.S. Is having no foothold in Europe really the way to do that?

“We are told that it is high time that our capitalism became fairer. How do we start laying the foundation for such a noble cause? By threatening Europe with a move to a low-tax, lightly regulated economy, which is the very antithesis of that cause.”

And what will future historians say about all those immigrants who came to the U.K. and were a key reason for the pro-Brexit vote, Blair asked? “That the migrants were terrible people who threatened the country’s stability? No, they will find that, on the whole, the migrants were well behaved, worked hard, paid their taxes and were a net economic benefit to the country.”

Blair recalled other bogus arguments that were used by Brexit advocates and that have already evaporated — like the notions that leaving the E.U. would save Britain some $440 million a week for its national health care service and that there was a danger — most effectively exploited in a fear-inducing poster — that Syrian refugees would overwhelm the U.K., but there was no Syrian refugee flood.

“None of this,” concluded Blair, “ignores the challenges that stoked the anger fueling the Brexit vote: those left behind by globalization; the aftermath of the financial crisis; stagnant incomes for some families; and the pressures posed by big increases in migration, which make perfectly reasonable people anxious and then feel unheard in their anxiety.”

That is true in America, too. Donald Trump is not wrong about everything. We do need to fix our trading relationship with China, which has taken advantage of some of our openness. NATO members should pay their fair share for the alliance. We can’t let in every immigrant who wants to come to America. We do need to rebuild our infrastructure and enact sensible deregulation.

It’s what Trump believes — but is provably wrong — that scares me.

Like that imports from Mexico and China — not robots, software and automation — are the big culprit in taking middle-class jobs; that we are being swamped by immigrants from Mexico, when immigration from Mexico today is really net zero (most migrants are coming from failed states in Central America, which Mexico, the second-largest source of paying tourists to our country, plays a key role in preventing); that climate change is a hoax and we should lower emission rules on coal-fired power plants to restore coal jobs and ignore the long-term health implications and the impact on better-paying clean-power jobs; that the key to restoring middle-class jobs is not by investing in people, health care, infrastructure and lifelong learning, but rather by imposing a border tax. And that the E.U., NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Nafta are just outdated pillars of a global, oppressive “administrative state” that needs deconstructing — rather than pillars of a liberal democratic order that have globalized our values and our rules and our standards to our great benefit.

As Blair said of the E.U.: “In the long term, this is essentially an alliance of values: liberty, democracy and the rule of law. As the world changes and opens up across boundaries of nation and culture, which values will govern the 21st century? Today, for the first time in my adult life, it is not clear that the resolution of this question will be benign. Britain, because of its history, alliances and character, has a unique role to play in ensuring that it is.”

So does America. But the spread of those values doesn’t animate Trump. The world is a win-lose real estate market for him. In the short term, he may rack up some discreet wins. But America became as prosperous and secure as it is today by building a world in our image — not just a world where we’re the only winners.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Why do I get the sense that fighter jets are Donald Trump’s biceps, warships are his pectorals and what he’s doing with his proposed $54 billion increase for the Pentagon is flexing?

Maybe because that’s a strongman’s way. Maybe because so much with him is preening. Or maybe because so little of his military talk adds up.

In a sweeping speech to Congress on Tuesday night that largely diverged from his splenetic norm, he laid out his vision for a better America, and a key part of it, he said, was “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

But he also lamented what he deemed our country’s military follies of recent decades, sowing confusion in a careful listener. If we were winding down, why were we building up? If caution was the order of the day, why did it require such lavish investment?

Trump’s address was an opportunity to change the narrative of his presidency from one of an administration in disarray to one of a man on a methodical mission, and to accomplish that, he donned a new kind of tie and a new kind of tone: less truculent, more inspirational. He began with a mention of Black History Month and a condemnation of hate crimes.

But his remarks didn’t have sufficient details or offers of compromise to turn the page or to erase all the nonsense to date. Just a day earlier, at a meeting with the nation’s governors, he maintained that when he was young, America was the proud victor in all of its wars.

Really? World War II wrapped up before Trump came along, and the Korean War, which ended when he was 7, was no unfettered American triumph.

Then came Vietnam, which found Trump in college and unable to serve because of a podiatric ailment so debilitating that he couldn’t recall which foot was affected when he was asked about it in 2015. Surely, though, he remembers that Vietnam didn’t continue some glorious winning streak.

In Trump’s telling, everything about the America of yore was superior, everything about the America of today is wretched, and somehow, magically, he has solutions that even the most practiced hands don’t.

That was a theme of his military musings during his campaign, when he touted a secret plan for defeating ISIS that he conveniently couldn’t divulge, lest he trample on its secret-ness.

He subsequently ordered his top military advisers to come up with their own strategy, which makes a skeptical voter wonder what happened to his. Are the generals and he going to compare plans — I’ll show you mine if you show me yours — to determine whose is mightiest? For now that’s still a secret.

Details aren’t his thing. He’s all over the place. One moment, his chosen generals are sages for the ages. The next, he fingers them for any flaws in the Yemen raid during which a Navy SEAL, William Owens, who was called Ryan, died. “They lost Ryan,” he said on Tuesday morning.

But on Tuesday night, before Congress, they were geniuses anew, architects of a brilliantly successful operation. I was moved to see the effect of Trump’s words on the SEAL’s widow, Carryn, who stood in the audience, tears streaming down her face. I was also floored by the opportunistic shifts in Trump’s take on those events.

He used his speech to complain once again that America was paying too much of the defense bill for our allies. He said that he was finally getting them to pony up.

If so, why do we need to pump tens of billions of additional dollars into the military, especially when we already spend more on it than the seven countries that spend the next most combined?

We can’t afford the increase, not if Social Security and Medicare are off limits, not if he follows through with the tax cuts he promised, not if he’s going to embark on the infrastructure projects that he’s (rightly) calling for, not unless he’s willing to gag Paul Ryan and shove him into some Capitol broom closet while the debt balloons.

And that increase doesn’t square with all that Trump has said about being more reluctant to embroil us in military conflicts than some of his predecessors were.

I suppose he could argue that maximum military readiness is a deterrent, but does America’s count of aircraft carriers really give jihadists pause? The wars that we’re fighting aren’t traditional ones, and they hinge on the kind of diplomacy and foreign aid that Trump is giving short shrift. But then soft power doesn’t gleam or puff up the ego the way that new fighting equipment does.

His approach is provocative, antagonistic. He berates and bad-mouths allies in a fashion that threatens to push them away while promising a barrier along America’s southern border and an upgrade of our nuclear arsenal.

He’s saying that we can and will go it alone, and while that attitude may be emotionally satisfying to many Americans, it’s not at all certain to keep us safe.

I suspect that it’s emotionally satisfying to Trump most of all. He’s determined to cast himself as a figure of epic proportions and has to size everything around him accordingly.

Hence his (latest) grandiose description of his election in Tuesday night’s address. “In 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet,” he said, going on to mix metaphors as they’ve seldom been mixed before. “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake.”

And hence his desire to upsize our armed forces. The military is one of his many mirrors. If it’s more muscular, so is he.

Friedman and Bruni

February 22, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom would like us to “Meet the 5 Trump Administrations,” and says we should add them up and see if they work together.  Mr. Bruni says “Milo Is the Mini-Donald,” and that Yiannopoulos’s true cause is himself. Sound familiar?  Here’s TMOW:

It should be clear by now that there are five different Trump administrations swirling before our eyes — Trump Entertainment, Trump Cleanup, Trump Crazy, Trump G.O.P. and the Essential Trump — and no one can predict which will define this presidency, let alone make a success of it.

Trump Entertainment shows up every day now in the form of an outrageous “alternative fact,” a pugnacious press conference, a tweet denouncing the news media as “the enemy of the American people” — or as a pep rally in Florida, unconnected to any particular legislative agenda and organized entirely for the purpose of giving the president an ego sugar high.

The country, though, is getting addicted to Trump Entertainment. It is hard to avert your gaze from a president who will say anything about anything. It’s so unusual, like a flying elephant or a horse that can talk, that you can’t help but stare. But it’s such a waste of energy. I wonder if the Chinese are spending their days this way. I suspect they’ve added another high-speed rail line just since Trump’s election.

Trump Cleanup comprises the adults on his team who follow in the wake of Trump Entertainment and “clarify” what the president meant. It’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis assuring the South Koreans that — despite what Trump said — we’ll honor our security commitments to them, or assuring the Iraqis that we’re actually not going to steal their oil. It’s the U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, clarifying that — despite what Trump said — we’re still committed to two states for Israelis and Palestinians.

The undisputed boss of Trump Crazy is chief strategist Steve Bannon, who rushed the president’s initial mess of an executive order on immigration. Bannon is dedicated to shrinking the global clout of China, the European Union and Iran, and to making America a country less open to immigration and trade, a country that is whiter and more nationalistic and a country that is as free of Muslim influence and immigrants as possible. He surely encouraged Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community and the media as a way to undermine all independent sources of truth, so that Trump can inject his own reality, through Twitter, directly into the U.S. body politic.

Trump G.O.P. is led by Reince Priebus and represents the old Republican agenda. It knows that Trump is an invasive species who took over the G.O.P. garden, and Trump G.O.P. is just trying to get the best out of him — to kill Obamacare, cut taxes, deregulate Wall Street, promote fossil fuels and appoint conservative judges — while curbing his worst ideas, like his vow to restrict free trade.

So much of the daily reporting about Trump has had to focus on his serial fabrications that it’s distracted us from the Essential Trump, which can be summed up by the most truthful thing he’s said since he started his campaign: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

That’s the Essential Trump — a man who values loyalty above all else and who thinks his followers are so stupidly loyal that they wouldn’t convict him for a murder they saw him commit; a man who thinks only he can get the little people more jobs by single-handedly putting the arm on big companies; and a man who has shown no interest in earning the trust of Americans who did not vote for him. He appointed no Democrats to his cabinet and, as his Florida rally underscored, he is only interested in being president of the Trump fan club.

When I add up all these Trumps I do not get a good team feeling; I get the feeling of a pickup basketball team. It doesn’t start with a shared vision of what world we’re living in and what are the biggest forces shaping this world. It starts with the conclusions on which Trump bases his facts.

But the fact is we’re living in a world being shaped by vast accelerations in technology, globalization, climate change and population growth, and government’s job is to enable more citizens to thrive in such a world and cushion its worst impacts. These are the facts on which I base my conclusions.

In this age, leaders have to challenge citizens to understand that more is required of them if they want to remain in the middle class — that they have to be lifelong learners.

It’s an age when the governments that thrive the most will be those that are as open to the world as possible — to get the change signals first and attract the most high-I.Q. risk-takers — and at the same time encourage radical entrepreneurship, provide stronger safety nets like health care, and foster life-learning opportunities for every citizen. They have to go left and right at the same time. They are the governments that are focused not on erecting walls but on preparing citizens to live without them.

It’s an age where the best leaders build trust at the top, and between themselves and their people, because trust is what enables teams to move fast and experiment more. It’s an age when to make America great requires doing big hard things, and big hard things can only be done together. And it’s an age when, because of the speed of change, small errors in navigation by a leader can send us hurtling far off track.

But maybe Trump’s many administrations will surprise us. Maybe elephants can fly. And maybe not.

Surprise us?  Continue to horrify us is more like it, Tommy.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you halved Donald Trump’s age, changed his sexual orientation, gave him a British accent and fussed with his hair only a little, you’d end up with a creature much like Milo Yiannopoulos.

He could be Trump’s lost gay child. In fact, Yiannopoulos, 33, has a habit of referring to Trump, 70, as “Daddy.”

Trump the father and Yiannopoulos the son are both provocateurs who realize that in this day and age especially, the currency of celebrity isn’t demeaned by the outrageousness and offensiveness through which a person achieves it.

Both are con men, wrapping themselves in higher causes, though their primary agendas are the advancement of themselves.

Both believe that audience size equals value — and that having people listen to you is the same as having something worthwhile to say.

I heard nothing worthwhile during Yiannopoulos’s news conference Tuesday afternoon, though I heard a whole lot of Trump in him, and I wondered — no, shuddered — at a kind of worldview that may well be in ascendance, thanks to its validation by our president.

That worldview was distilled in Yiannopoulos’s response when a journalist mentioned Ann Coulter, to whom he is often likened. “I don’t take comparisons to Ann Coulter to be insulting,” he said. “She sells a hell of a lot of books.”

The point of the news conference, ostensibly, was to contain the damage from resurfaced recordings in which he jokes raunchily about having been sexually abused by a priest and makes light of pederasty, trafficking in the revolting, ridiculous myth that it’s no big deal in the gay world.

He framed his appearance before journalists as an apologia. But it was just as much an attack — on those journalists, who, he said, had deliberately misheard and conspiratorially mischaracterized his remarks about sexual activity before the age of consent.

“[Expletive] you for that,” he muttered.

The real Yiannopoulos kept bubbling up through the fake-sorry Yiannapoulos, who didn’t even pretend all that hard. Presenting himself as some kind of martyr and refashioning himself as some kind of hero, he couldn’t have had more of Trump’s DNA in him if he were Trump’s clone.

He described a speech that he gave in drag to 1,200 college students in Louisiana as something that “simply hasn’t happened in the history of this country before.”

He speculated that with similar events on other campuses, he had “probably done more for the image of gays in the flyover states” than all gay magazines and all gay advocacy groups combined.

Also, this: “I’m proud to be a warrior for free speech.” Behold his armor. Beware his spear.

He’s right that in America of late, there’s too much policing of indelicate and injurious language and too little recognition that the wages of fully open debate are ugly words and hurt feelings.

But he invokes free speech to exalt cruel behavior and lewd testimonials whose purpose is headlines and booking fees. When he goes on his racist and sexist tears or muses about his appetite for black men, he’s just a brat begging for attention, a showboat looking to fill seats.

And he may beg as he pleases. That is his right, one that I treasure. He just shouldn’t expect the rest of us to salute him for it — even though he briefly got the Conservative Political Action Conference to do precisely that. The group invited him to give an address at its conference this week, then rescinded the offer after the pederasty business.

Together he and Trump have exposed what a cynical, corruptible vessel modern conservatism is.

To hop aboard the triumphant Trump train, no small number of conservatives have mortgaged their belief in free markets, re-evaluated their attachment to free trade, muffled their professed concern for “family values” and basic decency, and put their wariness toward Russia on a shelf.

And in inviting Yiannopoulos, CPAC’s stewards set aside a homophobia that had long curtailed the role of gay Republican groups at the event. I’d praise that as a positive step toward a bigger tent except that the gay man who was being beckoned into it gleefully promotes destructive stereotypes about gays and other minorities.

CPAC wasn’t interested in inclusion. It was after the “ratings” that Trump always crows about, and ratings have overtaken principles in this mad, morally vacuous world.

“Will next year’s invite include Julian Assange?” asked the conservative columnist Matt Lewis in The Daily Beast. “Alex Jones?”

“They may not be conservative,” he added, “but it’ll make for a hell of a show.” That’s what Yiannopoulos was poised to give CPAC. And that’s what Trump will provide on Friday, when he’s scheduled to perform.

Friedman and Bruni

February 15, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question:  “Mr. Trump, Will You Save the Jews?”  He seems to believe that Mr. Trump may be the last person who can preserve the hope of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   As if…  Mr. Bruni says “Flynn Is Exactly What Trump Deserves,” and that our cavalier president chose top administration officials for their bluster.  Here’s TMOW:

Dear President Trump:

These are the moments that make or break a presidency.

First you were tested by a rival — Russia — and utterly failed to appreciate the corrosive impact on our democracy of your indulgence of Russia’s hacking our election. And on Wednesday you’re going to be tested by a friend — Israel — and its prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu. Can you appreciate the corrosive impact on Israel’s democracy of what it’s now doing in the West Bank? I ask because you may be the last man standing between Israel and a complete, self-inflicted disaster for the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Let me explain it in terms you’ll appreciate: golf.

Did you happen to follow the story involving Barack Obama and Woodmont Country Club? Woodmont is the mostly Jewish golf club in Maryland, just outside D.C., where Obama played as a guest several times during his presidency. Near the end of his term it was rumored that Obama would seek membership there.

Then he clashed with Netanyahu over Obama’s refusal to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post reported that a Woodmont member, Faith Goldstein, had sent a private email to the club’s president declaring that Obama “is not welcome at Woodmont” because of his U.N. vote.

It was appalling to think that Jews, who for so many years were themselves excluded from joining certain country clubs, would consider excluding our first black president, especially for his acting on the basis of what half of Israel believes — that continued expansion of Jewish settlements into Palestinian-populated zones of the West Bank will eventually make the separation of Israelis and Palestinians in a two-state solution impossible, and thereby threaten Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.

Fortunately, in the end, the decent members of Woodmont prevailed. As The Washington Post reported, the club’s president, Barry Forman, invited the Obamas to join, declaring that “it is all the more important that Woodmont be a place where people of varying views and beliefs can enjoy fellowship.”

Why am I telling you this story? Because Israel is getting closer every day to wiping out any possibility of a two-state solution. Just last week, Netanyahu’s government pushed through the Knesset a shameful new law declaring that wildcat Jewish settlers who had illegally set up caravans on private West Bank Palestinian land, and erected their own settlement there, will have their settlements legalized, although the Palestinian landowners have to be compensated.

Hopefully Israel’s Supreme Court will strike down the law, but, in the meantime, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, did not mince words. He reportedly warned at a private meeting that Israel can’t just “apply and enforce its laws on territories that are not under its sovereignty. If it does so, it is a legal cacophony. It will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state, which it is not.” Seen as an apartheid state!

And that is why Jewish history has its eyes on you, Mr. Trump.

As long as the two-state solution was on the table, the debate among Jews on Israel was “right versus left” and “more security versus less security.” Some thought the border should be here; others thought it should be there. But we could mostly all agree that for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state, it had to securely separate from most of the 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians. That debate could and did go on in every synagogue, Jewish institution and Jewish country club, without tearing them apart.

But if Netanyahu’s weak leadership and the overreach of the settlers in his party end up erasing the two-state solution, the debate within the Jewish community will move from “left versus right” to “right versus wrong.” That debate will not be about which are the best borders to defend the state of Israel, said the Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal, “but whether the state is worth defending in moral terms.”

I don’t expect Israel to just up and leave the West Bank without a Palestinian partner for a secure peace, which Israel doesn’t now have. But legalizing this land grab by settlers deep in Palestinian areas is not an act of security — it will actually create security problems. It is an act of moral turpitude that will make it even harder to ever find that Palestinian partner and will undermine the moral foundations of the state. This is about right versus wrong.

And if that is where the debate goes, what happened at Woodmont golf club will happen everywhere. That debate will tear apart virtually every synagogue, Jewish organization and Jewish group on every campus in America, and around the world. Israel will divide world Jewry.

There is only one person who can now stop this disaster — you. Bibi & Co. used the G.O.P. to outflank Obama. But if you, with your party, make clear that there must be absolutely no Jewish settlements beyond the blocks already designated for a two-state solution, you could make a huge difference. This is on your watch.

President Trump, you may not be interested in Jewish history, but Jewish history is now interested in you.