Archive for the ‘Cohen’ Category

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

August 22, 2016

In “Trump’s Hollow ‘Regrets'” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidate is not really sorry, but his party may soon be very sorry indeed.  We can but pray, Charles, we can but pray.  In “My Daughter the Pole” Mr. Cohen says history comes full circle for one young woman at a time when the world needs moral clarity to save it from darkness.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Water Next Time,” writes of conspiracy theories and climate action.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is the candidate who is so rigid in his perverted self-righteousness that he doesn’t “like to have to ask for forgiveness.” He says he has never even sought forgiveness from God, the divine author and inspiration of his favorite book, from which he struggled to name a favorite verse.

But Donald Trump actually expressed some “regret” last week, saying:

“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

Precisely what does Trump regret?

Does he regret his comments on Megyn Kelly and the issue of blood coming out of her “wherever”? Does he regret retweeting messages calling her a bimbo?

Does he regret attacking a Gold Star family?

Does he regret making fun of one of my colleagues with a disability?

Does he regret comparing Ben Carson’s temper to the incurable pathology of a child molester?

Does he regret suggesting that Ted Cruz’s father associated with John F. Kennedy’s assassin?

What, exactly, does he regret? There are so many things from which to choose.

I don’t believe, even for a nanosecond, that he regrets the personal impact of what he has said on anyone besides himself.

I believe that he only regrets that what he has said has not worked well for him in the general election portion of the campaign. That is the difference between regret as an act of public contrition and regret as an expression of personal disappointment in one’s own flagging fortunes.

I believe that Trump regrets that, as Lindsey Graham put it last week, “People are getting pretty nervous about our candidates because he’s in a death spiral here and nobody knows where the bottom is at.” Trump’s “regret” is just a cynical ploy to set a bottom and bounce back.

But it will take more than the 75-plus remaining days of this campaign to disassemble what it took 70 years of his life to build.

He is who he is.

This fragile narcissist, who is a sort of bottomless pit of emotional need and affirmation, is easily injured by even the slightest confrontation.

He is a man who has said of himself, “I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned,” as he joked that it would be easy to get big money out of politics. But that claim is worrisome, a thing that only a bully would say.

Yes, he can work a crowd, work a screen and work a Twitter account. He can channel anger, hatred and bigotry and give it a voice and face and standing. He can make bombast feel like bravado. He can lower discourse and raise the rabble.

He has the gifts of a grifter.

The problem is that, at the moment, those gifts are proving to be woefully insufficient as he continues to face horrible polling results and other Republican officials begin to reek of fear, panic and impending peril.

Furthermore, his team is being remade in the fourth quarter, as reports of corruption begin to swirl. Last week his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned after The Associated Press reported:

“A firm run by Donald Trump’s campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.”

The report continued:

“The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine’s then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.”

This email controversy, coming from the same campaign trying to make hay of Hillary Clinton’s email controversy. Oh, the irony.

Trump thinks of himself as a great man — that is the premise of his entire sales pitch, that America has faltered and can only be made great again by the Midas touch of his tiny hands — but if current trends continue and he suffers a staggering loss on Election Day, his ego will be forever injured as he is assigned to history not as a great man but as a great disaster, a cautionary tale of what comes of a party that picks a con man as its frontman.

Trump’s recitation of regret wasn’t so much a ruthless Saul to Apostle Paul transformation as an inverted Jekyll and Hyde monstrous illusion.

There is something rotten at the core of this man that no length of script or turn of phrase can ameliorate.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British vote to leave the European Union has had many consequences, among them a plunge in sterling, sagging business confidence, an identity crisis in Britain’s two main political parties, confusion and uncertainty. One of its less well-known results is that my daughter Adele is now contemplating becoming a Pole.

“Dad,” she said to me the other night over dinner in Brooklyn, “if Britain starts up this Article 50 thing, I’m going to get Polish citizenship.” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty lays out how a country quits the European Union. Because it is in a muddle over what to do, the British government has not yet triggered this procedure. But it almost certainly will.

On the face of it, Adele’s choice is a curious one. The Nazis gassed her great-grandmother, Frimeta Gelband, in Poland. Adele’s grandmother, Amalia, aged 11 in 1942, found herself alone in Nazi-occupied Poland, a Jewish girl hounded. She changed her name to Helena Kowalska, passed herself off as a Catholic, found work on a farm, and survived Germany’s attempted annihilation of European Jewry.

After the war, Polish authorities stuck Amalia in a Jewish orphanage in Krakow, where she remained for three years. All she wanted of Poland was to get out of it. Her mother, her cousins, aunts and uncles had all been slaughtered.

Amalia Baranek is now a Brazilian citizen living in Rio. She has been celebrating the wondrous Olympics that have just ended. She has little time for denigrators of Brazil, the country that took her in. She has been living in Rio since 1948, the year she was at last reunited with her father who had left Poland shortly before the war. There is no prouder Brazilian than Amalia. She knows a country whose spirit is generous.

Adele, who is 18 and a sophomore at the University of Southern California, adores her Brazilian grandmother. Still, she’s ready to become a Pole.

I am not sure whom to blame for this, or whether blame is the right word (see below). The world was full of fear and anger in the 1930s, enough to propel a hatemonger to power in Germany. It is full of fear and anger again today, enough to propel Britain out of the European Union and a man as flawed as Donald Trump to the brink of the American presidency.

The troubled psyche requires a scapegoat. For Hitler, it was the Jews, among others. Today scapegoats are sought everywhere for the widespread feeling that something is amiss: that jobs are being lost; that precariousness has replaced security; that incomes are stagnant or falling; that politicians have been bought; that the bankers behind the 2008 meltdown got off unscathed; that immigrants are free-riders; that inequality is out of control; that tax systems are skewed; that terrorists are everywhere. These scapegoats, on either side of the Atlantic, include Syrian refugees, African migrants, Polish workers in Britain, Mexicans, Muslims and, now that it’s open season for hatred, just about anyone deemed “foreign.”

There is not much new under the sun. As Rudyard Kipling observed: “All good people agree, / And all good people say, / All nice people, like Us, are We / And everyone else is They.”

After the madness against “everyone else” comes remorse. The descendants of families murdered in or driven out of Poland during the Holocaust are now eligible to apply for ancestral citizenship. Some of Adele’s close relatives have already become Poles. Of course, a Polish passport today is also a passport to work anywhere in the European Union, the greatest political creation of the second half of the 20th century, a borderless union of half-a-billion people (at least until Britain leaves). Young people — including all the young Britons who voted overwhelmingly to remain — want to live, love and work anywhere in Europe they choose.

Adele is one of them. She loves London, where she completed high school. She loves its openness. She cannot believe her British passport may soon — unless sanity is somehow restored — no longer be a European Union passport. And so Poland beckons, just as Germany, with a similar law, has beckoned since Brexit for some British Jews of German origin. History comes full circle.

In a way, this doubling-back is right. Adele owes her existence to a brave Pole named Miecyslaw Kasprzyk, who in 1942 risked his life to hide Amalia in the attic of his family’s farmhouse near Krakow. He knew the Gelband family, had been outraged by the killing of Jews, and, as he once said to me: “How can you not help, if a child asks?”

Kasprzyk told me something else: “Someone who does not know the difference between good and evil is worth nothing. In fact such a person belongs in a mental institution.”

Plenty of Poles collaborated, but some did not. May Kasprzyk’s moral clarity inspire Adele, as a Pole or not, and may the world never again descend into the darkness he felt bound to resist.

And last but never least here’s Prof. Krugman:

A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.

Sure enough, the G.O.P. candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!

But boorish, self-centered behavior is the least of it. By far the bigger issue is that even as Mr. Trump made a ham-handed (and cheapskate) effort to exploit Louisiana’s latest disaster for political gain, he continued to stake out a policy position that will make such disasters increasingly frequent.

Let’s back up for a minute and talk about the real meaning of the Louisiana floods.

In case you haven’t been keeping track, lately we’ve been setting global temperature records every month. Remember when climate deniers used to point to a temporary cooling after an unusually warm year in 1998 as “proof” that global warming had stopped? It was always a foolish, dishonest argument, but in any case we’ve now blown right through all past records.

And one consequence of a warmer planet is more evaporation, more moisture in the air, and hence more disastrous floods. As always, you can’t say that climate change caused any particular disaster. What you can say is that warming makes extreme weather events more likely, so that, for example, what used to be 500-year floods are now happening on an almost routine basis.

So a proliferation of disasters like the one in Louisiana is exactly what climate scientists have been warning us about.

What can be done? The bad news is that drastic action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is long overdue. The good news is that the technological and economic basis for such action has never looked better. In particular, renewable energy — wind and solar — has become much cheaper in recent years, and progress in energy storage looks increasingly likely to resolve the problem of intermittency (The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow.)

Or to put it a different way, we face a clear and present danger, but we have the means and the knowledge to deal with that danger. The problem is politics — which brings us back to Mr. Trump and his party.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that when it comes to climate change, as with so many issues, Mr. Trump has gone deep down the rabbit hole, asserting not just that global warming is a hoax, but that it’s a hoax concocted by the Chinese to make America less competitive.

The thing is, he’s not alone in going down that rabbit hole. On other issues Republicans may try to claim that their presidential nominee doesn’t speak for the party that nominated him. We’re already hearing claims that Mr. Trump isn’t a true conservative, indeed that he’s really a liberal, or anyway that liberals are somehow responsible for his rise. (My favorite theory here, one that has quite a few advocates, is that I personally caused Trumpism by being nasty to Mitt Romney.)

But when it comes to denial of climate change and the deployment of bizarre conspiracy theories to explain away the evidence, Mr. Trump is squarely in the Republican mainstream. He may be talking nonsense, but anyone his party was likely to nominate would have been talking pretty much the same nonsense.

It’s interesting to ask why climate denial has become not just acceptable but essentially required within the G.O.P. Yes, the fossil-fuel sector is a big donor to the party. But the vehemence of the hostility to climate science seems disproportionate even so; bear in mind that, for example, at this point there are fewer than 60,000 coal miners, that is, less than 0.05 percent of the work force. What’s happening, I suspect, is that climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors.

In any case, this election is likely to be decisive for the climate, one way or another. President Obama has made some serious moves to address global warming, and there’s every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would continue this push — using executive action if she faced a hostile Congress. Given the technological breakthroughs of the last few years, this push might just be enough to avert disaster. Donald Trump, on the other hand, would do everything in his power to trash the planet, with the enthusiastic support of his party. So which will it be? Stay tuned.

Cohen, solo

August 16, 2016

In “Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics” Mr. Cohen has a question:  Why is it the developed world has to find fault in a developing country that organizes a major sporting event?  Here he is:

When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago, inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport.

Antônio Carlos Jobim, the composer of “The Girl From Ipanema” (and whose name is now affixed to that airport), famously observed that “Brazil is not for beginners.”

It was not then and it’s not now. It’s a vast diverse country, a tropical United States, whose rich and poor are divided by a chasm. High crime rates are in part a reflection of this divide. Flexibility is at a premium in a culture fashioned by heat, sensuality, samba and rule bending. Life can be cheap. You adapt or you perish.

Edmar Bacha, a friend and economist, had coined the term “Belindia” to describe Brazil — a prosperous Belgium perched atop a teeming India. I wrote a story about the poor kids from north Rio, far from the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, who would get their kicks as “train surfers,” riding the tops of fast-moving trains, rather than surf Atlantic waves. Often they died, electrocuted. I will never forget the twisted corpse of one in the city morgue.

Inequity was part of the story, yet even in those tumultuous times it was not all of it. “Tudo bem?” — “All good?” — I would ask when I ventured into the ubiquitous favelas, or slums. “Tudo bem!” was often the response, along with a smile, even when all was entirely awful. Penury in the sun is not penury in the cold.

I once asked the São Paulo industrialist José Mindlin if he was worried about where Brazil was headed. “I always worry about the end of the month,” Mindlin said. “But I never worry about the future.” He was right. Brazil is the graveyard of naysayers.

The country has been transformed since the 1980s. Democracy and the currency have been stabilized. The middle class has grown exponentially even if it is under pressure now. Brazil has impeached one president, Fernando Collor de Mello, and is in the midst of an impeachment process against another, Dilma Rousseff, for charges of budgetary manipulation. The law can no longer be bought with facility. The commodities boom that propelled rapid Brazilian growth over many years has ended. Still, Brazil is ensconced in the world’s top 10 economies.

According to the World Bank, life expectancy increased to 74.4 years in 2014 from 63.9 in 1986 (in the same period American life expectancy went up by just four years). Illiteracy is still too high but has fallen sharply.

Brazil today is less Belindia than Franconesia — a substantial France atop an Indonesia. Its problems persist, but only a fool would deny that Brazil will be a major 21st-century player. As anyone attending the Olympics must feel, Brazil has a powerful and joyous national culture. It is the land of “Tudo bem.”

All of which is to say that I am tired, very tired, of reading negative stories about these Brazilian Olympics — the anger in the slums, the violence that continues (including the armed robbery of four American swimmers), the enduring gulf between rich and poor, the occasional organizational hassles, the Russian doping and the Brazilian mosquito, money that could supposedly have been spent better than extending the Metro that now runs from the center to prosperous Barra da Tijuca (so, among other things, enabling the poor to get jobs out there).

First, Brazil was never going to get the job done in time for the Olympics; now that it’s shown so much success and held a magnificent opening ceremony, it’s blamed for not having resolved every one of its social problems in time for the Games.

There is something in the developed world that does not like a developing country that organizes a major sporting event. I heard the same jeremiads in South Africa at the time of the World Cup in 2010: the crime that would ruin things, the poverty that was shameful and the inefficiency that would plague visitors. The tournament was a triumph. I don’t recall reporters combing the poorest, most crime-ridden parts of Britain in 2012 to find people ready to grumble about the London Olympics.

These Olympics are good for Brazil and good for humanity, a needed tonic. Watch Usain Bolt or Simone Biles and feel uplifted.

My preferred image is that of Rafaela Silva, the young Brazilian woman from the violent Rio slum of Cidade de Deus, who won a gold medal in judo and declared: “This medal demonstrates that a child who has a dream should believe, even if it takes time, because the dream can be realized.”

Out in the favelas some kids are dreaming in a different way right now. That, too, is a story.

Cohen, Kristof, and Collins

August 11, 2016

In “Olympians in Hijab and Bikini” Mr. Cohen says the West’s image of Islam and the Muslim image of the West are often mutually incommunicable. No area is as sensitive as the treatment of women’s roles, dress and sexuality.  Mr. Kristof, in “Obama’s Worst Mistake,” says yes, there are steps we can take in Syria.  Ms. Collins says “You Choose or You Lose,” and that picking between major party candidates is the only way to effect the race’s outcome.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Since I saw a photograph of an Egyptian and a German beach volleyball player confronting each other at the net in Rio, I have been unable to get the image out of my head. Doaa Elghobashy, aged 19, wears a hijab, long sleeves and black leggings to her ankles. Kira Walkenhorst, 25, is in a dark blue bikini. The outstretched hands of the Olympian women almost meet, the ball between them.

The photo, by Lucy Nicholson of Reuters, juxtaposes two women, two beliefs and two dress codes, brought together by sport. The world confronts less a clash of civilizations than a clash of identities, concertinaed in time and space by technology. The West’s image of Islam and the Muslim image of Western societies are often mutually incommunicable; the incomprehension incubates violence.

No area is as sensitive as that of the treatment of women, women’s roles, women’s sexuality, dress and ambitions. The story is often presented as one of Western emancipation versus Islamic subjugation. That, however, is an inadequate characterization.

What follows are accounts by two women, an Egyptian and an American, of their experiences with the hijab. Chadiedja Buijs is a graduate student in Cairo. Norma Moore is a former actress living in Boulder, Colo., who recently visited Iran, where the rules obliged her to adopt Islamic dress codes.

Chadiedja Buijs:

My parents — Egyptian mother, Dutch father — separated when I was four, and I grew up in the Netherlands. My mom doesn’t wear a head scarf and when I began to at the age of 19, five years ago, she said, “What the hell are you doing? I left my country so that you could be free and this is what freedom did?”

I had a lot of issues with myself, with my spiritual needs and my state of being. I was very hardworking, very controlling. I began to feel that as a religious person I needed to realize that some things are bigger than me. I started with prayer. I stopped drinking. I began fasting. I’d been so obsessed with material things. After a while I became convinced that it would be good if I could wear the head scarf out of devotion and humility, as a sign of giving up some of my control. It worked.

Our Prophet says faith is like the ocean. Sometimes the waves are high, sometimes low. Sometimes I am shaky in my faith, sometimes very strong.

The hijab is a matter of representation. I know the person I am and the ideas I have. But the person in front of me sees only the exterior. With the tension in Europe, things are worse. In a Dutch village, in a café full of rich white people, a man tore my veil off. It was shocking but not as frustrating as some of the looks and comments, the job rejections (“You do not fit the image of our store”).

After the attacks in France, my mother said, “Please take your veil off.” It is my choice to wear it. I will die with it on. That is my right. Nobody will take it away.

But balance is important. There is this life and the afterlife. Sometimes you need to think about your spirituality. Sometimes you need to adapt. In the West, now, I may wear tighter jeans, or have my neck showing, or use short sleeves. Here in Egypt I may wear maxi-skirts, long and wide. They do not look great. They make me fat. But, hey, that’s the point! My family here is quite conservative.

There is very little religious literacy in secular Western countries. And there is a crisis within Islam, over what it means to be a Muslim. As Muslims we have to acknowledge the problem. ISIS controls what Islam looks like in Iraq and Syria — religious symbolism, flags, statements and verses. This is real. We cannot deny it. But we create extremism by talking about Islam only through this prism. The head scarf becomes a fetish.

Elghobashy is wearing leggings in the photo. I think she represents people like me. International-minded, young, modern Muslims who want to go out and study and work and play. We need different images of Islam.

I got different responses from men when I chose to wear a head scarf rather than a short skirt. It created a kind of distance. But I still have my sexuality in my own hands. I can be very flirtatious, go out and meet a man — but I decide in what mode I want to be. I can be focused on my spirituality, prayers and study without distraction, or I can have a period when I choose to be sexy even in a head scarf through how I act or speak. I feel I have more power and independence vis-à-vis men now.

Norma Moore:

I am a deeply religious person. I don’t have a label to attach to my faith, but it is there nonetheless at the core of my being. I believe that God created me and created me with love as I am — just as God creates every other person. When I put on the hijab in Iran and the shapeless tunics I experience an attempt to deny how I have been made — an attempt to neutralize me.

It has made me afraid. I started this trip almost completely covered by my hijab. Before coming I practiced with the help of an internet video so that no trace of hair or neck or calf would show and make me vulnerable to stares or the humiliation of being chastised. I had come here voluntarily and accepted the terms of admission, so I began the trip in a willing state of submission.

But then the weather got hot — very hot. I got overheated and all I could think about was tearing this hijab off. I felt suffocated. I thought how I wouldn’t let an animal suffocate like this. If my animal were covered like this and suffering I would tear the fabric off out of simple decency.

My hair, the curves in my body, were given to me by God. To cover my head and wear shapeless clothes feels like I am pretending not to be a woman and that somehow I am responsible for keeping men’s sexuality within social bounds.

I just can’t wrap my head around God making me responsible for men’s sexuality.

The Olympics volleyball photograph is tantalizing. The few inches between the women’s hands may as well be a chasm. More than once I have heard Iranian imams, with preposterous certainty, equate flimsy women’s attire in the West with decadence and prostitution. To Western sensibilities, the covered Muslim woman must de facto be the disempowered woman awaiting liberation.

Reality is many-shaded. Elghobashy wears an anklet of colored beads. The only colors on Walkenhorst are those of the German flag. Who is to say which of the women is more conservative, more of a feminist or more liberated? We do not know. What we do know is that we need more events that provoke us to ask such questions and discard tired certainties that may be no more than dangerous caricatures.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

A crazed gunman’s attack on an Orlando club in June, killing 49 people, resulted in blanket news coverage and national trauma.

Now imagine that such a massacre unfolds more than five times a day, seven days a week, unceasingly for five years, totaling perhaps 470,000 deaths. That is Syria. Yet even as the Syrian and Russian governments commit war crimes, bombing hospitals and starving civilians, President Obama and the world seem to shrug.

I admire Obama for expanding health care and averting a nuclear crisis with Iran, but allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged has been his worst mistake, casting a shadow over his legacy. It is also a stain on all of us, analogous to the indifference toward Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.

This is a crisis that cries out for American leadership, and Obama hasn’t shown enough.

In fairness, Obama is right to be cautious about military involvement, and we don’t know whether the more assertive approaches favored by Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus and many others would have been more effective. But I think Obama and Americans in general are mistaken when they seem to suggest: It’s horrible what’s going on over there, but there’s just nothing we can do.

“There are many things we can be doing now,” James Cartwright, a retired four-star general who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told me. “We can do many things to create security in selected areas, protect and stabilize those safe zones and allow them to rebuild their own country even as the conflict continues in other parts of the country.”

Cartwright, who has been called Obama’s favorite general, acknowledges that his proposal for safe zones carries risks and that the American public should be prepared for a long project, a decade or more. But he warns that the risks of doing nothing in Syria are even greater.

Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, agrees that we can do more, like set up safe zones. She emphasizes that the U.S. should be very careful in using force so as not to make problems worse, but she adds that on balance, “We should be prepared to try and create these humanitarian areas.”

This critique is bipartisan. Kori Schake, director of defense strategy in the George W. Bush White House, says, “Yes, there is something that we can do.” Her recommendation is for safe zones modeled on Operation Provide Comfort, which established the highly successful no-fly-zone in northern Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf war.

Many experts recommend trying to ground Syria’s Air Force so it can no longer drop barrel bombs on hospitals and civilians. One oft-heard idea is to fire missiles from outside Syria to crater military runways to make them unusable.

One aim of such strategies is to increase the odds of a negotiated end to the war. Obama’s reticence has robbed Secretary of State John Kerry, who is valiantly trying to negotiate a lasting Syrian cease-fire, of leverage. The U.S. was able to get an Iran deal because it held bargaining chips, while in Syria we have relinquished all clout. And Obama’s dithering has had a real cost, for any steps in Syria are far more complex now that Russia is in the war.

Two years ago, Obama faced another daunting challenge: an impending genocide of Yazidi on Mount Sinjar near the Iraq-Syria border. He intervened with airstrikes and may have saved tens of thousands of lives. It was a flash of greatness for which he did not get enough credit — and which he has not repeated.

While caution within Syria is understandable, Obama’s lack of public global leadership in pushing to help its refugees who are swamping Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is harder to explain. The international appeal for Syrians this year is only 41 percent funded.

“If you care about extremism, you’ve got 200,000 Syrian kids growing up in Lebanon with no education,” notes David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary, now head of the International Rescue Committee.

Perhaps it’s unfair to reproach Obama when other politicians and other countries are also unmoved — and the U.S. has been generous with financial aid — but ultimately the buck stops on Obama’s desk. He will host a summit meeting on refugees next month and I hope will seize that chance to provide the global leadership needed to address the crisis.

I met recently with two brave American doctors who, at great personal risk, used their vacation time to sneak into Aleppo, Syria, to care for children injured by barrel bombs. They described working in a makeshift underground hospital and their quiet fury at the world’s nonchalance.

“Sitting idly by and allowing a government and its allies to systematically and deliberately bomb, torture and starve hundreds of thousands of people to death, that is not the solution,” Dr. Samer Attar, a surgeon from Chicago, told me. “Silence, apathy, indifference and inaction aren’t going to make it go away.”

And last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

If you’re a Republican politician, announcing you’re not going to vote for Donald Trump is a little like declaring that you’re not going to rob a bank to finance your next campaign. Really, you don’t get any credit unless you say what you’re going to do instead.

“I truly don’t know,” said Senator Susan Collins unhelpfully.

Collins made news this week when she penned an op-ed for The Washington Post, announcing that she couldn’t support her party’s nominee because “Mr. Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so.”

It’s tough being a high-profile Republican these days. People are always demanding to know what you think about your candidate’s latest horrific remark. But unless you come up with an alternative, disavowing a candidate is more like a sulk than a solution.

There’s been a lot of this going around. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an early evacuee from the Trump train, said he was going to wait until October to deal with the problem. Senator Lindsey Graham said he might “just pass — I may write somebody in.” Mark Kirk, who’s generally regarded as the Senator Most Likely to Be Defeated in November, gave Illinois voters an excellent example of his leadership capacity when he announced that he was going to write in David Petraeus or maybe Colin Powell.

Obviously, all these people are trying to avoid taking responsibility for Donald Trump without being accused of betraying their party. But it’s very strange to hear elected officials embracing various versions of a don’t-vote strategy. Nobody knows better than they do that politics is a world of imperfect choices.

Collins freely admits that she’s worked well with Hillary Clinton in the past. But she ruled out voting for the Democrat, telling CNN that Clinton wanted to spend too much money. (“Promises of free this and free that, that I believe would bankrupt our country.”) Faced with a choice between a guy who could compromise national security and a woman who wants universal early childhood education, the former chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee claimed to be at a loss for an answer.

Here’s the bottom line: There are only three things you can do when it comes time to elect a president. You can stay home and punt; you can choose between the two major party candidates; or you can cop out by doing something that looks like voting but has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the race.

That includes strategies about writing in the name of a retired general, leaving the top line blank, or voting for a third-party candidate who has as much chance of winning as the YouTube Keyboard Cat.

The only third party that might have a line on all state ballots is the Libertarian, whose platform includes eliminating Social Security, ending gun control and wiping out drug laws. This year’s Libertarian candidate is Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. Johnson does not seem to agree with the platform on many points, but to be honest, he’s not the world’s greatest explainer. Libertarians like the idea of a charisma-free candidate, since he’d be incapable of getting much done.

But truly, this is a silly choice. Voting for Johnson is exactly the same as staying home, except that it involves going outdoors. Ditto for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, a doctor who appears to have a rather ambiguous attitude toward childhood vaccinations.

Susan Collins said she could support the Libertarian ticket if only it had been reversed, with vice-presidential candidate William Weld on top. You can’t totally dislike Weld, who once told me that being governor of Massachusetts was pretty much a walk in the park. (“I used to go on vacation for a week at a time and I wouldn’t even call in.”) However, he’s been out of office for nearly 20 years. He is not the presidential candidate. And the Libertarians are never, repeat, never going to be elected.

Right now we live in a world that’s been messed up by the bad decisions George W. Bush made about invading Iraq. He was elected president in 2000 thanks to a few hundred votes in Florida. A state where Green Party candidate Ralph Nader got 97,488 votes.

Most of the Green voters undoubtedly thought they were showing their disdain for both Bush and the deeply imperfect candidacy of Al Gore. And Nader is a man of fine principles. But look where those 97,488 votes got us.

Nader himself doesn’t feel guilty. I talked to him on the phone the other day, and he argued, basically, that if Gore couldn’t win his home state of Tennessee, it’s not Nader’s fault that he couldn’t win Florida.

And he’s not voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in November. “They’re not alike,” he said, “but they’re both terrible.”

Ralph goddam Nader should be stuffed in a barrel with 10 pounds of sharp scrap iron and rolled down a steep hill.

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

August 8, 2016

In “Trump’s Troubles in the Black Belt” Mr. Blow says there are signs of Republican decline, even in the Deep South.  Mr. Cohen, in “The World Loves Refugees, When They’re Olympians,” says the world is moved by Team Refugees at the Olympics but unmoved by refugees. More than words are needed for 65 million displaced people.  Prof. Krugman says it’s “Time to Borrow,” and states the overwhelming case for deficit spending.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There has been much talk this election about the fundamental transformation of voters in the Rust Belt and what that portends for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But there is another belt also worth keeping an eye on for its remarkable electoral transformation: The Black Belt, a series of counties with large black populations, that stretches from the Deep South to the Mid-Atlantic (Florida is not a Black Belt state.)

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found that a measly 1 percent of registered black voters overall support Trump.

That’s extremely problematic in states with high numbers of black voters. The more black voters Clinton gets, the fewer white ones she needs.

The northernmost of these states have already voted Democratic in recent elections — Maryland since 1992; Virginia since 2008. North Carolina even flipped in 2008. But now, with Trump as the G.O.P. standard-bearer, the Black Belt states in the Deep South also look shaky.

A Georgia poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and released Friday showed Clinton leading Trump by four percentage points in the resiliently red state in a head-to-head matchup and by three percentage points when Libertarian and Green Party candidates are included.

On Friday, a headline on AL.com in Alabama blared: “Poll shows Clinton leading in Georgia: Is Alabama next?” It’s a question worth pondering in a state where 27 percent of the registered voters are black, according to a January Pew Research Center report. But it should be noted that Alabama is doing its very best to disenfranchise as many of those voters as possible.

As John Archibald pointed out on AL.com in the fall: “Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of nonwhite registered voters.” He pointed out that the state “opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them.” As he put it: “Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.” Furthermore, “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one.”

Welcome to the South, folks. And thank you very much, Chief Justice John Roberts, for your opinion in the disastrous Shelby County vs. Holder case. How did you put it: In the South, “Things have changed dramatically.” Yeah, right.

Then there is Alabama’s western neighbor, Mississippi, which had the highest percentage of black people of any state (37 percent) in the most recent census, but which has not voted for a Democratic president in 40 years. A Mason-Dixon poll in April gave Trump only a small margin over Clinton, although FiveThirtyEight.com still gives Trump a 76 percent chance of winning it.

Lastly, there’s Louisiana, probably the hardest of the hard sells, where the Trump supporter and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke has said he is running for the U.S. Senate. In a recent poll conducted by the University of New Orleans’ Survey Research Center, Duke “gets support from 14 percent of black voters — a figure that eclipses the support Trump gets nationally or in nearby Georgia in a new poll from that state,” as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump put it, giving a hat tip to tweets from The New York Times’s Campbell Robertson.

(Louisiana is my home state, but don’t ask me to explain this. I can’t. Somebody drank all that magnolia wine.)

Now, of course, winning in many, if not most, of these states is simply wishful thinking for Democrats, mere flashes in a pan, but the fact that some of these Deep South states have showed up in any poll — even a single poll — with Clinton in the lead is noteworthy, if not earth-shattering.

The Republican Party’s 2012 autopsy report said: “Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

It continued:

“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”

And then this year the party nominated Trump, a man who alienates all of these communities. (Insert roll of eyes.)

The black vote will be crucial this year, just as it was in the last election. As The Cook Report put it in July 2015:

“Deconstructing exit poll data from 2012, African-American voters accounted for Obama’s entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Without these states’ 112 electoral votes, Obama would have lost decisively.”

If Trump loses in November and the black vote tips even one of the Deep South, Black Belt states blue, the Republicans won’t only need an autopsy, they’ll need a Ouija board — because they’ll be dead and buried.

Mr. Blow, you can’t say that a red state has tipped blue just because the top of the ticket won.  You’ve got to look down-ballot at the House and Senate.  Still red, still red…  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The world is moved by Team Refugees at the Olympics in Rio. They are greeted with a standing ovation at the opening ceremony. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, not a man given to extravagant displays of emotion, is all smiles.

President Obama tweets support for these 10 athletes who “prove that you can succeed no matter where you’re from.” Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, posts a video on Facebook in which she speaks of the world’s 65 million displaced people— the largest number since World War II — and says they “are dreaming bigger because you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Who could fail to be moved? These are brave people. They have fled anguish in search not of a better life, but of life itself. In general, you do not choose to become a refugee because you have a choice, but because you have no choice. Like Yusra Mardini, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee from a Damascus suburb, who left a country that now exists only in name, and reached Germany only after the small boat bringing her from Turkey to Greece started taking on water in heavy seas. She and her sister Sarah dived into the water and for more than three hours pushed until it reached the island of Lesbos.

In Rio, Mardini won her heat of the 100-meter butterfly, but did not advance due to her inferior time. Still, hers is a remarkable achievement.

Yes, the world is moved by Team Refugees. Yet, it is unmoved by refugees.

They die at sea. They die sealed in the back of a truck. They die anonymous deaths. Fences are erected, walls mooted. Posters decry them. They represent danger and threaten disruption. They are freeloaders. They are left in festering limbo on remote Pacific islands. There is talk of a threat to “European civilization” — read Christian Europe. There is talk of making the United States great again — read making the United States white again.

Rightist political parties thrive by scapegoating them. Nobody wants refugees. They could be terrorists or rapists. They sit in reception centers. The United States pledged to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year. In the previous four years, it had admitted about 1,900. This is a pittance. About 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country since the war began.

One Western country, Germany, has shown political courage commensurate with the challenge and thrown open its doors. Having plumbed the depths of depravity, it knows a moral imperative when it sees one.

The world loves Team Refugees — the two swimmers from Syria, the two judokas originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the marathoner from Ethiopia, the five runners from South Sudan. It admires Rami Anis, a Syrian swimmer now living in Belgium. His hometown is Aleppo, cravenly abandoned by the West to bombardment by Russian forces. Russia strolled into Syria when it realized, after several years of war, that the United States would not lift a finger.

Yes, let’s cheer the refugee team in Rio, the first of its kind, but not with empty words, and not to assuage our Syrian consciences. They walk now under an Olympic flag. They want the flag of a homeland. Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said: “We want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world.” But after the fanfare, will anyone remember?

The world is being pulled in two directions at once. The force of globalization, of nomadic humanity, of borderless cyberspace has engendered an equally strong counter-force of nationalism, nativist politics and anti-immigrant bigotry. The two trends are poised in a tense equilibrium.

I lived in Brazil for several years. It is a generous country. Perhaps no other nation has such a mestizo culture, such ingrained habits of mingling. It feels right that this outreach to Team Refugees should have happened in Rio, a city of miscegenation and openness.

The glorification of Team Refugees and the vilification of refugees coexist. How can they? It’s the old principle: Not in my backyard. “We are getting better and we are getting worse at the same time,” Paul Auster, the novelist, told me. “And at the same speed.”

I am reminded of the words of my friend Fritz Stern, the distinguished historian who died this year. “I was born into a world on the cusp of avoidable disaster.” He continued, “The fragility of freedom is the simplest and deepest lesson of my life and work.”

Freedom cannot be built on exclusion and hatred. It is a universal human right. Brazil and the International Olympic Committee have given the world a glimpse of the humanity and aspirations of each refugee. Perhaps, after all, we are getting better faster than we are getting worse, and barriers will continue to fall — but not through words alone.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The campaign still has three ugly months to go, but the odds — 83 percent odds, according to the New York Times’s model — are that it will end with the election of a sane, sensible president. So what should she do to boost America’s economy, which is doing better than most of the world but is still falling far short of where it should be?

There are, of course, many ways our economic policy could be improved. But the most important thing we need is sharply increased public investment in everything from energy to transportation to wastewater treatment.

How should we pay for this investment? We shouldn’t — not now, or any time soon. Right now there is an overwhelming case for more government borrowing.

Let me walk through this case, then address some of the usual objections.

First, we have obvious, pressing needs for public investment in many areas. In Washington, the aging Metro is in such bad shape that whole lines may have to be shut down for maintenance. In Florida, green slime infests beaches, in large part because failure to upgrade an 80-year-old dike or to purchase more land as a runoff area is forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to release polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. There are similar stories all across America.

So investing more in infrastructure would clearly make us richer. Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates: 10-year, inflation-protected bonds yielded just 0.09 percent on Friday.

Put these two facts together — big needs for public investment, and very low interest rates — and it suggests not just that we should be borrowing to invest, but that this investment might well pay for itself even in purely fiscal terms. How so? Spending more now would mean a bigger economy later, which would mean more tax revenue. This additional revenue would probably be larger than any rise in future interest payments.

And this analysis doesn’t even take into account the potential role of public investment in job creation: Despite a low headline unemployment rate, the U.S. economy is still probably short of full employment, and an investment agenda would also offer valuable insurance against possible future downturns.

So why aren’t we borrowing and investing? Here are some of the usual objections, and why they’re wrong.

We can’t borrow because we already have too much debt. People who say this usually like to cite big numbers — “Our debt is 19 trillion dollars,” they intone in their best Dr. Evil voice. But everything about the U.S. economy is huge, and what matters is the comparison between the cost of servicing our debt and our ability to pay. And federal interest payments are only 1.3 percent of G.D.P., low by historical standards.

Borrowing costs may be low now, but they might rise. Yes, maybe. But we’re talking about long-term borrowing that locks in today’s low rates. If 10 years isn’t long enough for you, how about 30-year, inflation-protected bonds? They’re only yielding 0.64 percent.

The government can’t do anything right. Solyndra! Solyndra! Benghazi! A large part of our political class is committed to the proposition that any and all government efforts to improve our lives are doomed to failure — a proposition that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy when these people are actually in office. But to hold that view you have to turn your back on our own history: American greatness was in large part created by government investment or private investment shaped by public support, from the Erie Canal, to the transcontinental railroads, to the Interstate Highway System.

As for the constant harping on individual failures, all large organizations, private businesses very much included, engage in some projects that don’t work out. Yes, some renewable-energy investments went bad — but overall, the Obama administration’s promotion of solar and wind has been a huge success, with a rough quadrupling of production since 2008. Green energy should be seen as an inspiration, not a cautionary tale.

There is, in short, an overwhelming policy case for federal borrowing to pay for public investment. But will the next president be able to act on this case?

The good news is that elite discourse seems, finally, to be moving in the right direction. Five years ago the Beltway crowd was fixated on debt and deficits as the great evils. Today, not so much.

The bad news is that even if Hillary Clinton wins, she may well face the same kind of scorched-earth Republican opposition President Obama faced from day one. So it matters not just who wins in November, but by how much. Will there be a strong enough Democratic wave to give Mrs. Clinton the ability to act?

But while the politics remain uncertain, it’s clear what we should be doing. It’s time for the federal government to borrow and invest.

Brooks and Cohen

August 2, 2016

I guess Bobo’s had all he can take of being outside the Acela corridor, and the conventions may have taken all the ginger out of him, poor thing.  Today he’s decided to tell us all about “How Artists Change the World.”  He ‘splains that Frederick Douglass used photography to alter perceptions of African-Americans.  As usual, what “gemli” from Boston had to say will follow.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s American Idea,” says there is no real America to take back, as Trump insists, because America’s many-hued reality is a ceaseless becoming.  However, he can’t resist taking a swipe at Obama.  Here’s Bobo:

As usual, there were a ton of artists and musicians at the political conventions this year. And that raises some questions. How much should artists get involved in politics? How can artists best promote social change?

One person who serves as a model here was not an artist but understood how to use a new art form. Frederick Douglass made himself the most photographed American of the 19th century, which is kind of amazing. He sat for 160 separate photographs (George Custer sat for 155 and Abraham Lincoln for 126). He also wrote four lectures on photography.

Douglass used his portraits to change the way viewers saw black people. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard points out that one of Douglass’s favorite rhetorical tropes was the chiasmus: the use of two clauses in a sentence in reversed order to create an inverse parallel.

For example, Douglass wrote, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

And that’s what Douglass did with his portraits. He took contemporary stereotypes of African-Americans — that they are inferior, unlettered, comic and dependent — and turned them upside down.

Douglass posed for his portraits very carefully and in ways that evolved over the years. You can see the progression of Douglass portraits in a new book called “Picturing Frederick Douglass,” curated by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier, and you can read a version of Gates’s essay in the new special issue of Aperture magazine, guest edited by Sarah Lewis.

In almost all the photographs, Douglass is formally dressed, in black coat, vest, stiff formal collar and bow tie. He is a dignified and highly cultured member of respectable society.

But within that bourgeois frame there is immense personal force. Douglass once wrote, “A man without force is without the essential dignity of humanity.” Douglass’s strong features project relentless determination and lionlike pride. In some early portraits, starting when he was around age 23, his fists are clenched.

In some of the pre-Civil War photos he stares directly into the camera lens, unusual for the time. And then there was his majestic wrath. In 1847 he told a British audience that when he was a slave he had “been punished and beaten more for [my] looks than for anything else — for looking dissatisfied because [I] felt dissatisfied.”

Douglass brought that look of radical dissatisfaction to the studio. When he was a young man, his stares were at once piercing, suspicious and solemn. As he got older, his face took on a deeper wisdom and sadness while losing none of his mountainous solemnity. He was combining moral depth and great learning.

Douglass was combating a set of generalized stereotypes by showing the specific humanity of one black man. (The early cameras produced photographs with great depth of field revealing each pore, hair and blemish.)

Most of all, he was using art to reteach people how to see.

We are often under the illusion that seeing is a very simple thing. You see something, which is taking information in, and then you evaluate, which is the hard part.

But in fact perception and evaluation are the same thing. We carry around unconscious mental maps, built by nature and experience, that organize how we scan the world and how we instantly interpret and order what we see.

With these portraits, Douglass was redrawing people’s unconscious mental maps. He was erasing old associations about blackness and replacing them with new ones. As Gates writes, he was taking an institution like slavery, which had seemed to many so inevitable, and leading people to perceive it as arbitrary. He was creating a new ideal of a just society and a fully alive black citizen, and therefore making current reality look different in the light of that ideal.

“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture makers — and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements,” Douglass wrote. This is where artists make their mark, by implanting pictures in the underwater processing that is upstream from conscious cognition. Those pictures assign weights and values to what the eyes take in.

I never understand why artists want to get involved in partisanship and legislation. The real power lies in the ability to recode the mental maps people project into the world.

A photograph is powerful, even in the age of video, because of its ability to ingrain a single truth. The special “Vision and Justice” issue of Aperture shows that the process of retraining the imagination is ongoing. There are so many images that startlingly put African-American models in places where our culture assumes whiteness — in the Garden of Eden, in Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

These images don’t change your mind; they smash through some of the warped lenses through which we’ve been taught to see.

And here’s what “gemli” had to say about that:

“The one thing that comes through all of the photographs of Frederick Douglass I’ve ever seen is dignity. It seems to be part of his character that is so powerful it leaves a trace on the photographic plate. It may be all the more striking because you rarely see it these days, particularly in the political arena.

It’s not because the technology has moved on. Modern cameras are just as receptive to strength and dignity as were the ones in Douglass’ time, but they’re often not focused on it. On the occasions when it does happen, it can be jarring.

One recent example occurred at the Democratic National Convention. After several rousing but ordinary convention speeches, Khizr Khan and his wife took the podium. They did something that no one has been able to during this entire election season.

With quiet dignity and few words, there were able to pierce the armor of ignorance, deceit and disdain that has protected Donald Trump from criticism.

Trump responded to Mr. Khan’s story of pain and the sacrifice of his son with a claim that money and business success entailed sacrifice as well. Although Mrs. Khan’s silence spoke volumes, Trump criticized her for saying nothing.

Our would-be emperor was revealed to have no clothes. The dignity gap created by the wrath of Khan was a chasm that swallowed Donald Trump and his entire sham of a campaign.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

There is a line from a conversation 20 years ago between Barack Obama and the photographer Mariana Cook that offers an important insight into the president: “All my life,” he said, “I have been stitching together a family, through stories or memories or friends or ideas.”

There was much to stitch: his lost Kenyan father, his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro, his unusual journey through various names and identities, his black paternal side and his white maternal side, his youth in Asia, his adolescence in Hawaii, his student years in California and New York, and his coming-of-age in Chicago.

What Barack Obama ended up “stitching together” in his path to selfhood — the unifying idea that became his core reference — was the United States of America. As he said in his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, “In no other country on earth is my story even possible.”

This was the moment Obama emerged onto the national stage: “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.” I can still feel the frisson his words stirred in Boston.

In the dozen years since, his message has not changed. It was evident again in Philadelphia last week as he endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. He spoke of the American values that led his Kansan grandparents and his wife Michelle’s family to see the children of immigrants as “just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke; a baseball cap or a hijab.”

Obama was at his most uplifting. Because he discovered America, pieced it together after his years overseas, saw it as a newcomer might, understood from experience the space it affords for personal reinvention, he brings a singular intellectual passion to the American idea: a nation of immigrants equal before the law dedicated to the proposition that among their inalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

He admonished Donald Trump, the would-be savior: “We don’t look to be ruled.” No, Americans are engaged in “self-government.” He was reminding Americans, at a critical moment, of the first words of the Constitution: “We the People.” Of every color, creed, sexuality, race, ethnicity are the people composed: That, for Obama, is America’s strength; it’s what gave him his.

In no other nation is tomorrow so vivid, yesterday so pale. Where you came from yields to American rebirth. There is no real America to take back, as Trump insists, because America’s many-hued reality is a ceaseless becoming. It is a mosaic in which a Barry Soetoro, his boyhood name in Indonesia, can become a Barry Obama and at last a proud Barack Hussein Obama — the country where, as Obama said in 2004, a “skinny kid with a funny name” finds his place.

Yet this America, whose fault lines Obama the hybrid stepped across 12 years ago, is perhaps more divided than ever as his presidency winds down. There was something about Obama’s blackness, his intellectualism, his cool distillation of problems that was intolerable to a wide swath of the white working class angered by lost jobs, lost wars, lost security and lost pride. These Americans have felt left behind. They have perceived not outreach from Obama’s White House but condescension.

More than 2.5 million members of the American armed forces have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 15 years. For a significant number of those 2.5 million families, Obama has failed to honor their sacrifice because, in his prudent realism (a “surge” in Afghanistan with a date certain to end), there is little place for the heroic American narrative.

I think a lot of this fracture was inevitable given the global economic context, and domestic political and cultural realities, within which Obama worked. Still, he could not bridge the divide; perhaps he sharpened it.

Michelle also participated in Obama’s 1996 conversation with Cook, part of which appeared in The New Yorker in 2009, and worried that her husband was “too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality” of politics. Obama talked about how Michelle was at once “completely familiar” and “a complete mystery to me in some ways” and how the tension between those two feelings “makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.”

America has been governed, for almost eight years now, by a happy, grounded man who knows how to love a woman. That has not been the least of Obama’s gifts to the nation he stitched together in his personal quest.

We were reminded of that gift last week in Philadelphia by Obama and Michelle — and are reminded every day of Trump’s threat to America’s “E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.” Trump, whose American journey has led him only to denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier, and to this arid conviction: Hatred brings a headline.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

July 18, 2016

In “Trump’s Chance to Reboot” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidate has a golden opportunity at the convention to improve his standing with the voters, but don’t count on it.  Mr. Cohen considers “Turkey’s Coup That Wasn’t” and says a failed coup in Turkey does not mean democracy is the winner. In fact Erdogan may now undermine democracy further.  Prof. Krugman, in “Both Sides Now?,” says many in the news media feel the need to set up a false equivalence between a candidate who lies repeatedly and his opponent.  He’s a voice crying in the wilderness.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As the Republican National Convention kicks off Monday, Donald Trump has a tremendous opportunity to rebrand and reboot his campaign, to make it look and feel more professional and less petulant.

Even for the people who loathe him — and there are many — the intensity of outrage inevitably wanes. This says less about those people’s commitment to their core principles or the veracity of their objections, and more about the very human propensity toward fatigue.

Sustained outrage can be exhausting. Some folks eventually succumb to resignation or tacit acceptance. That’s just the way people are built.

Outrage is a beast that needs constant feeding to remain strong, and over the last few weeks, following the killing of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the police officers in Dallas, Trump has been noticeably more in control and controversy-free.

It seems almost certain that someone has gotten through to him, convincing him that he needs to tamp down the tweets and pump up the scripted speeches.

None of this changes the essence of the man. The intolerance, bigotry and narcissism are not so easily alterable. But public personas are protean. And that’s why a convention offers an incredible opportunity for a candidate.

All Trump — or Hillary Clinton, for that matter — has to do is to move a relative few of the people who now say, “I could never…” toward a position of “I could possibly…”

Conventions offer the most unfiltered and uninterrupted visions of parties and presidential candidates during a campaign. They are about shaping a message and conveying it. They allow candidates to completely reframe the conversation and to remake people’s perceptions.

These are big-money, high-stakes, focused-attention affairs. Voters who don’t follow every machination and who don’t stay glued to the television are likely to tune in just for the pageantry and spectacle of it all.

And these conventions usually are great shows. When the political parties concentrate on their candidates and put the totality of their attention into a single message, they can even doll up the devil.

But something tells me that Trump does not have the constitutional restraint and self-interested prudence to allow this to happen.

One of Trump’s greatest flaws — putting aside for the moment his utter vileness and ignorance of virtually every issue — is that he simply can’t stop being himself. He can’t coast; he must careen. He doesn’t trust drift, only drive.

This instinct may have served him well in business (although the many bankruptcies and lawsuits, as well as the unreleased tax returns, suggest that his business acumen and personal wealth may be in some part an illusion) but it creates conditions that are prime for a cascade of errors.

Unconventional campaigns can handicap what a political convention is great at providing — clarity.

Trump seems allergic to clarity.

Just take the rollout of his vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence, about as drab and boring a public figure as one could imagine. Of course this all disguises a man who is rabidly opposed to things like gay rights and a woman’s right to choose, but the political minds inside the campaign were apparently able to convince Trump that boring was the perfect balance to his own bombast.

First he orchestrated the selection like a reality show. It was hard to know if one was watching the final decision of a candidate or the final episode of The Bachelor.

In the end, Pence prevailed, although there were rumblings and reports that Trump still had trepidations up until the last minute.

Was this Trump’s preferred choice or simply a bow to pressure? Both, according to the meandering, sleep-on-my-sofa-because-you-may-be-drunk speech Trump gave to introduce Pence. In the speech Trump said that Pence was both his “first choice” and a choice for “party unity.”

Yes, there are many in Trump’s own party who still have serious misgivings about him, who no doubt wake up occasionally like I do in a cold sweat, with the realization that this man actually will be the Republican Party’s nominee.

Pence is meant to assuage those fears.

In a way, Trump picked Pence, a man who presents as an adult, so that Trump himself can continue to behave like a child. The vice-presidential pick has the presidential disposition on the ticket. Go figure.

But this arranged marriage looks as uncomfortable as it sounds and signals a precarious prelude to a convention that holds the potential to catapult Trump into greater acceptability before the Democrats and their all-star lineup of heavy hitters pick him apart at next week’s Democratic National Convention.

It would not surprise me one iota if Trump squanders this opportunity. He is proving to be a horrible general election campaigner. The man seems tragically prone to self-sabotage. For instance, after Sunday’s killing of police officers in Baton Rouge, Trump was back to sending incendiary tweets calling America a “divided crime scene” when he should have focused on Cleveland and unity.

I will pay close attention this week to see if this candidate transforms an event that has always served as a moment of ascendance into a moment of collapse. If I were a betting man…

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

As coups go, the Turkish effort was a study in ineptitude: No serious attempt to capture or muzzle the political leadership, no leader ready to step in, no communication strategy (or even awareness of social media), no ability to mobilize a critical mass within either the armed forces or society. In their place a platoon of hapless soldiers on a bridge in Istanbul and the apparently uncoordinated targeting of a few government buildings in Ankara.

It was enough for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking on his cellphone’s FaceTime app, to call supporters into the streets for the insurrection to fold. That Erdogan will no doubt be the chief beneficiary of this turmoil, using it to further his push for an autocratic Islamist Turkey, does not mean that he staged it. The Turkish Army remains isolated from society. It is entirely plausible that a coterie of officers believed a polarized and disgruntled society would rise up once given a cue. If so, they were wrong — and the error has cost more than 260 lives.

But in Erdogan’s Turkey, mystery and instability have become the coin of the realm. It is no wonder that conspiracy theories abound. Since an electoral setback in 2015, the president has overseen a Turkey that is ever more violent. This dangerous lurch has enabled him to bounce back in a second election in November and portray himself as the anointed one averting mayhem. His attempt to blame, without any evidence, the attempted coup on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric and erstwhile ally living in Pennsylvania, forms part of a pattern of murkiness and intrigue.

Through Erdogan’s fog this much seems clear: Over 35 years after the last coup, and almost 20 years after the 1997 military intervention, Turks do not want a return to the seesawing military and civilian rule that marked the country between 1960 and 1980. On the contrary, they are attached to their democratic institutions and the constitutional order. The army, a pillar of Kemal Atatürk’s secular order, is weaker. Every major political party condemned the attempted coup. Whatever their growing anger against the president, Turks do not want to go backward.

A successful coup would have been a disaster. Erdogan has massive support in the Anatolian heartland, particularly among religious conservatives. Mosques all over the country were lit through the night as imams echoed the president’s call for people to pour into the street. There can be little doubt that any military-controlled administration would have faced a Syria-like insurgency of Islamists and others. The blow to what is left in the Middle East of democratic institutions and the rule of law would have been devastating.

No wonder President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence of bloodshed.”

But “restraint” is not part of Erdogan’s vocabulary. As Philip Gordon, a former special assistant to Obama on the Middle East, told me: “Rather than use this as an opportunity to heal divisions, Erdogan may well do the opposite: go after adversaries, limit press and other freedoms further, and accumulate even more power.” Within hours, over 2,800 military personnel had been detained and 2,745 judges removed from duty.

A prolonged crackdown on so-called “Gulenists,” whoever Erdogan deems them to be, and the Kemalist “deep state” (supporters of the old secular order) is likely. An already divided society will grow more fissured. Secular Turkey will not quickly forget the cries of “Allahu akbar” echoing from some mosques and from crowds in the streets.

A rapid push by Erdogan to reform the Constitution by referendum and create a presidency with sweeping powers is possible. He now has a case to say only such powers will keep enemies at bay.

“It may well be that democracy has triumphed in Turkey only to be strangled at a slower pace,” Jonathan Eyal, the international director at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, told me. There can be little doubt the expressions of support for Erdogan from Western capitals came through gritted teeth.

For the Obama administration, the dilemmas of the Middle East could scarcely have been more vividly illustrated. When an Egyptian general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, led a coup three years ago against the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, Obama did not support the democratic government, as he has now in Turkey. The administration even avoided use of the word “coup” in Egypt. In effect, the president sided with the generals in the name of order.

True, Morsi was deeply unpopular. The Egyptian coup had massive support. It was a fait accompli by the time Obama weighed in. Still, principles in the Middle East are worth little. Policy often amounts to choosing the least bad option.

The least bad — Erdogan’s survival — has prevailed. That does not mean much worse won’t follow. A failed coup doesn’t mean democracy is the winner. The worst of this prickly autocrat may now be unleashed upon Turkey, with America and its allies able to do little about it.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

When Donald Trump began his run for the White House, many people treated it as a joke. Nothing he has done or said since makes him look better. On the contrary, his policy ignorance has become even more striking, his positions more extreme, the flaws in his character more obvious, and he has repeatedly demonstrated a level of contempt for the truth that is unprecedented in American politics.

Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election, the margin isn’t overwhelming, and there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that distorted news coverage is the whole story, that nobody would support Trumpism if the media were doing their job. The presumptive Republican nominee wouldn’t have gotten this far if he weren’t tapping into some deep resentments. Furthermore, America is a deeply divided country, at least in its political life, and the great majority of Republicans will support their party’s nominee no matter what. Still, the fact is that voters who don’t have the time or inclination to do their own research, who get their news analysis from TV or regular news pages, are fed a daily diet of false equivalence.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. During the 2000 campaign George W. Bush was flatly dishonest about his policy proposals; his numbers didn’t add up, and he claimed repeatedly that his tax cuts, which overwhelmingly favored the 1 percent, were aimed at the middle class. Yet mainstream coverage never made this clear. In frustration, I wrote at the time that if a presidential candidate were to assert that the earth was flat, news analysis articles would have the headline “Shape of the planet: Both sides have a point.”

And Mr. Trump is far from being the only current political figure who benefits from the determination to find balance where none exists. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has a reputation as a policy wonk, committed to fiscal responsibility, that is utterly incomprehensible if you look at the slapdash, fundamentally dishonest policy documents he actually puts out. But the cult of balance requires that someone on the Republican side be portrayed as a serious, honest fiscal expert, so Mr. Ryan gets slotted into that role no matter how much a con man he may be in reality.

Still, there are con men, and then there are con men. You might think that Donald Trump, who lies so much that fact-checkers have a hard time keeping up, who keeps repeating falsehoods even after they’ve been proved wrong, and who combines all of this with a general level of thuggishness aimed in part at the press, would be too much even for the balance cultists to excuse.

But you would be wrong.

To be fair, some reporters and news organizations try to point out Trump statements that are false, frightening, or both. All too often, however, they still try to maintain their treasured balance by devoting equal time — and, as far as readers and viewers can tell, equal or greater passion — to denouncing far less important misstatements from Hillary Clinton. In fact, surveys show that Mrs. Clinton has, overall, received much more negative coverage than her opponent.

And in the last few days we’ve seen a spectacular demonstration of bothsidesism in action: an op-ed article from the incoming and outgoing heads of the White House Correspondents’ Association, with the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” How so? Well, Mr. Trump has selectively banned news organizations he considers hostile; he has also, although the op-ed didn’t mention it, attacked both those organizations and individual reporters, and refused to condemn supporters who, for example, have harassed reporters with anti-Semitic insults.

Meanwhile, while Mrs. Clinton hasn’t done any of these things, and has a staff that readily responds to fact-checking questions, she doesn’t like to hold press conferences. Equivalence!

Stung by criticism, the authors of the op-ed issued a statement denying that they had engaged in “false equivalency” — I guess saying that the candidates are acting “similarly” doesn’t mean saying that they are acting similarly. And they once again refused to indicate which candidate was behaving worse.

As I said, bothsidesism isn’t new, and it has always been an evasion of responsibility. But taking the position that “both sides do it” now, in the face of this campaign and this candidate, is an act of mind-boggling irresponsibility.

Blow and Cohen

June 27, 2016

In “White Savior, Rape and Romance?” Mr. Blow says that the full brutality of slavery is strangely missing in a retelling of a Civil War story.  Mr. Cohen, in “Britain to Leave Europe for a Lie,” says the E.U. is flawed. But the dream is noble and still worth the fight. It did not deserve to be trashed by hucksters.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

It tries desperately to cast the Civil War, and specifically dissent within the Confederacy, as more a populism-versus-elitism class struggle in which poor white men were forced to fight a rich white man’s war and protect the cotton trade, rather than equally a conflict about the moral abhorrence of black slavery.

Throughout, there is the white liberal insistence that race is merely a subordinate construction of class, with Newt himself saying at the burial of poor white characters, “somehow, some way, sometime, everybody is just somebody else’s nigger.”

And, by extension, there is the lingering suggestion of post-racialism because, as the author Victoria E. Bynum writes in the book’s preface, the relationship between Newt and Rachel “added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”

But, protruding from each of the film’s virtues are the jagged edges of its flaws.

First, there is the obvious “white savior” motif, which others have already noted.

In the book Bynum remarks, “At best, Newton Knight became a primeval Robin Hood, a kind of Anglo-Saxon Noble Savage.” But in the film there are also tired flashes of the Tarzan narrative: a white man who, dropped into a jungle, masters it better than the natives.

For instance when Newt is delivered to a swamp encampment of runaway slaves, the runaways are eating whatever they can, making fires in the hollows of trees and sleeping on the ground and in the open. By the time Newt leaves the swamp, he has grown and armed the encampment, built shelters, ambushed soldiers, organized feasts of roasted pig and corn and, as Rachel put it, he even “grew crops in a swamp.”

Newt conquered the swamp in a way the runaway slaves never had.

Second, there is little space in the film for righteous black rage and vengeance, but plenty for black humor and conciliation. After Moses, one of the runaways from the swamp, is lynched after registering blacks to vote, Newt gives his eulogy, remarking: “The man had so many reasons to be full of hate, and yet he never was. That, Lord, is one of your greatest miracles.” This is too often the way people want to think of black folks in the wake of trauma: as magically, transcendently merciful and spiritually restrained.

But perhaps the most disturbing feature of the film is the near erasure of slavery altogether and the downplaying of slave rape in particular to further a Shakespearean love story.

First, there are only two slaves of note in the film who are shown still in servitude, and both apparently house slaves: Rachel and a man named George.

Although Bynum points out that Newt’s part of Mississippi “was not a major slaveholding region,” the movie reduced slavery to an ancillary ephemerality and purges it of too much of its barbarism.

One of the only hints at the savagery of the institution is the rape of Rachel by her enslaver, but even that is treated so delicately as to offend — he approaches as her eyes dart. This is particularly perplexing in a film that relishes its gore. Later, when Newton notices a plate-sized stain of blood seeping through the back of her dress, she says tearfully:

“I wouldn’t let him. All the other times I just let him. What could I do?”

This genteel treatment, along with grossly inappropriate descriptors, appears in the book as well, when the author writes:

“Through encounters with women such as Rachel, Newt knew that white men regularly crossed the color line despite laws and social taboos that forbade interracial liaisons and marriages. Rachel, light-skinned and physically attractive, was the sort of slave after whom many white men lusted. The fact that she had a white-skinned child announced to interested men that she had already been ‘initiated’ into the world of interracial sexual relations.”

Encounters? Liaisons? Initiated? Sexual relations?

As long as she was a slave this was rape! Always. Period.

Also, according to the book, Newt’s grandfather bought Rachel when she was 16 and she already had “a small daughter” — which means that her rape likely started at an odiously young age.

This fascinating story was full of cinematic and educational potential, but there are so many moments in the film that strike a sour chord — particularly coming from a Hollywood that delivers a dearth of black-focused stories — that rather than contextualizing and clarifying, it performs the passive violence of distortion.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

I have been overcome by gloom since Britain voted to leave the European Union. It’s not just the stupidity of the decision. It’s not merely the lies of the charlatans who led the “Leave” campaign. It’s not only the absence, now so evident, of any “Nextit.” It’s not even the betrayal of British youth. It’s far more: a personal loss. Europa, however flawed, was the dream of my generation. The European Union was an entity, bloodless noun, yet it had a beating heart.

Riding a European train, gazing at the lines of swaying poplars, the villages huddled around their church spires, it was often impossible, at least for me, not to look past the tranquility to the blood-seeped soil and the tens of millions who gave their lives in Europe’s collective suicides. Well, as the Germans say, we had the blessing of late birth; and the duty inherent in that blessing was to build a united Europe.

Covering the European Parliament between 1980 and 1982, I would drive down from Brussels to Strasbourg. The Parliament was a bit of a farce. Unwieldy bundles of documents translated into Europe’s many languages were carted back and forth. Yet, in its cumbersome way, the Parliament embodied something important: the hard trade-offs of European construction, union conjured from Babel.

When I moved to Italy, with its large Communist Party and spasms of political violence, I would hear how “scaling the Alps” into the core of Europe was critical to the country’s stability. The E.U. was insurance against the worst. For Mediterranean countries like Spain and Portugal that emerged from dictatorship in the 1970s it was something close to salvation.

Memories: feckless Europe at the time of the Bosnian war and the thirst, nonetheless, of the small nations reborn in Yugoslavia’s death to join the European Union and escape the bloody Balkan gyre. Watching Germany move its capital back to Berlin from Bonn in 1999 and thinking, the German question is solved and Europe is home free! Driving, when I lived in Berlin, into Poland and pinching myself to recall the unspeakable suffering overcome by German-Polish reconciliation as Poland prepared for E.U. membership.

No miracle was ever so dull. Britain tended to see the E.U. in prosaic terms: It had not been delivered from ignominy or tyranny by European integration. Still, it gave the union heft, a free-market prod, a universal language and its second-largest economy. It was that recalcitrant member any good club needs.

Sure, the challenges mounted. The 30-year postwar economic miracle ended — and with it full employment. The Franco-German balance at the heart of the union collapsed. German dominance stirred unease. The creation of a single currency, the euro, was bungled. The admission of former Communist states spurred large migrant movements. The European welfare state was strained. Resentments multiplied.

Technology accelerated globalization, pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in Asia but also offshoring millions of European jobs. Societies disaggregated. For each City honcho receiving a daily Christmas delivery from Amazon Prime there was some poor sod out there in Nowheresville working a precarious warehouse nightshift packaging stuff.

Britain, too, now has its “flyover country,” a nationalist heartland distant from the metropolis. This is how globalization divides the world.

Boris Johnson understood, in his scurrilous way, that the E.U. had become a perfect scapegoat for Western societies beset by the dilemmas of modernity. Opposed to Brexit early this year, he became its chief advocate, playing on every base instinct. Brexit was a tool, a plaything, never a principle. If he looks so glum in triumph it is because the adrenalin has run out.

There will be no extra $470 million for the National Health Service from European Union savings, after all. Immigration is not about to fall. Some of the regions that voted for Brexit are also those that get most funds from Brussels. “There is now no need for haste,” Johnson says. Oh, really? “We are part of Europe, our children and our grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans,” he says. Oh, please!

If Johnson becomes prime minister in the fall, he will be an unelected leader, just like all those “unaccountable” high rollers in Brussels. When he tries to extricate Britain from the union, he will face a hostile Parliament. Last time I checked, Britain was a parliamentary, not direct, democracy. So perhaps there is still hope. If words mean their opposite, as they do in Johnson’s mouth, anything is possible. Europa is worth the fight.

The union, for all its failings, did not deserve to be betrayed by a huckster. It will not die because of this imbecilic vote, but something broke — a form of optimism about humankind, the promise of 1989.

My children will not inherit the Europe I hoped for. I look at my hands and see my father’s emerging, the veins now more pronounced. Life feels diminished. Some things are unavoidable. This was not.

Cohen and Collins

June 25, 2016

In “Britain’s Brexit Leap in the Dark” Mr. Cohen says a decisive vote to leave the E.U. reveals rage against the elites. An era of extreme volatility has dawned.  (For various values of “decisive” I guess.)  Ms. Collins, in “Tax Dodging on the High Seas,” says while  many of the biggest cruise lines appear to be headquartered in Florida, they are, for tax purposes, actually proud residents of … elsewhere.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British have given the world’s political, financial and business establishment a massive kick in the teeth by voting to leave the European Union, a historic decision that will plunge Britain into uncertainty for years to come and reverses the integration on which the Continent’s stability has been based.

Warnings about the dire consequences of a British exit from President Barack Obama, Britain’s political leaders, major corporations based in Britain and the International Monetary Fund proved useless. If anything, they goaded a mood of defiant anger against those very elites.

This resentment has its roots in many things but may be summed up as a revolt against global capitalism. To heck with the experts and political correctness was the predominant mood in the end. A majority of Britons had no time for the politicians that brought the world a disastrous war in Iraq, the 2008 financial meltdown, European austerity, stagnant working-class wages, high immigration and tax havens for the super-rich.

That some of these issues have no direct link to the European Union or its much-maligned Brussels bureaucrats did not matter. It was a convenient target in this restive moment that has also made Donald Trump the presumptive Republican nominee — and may now take him further still on a similar wave of nativism and anti-establishment rage.

David Cameron, the British prime minister prodded into holding the referendum by the right of his Conservative Party, said he would resign, staying on in a caretaker capacity for a few months. This was the right call, and an inevitable one. He has led the country into a debacle.

The pound duly plunged some 10 percent to its lowest level since 1985. Global markets were rattled. Mainstream European politicians lamented a sad day for Europe and Britain; rightists like Marine Le Pen in France exulted. The world has entered a period of grave volatility.

Ever-greater unity was a foundation stone since the 1950s not only of peace in Europe, putting an end to the repetitive wars that had ravaged generations of Europeans, but also of the global political order. Now all bets are off. A process of European unraveling may have begun. A core assumption of American foreign policy — that a united Europe had overcomes its divisions — has been undermined.

Geert Wilders, the right-wing anti-immigrant Dutch politician, promptly tweeted: “Hurrah for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum!” The European Union is more vulnerable than at any point since its inception. The sacred images of old — like French President François Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl hand-in-hand at Verdun — have lost their resonance. The travails of the euro, the tide of immigration (both within the European Union from poorer to richer members and from outside), and high unemployment have led to an eerie collective loss of patience, prudence and memory. Anything but this has become a widespread sentiment; irrationality is in the air.

The colossal leap in the dark that a traditionally cautious people — the British — were prepared to take has to be taken seriously. It suggests that other such leaps could occur elsewhere, perhaps in Trump’s America. A Trump victory in November is more plausible now because it has an immediate precedent in a developed democracy ready to trash the status quo for the high-risk unknown.

Fifty-two percent of the British population was ready to face higher unemployment, a weaker currency, possible recession, political turbulence, the loss of access to a market of a half-billion people, a messy divorce that may take as long as two years to complete, a very long subsequent negotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and the tortuous redrafting of laws and trade treaties and environmental regulations — all for what the right-wing leader Nigel Farage daftly called “Independence Day.” Britain was a sovereign nation before this vote in every significant sense. It remains so. Estrangement Day would be more apt.

The English were also prepared to risk something else: the break-up of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56 percent to 44 percent. The Scots will now likely seek a second referendum on independence.

Divisions were not only national. London voted overwhelmingly to remain. But the countryside, small towns and hard-hit industrial provincial industrial centers voted overwhelmingly to leave and carried the day. A Britain fissured between a liberal, metropolitan class centered in London and the rest was revealed.

Europe’s failings — and they have been conspicuous over the past decade — are simply not sufficient to explain what Britain has done to itself. This was a vote against the global economic and social order that the first 16 years of the 21st century have produced. Where it leads is unclear. The worst is not inevitable but it is plausible. Britain will remain an important power. But it will punch beneath its weight. It faces serious, long-term political and economic risk.

Anger was most focused on the hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into Britain each year, most from other European Union nations like Poland. Farage’s U.K. Independence Party, abetted by much of the press, was able to whip up a storm that conflated E.U. immigration with the trickle from the Middle East. Wild myths, like imminent Turkish membership of the European Union, were cultivated. Violence entered the campaign on a wave of xenophobia and take-our-country back rhetoric.

In this light, it is not surprising that Trump supporters were delighted. Sarah Palin welcomed the “good news.” One tweet from a supporter read: “I’m thrilled with U.K. 1st step — time 4 all the dominoes 2 fall, every country to leave & end the E.U.”

Trump arrived in Britain on Friday, a timely visit. He said the vote to quit the E.U. was “a great thing” and the British “took back their country.” He did not say from whom, but the specter of our times is a dark, controlling global force stealing national identity.

It is quite likely that Cameron’s successor will be Boris Johnson, the bombastic, mercurial and sometimes fact-lite former London mayor with his trademark mop of blond hair. Johnson was a leader of the campaign for “Brexit”; he may now reap his political reward. The Era of the Hair looms.

Timothy Garton Ash, the historian, paraphrasing Churchill on democracy, wrote before the referendum that: “The Europe we have today is the worst possible Europe, apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time.”

It was a wise call to prudence in the imperfect real world. Now, driven by myths about sovereignty and invading hordes, Britain has ushered in another time of treacherous trial for the European Continent and for itself.

My nephew wrote on Facebook that he had never been less proud of his country. I feel the same way about the country I grew up in and left.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s criticize cruise ships.

I know, I know. Things are bad enough without going negative about your summer vacation. But we’ve got some problems here. Plus, I promise there will be a penguin.

The cruise industry seems to be exploding — the newest generation of ships can carry more than 5,000 passengers. They make a great deal of profit from the sale of alcohol, so imagine the equivalent of a small city whose inhabitants are perpetually drunk.

Really, these things are so huge, it’s amazing they can stay afloat without toppling over. And when one is parked outside, say, Venice, the effect is like one of those alien-invasion movies, when people wake up and find that a spaceship the size of Toledo has landed downtown. (Venetians also claim the ships are causing waves in their canals.) Environmentalists wring their hands over the air pollution and sewage a 3,000-passenger ship, which today would rank as medium-size, produces 21,000 gallons of sewage a day, sometimes treated and sometimes not so much. But always pumped into the sea.

And, as long as we’re complaining, let’s point out that noise from the ships is messing with the whales. Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council says cruises en route to Alaska “routinely drown out the calls of the endangered orcas” trying to communicate. The NRDC has a new film, “Sonic Sea,” that features audio of a whale conversation being obliterated by an approaching cruise ship. The effect is sort of like what you’d experience if you were having a meaningful chat with friends on the patio and a trailer-tractor full of disco dancers suddenly drove into the back yard.

Thanks to global warming, cruise lines will soon be able to sail the Northwest Passage, so the Arctic will have both more melting ice and more 13-deck ships. Antarctica hosted 30,000 visitors last year. Doesn’t that seem like a lot for such a fragile place? Also, an opera singer who was entertaining passengers on one cruise went ashore to sing “O Sole Mio” and caused a penguin stampede. This is not really a problem you need to worry about, but it was a pretty interesting moment.

While many of the biggest cruise lines appear to be headquartered in Florida, they are, for tax purposes, actually proud residents of … elsewhere. “Carnival is a Panamanian corporation; Royal Caribbean is Liberian,” said Ross Klein, who tracks the industry through his Cruise Junkie website.

Although, of course, if one of the ships needs help, it will often be the American taxpayer-funded Coast Guard that comes to the rescue. The Coast Guard doesn’t charge for its services, a spokesman said, because “we don’t want people to hesitate” to summon help when passengers are in danger. This attitude is commendable. But the no-taxes part is not.

“Cruise lines do pay taxes,” protested a spokesman for the industry, counting off a number of levies for things like customs, and examination of animals and plants being brought into the country. Not the same thing.

We’re constantly hearing complaints in Congress about American companies that relocate their headquarters overseas for tax avoidance. But when do you hear anybody mentioning the cruise industry’s Panamanian connection? The cruise companies may not really live here, but they certainly can lobby here.

“Powerful is an understatement,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He’s the sponsor of a bill that would increase consumer protection for cruise passengers. The bill, which can’t even get a committee hearing, would also require the ships to have up-to-date technology that detects when passengers fall overboard. Now this would seem like something you’d expect them to have around.

An average of about 20 people fall off cruise ships every year, which the industry points out is only about one in a million travelers. But still, I suspect that passengers work under the assumption that if they do somehow wind up in the water, someone will notice. This spring, a 33-year-old American woman disappeared during a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. No one realized she was gone for 10 hours, and by the time searchers could start looking for her, the area they needed to cover was more than 4,000 square miles. While it’s the least thing anyone worries about when a person is missing at sea, let us point out once again that it was the taxpayer-funded Coast Guard doing the searching.

The cruise industry says the overboard technology hasn’t been perfected. Blumenthal says it’s been well tested. Seems like the sort of disagreement that would be easy to resolve with … a committee hearing.

Most cruise vacationers seem to enjoy their experience — the industry says nearly 90 percent declare themselves satisfied. It’s not our business to get in between anybody and an ocean breeze. Our requests are modest, really: Make the cruise ship companies that are, for all practical purposes, American pay American taxes. Leave the whales alone. Give that bill a committee hearing. And stop scaring the penguins.

A hearing?  Surely you jest…

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 17, 2016

In “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor” Bobo gurgles that terrorism isn’t central to Islam, and terrorists aren’t practicing religion.  In the comments “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL had this to say:  “David Brooks is misrepresenting Obama’s position. He is not “asserting that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”. He is simply saying that by avoiding its usage he is preventing his words from being conflated by extremists to apply to all of Islam. Most devoutly religious people and Republicans don’t do verbal nuance, they do dogma, distortion, and demonization.”  Mr. Cohen says “Brexit Would Be a Colossal Blunder” and that a British vote to leave would be a colossal risk to no good end.  In “Fear, Loathing and Brexit” Prof. Krugman says Britons have a choice between bad and worse.  Here’s Bobo:

Barack Obama is clearly wrong when he refuses to use the word “Islam” in reference to Islamist terrorism. The people who commit these acts are inflamed by a version of an Islamist ideology. They claim an Islamist identity. They swear fealty to organizations like ISIS that govern themselves according to certain interpretations of the Quran.

As Peter Bergen writes in his book “The United States of Jihad,” “Assertions that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam are as nonsensical as claims that the Crusades had nothing to do with Christian beliefs about the sanctity of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Donald Trump is abhorrently wrong in implying that these attacks are central to Islam. His attempt to ban Muslim immigration is an act of bigotry (applying the sins of the few to the whole group), which is sure to incite more terrorism. His implication that we are in a clash of civilizations is an insult to those Muslims who have risked and lost their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban.

The problem is that these two wrongs are feeding off each other. Obama is using language to engineer a reaction rather than to tell the truth, which is the definition of propaganda. Most world leaders talk about Islamist terror, but Obama apparently thinks that if he uses the phrase “Islamic radicalism” the rest of us will be too dim to be able to distinguish between the terrorists and the millions of good-hearted Muslims who want only to live in fellowship and peace.

Worst of all, his decision to dance around an unpleasant reality is part of the enveloping cloud of political correctness that drives people to Donald Trump. Millions of Americans feel they can’t say what they think, or even entertain views outside the boundaries laid down by elites, and so are drawn to the guy who rails against taboos and says what he believes.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11 we still haven’t arrived at a true understanding of our enemy. How much is religion involved in jihadism, or psychology, or politics?

And the core of our confusion is that we are unclear about what a religion is, and how it might relate to violence sometimes carried out in its name.

For clarity on that question, it helps to start with William James’s classic work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” In that book, James distinguishes between various religious experiences and “religion’s wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion’s wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law.”

In other words, there is the spirit of religion and, frequently accompanying it, its wicked neighbors, the spirit of political and intellectual dominion.

It seems blindingly obvious to say, but the spirit of religion begins with a sense that God exists. God is the primary reality, and out of that flows a set of values and experiences: prayer, praise, charity, contrition, grace and the desire to grow closer toward holiness. Sincere faith begins with humility in relation to the Almighty and a sense of being strengthened by his infinite love.

In some sense the phrase “Islamic radicalism” is wrong because terrorism is not a radical extension of this kind of faith. People don’t start out with this kind of faith and then turn into terrorists because they became more faithful.

The spirit of dominion, on the other hand, does not start with an awareness of God. It starts with a sense of injury and a desire to heal injury through revenge and domination.

For the terrorist, a sense of humiliation is the primary reality. Terrorism emerges from a psychic state, not a spiritual one. This turns into a grievance, the belief that some external enemy is the cause of this injury, rather than some internal weakness.

This then leads to what the forensic psychologist Reid Meloy calls “vicarious identification” — the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimization is connected to the larger victimization of my group.

It’s only at this point in the pathway that religion enters the picture, or rather an absolutist, all-explaining political ideology that is the weed that grows up next to religion. Bin Ladinism explains all of history, and gives the injured a course of action that will make them feel grandiose and heroic. It is the human impulse for dominance and revenge that borrows righteous garb.

For the religious person it’s about God. For the terrorist, it’s about himself. When Omar Mateen was in the midst of his rampage, he was posting on Facebook and calling a TV station. His audience was us, not the Divine.

Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was martyring himself in the name of holiness. He was actually a sad loser obliterating himself for the sake of revenge.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Bari, Italy:

The prospect that Britain might next week commit an act of national folly by voting to leave the European Union has politicians throughout Europe alarmed. Integration has been the Continent’s leitmotif for more than six decades. Fracture would suddenly be underway. And what would be left?

“If a British withdrawal were seen by Germany as opening the way to govern Europe as a Germanic federation, the European Union will fall apart,” Michele Emiliano, the president of the southern Puglia region, told me in an interview. “Europe can only function as a union of equal states. Under German dominion, it would contain the genes of its dissolution.”

Germany has already become what the postwar strategic architecture of Europe was designed to prevent: the Continent’s most powerful nation. But Britain, through the size of its economy, has played an offsetting role. Absent Britain, Germany would loom larger still, a source of alarm to the economically weaker Mediterranean states.

Postwar Italy was fragile, torn between the West and Communism, between “scaling the Alps” and succumbing to the Mafia-suffused inertia of the south, or mezzogiorno. European Union membership was the country’s anchor and magnet, securing it in the free and democratic Western family, luring it toward prosperity. Now that role is played most conspicuously for newer members of the union. But its importance persists.

Emiliano, a former mafia-combating public prosecutor, heads a region that is its own tribute to the union’s quiet miracles. Puglia, long a languishing part of the chronically underdeveloped south, is now an area of fast-growing industry and tourism, the poster child of the generally depressed mezzogiorno. Like other outlying regions of the E.U., it has been slowly tugged through stability toward the living standards of the European core.

In a Facebook post, Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times of London, put these European Union achievements well. “Contrary to the cartoon caricature of the E.U. we read about in the national press,” he wrote, the union “has cemented peace in Europe. It allows younger generations to live and work anywhere in Europe in a way my generation could only dream about. It has vastly simplified travel across the Continent. It has brought Eastern Europe into the family of free, democratic nations after decades of Soviet control. It has broken up powerful monopolies and cartels in a way national governments acting alone could not. It has forced member states to clean up the environment.”

He continued: “We would be willfully removing ourselves from a single market of 500 million people without the faintest idea whether, or on what terms, we would be allowed to continue trading with 27 E.U. states who would want to punish us. Why on earth would we take such a monumental risk?”

The answer is that this huge gamble would be taken for the chimera of restored “sovereignty.” It would reflect petulant nationalism, base bigotry and laughable little England pretensions. Fletcher expressed the reality behind all this with laconic bluntness: “As a single country we would have minimal influence on world affairs. Does anyone seriously think the prospect of British sanctions would alarm Vladimir Putin, or have persuaded Iran to curtail its nuclear program?”

The European Union has significant failings, many of them precipitated by the sudden end of the Cold War, the reach to embrace states formerly enslaved in Moscow’s imperium, and the flawed attempt to contain a united Germany by integrating it into a common currency called the euro. It is, as an overarching European structure, short on democracy and long on bureaucracy. But, as Italy’s postwar development demonstrates, its achievements far outweigh its problems, which Britain could play a leading role in addressing.

“Politics is about seizing the moment, interpreting what history has given you the responsibility to do,” Emiliano told me. “Thanks to the Americans who landed on Sicilian beaches, I have the freedom to speak and you the freedom to write. I never forget this. If politics is not about respecting the past to secure the future, it is merely a mirror you gaze in, a form of narcissism.”

Such narcissism is rampant in Britain and America these days. For Britain to succumb to its delusions and leave the union would be a colossal blunder of historic proportions.

When in Italy, I often think of my late uncle, Bert Cohen, who, as an officer of the 6th South African Armored Division, 19th Field Ambulance, fought the entire Italian campaign, moving up the peninsula from south to north. After the Allied victory, he visited Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, on September 2, 1945, and went up to Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest. He etched his name on the Führer’s table.

What sweet retribution to have “Cohen” inscribed there!

Later, he made his life in Britain — the home of a freedom that, to him, was not insular but European and universal. To vote out would also betray that inscription and all it stands for.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are still four and a half months to go before the presidential election. But there’s a vote next week that could matter as much for the world’s future as what happens here: Britain’s referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

Unfortunately, this vote is a choice between bad and worse — and the question is which is which.

Not to be coy: I would vote Remain. I’d do it in full awareness that the E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming. But British exit — Brexit — would probably make things worse, not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole.

The straight economics is clear: Brexit would make Britain poorer. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to a trade war, but it would definitely hurt British trade with the rest of Europe, reducing productivity and incomes. My rough calculations, which are in line with other estimates, suggest that Britain would end up about two percent poorer than it would otherwise be, essentially forever. That’s a big hit.

There’s also a harder to quantify risk that Brexit would undermine the City of London — Britain’s counterpart of Wall Street — which is a big source of exports and income. So the costs could be substantially bigger.

What about warnings that a Leave vote would provoke a financial crisis? That’s a fear too far. Britain isn’t Greece: It has its own currency and borrows in that currency, so it’s not at risk of a run that creates monetary chaos. In recent weeks the odds of a Leave vote have clearly risen, but British interest rates have gone down, not up, tracking the global decline in yields.

Still, as an economic matter Brexit looks like a bad idea.

True, some Brexit advocates claim that leaving the E.U. would free Britain to do wonderful things — to deregulate and unleash the magic of markets, leading to explosive growth. Sorry, but that’s just voodoo wrapped in a Union Jack; it’s the same free-market fantasy that has always and everywhere proved delusional.

No, the economic case is as solid as such cases ever get. Why, then, my downbeat tone about Remain?

Part of the answer is that the impacts of Brexit would be uneven: London and southeast England would be hit hard, but Brexit would probably mean a weaker pound, which might actually help some of the old manufacturing regions of the north.

More important, however, is the sad reality of the E.U. that Britain might leave.

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

You can argue that the problems caused by, say, Romanians using the National Health Service are exaggerated, and that the benefits of immigration greatly outweigh these costs. But that’s a hard argument to make to a public frustrated by cuts in public services — especially when the credibility of pro-E.U. experts is so low.

For that is the most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly.

The question, however, is whether a British vote to leave would make anything better. It could serve as a salutary shock that finally jolts European elites out of their complacency and leads to reform. But I fear that it would actually make things worse. The E.U.’s failures have produced a frightening rise in reactionary, racist nationalism — but Brexit would, all too probably, empower those forces even more, both in Britain and all across the Continent.

Obviously I could be wrong about these political consequences. But it’s also possible that my despair over European reform is exaggerated. And here’s the thing: As Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis points out, Britain will still have the option to leave the E.U. someday if it votes Remain now, but Leave will be effectively irreversible. You have to be really, really sure that Europe is unfixable to support Brexit.

So I’d vote Remain. There would be no joy in that vote. But a choice must be made, and that’s where I’d come down.

Friedman, Cohen, and Collins

June 8, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom says we should “Dump the G.O.P. for a Grand New Party.”  He tells us that after much selling out, the Republican Party has become morally bankrupt. We need a New Republican Party to support a healthy two-party system.  Gee, Tommy — how many Friedman Units did it take you to figure that out?  Mr. Cohen considers “Kerrey’s Vietnam Dilemma” and says former  Senator Bob Kerrey should not quit his role at the new Fulbright University Vietnam, despite an outcry over his war record.  Ms. Collins, in “What Hillary Imagines,” says she asked her to pick one person from the past to tell about her historic victory. And, nope, she didn’t pick Susan B. Anthony.  Here’s TMOW:

If a party could declare moral bankruptcy, today’s Republican Party would be in Chapter 11.

This party needs to just shut itself down and start over — now. Seriously, someone please start a New Republican Party!

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.

But this Republican Party is none of those things. Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value proposition, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.

It is just an empty shell, selling pieces of itself to the highest bidders, — policy by policy — a little to the Tea Party over here, a little to Big Oil over there, a little to the gun lobby, to antitax zealots, to climate-change deniers. And before you know it, the party stands for an incoherent mess of ideas unrelated to any theory of where the world is going or how America actually becomes great again in the 21st century.

It becomes instead a coalition of men and women who sell pieces of their brand to whoever can most energize their base in order for them to get re-elected in order for them to sell more pieces of their brand in order to get re-elected.

And we know just how little they are attached to any principles, because today’s Republican Party’s elders have told us so by (with a few notable exceptions) being so willing to throw their support behind a presidential candidate whom they know is utterly ignorant of policy, has done no homework, has engaged in racist attacks on a sitting judge, has mocked a disabled reporter, has impugned an entire religious community, and has tossed off ignorant proposals for walls, for letting allies go it alone and go nuclear and for overturning trade treaties, rules of war and nuclear agreements in ways that would be wildly destabilizing if he took office.

Despite that, all top G.O.P. leaders say they will still support Donald Trump — even if he’s dabbled in a “textbook definition” of racism, as House Speaker Paul Ryan described it — because he will sign off on their agenda and can do only limited damage given our checks and balances.

Really? Mr. Speaker, your agenda is a mess, Trump will pay even less attention to you if he is president and, as Senator Lindsey Graham rightly put it, there has to be a time “when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Will it ever be that time with this version of the G.O.P.?

Et tu, John McCain? You didn’t break under torture from the North Vietnamese, but your hunger for re-election is so great that you don’t dare raise your voice against Trump? I hope you lose. You deserve to. Marco Rubio? You called Trump “a con man,” he insults your very being and you still endorse him? Good riddance.

Chris Christie, have you not an ounce of self-respect? You’re serving as the valet to a man who claimed, falsely, that on 9/11, in Jersey City, home to many Arab-Americans, “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.” Christie is backing a man who made up a baldfaced lie about residents of his own state so that maybe he can be his vice president. Contemptible.

This is exactly why so many Republican voters opted for Trump in the first place. They intuited that the only thing these G.O.P. politicians were interested in was holding onto their seats in office — and they were right. It made voters so utterly cynical that many figured, Why not inflict Trump on them? It’s all just a con game anyway. And at least Trump sticks it to all of those politically correct liberals. And anyway, governing doesn’t matter — only attitude.

And who taught them that?

But it does matter. I know so many thoughtful conservatives who know it matters. One of them has got to start the N.R.P. — New Republican Party — a center-right party liberated from all the Trump birthers, the Sarah Palins, the Grover Norquists, the Sean Hannitys, the Rush Limbaughs, the gun lobby, the oil lobby and every other narrow-interest group, a party that redefines a principled conservatism. Raise your money for it on the internet. If Bernie Sanders can, you can.

This is such a pivotal moment; the world we shaped after W.W. II is going wobbly. This is a time for America to be at its best, defending its best values, which are now under assault in so many places — pluralism, immigration, democracy, trade, the rule of law and the virtue of open societies. Trump will never be a credible messenger, or a messenger at all, for those values. A New Republican Party can be.

If you build it, they will come.

With all due respect, Tommy, bullshit.  The proles have voted for what could be expected after 40 years of Republican dog whistle politics.  The only difference is that Trump has put down the dog whistle and picked up a klaxon.  And now, of course, TPTB in Washington have all taken to their fainting couches, clutching their pearls, and wondering how on earth it has all come to this…  You sowed the wind, now you’re reaping the whirlwind.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Ho Chi Minh City:

Lives can turn in an instant. For former Senator Bob Kerrey, that moment came on Feb. 25, 1969, when, as a young lieutenant in the Navy SEALs, he led his squad into the Vietnamese village of Thanh Phong. By the time they withdrew, 20 civilians had been slaughtered, including 13 children, according to survivors.

“It haunted me from the moment we pulled out of the area,” Kerrey told me in a telephone conversation. “I knew we had done something wrong. I did not walk away saying that was great. It did not go away. But if you don’t adjust you end your life, and we are talking, so I did not end my life.”

In fact, Kerrey went to work to build a special relationship between the United States and Vietnam. He was an early advocate of the normalization through which many wounds have healed. Trade has flourished. The rapturous reception extended last month to President Obama — the warmest accorded by any nation during his presidency, as he confided to an American diplomat — was a measure of an almost miraculous reconciliation.

One area in which Kerrey has worked hard is education, both as senator and later as president of the New School in New York. For many years he helped to raise money for a project Obama announced: the opening of the Fulbright University Vietnam, the first such private institution in the country. Financed in part by the U.S. Congress, the school will accept its first students next year. Kerrey has been named chairman of the board.

The appointment has ignited a storm. From cafes to Facebook a debate rages on whether Kerrey is fit to head the university. Some people say that, whatever his contrition, his admission that he ordered the killing in cold blood of Vietnamese women and children disqualifies him. (Whether Kerrey himself killed civilians is still disputed.)

Kerrey was awarded a Bronze Star after his unit falsely reported that it had killed 21 Vietcong guerrillas. For more than 30 years he kept silent until The New York Times and CBS News were about to publish a joint investigation in 2001.

I asked Kerrey if all his efforts on behalf of Vietnam had a redemptive purpose. He said the episode and his work were “a double helix,” inseparable from each other. I asked him about his long silence. “For a soldier in a war,” he said, “to keep silent is not an anomaly but a rule.” I asked him about the medal. “I have never worn it,” he said, “and the anger would not end if I mailed it back to the Department of Defense.”

It is human — in fact it is uniquely human — to seek redemption. The crime begets a reproachful whisper that will not be stilled. In every war I have covered, from Beirut to Bosnia, I have listened to men (always men) recount moments that left shame — the terrorizing of a child in a quest for intelligence, the abandonment of a son encircled by the enemy. More than one million innocent Vietnamese civilians were killed; Kerrey’s story is one of many. We were not there in the heat, in the night, in that tension, with that responsibility. I listen to Kerrey and think: There but for the grace of God go I.

“I don’t believe in redemption,” Kerrey told me. “Do good deeds undo a bad deed? I don’t think that. You cannot change your past. You can only change the future.”

To go through this pain again (“Part of me wants to run away from it,” he told me) is a gauge of Kerrey’s commitment. It is brave. I understand Pham Thuy Huong of Hanoi, who wrote on Facebook, “I cannot look at his face.” I listen to Kerrey and think also of Bui Van Vat, a 65-year-old grandfather whose throat was slit, survivors said. The elevation of peace over grievance involves wrestling with impossible moral dilemmas. Acceptance that there is no wholly satisfactory answer is part of moving forward.

Nguyen Ngoc Chu, a mathematician, suggested in a statement supporting Kerrey that there were valuable lessons in the discussion for the university’s first students: that every judgment requires historical context; that successful people live for the future rather than in past hatreds.

Certainly, this unusually vigorous and open debate is an example of what the university should embody in a country under one-party rule. As Ben Wilkinson, the executive director of the Trust for University Innovation in Vietnam, the nonprofit corporation behind the project, told me, “The university will be a major advance for organized civil society.”

Kerrey should resist calls to quit. As no other, he embodies the agony of overcoming war’s legacy. But he should send back that medal. He should push for the establishment of a Bui Van Vat fellowship in international humanitarian law. And he should ensure that somewhere on campus the words with which Muhammad Ali explained his conscience-driven refusal of the draft are engraved: “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Hillary Clinton. First woman presidential nominee.

Okay, of a major political party. We’re not going into the minor-party exceptions since that would require a lengthy discussion of Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Under normal circumstances, Woodhull would certainly be worth talking about, given the faith healing and the brokerage firm and the obscenity trial. But this is Hillary’s moment.

“It’s really emotional,” she said in a speech this week. Clinton brings up the first-woman thing a lot, and the idea of showing little girls that they can be “anything you want to be. Even President of the United States.” For many young women, that’s actually old news, since Hillary the potential president has been around most of their lives. Back when she was first elected to the Senate in 2000, the coverage was so omnipresent that my niece Anna, who was around 3, asked my sister whether it was possible for a man to be a senator.

The people who get most excited are the ones who remember how things used to be, back when girls couldn’t envision being in the Little League, let alone the White House. And can you imagine going back in history and sharing Clinton’s news with the suffragists? This is one of my favorite mind games – pretend you’re returning to 1872 and telling the story to Susan B. Anthony while she was being handcuffed for the crime of voting while female.

Or there’s the other route of telling some historical figure who would faint with horror. Like Thomas Jefferson – wouldn’t you want to see his face? We all know how good Jefferson was on freedom of speech, but he was possibly the worst sexist in the very competitive group known as the Founding Fathers. (“Our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate.”)

But Clinton wouldn’t want this to be a moment for rancor. So I asked for her own pick.

And her answer was: if she could go into the past to tell someone that she’d been nominated for President of the United States, it would be her mother.

Dorothy Rodham had an auspicious date of birth — June 4, 1919, the very same day the Senate passed a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. But otherwise, she had a terrible beginning. Her parents abandoned her. At 8, she was riding across the country, unaccompanied except for her younger sister, on the way to live with grandparents who didn’t want them. She went off on her own at 14, working as a housekeeper during the Depression. But she got herself through high school, was a good student and raised her own daughter to believe the sky was the limit.

Before we head off on the rest of this deeply imperfect election, take a second and enjoy. Imagine Hillary Clinton going back in time. She sits in the train next to a frightened little girl, and delivers the news about what happened this week.


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