Archive for the ‘Cohen’ Category

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

May 19, 2017

Bobo has a question in “The Trump Administration Talent Vacuum:”  Would you go to work for this president?  No, Bobo.  I might, however, go TO work on him if I could find my 9 iron.  Mr. Cohen, in “L’État C’est Trump!,” says many of the president’s actions have been right out of Despotism 101. But the law is catching up with him.  We can but pray, Roger.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Republicans?” and says we need to understand what made Trump possible.  Here’s Bobo:

After an eruption, volcanoes sometimes collapse at the center. The magma chamber empties out and the volcano falls in on itself, leaving a caldera and a fractured ring of stone around the void, covered by deadening ash.

That’s about the shape of Washington after the last stunning fortnight. The White House at the center just collapsed in on itself and the nation’s policy apparatus is covered in ash.

I don’t say that because I think the Comey-Russia scandal will necessarily lead to impeachment. I have no idea where the investigations will go.

I say it because White Houses, like all organizations, run on talent, and the Trump White House has just become a Human Resources disaster area.

We have seen White Houses engulfed by scandal before. But we have never seen a White House implode before it had the time to staff up. The Nixon, Reagan and Clinton White Houses had hired quality teams by the time their scandals came. They could continue to function, sort of, even when engulfed.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and few people of quality or experience are going to want to take them.

Few people of any quality or experience are going to want to join a team that is already toxic. Nobody is going to want to become the next H. R. McMaster, a formerly respected figure who is now permanently tainted because he threw his lot in with Donald Trump. Nobody is going to want to join a self-cannibalizing piranha squad whose main activity is lawyering up.

That means even if the Trump presidency survives, it will be staffed by the sort of C- and D-List flora and fauna who will make more mistakes, commit more scandals and lead to more dysfunction.

Running a White House is insanely hard. It requires a few thousand extremely smart and savvy people who are willing to work crazy hours and strain their family lives because they fundamentally believe in the mission and because they truly admire the president.

Even on its best early days, the Trump White House never had that.

Trump was able to recruit some talented people, mostly on the foreign policy side, but organizational cultures are set from the top, and a culture of selfishness has always marked this administration.

Even before Inauguration Day, the level of leaking out of this White House was unprecedented, as officials sought to curry favor with the press corps and as factions vied with one another.

But over the past 10 days the atmosphere has become extraordinary. Senior members of the White House staff have trained their sights on the man they serve. Every day now there are stories in The Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere in which unnamed White House officials express disdain, exasperation, anger and disrespect for their boss.

As the British say, the staff is jumping ship so fast they are leaving the rats gaping and applauding.

Trump, for his part, is resentfully returning fire, blaming his underlings for his own mistakes, complaining that McMaster is a pain, speculating about firing and demoting people. This is a White House in which the internal nickname for the chief of staff is Rancid.

The organizational culture is about to get worse. People who have served in administrations under investigation speak eloquently about how miserable it is. You never know which of your friends is about to rat you out. No personal communication is really secure. You never know which of your colleagues is going to break ranks and write the tell-all memoir, and you think that maybe it should be you.

Even people not involved in the original scandal can find themselves caught up in the maelstrom and see their careers ruined. Legal costs soar. The investigations can veer off in wildly unexpected directions, so no White House nook or cranny is safe.

As current staff leaves or gets pushed out, look for Trump to try to fill the jobs with business colleagues who also have no experience in government. It’s striking that the only person who this week seems excited to take a Trump administration job is Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who made his name as a TV performance artist calling the Black Lives Matter movement “black slime,” and who now claims he has been hired to serve in the Department of Homeland Security.

Congressional Republicans seem to think they can carry on and legislate despite the scandal, but since 1933 we have no record of significant legislation without strong presidential leadership. Members of this Congress are not going to be judged by where they set the corporate tax rate. They will be defined by where they stood on Donald Trump’s threat to civic integrity. That issue is bound to overshadow all else.

The implosion at the center is going to affect everything around it. The Trump administration may survive politically, but any hopes that it will become an effective governing organization are dashed.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Louis XIV of France summed up his view of power with the phrase “L’État, c’est moi,” or “I am the State.” Donald Trump became president four months ago with roughly the same idea. In the Trump universe, he had been judge, jury and executioner. He saw no reason why that would change.

Trump had no knowledge of, or interest in, the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution. Circumscribed power was for losers, a category of humanity for which he reserves his greatest disdain. Just this week, after passing along classified information about the Islamic State to Russia, and so jeopardizing an ally’s intelligence asset, Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to do so.

Absolutism is Trump’s thing. He’s installed his family in senior White House posts where influence and business intersect. His aides are terrified. His press secretary hides “among the bushes.” The family knows everything; nobody else knows anything. He demanded loyalty of the F.B.I. director he subsequently fired for lèse-majesté. All this is right out of Despotism 101.

Absolutism is not, however, America’s thing. In fact it is what the United States was created to escape from. The Declaration of Independence excoriates the “absolute Tyranny over these States,” exercised by King George III. Among the British king’s usurpations: “He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

No wonder the Constitution ratified a dozen years later has this to say about the judicial branch: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished.”

But Trump came into office with what Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, described to me as “little regard for the law.” Nor would a man so ahistorical have had any notion that the Constitution diffuses power between three branches of government because it reflects the experience of dealing with a king. The clash between an autocratic president and the institutions of American freedom that intensified this week with the appointment of a special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, was inevitable.

The president can declassify information if he wishes but that’s not an open invitation to recklessness. Giving sensitive intelligence to Russia, a rival power that of late has resembled an enemy, could raise legal issues. For Trump to then use the word “absolute” in his defense recalls Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Trump did not need much corrupting. He was already well schooled. He has poured scorn on an independent judiciary (dismissing as “so-called” a federal judge who ruled against him) and called the press “the enemy of the American people.”

The president’s contempt for the Constitution was signaled in his inaugural speech when he invoked his “oath of allegiance to all Americans.” No, the president’s oath is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His allegiance is to the law. We know where allegiance to the “volk” can lead.

In firing James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Trump used a letter from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, as justification, before finding other reasons. Rosenstein got played. He knows it. Trump’s contempt for the judiciary, in the person of this United States attorney with a 27-year career in the Justice Department, was evident.

Rosenstein has now done the right thing by appointing Mueller to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. The former F.B.I. director is a man of undisputed integrity. He will give backbone to the post-Comey F.B.I.

Mueller’s investigation must be complemented by congressional inquiries into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections that are likely to move faster and more openly. The one must not preclude the other; they are complementary. It is past time for the Republican firewall of support for Trump to crumble. Mueller, whose work will take many months at least, is investigating violations of criminal law, but “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the grounds for impeachment, are not confined to that.

“Something that violates criminal law is likely to be a high crime and misdemeanor, but not necessarily vice-versa,” Burbank said.

It is against this confrontational domestic backdrop that Trump will be consorting with autocrats and democrats on his first foreign trip (to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, the Vatican and Italy), without the world knowing which he favors. He can only blame himself for the turmoil. Trump’s White House is a valueless place that has already neutered the American idea. That this shallow, shifting president now sees himself as a possible advocate of global religious tolerance is a measure of how far ego can induce blindness.

Richard Nixon once said that, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But the state was not Nixon, as he learned, and nor is it Trump, whose education in the coming months will be harsh. Trump calls it a “witch hunt.” No, Mr. President, it’s called the law.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday, Paul Ryan held a press conference just after the revelation that Donald Trump had pushed James Comey to kill the investigation into Michael Flynn — you know, the guy Trump appointed as national security adviser even though his team knew that Flynn’s highly suspicious foreign ties were under investigation.

Faced with questions about the Flynn scandal and the Comey firing, Ryan waved them away: “I don’t worry about things that are outside my control.”

This might sound like a reasonable philosophy — unless you realize that Ryan is speaker of the House of Representatives, a legislative body with the power to issue subpoenas, compel testimony and, yes, impeach the president. In fact, under the Constitution, Ryan and his congressional colleagues are effectively the only check on a rogue chief executive.

It has become painfully clear, however, that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power.

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

And the big question we should be asking is how that happened. At this point we know who and what Trump is, and have a pretty good idea of what he has been doing. If we had two patriotic parties in the country, impeachment proceedings would already be underway. But we don’t. What’s the matter with Republicans?

Obviously I can’t offer a full theory here, but there’s a lot we do know about the larger picture.

First, Republicans are professional politicians. Yes, so are most Democrats. But the parties are not the same.

The Democratic Party is a coalition of interest groups, with some shared views but also a lot of conflicts, and politicians get ahead through their success in striking compromises and finding acceptable solutions.

The G.O.P., by contrast, is one branch of a monolithic structure, movement conservatism, with a rigid ideology — tax cuts for the rich above all else. Other branches of the structure include a captive media that parrots the party line every step of the way. Compare the coverage of recent political developments on Fox News with almost everywhere else; we’re talking North Korea levels of alternative reality.

And this monolithic structure — lavishly supported by a small number of very, very wealthy families — rewards, indeed insists on, absolute fealty. Furthermore, the structure has been in place for a long time: It has been 36 years since Reagan was elected, 22 years since the Gingrich takeover of Congress. What this means is that nearly all Republicans in today’s Congress are apparatchiks, political creatures with no higher principle beyond party loyalty.

The fact that the G.O.P. is a party of apparatchiks was one crucial factor in last year’s election. Why did Marine Le Pen, often portrayed as the French equivalent of Trump, lose by a huge margin? Because France’s conservatives were only willing to go so far; they simply would not support a candidate whose motives and qualifications they distrusted. Republicans, however, went all in behind Trump, knowing full well that he was totally unqualified, strongly suspecting that he was corrupt and even speculating that he might be in Russian pay, simply because there was an “R” after his name on the ballot.

And even now, with the Trump/Flynn/Comey story getting worse by the hour, there has been no significant breaking of ranks. If you’re waiting to find the modern version of Howard Baker, the Republican senator who asked “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” you’re wasting your time. Men like that left the G.O.P. a long time ago.

Does this mean that Trump will be able to hold on despite his multiple scandals and abuses of power? Actually, yes, he might. The answer probably hinges on the next few special elections: Republicans won’t turn on Trump unless he has become such a political liability that he must be dumped.

And even if Trump goes, one way or another, the threat to the Republic will be far from over.

In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point — his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he’s evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

And yet again I thank God that I’m as old as I am and won’t have to live to see much more of what the Republicans have in store for our country.

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

May 8, 2017

In “Republican Death Wish” Mr. Blow says the health care bill poses a threat to many Americans and is a death wish from the politicians who passed it.  Only if people get their asses off the couch and vote in 2018, Charles.  Fingers crossed…  Mr. Cohen, in “Macron and the Revival of Europe,” says hold the Marseillaise! Time for the “Ode to Joy.”  Amen to that!  Prof. Krugman says that “Republicans Party Like It’s 1984” and are making policy by lying about everything.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The obscene spectacle of House Republicans gathering last week in the Rose Garden to celebrate the House’s passage of a bill that would likely strip insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, while simultaneously serving as a massive tax break for the wealthy, had the callous feel of the well-heeled dancing on the poor’s graves.

Republicans had painted themselves into a corner. For seven years they had incessantly defamed the Affordable Care Act as nothing short of a dispatch from the devil. They told their constituents that they had a better plan, one that provided everything people liked about the A.C.A. and eliminated everything they didn’t.

As Donald Trump claimed in January, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He continued, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

That, like so much else coming from these folks’ mouths, was a lie..

The bill passed by the House eliminates popular features like guaranteed price protections for people with pre-existing conditions, by allowing states to apply for waivers to remove these protections. Instead of universal insurance coverage, regardless of whether one could “pay for it” as Trump promised, the bill would move in the opposite direction, pricing millions out of coverage.

The A.C.A. had made a basic societal deal: The young, healthy and rich would subsidize access to insurance for the older, sicker and poorer. But this demanded that the former gave a damn about the latter, that people genuinely believed that saving lives was more important than saving money, that we weren’t living some Darwinian Hunger Games of health care where health and wealth march in lockstep.

Once again, the party that is vehemently “pro-life” for “persons” in the womb demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy for those very same lives when they are in the world. What is the moral logic here? It is beyond me.

Let’s cut to the quick: Access to affordable health care keeps people alive and healthy and keeps families solvent. Take that away, and people get sick, run up enormous, crippling debt and in the worst cases, die. It is really that simple.

People may conveniently disassociate a vote cast in marbled halls from the body stretched out in a wooden box, but make no mistake: They are linked.

In House Speaker Paul Ryan’s feckless attempt to defend this moral abomination of a bill during his floor speech last week, he said, “Let’s give people more choices and more control over their care.”

But this so-called restoration of choice would be in practice, for many, a sentence to death.

Republicans like the Idaho congressman and House Freedom Caucus member Representative Raúl R. Labrador deny this most basic of truths. Labrador said last week at a town hall, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” It was a stunning expression of idiocy.

According to a 2009 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, “nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance,” and “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.”

An analysis last month by the Center for American Progress estimates removing price protections for pre-existing conditions would mean that “individuals with even relatively mild pre-existing conditions would pay thousands of dollars above standard rates to obtain coverage.”

Republicans are likely to pay dearly for this outrage. Nate Silver expressed his thoughts in a piece headlined: “The Health Care Bill Could Be A Job-Killer For G.O.P. Incumbents,” pointing out that the Republican bill is even more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act was when it was being debated, and if Republicans face the same electoral backlash that Democrats faced, “it could put dozens of G.O.P.-held seats in play.” Silver acknowledges that there are “mitigating factors” that could soften the blow for Republicans, but conversely adds, “There’s even a chance that Republicans could suffer a bigger penalty than Democrats did.”

On Friday, The Cook Political Report changed its ratings in 20 districts “all reflecting enhanced opportunities for Democrats” and pointed out:

“House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

Not only is the bill unpopular among voters, it’s also unpopular in the medical establishment. As The New York Times reported on Thursday: “It is a rare unifying moment. Hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are speaking with one voice and urging significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday.”

Whatever eventually comes of the bill, the death threat it poses for many Americans may well be a death wish Republicans have just issued for their own careers. As House Democrats sang as their Republican colleagues made their self-immolating votes: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

It’s not just that Emmanuel Macron won and will become, at the age of 39, France’s youngest president. It’s not merely that he defeated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xenophobic nationalism exploited by President Donald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-maligned European Union, and so reaffirmed the European idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and values.

This, after Britain’s dismal decision last year to leave the European Union, and in the face of Trump’s woeful anti-European ignorance, was critical. Macron underlined his message by coming out to address his supporters in Paris accompanied by the European anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” rather than the Marseillaise — a powerful gesture of openness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of nationalism and racism has been averted. President Vladimir Putin of Russian backed Le Pen for a reason: He wants to break down European unity and sever the European bond with the United States. Instead, the center held and, with it, civilization.

A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity. It offers the best chance for young Europeans to fulfill their promise. It is Europeans’ “common destiny,” as Macron put it in his acceptance speech, standing before the French and European Union flags. To think otherwise is to forget history. No wonder Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, through her spokesman, immediately proclaimed a victory “for a strong and united Europe.”

That will require reform. Europe, complacent, has lost traction. Macron recognized this. He declared, “I want to re-weave the bond between citizens and Europe.” More transparency, more accountability and more creativity are required. No miracle ever marketed itself more miserably than the European Union.

Macron, who came from nowhere in the space of a year at the head of a new political movement, did not make facile promises or make up stories. He stood by refugees; he stood by Europe’s shared currency, the euro; and he was prepared to tell the French that they cannot turn their back on modernity and prosper.

Through rational argument he increased a lead over Le Pen that polls put at 20 percent after the first round two weeks ago to 30 percent, winning with 65 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 35 percent. This, in the age of Trump’s fake news, fake claims, and overall fakeness, was an important demonstration that reason and coherence still matter in politics.

Now the hard part begins. For the first time in France, the far right took more than a third of the vote, a reflection of the anger in the country at lost jobs, failed immigrant integration and economic stagnation. Macron, who said he was aware of “the anger, the anxiety, the doubts” needs to address this social unease head-on by reviving a sense of possibility in France. Without change, Le Pen will continue to gain support.

Change is notoriously hard to fashion in France. It is a country fiercely attached to the “acquis,” or acquired rights, enshrined in its comprehensive welfare state. Many have tried. Many have failed.

It is especially hard without strong parliamentary backing, and Macron will need that. Parliamentary elections will be held next month. His En Marche! (Onward!) movement must organize fast to build on his victory. It has extraordinary momentum. The traditional political landscape of the Fifth Republic — the alternation of center-left Socialists and center-right Republicans — has been blown apart.

Perhaps this very feat, without parallel in recent European political history, and Macron’s status as a centrist independent give him unique latitude to persuade the French, at last, that they can — like the Germans and the Dutch and the Swedes and the Danes — preserve the essence of their welfare state while forging a more flexible labor market that gives hope to the young. With 25 percent of its youth unemployed, France undoes itself.

If France grows again, Europe will grow with it. This would constitute a powerful rebuke to the autocratic-nationalist school — Le Pen with her sham of a political makeover, the xenophobic buffoon Nigel Farage in Britain (friend of Trump), Putin in Moscow, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and of course the American president himself, whose irresponsibility on the subject of America’s European allies has been appalling.

Macron’s is a victory for many things. He has demonstrated that France is not a country where racism and anti-European jingoism can win an election. He has reasserted the European idea and raised the possibility that France and Germany will conjure a revival of European idealism. He has rebuked the little Englanders who voted to take Britain out the Union (and made a tough negotiation on that exit inevitable).

Above all, through his intelligence and civility, his culture and his openness, Macron has erected a much-needed barrier to the crassness and incivility, the ignorance and the closed-mindedness that seeps from Trump’s Oval Office and threatens to corrupt the conduct of world affairs.

Vive la France! Vive l’Europe! Now more than ever.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There have been many bad laws in U.S. history. Some bills were poorly conceived; some were cruel and unjust; some were sold on false pretenses. Some were all of the above.

But has there ever been anything like Trumpcare, the health legislation Republicans rammed through the House last week? It’s a miserably designed law, full of unintended consequences. It’s a moral disaster, snatching health care from tens of millions mainly to give the very wealthy a near-trillion-dollar tax cut.

What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort. As far as I can tell, every word Republicans, from Trump on down, have said about their bill — about why they want to replace Obamacare, about what their replacement would do, and about how it would work — is a lie, including “a,” “and” and “the.”

And what does it say about the state of American politics that a majority of the representatives of one of our major political parties have gone along with this nightmarish process?

Before taking back the White House, Republicans attacked Obamacare for many things. For one thing, they claimed that it was rushed through without proper debate.

They also claimed that Americans were getting a raw deal. Deductibles were too high, they claimed; so were premiums. They promised to bring these costs down, to provide, as Donald Trump insisted he would, coverage that was “much less expensive and much better.”

And meanwhile, they promised to keep the things people liked about Obamacare (whether or not voters knew they were getting those good things because of Obamacare). Nobody would be thrown off Medicaid; nobody would be denied affordable coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Then came the reality of Republican legislation. Obamacare was debated and analyzed for many months; Trumpcare was thrown together so fast it’s hard to believe any significant number of those voting for it even had time to read it. And it was, of course, pushed through the House without giving the Congressional Budget Office a chance to estimate its costs, its effects on coverage, or anything else.

Even without a proper analysis, however, it’s clear that Trumpcare breaks every promise Republicans ever made about health. Deductibles will rise, not fall, as insurers are set free to offer lower-quality coverage. Premiums may fall for a handful of young, healthy, affluent people, but will rise and in many cases soar for those who are older (because age spreads will rise), sicker (because protection against discrimination based on medical history will be taken away), and poorer (because subsidies will go down).

Many people with pre-existing conditions will find insurance either completely unavailable or totally out of their financial reach.

And Medicaid will be cut back, with the damage worsening over time.

The really important thing, however, is not just to realize that Republicans are breaking their promises, but to realize that they are doing so with intent. This isn’t one of those cases where people try to do what they said they would, but fall short in the execution. This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.

Which raises two questions: Why are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the G.O.P. for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: Well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the G.O.P. would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: What just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

Cohen and Krugman

May 5, 2017

In “Macron and the Defense of the Republic” Mr. Cohen says Le Pen would usher France into the mire. Her rebranding is a sham and the National Front still a racist party.  Prof. Krugman asks “What’s the Matter With Europe?” He says Le Pen must be beaten, but then what?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

After a French police officer, Xavier Jugelé, was killed in Paris last month, a service was held at Paris police headquarters. His grief-stricken civil partner, Etienne Cardiles, described their love and, addressing the murderer, said, “You will not have my hatred.”

It was a statement consistent with the resolute, dignified response of France to the terrorism that has struck it in recent years. The Republic, tested more than the United States of late, has not succumbed to fear or fanaticism. It has held the line and so has reinforced, in a time of indignities, the dignity of the French state.

France faces a choice between many things Sunday as it votes to elect either the rightist Marine Le Pen or the centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, but the most fundamental issue is whether to uphold or abandon the values of the Republic, whether to hold the high ground or descend into the mire.

The French state is the most animate of inanimate things. It breathes. Absent religion in any official form, absent the monarchy, the state is what the French have to represent the high ideals and aspirations that, as descendants of the Revolution, they must somehow embody. The question before the French now is whether to stain or sustain that body.

If Le Pen were elected, a shadow would fall across France and Europe.

Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, forged the National Front in a racist, anti-Semitic image befitting the descendants of Vichy, the lap-dog French government that did the Nazis’ bidding. He dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail” of history and called the Nazi occupation “not particularly inhumane.” Immigrants from North Africa were no better than scum. She has worked hard to excise, or camouflage, all that.

Election posters refer to her only as “Marine”; there’s no mention of the party; and she’s attempted to supplant xenophobic fanaticism with a nationalism that argues against immigration — particularly Muslim immigration — on security and economic grounds.

The makeover, combined with Le Pen’s political agility and down-to-earth affability, has been effective. Whereas her father got 18 percent of the vote in the 2002 runoff, she will almost certainly get more than double that. She could even, if the blow-up-the-system far left becomes her enabler through massive abstention, edge out Macron.

That is unlikely. Polls show Macron, the young upstart of this election, with a clear lead. But it is not impossible. Marine Le Pen’s National Front has joined the mainstream.

The factors that have contributed to her rise will be familiar to Americans who thought Donald Trump was a joke, then an unlikely contender, and at last discovered he had become their president. They include rage against the establishment; a conviction that globalization is a rigged system for the wealthy; exasperation at impunity for the financial engineers of the 2008 meltdown and the euro crisis; the cultural and economic chasm between wired metropolis and dystopian periphery; growing inequality; and hollowed-out industrial heartlands.

Something is happening. We don’t know what it is. Le Pen is the voice of that something.

She is also the mouthpiece, still, of a racist and Muslim-hating party; a fierce opponent of the European Union that ushered the continent from its darkest hours; a fully fledged member of the rising nationalist-autocratic club with its branches in Moscow, Ankara and Washington; and a proponent of a France-first nationalism whose endpoint, as former President François Mitterrand observed, is war.

Her party makeover is a sham. She still denies French responsibility for sending 76,000 Jews to their deaths during World War II; she still does business with Holocaust deniers; she and her entourage still traffic in the vilification of Islam; and she still strains for some whiff of Gaullism that would dispel the stench of Vichy.

In short, the choice Sunday is clear. Emmanuel Todd, a prominent left-wing intellectual, has said he will abstain “with joy.” Some leftist supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received almost 20 percent of the vote in the first round, have attempted to equate Macron the capitalist and ex-banker with Le Pen the racist xenophobe as equal examples of iniquity. That does not fly. It is a form of moral and intellectual dishonesty.

The French left should examine its conscience carefully before any decision to abstain, or risk abetting the descendants of the rightists and Fascists who opposed the Popular Front of Léon Blum. In 1936, Blum became the first Jew and the first Socialist to be French prime minister but, indicted by the Vichy government, he was later imprisoned at Buchenwald.

Macron is an unknown quantity. Nobody is sure what he has in his gut. But he has shown courage, especially in his support of the European Union and his resistance to disparaging caricatures of refugees, and he is determined to revitalize a stagnant France. In this moment, he is the best hope for France, for Europe and for civility.

What French voters can say on Sunday is: “You will not have my hatred.” I believe they will. And if they do, the world should thank them.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Sunday France will hold its presidential runoff. Most observers expect Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, to defeat Marine Le Pen, the white nationalist — please, let’s stop dignifying this stuff by calling it “populism.” And I’m pretty sure that Times rules allow me to state directly that I very much hope the conventional wisdom is right. A Le Pen victory would be a disaster for Europe and the world.

Yet I also think it’s fair to ask a couple of questions about what’s going on. First, how did things get to this point? Second, would a Le Pen defeat be anything more than a temporary reprieve from the ongoing European crisis?

Some background: Like everyone on this side of the Atlantic, I can’t help seeing France in part through Trump-colored glasses. But it’s important to realize that the parallels between French and American politics exist despite big differences in underlying economic and social trends.

To begin, while France gets an amazing amount of bad press — much of it coming from ideologues who insist that generous welfare states must have disastrous effects — it’s actually a fairly successful economy. Believe it or not, French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely than their U.S. counterparts to be gainfully employed.

They’re also just about equally productive. It’s true that the French over all produce about a quarter less per person then we do — but that’s mainly because they take more vacations and retire younger, which are not obviously terrible things.

And while France, like almost everyone, has seen a gradual decline in manufacturing jobs, it never experienced anything quite like the “China shock” that sent U.S. manufacturing employment off a cliff in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, against the background of this not-great-but-not-terrible economy, France offers a social safety net beyond the wildest dreams of U.S. progressives: guaranteed high-quality health care for all, generous paid leave for new parents, universal pre-K, and much more.

Last but not least, France — perhaps because of these policy differences, perhaps for other reasons — isn’t experiencing anything comparable to the social collapse that seems to be afflicting much of white America. Yes, France has big social problems; who doesn’t? But it shows little sign of the surge in “deaths of despair” — mortality from drugs, alcohol and suicide — that Anne Case and Angus Deaton have shown to be taking place in the U.S. white working class.

In short, France is hardly a utopia, but by most standards it is offering its citizens a fairly decent life. So why are so many willing to vote for — again, let’s not use euphemisms — a racist extremist?

There are, no doubt, multiple reasons, especially cultural anxiety over Islamic immigrants. But it seems clear that votes for Le Pen will in part be votes of protest against what are perceived as the highhanded, out-of-touch officials running the European Union. And that perception unfortunately has an element of truth.

Those of us who watched European institutions deal with the debt crisis that began in Greece and spread across much of Europe were shocked at the combination of callousness and arrogance that prevailed throughout.

Even though Brussels and Berlin were wrong again and again about the economics — even though the austerity they imposed was every bit as economically disastrous as critics warned — they continued to act as if they knew all the answers, that any suffering along the way was, in effect, necessary punishment for past sins.

Politically, Eurocrats got away with this behavior because small nations were easy to bully, too terrified of being cut off from euro financing to stand up to unreasonable demands. But Europe’s elite will be making a terrible mistake if it believes it can behave the same way to bigger players.

Indeed, there are already intimations of disaster in the negotiations now taking place between the European Union and Britain.

I wish Britons hadn’t voted for Brexit, which will make Europe weaker and their own country poorer. But E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn’t going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.

Which brings me back to the French election. We should be terrified at the possibility of a Le Pen victory. But we should also be worried that a Macron victory will be taken by Brussels and Berlin to mean that Brexit was an aberration, that European voters can always be intimidated into going along with what their betters say is necessary.

So let’s be clear: Even if the worst is avoided this Sunday, all the European elite will get is a time-limited chance to mend its ways.

Solo Cohen

May 2, 2017

Mr. Cohen says “Trump’s Valueless Foreign Policy” is an unprecedented and dangerous assault on America’s national conscience.  Here he is:

So the threats were no more than bluster, and all is well. That is one view of President Trump’s foreign policy at the 100-day-or-so mark.

Wrong.

Yes, there’s no sign of the Wall, and NATO is no longer “obsolete,” and the Iran nuclear deal is still in place, and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped, and the Iran nuclear agreement endures despite Trump’s dismissal of it as “the worst deal ever,” and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and neither the Paris climate deal nor the North American Free Trade Agreement has been abandoned.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness and bellicosity. They have neutralized his ignorance even if nobody can help the president grasp its extent. Some of the loonier members of the president’s entourage have been fired or marginalized. Adults have taken charge. There is still a lot of noise, but “America First” has not upended the world.

Except that it has. A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be devastating.

The United States under Trump has embarked on a valueless foreign policy. The president has not met a strongman whose machismo does not beguile him. He prefers guns to diplomats. Militarism and mercantilism constitute a new policy, unconstrained by any consideration of what the United States stands for in the world or the values its alliances have defended since 1945.

This is a radical departure. America is also an idea. That idea is inextricable — whatever the country’s conspicuous failings — from the defense of liberty, democracy, human rights, open societies and the rule of law. Realist, neoconservative and liberal internationalist schools have different interpretations of how this may be achieved, and what limits exist on America’s capacity to extend the reach of freedom. But the unblushing, public embrace of the torturer for mutual gain does not appear in any pre-Trump foreign policy manual I know.

A “very friendly” conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines leads to a White House invitation for a man accused of waging a brutal extrajudicial drug war. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey cements his repressive and increasingly imperious rule in a dubious referendum and gets a congratulatory call from Trump. The red carpet rolls out for Egypt’s autocratic president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who becomes Trump’s “great friend.” President Xi Jinping of China goes from currency manipulator to “terrific person” and seems to inspire in Trump an embarrassing awe. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, having been lumped early on with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany as somebody Trump may or may not be able to trust, basks still in Trump’s agnosticism on brutality.

The message is clear: The United States has granted carte blanche for despots. Whatever brutality Trump’s autocrat-friends inflict on human beings, whatever contempt they have for a free press or the rule of law, is no longer an American concern. Of course, the United States has allied with ruthless strongmen before; Stalin was one. But Trump’s moral abdication, divorced from any coherent strategic objective, has ushered America into new territory. This is not effective foreign policy realism; it is a form of depravity.

And what of the military muscle flexing? The Tomahawk cruise missiles fired on a Syrian airfield in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons was the right response years too late but became a meaningless gesture because it was divorced from any strategy to increase pressure on Assad. A big bomb on Afghanistan also looked, in the end, more like showmanship than anything. In North Korea, there’s another showman with hair: Kim Jong-un (whom Trump says he’d be “honored” to meet). Trump’s brinkmanship with him has succeeded so far in being at once dangerous and ineffective. What matters to this president is the news cycle, not strategy or principle.

The toll is considerable. France and Germany are no longer asking themselves whether they have been cast loose between a hostile Moscow and a hostile Washington, as they did in the first weeks of the Trump administration, but nor have they forgotten the experience. The suspicion remains, with Trump, of shared Russian-American sympathy for the weakening or breakup of the European Union.

In many places, Trump’s valueless foreign policy has provoked such uncertainty bordering on dismay. Trust has been eroded. The State Department, led by a cipher, has been consistently undermined.

When I covered the war in Bosnia more than two decades ago, I got to know an honorable Foreign Service officer — I have known many over the years — named Ron Neitzke. He had been troubled by America’s attempt to ignore genocide and done all he could to right that. Reflecting later on the experience, Neitzke wrote: “One must, in essence, be guided by the belief that a policy fundamentally at odds with our national conscience cannot endure indefinitely — if that conscience is well and truthfully informed.”

What Trump is attempting is no less than the destruction of America’s “national conscience.” This must be resisted by all means.

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.

Cohen and Collins

April 1, 2017

In “Donald Trump’s Parrot” Mr. Cohen says Trump’s embrace of Putin is a moral abdication so great it has stripped America’s alliances of their foundation.  In “And Now, the Dreaded Trump Curse” Ms. Collins invites us to meet the gang from under the bus.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A parrot flies out the window in Soviet Russia. The owner rushes to the Moscow offices of the K.G.B., where he tells an agent: “I just want to make clear that any views my parrot expresses are exclusively its own.”

We are not yet worrying about what our parrots might blurt out in Donald Trump’s America. But there are disturbing signs. This presidency is about the fear-driven closing of borders and minds.

In his magisterial novel “Humboldt’s Gift,” Saul Bellow quotes Samuel Daniel: “While timorous knowledge stands considering, audacious ignorance hath done the deed.”

Audacious ignorance is hard at work in the White House. The only solace is that, with Trump, it’s accompanied by paralyzing incompetence.

In 1987, Trump took out a full-page ad in The New York Times. It said: “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.” It concluded: “Let America’s economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defense of their freedom. Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.”

That was three decades ago. Trump won’t change. At 70 he’s what he was at 40 in crankier and bulkier form. His political formula was already clear: mythical American humiliation calls for muscular American nationalism led by a macho American savior. It was not very original, but then forked human nature does not change.

Trump is still demanding that allies pay up. Life has never been more than a zero-sum game for him. He has not grasped that the stability and prosperity of Asian and European allies of the United States contribute to American well-being (like some $1.1 trillion of annual trade between the United States and the European Union supporting about 2.6 million American jobs in 2014).

That same day in 1987, The Times ran a story headlined “Trump Gives a Vague Hint of Candidacy.” America-first economic and military nationalism was always going to be his theme. It will define his presidency.

The few adults in his circle, already weary of putting out fires caused by foolishness, may be able to temper excesses here and there, but the president sets the course. Time to start thinking about what a post-American Europe and a post-American Asia will look like. One certainty: They will be less stable. Another: Russia and China will assert broader, more exclusive spheres of influence.

Trump sees moral equivalency between the United States and a Russian regime that murders dissenting politicians in broad daylight, brutalizes its opponents, hacks into the American election, and traffics in the whopping lie. He is so beholden to, or seduced by, Vladimir Putin’s Russia that he will not murmur criticism. Enough said. This is a moral abdication of such proportions that America’s alliances are left without ideological foundation. They must then wither.

At night in the ghostly White House, when Ivanka and Jared have gone home, and Trump’s consiglieri have retired to their Russian salads, the gold-robed president — crazed as Lear on the cliffs “fantastically dressed with wildflowers” — wanders from room to room staring at TV screens, cursing in frustration when he cannot find the remote, hurling abuse at the “enemies of the people” who fail to genuflect daily before his genius, adjusting his hair, making random calls to aides to ensure they have scheduled his next play dates with truckers and coal miners.

It might almost be funny. Almost. But the day will come when the Dow plunges and what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is said to have feared most in politics — “events, dear boy, events” — occurs, perhaps in ghastly terrorist form, and an incoherent administration will be confronted by its first crisis. All that can be said for now is that, in such a moment, illiberalism and xenophobia in the hands of a would-be autocrat will make for a dangerous brew.

Already, in countless small ways, America is narrowing in ways that hurt it. Foreign applications to U.S. colleges have dropped. USA Today reports that “an inhospitable political climate could punch an $18 billion hole in U.S. tourism by international visitors over the next two years.”

A German associate professor of history at Indiana University who has been in the country a couple of years on an H-1B work visa told me the other day how alarmed her 10-year-old son had become because one of the three Muslim children in his class had talked about the possibility of having to leave. Her normally easygoing son had become anxious. Would his family be next? When the class was given an assignment to complete a sentence beginning “Keep calm” he wrote, “Keep calm and don’t kill Donald Trump.”

A “Foreigners Unwelcome” sign now hangs over Trump’s United States. It causes fears even in children. It will not boost American jobs; on the contrary.

A parrot flew in my window and said, “America First! America First!” Its views were exclusively its own, of course. Still, the parrot was so agitated I decided to report the owner.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

These days, the last thing you want is to be known as a Friend of Trump. He’s doing great — he’s president, for heaven’s sake. His kids are getting jobs, his hotels are getting promoted 24/7. He goes golfing more than your average Palm Beach retiree. Meanwhile, the people he hangs around with are watching their reputations crumble into smithereens.

This has an impact on congressional politics. If you’re a swing vote in the House or the Senate, the idea of getting a hug in the Oval Office might seem more like a threat than an opportunity. Let’s consider some of the F.O.T.s who’ve already been undone:

Devin Nunes

Nunes is now famous as the guy who was sneaking around the White House lawn in the middle of the night. He says it was still daylight, which will have no bearing whatsoever on the legend. There’s a lot of stuff on his résumé — eight-term congressman, father of three, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But wherever he goes for the rest of his life, people are going to say, “Oh yeah, he was the one sneaking around the White House lawn in the middle of the night.” It’ll be the lead in his obituary.

Paul Ryan

Until recently, Ryan was regarded as the Republican idea man, whose riff on cutting entitlements made conservative intellectuals swoon. When Trump came along Ryan was leery at first, then thrilled with his party’s total control of the government. Finally he could take the knife to Medicaid!

“We’ve been dreaming of this since you and I were drinking out of a keg,” Ryan told National Review editor Rich Lowry in an onstage interview. Lowry immediately protested that he had not been fantasizing about health care for the poor when he was chugging beer in college. It was a preview of all that was to come. Ryan was not only going to lose the big health care battle, he was going to look like an idiot doing it.

He’ll go down in history as the first big congressional power to get rolled over by the Trump bus. Maybe with a footnote about his passion for pulling catfish out of the water with his bare hands.

Reince Priebus

Not too long ago, Priebus was laboring in happy obscurity. Now he’s chief of staff at a White House where everything is a mess. “Reince doesn’t have a magic wand,” one Republican National Committee apparatchik told The Associated Press. Nobody wants to get to the point where the best argument in your favor is wand shortage.

Chris Christie

Chris (Still the Governor) Christie was at the White House this week in his new role as head of a commission on drug addiction. How could anything bad happen? Well, just as Christie was being photographed grasping the president’s hand, two of his former associates were sentenced to jail for their roles in the famous bridge-jamming episode. Not Trump’s fault, but he did seem to mess with Christie’s karma when he kept treating him like a well-dressed fast-food clerk during the campaign.

Coal Miners

Trump recently signed an executive order trashing the Obama initiatives to combat global warming. He was surrounded by happy-looking men from coal country, helping continue the grand new White House tradition of male-only photo sessions.

“You’re going back to work,” the president told them gleefully. In reality, the guys in the room already had jobs, some as coal company executives. And Trump’s order won’t fix their region’s unemployment problems. However, the administration has indeed changed the world for some residents of Appalachia, greatly improving their chances of living near a stream filled with mining debris.

Jeanine Pirro

Unless you are a very serious fan of Fox News, you probably never heard of “Judge Jeanine,” a talk-show host with a scary vocal range. Until the other day, when Trump urged his Twitter followers to watch Pirro’s show, which featured a manic denunciation of Paul Ryan. Late-night comedians had a field day and New Yorkers were reminded that this was the woman who ran for New York State attorney general and got taped talking about wiretapping the family boat to see if her husband was having an affair with the wife of his defense lawyer.

Sean Spicer

Oh my God, poor Sean Spicer. You wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

Russia

Russians worked hard to get Donald Trump elected president. And what did they get out of it? Multiple high-level investigations. Enormous rancor in Congress. Plus a drought of free food — no sane politician is going to want to be seen having dinner with a Russian diplomat.

Really, these days in Washington you’d be much better off being a Mexican.

Michael Flynn

Of all the American influence-peddlers who’ve been on the payroll of Russian oligarchs, only one is currently seeking immunity before he testifies at a congressional hearing. Remember when Flynn kept yelling “Lock her up!” during the Republican convention? Hehehehehe.

Brooks and Cohen

March 28, 2017

Bobo has a question:  “Can Elephants Learn From Failure?”  He whines that after the health care debacle, Republicans desperately need a win. Moreover, they are massively underestimating how hard tax reform is going to be.  There will be a rebuttal from “gemli” in Boston.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Offender of the Free World,” says truculent Trump has abdicated responsibility. Europe must step into the void.  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican Health Care bill failed because it was a bad bill that had almost no authentic public support. It took benefits away from tens of millions of vulnerable people in order to give tax breaks to the rich few.

When Republicans turn to tax reform, they will start on much stronger ground. The Republican plans, at least in their broad conceptions, are built solidly on the two frameworks that have shaped recent tax reform discussions.

The first is simplification, the idea that a cleaner tax code, with fewer loopholes and lower rates, would foster economic growth. The second is substitution, the idea that the overall rate of taxation is less important than what you tax. The current code taxes income heavily and barely taxes consumption. To increase dynamism and growth, we should substitute taxes on investment with taxes on spending.

The first framework shaped the tax reform of 1986 and is locked in many people’s brains today. But my impression is that economists have come to see the second framework as more important.

The research shows that cutting top marginal rates does not produce as much growth as the supply siders expected. Meanwhile, research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and others has found that corporate income taxes have a more negative effect on growth than income, payroll or consumption taxes. It’s more important to cut those.

Most rich nations today combine consumption taxes and a low corporate rate. As Kevin Hassett, who’s been mentioned as President Trump’s likely Council of Economic Advisers chairman, has noted, 34 out of the 35 O.E.C.D. nations have VAT or VAT-like consumption taxes. The United States is the only outlier.

The House Republican tax reform bill embraces both frameworks, but it leans on the substitution framework more heavily.

The most exhaustive look at the Republican tax plan I’ve seen was written by David A. Weisbach of the University of Chicago Law School. He notes that the Republican plan would simplify the rates and close a lot of loopholes — the simplification framework — but it wouldn’t radically reshape the taxation of individuals.

Business taxes, meanwhile, would be transformed. The Republican plan cuts corporate rates, allows the immediate expensing of investments and eliminates the taxation of income from sales in foreign countries while raising an import tax, which functions sort of like a VAT. “These changes would go a long way toward shifting the tax system to taxing consumption rather than income,” Weisbach writes.

Moreover, the Republican plan bears some family resemblance to the X Tax, David Bradford’s version of a consumption tax that isn’t necessarily regressive.

So the basic G.O.P. framework is good. There are at least three main problems. The consumption tax rates are too low to raise enough revenue, the whole thing is much more regressive than it needs to be, and the current political climate is probably going to make the bill much, much worse, not much, much better.

After the health care debacle, Republicans desperately need a win. Moreover, they are massively underestimating how hard tax reform is going to be.

Every single loophole in the tax code has a ferocious defender, a fact that has scared off all the recent administrations from attempting tax reform. So even just the loophole closing piece is going to be like Guadalcanal. Raising consumption taxes on top of that — against the ferocious opposition of the retail sector — will be Guadalcanal on stilts.

The Republicans are going into this process from a position of extreme weakness. The first temptation will be to do the easy stuff, which is cutting the taxes, while skipping the hard stuff — closing loopholes and finding substitute revenue sources. The second temptation will be to scale back the whole enterprise so that you can declare victory with a much smaller bill. The third temptation will be to can the border tax, which is associated with Paul Ryan and which the Freedom Caucus already opposes.

By the time legislation is crafted, probably in early summer, the good basic framework could transmogrify into something completely ugly — a bill that explodes the national debt while handing massive benefits to the rich. Then we’d be back where we were with health care reform, with a bill that benefits very few and which no one likes.

Tax reform probably won’t survive if the Republicans try to do it the way they tried to do health care — staying within the lines of Republican orthodoxy while veering over to the extreme right in the hopes of winning the Freedom Caucus. Tax reform will probably only pass with bipartisan buy-in, if there are enough potential yes votes that you can afford to lose some off on the extremes.

Tax reform is one of the few issues where Republican and Democratic thinking overlaps. It’s one of the few ways to significantly boost growth. If Republicans can learn from their errors, they can get this done. If, on the other hand, tax reform fails, the G.O.P. majority is forfeit and Washington will descend to utter dysfunction.

If tax reform fails?  [snort]  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“Malevolent frauds like Paul Ryan and the Freedom (To Die) Caucus demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to pretend they care about the health of the nation, although they might get behind a consumption tax if they thought it was a tax on people who had consumption.

The president—our leader, and the one who exemplifies who we are as a nation—will not even show us his tax returns. He’s said that he’s too smart to pay taxes. His only visible contribution to the economy was the payment of a 25 million dollar fine to compensate for his fraudulent university. I think it was called the School of Hard Knocks.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about medical coverage or taxes or anything else. Republicans only want to pass a WealthCare bill. Taxing consumption should be right up their alley, since it will hurt poor people the most. Progressive? Really? Does anyone think for one moment that Republicans will give the little guys who voted for them a break? It’s just not what they do.

So let’s not tax income, or consumption. Let’s tax wealth. If you’re sitting on billions of dollars, every one of those dollars came from someone else’s pocket. We’ve already paid our corporate overlords with decades of low salaries, poor benefits, abandoned neighborhoods, dismal welfare support and crumbling infrastructure. The people who destroyed the economy got bonuses.

Billionaires need to be reminded of where those billions came from. Let’s jog their memory.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”

This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.

Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women’s empowerment in Berlin next month.)

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.

Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world.

The German debt to the United States is vast since the federal republic was crafted from ruin through enlightened American postwar involvement. Germans never forget this. But that debt is not material, something Trump’s lazy, ahistoric little mind cannot grasp. Germany owes the United States no NATO debt. America is not Europe’s defense contractor, paid to deliver services like, say, the caterers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

This is not rocket science. As Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative, tweeted about NATO: “Unlike health care, it’s not that complicated.”

NATO is a successful organization dedicated to the collective security of its 28 members, which have pledged to defend each other if attacked and maintain defense budgets to that end. By bringing stability it has contributed enormously to American prosperity. Trump did not discover, as he boasts, that Europeans have been underspending on defense. That has long been an American concern. Germany increased its military spending by 8 percent last year but has not reached the target, set by NATO in 2014, of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. These are pretty elementary facts.

Yet Trump tweeted: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with Angela Merkel. Nevertheless Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” And later, in an interview with Time magazine’s Michael Scherer: “What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out.” Trump added, “I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right.”

Yes, Mr. President, everyone is saying you are right! And they’re saying, wow, you made a BIG discovery about NATO spending! They are also saying there’s an unidentified lying object in the White House.

Trump, as noted above, showed no interest with Merkel in the European Union. The E.U. just marked its 60th anniversary in Rome with vows of indivisible union and renewal. It did so as Theresa May, the British prime minister, prepares to submit Britain’s formal exit demand this week, and just after the French rightist Marine Le Pen, who may soon lead France, met with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Putin is deploying money and propaganda to back Le Pen and fast-forward E.U. unraveling. Trump, as allergic to multilateralism as he is susceptible to autocracy, has welcomed the unstitching of Europe.

It is the hour to stand up for the European Union. Its democratic shortfall, weak external borders and shared currency mistakes have contributed to a political backlash. Less appreciated are the peace and stability it has provided to hundreds of millions of people over generations and the myriad ways — from disappearing cellphone roaming charges to cheap borderless travel — it has improved life for Europeans whose forebears lived in a charnel house. No miracle ever marketed itself so miserably.

Merkel is the personification of the Union’s values; she was just bolstered by a local election victory. Russians have taken to the streets to protest against Putin’s corrupt regime and been brutalized. This is not over. Truculent Trump has abdicated responsibility. Europe must step into the void.

Brooks and Cohen

February 21, 2017

In “This Century Is Broken” Bobo says the decline of economic growth is at the bottom of ethnic nationalism’s rise, faith in democracy’s fall and world order’s dissipation.  And “gemli” from Boston will have won or too wurds to say to Bobo.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Russification of America,” says when it’s unclear whether America or Russia is more credible, the world is heading for trouble.  Here’s Bobo:

Most of us came of age in the last half of the 20th century and had our perceptions of “normal” formed in that era. It was, all things considered, an unusually happy period. No world wars, no Great Depressions, fewer civil wars, fewer plagues.

It’s looking like we’re not going to get to enjoy one of those times again. The 21st century is looking much nastier and bumpier: rising ethnic nationalism, falling faith in democracy, a dissolving world order.

At the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his powerful essay “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in the current issue of Commentary, between 1948 and 2000 the U.S. economy grew at a per-capita rate of about 2.3 percent a year.

But then around 2000, something shifted. In this century, per-capita growth has been less than 1 percent a year on average, and even since 2009 it’s been only 1.1 percent a year. If the U.S. had been able to maintain postwar 20th-century growth rates into this century, U.S. per-capita G.D.P. would be over 20 percent higher than it is today.

Slow growth strains everything else — meaning less opportunity, less optimism and more of the sort of zero-sum, grab-what-you-can thinking that Donald Trump specializes in. The slowdown has devastated American workers. Between 1985 and 2000, the total hours of paid work in America increased by 35 percent. Over the next 15 years, they increased by only 4 percent.

For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force. If Americans were working at the same rates they were when this century started, over 10 million more people would have jobs. As Eberstadt puts it, “The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.”

That means there’s an army of Americans semi-attached to their communities, who struggle to contribute, to realize their capacities and find their dignity. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen. That’s about the number of hours that usually go to a full-time job.

Fifty-seven percent of white males who have dropped out get by on some form of government disability check. About half of the men who have dropped out take pain medication on a daily basis. A survey in Ohio found that over one three-month period, 11 percent of Ohioans were prescribed opiates. One in eight American men now has a felony conviction on his record.

This is no way for our fellow citizens to live. The Eberstadt piece confirms one thought: The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.

The hard part is that America has to become more dynamic and more protective — both at the same time. In the past, American reformers could at least count on the fact that they were working with a dynamic society that was always generating the energy required to solve the nation’s woes. But as Tyler Cowen demonstrates in his compelling new book, “The Complacent Class,” contemporary Americans have lost their mojo.

Cowen shows that in sphere after sphere, Americans have become less adventurous and more static. For example, Americans used to move a lot to seize opportunities and transform their lives. But the rate of Americans who are migrating across state lines has plummeted by 51 percent from the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.

Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.

Americans tell themselves the old job-for-life model is over. But in fact Americans are switching jobs less than a generation ago, not more. The job reallocation rate — which measures employment turnover — is down by more than a quarter since 1990.

There are signs that America is less innovative. Accounting for population growth, Americans create 25 percent fewer major international patents than in 1999. There’s even less hunger to hit the open road. In 1983, 69 percent of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. Now only half of Americans get a license by age 18.

In different ways Eberstadt and Cowen are describing a country that is decelerating, detaching, losing hope, getting sadder. Economic slowdown, social disaffection and risk aversion reinforce one another.

Of course nothing is foreordained. But where is the social movement that is thinking about the fundamentals of this century’s bad start and envisions an alternate path? Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?

Now here’s “gemli”:

“Underlying all of our problems is the fact that we is become more stupider in the last few years. We spends our time looking at stupid little screens, tweetin fake news, believin fake news and actin on fake news. Car recks are up because we would rather text that look at the rode.

As we become more stupider we also elected Republicans. In 2001 we did not have a space odyssey. We elected a spaced out oddity which was George doubleyou Bush. We gave our govamint over to people with money instead of people with ideas. Then we had a black president who was a muslin who was not a citizen of this country. For eight years govamint did nothing but fill a buster against a black president. You cant govurn by fill a buster.

Rich people got way richer, cause they was smart. They figured the minimum wage weren’t the minimum you could live on. It was the minimum you could git away with paying. Some folks sat down on wall street to protest but David Brooks said they was stupid hippies.

Opiods made people even supider. But all the opioids in Ohio was perscribed by doctors who was told to by drug companies. There was a downside when people got hooked but the upside was drug companies got rich, so call it even.

The good thing is, stupid don’t last forever. They elected one of there own to run the country and he got a secretary with no experience to run the schools. So it will all be over soon.”

And now we get to Mr. Cohen, writing from Munich:

This Munich Security Conference was different. A Frenchman defended NATO against the American president. The Russian foreign minister was here but the phantom American secretary of state was not. An ex-Swedish prime minister had to respond to the “last-night-in-Sweden affair” — an ominous incident in a placid Scandinavian state dreamed up in his refugee delirium by Donald Trump.

Surreal hardly begins to describe the proceedings at this annual gathering, the Davos of foreign policy. This is what happens when the United States is all over the place. Allies get nervous; they don’t know what to believe. “Trump’s uncontrolled communication is unsettling the world,” John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, told me. That is an understatement. The Trump doctrine is chaos.

Vice President Mike Pence came, communicated and exited without taking questions. He said the United States would be “unwavering” in its commitment to NATO, whose glories he extolled. (He never mentioned the European Union, whose fragmentation Trump encourages.)

If a question had been allowed, it might have been: “Mr. Pence, you defend NATO but your boss says it’s obsolete. So which is it?”

To which the answer could well have been: “This is an administration that says everything and the contrary of everything. I advise you to get used to it — and pay up.”

But getting used to an American president who responds through Twitter to the last guy in the room or what he’s just seen on TV, has no notion of or interest in European history, and has turned America’s word into junk, is not easy. Europeans are reeling.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, insisted that, “We certainly cannot say that NATO is obsolete.” (For a long time the French kind of wished it was.) Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich conference, told Deutsche Welle that if Trump continues to advocate against the European Union it would amount to a “nonmilitary declaration of war.” Those are extraordinary words from a distinguished former German ambassador about the American president.

For me, the most troubling thing was finding myself unsure who was more credible — Pence or Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. The Russification of America under Trump has proceeded apace. Vladimir Putin’s macho authoritarianism, disdain for the press, and mockery of the truth has installed itself on the Potomac.

Putin is only the latest exponent of what John le Carré called “the classic, timeless, all-Russian, barefaced, whopping lie” and what Joseph Conrad before him called Russian officialdom’s “almost sublime disdain for the truth.”

The Russian system under Putin is a false democracy based on a Potemkin village of props — political parties, media, judiciary — that are the fig leaf covering repression or elimination of opponents. Russia runs on lies. It’s alternative-fact central (you know, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine). But what happens when the United States begins to be infected with Russian disease?

Pence’s speech may not have been precisely a barefaced whopping lie, but it certainly showed barefaced whopping disdain for the intelligence of the audience (you know, nothing has changed with Trump, ha-ha.) By comparison, Lavrov was blunt. He announced the dawn of the “post-West world order.” That became a theme. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, announced the “post-Western global order.”

I wonder what that means — perhaps a world of lies, repression, unreason and violence. It advances as America offers only incoherence. To counter the drift, what is needed? A functioning American State Department would be a start.

Right now, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, cuts a lonely figure, his reasonable choice of deputy nixed by Trump, his authority (if any) unclear. America today has no foreign policy. It’s veering between empty reaffirmations of old bonds (Pence) and the scattershot anti-Muslim, Sweden-syndrome, anti-trade, bellicose, what’s-in-it-for-me mercantilism of Trump.

Month two of this presidency needs to produce a capacity to speak with one voice. It was interesting to see John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, talk about a coming revised travel ban order for seven mainly Muslim countries and say that “this time” he’d be able to work on the rollout plan. Rough translation: last time he was cut out of the process and it was a real mess. Almost everything has been.

I’m skeptical of Trump ever running a disciplined administration. His feelings about Europe are already clear and won’t change. The European Union needs to step into the moral void by standing unequivocally for the values that must define the West: truth, facts, reason, science, tolerance, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. For now it’s unclear if the Trump administration is friend or foe in that fight.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, joked to me that the most terrifying aspect of Trump’s “incident” in Sweden was “the suppression of it by all the major Swedish newspapers, and even Swedish citizens.” We laughed. The unfunny moment will come when Trump lashes out based on nothing but fervid imaginings and the “post-West” order stumbles from confusion into conflagration.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpresidented!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can only shudder at the thought.

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Cohen

February 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with a little historical perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit is the rift that will keep on giving.

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

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