Archive for the ‘Cohen’ Category

Friedman and Cohen

August 23, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom sends us “From Kabul to Baghdad, My Bird’s-Eye View.”  He says a five-nation tour offered a close look at the war on terror and disturbing context for Trump’s plans for Afghanistan.  Mr. Cohen addresses “Trump’s Afghan Illusions” and tells us that the new Afghan strategy is a mess because it has no diplomatic component.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Baghdad:

I just spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. So President Trump’s speech on Monday night was very timely for me. It was also unnerving.

It was so full of bombast and clichés, so larded with phrases like “we will break their will,” so lacking in details and, most of all, so lacking in humility in confronting a problem and a region that has vexed better men for ages that I still don’t know where he’s going — only that he is going there very definitively.

I totally agreed with the president’s remarks that our men and women serving in the Middle East “deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.” But the rank hypocrisy of this man — who has done so much to divide us in recent months to satisfy only his “base” — using our troops as a prop to extol the virtues of national unity made me sick to my stomach.

It also made me recall a lunch I had last week in the mess hall at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, with Chief Master Sgt. Cory Olson from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Olson explained that working in Afghanistan he was really disconnected from all the political turmoil in America.

And then he told me this story: “I was talking to this civilian contractor the other day who just came back from a couple of weeks’ home leave in Dallas. And this guy told me he was really relieved to get back to ‘reality’ in Kabul — because the politics back home was so crazy.”

You know that American politics has jumped the rails when a U.S. contractor is relieved to get back from America to his little base in Afghanistan.

Anyway, enough of that. Since I can’t explain Trump’s Middle East, let me explain what I saw here — three things in particular: I saw a new way of mounting warfare by the United States in Iraq. I saw in this new warfare a strategy that offers at least a glimmer of hope for Iraq, if and when ISIS is defeated. But, though only a glimpse, I saw in Afghanistan an eroding stalemate — with all the same issues that have undermined stability there for years: government corruption, distrust among Afghans and perfidious interventions by Pakistan and Iran.

The best way for me to explain what’s new in Iraq is with a scene I watched unfold on Saturday. We were at the joint strike cell in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is where multiple Air Force television feeds come in live from drones, U-2s, satellites and U.S. and coalition fighter jets. The officers there are coordinating with Iraqi Army combat forces on the ground and their U.S. military advisers embedded just behind the battlefront to hit ISIS targets as the Iraqi Army begins its push west.

Having retaken Mosul, the Iraqi Army is driving ISIS into the Euphrates River Valley, where it looks like it will make a last stand. This was the second day of the Iraqis’ thrust west and they were already meeting resistance in a small town on the road to ISIS-controlled Tal Afar. Several U.S. eyes in the sky were trained on a single-story, flat-roof building, about 30 feet wide, sandwiched between two larger buildings. Iraqi soldiers crawling toward this building were receiving lots of small-arms fire from inside, stalling their advance about 500 feet away.

Their U.S. advisers were sending all this information to the strike cell in real time. Meanwhile in the strike cell, team members sitting in front of computer screens were calculating exactly how much firepower was required to kill the ISIS fighters and not hurt any civilians who might be nearby. They did a quick tally of the remaining weapons on the American fighter aircraft in the area — seeing which had what smart bombs left.

Seconds later a call of “weapon away, 30 seconds” rang out as an F-15E released a 500-pound GPS-guided smart bomb. The screen rebroadcasting the F-15E’s targeting pod showed the bomb going straight down through the roof.

“We have splash,” said one of the controllers in a monotone as a huge plume of smoke engulfed the video screen. Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble — but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt.

The officer in charge told me that a few weeks earlier, during the campaign to retake Mosul, two Iraqi soldiers were wounded and hiding from an ISIS unit inside a building 15 yards away. Using laser targeting, the U.S. team fired a rocket whose size, direction and shape were chosen to take down only the ISIS building and make its walls fall in the opposite direction of the two pinned-down Iraqis. The rocket worked as intended and they were rescued.

This is war in Iraq today in a nutshell.

For years we’ve measured our involvement in Middle East wars by one pair of indexes — boots on the ground and killed in action. Because of that, most Americans are now paying scant attention to Iraq, where our boots on the ground have shrunk to a few thousand and where there have been just 17 U.S. military deaths since we re-engaged in Iraq to defeat ISIS in 2014.

But the real story is wings in the air. We are involved in a gigantic military enterprise in Iraq. But it’s with massive conventional air power married to unconventional special forces, who are advising the Iraqi Army that is actually doing the ground fighting. This is making our presence in Iraq much more sustainable for us and for the Iraqis.

Ironically, it might never have happened had President Barack Obama not withdrawn our combat troops from Iraq in 2011 because Iraqis couldn’t agree on a legal formula for their staying.

After that, the then-Shiite-led Iraqi government began abusing Sunnis, and ISIS emerged in response. That forced Iraqis to rethink their relationship with us. A U.S. Air Force special operations officer told me of returning to Iraq in early 2014 and meeting with the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service — the only truly professional, nonsectarian fighting unit then left in the country. The U.S. officer had come to ask the CTS what material aid the U.S. could offer in the fight against ISIS, and the CTS commander responded that he didn’t need aid. “We want you,” he said.

And so Obama began slowly reintroducing U.S. Special Forces back into Iraq and, for the first time, sending some into Syria, all in a totally new context. When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, we destroyed the government from the top down. Wetoppled Saddam’s statue. And we were advised largely by Iraqi exiles of dubious legitimacy in local eyes.

It became our war, producing iconic pictures of U.S. soldiers kicking down doors and pointing guns at cowering women.

Even though ISIS emerged after we left, we have now returned at the invitation of Iraqis from the bottom up, not exiles — making our presence much more legitimate and sustainable for any long fight. Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were forced to unify, at least minimally, to defeat ISIS, opening new possibilities.

This is Iraq’s war of liberation. They own it.

I met Marine Col. Seth Folsom, who commands a forward special operations air base, Al-Asad, in the western Iraqi desert. It was 120 degrees outside, but he had a bounce in his step.

“I was here in 2003 and in 2008,” he told me. In those days, if he had a convoy going through a town it would speed 100 miles an hour not to get shot at or blown up, pushing Iraqi cars out of the way, creating resentments. “Now we are driving with the Iraqis. It’s a paradigm shift. It doesn’t even seem like the same country to me. Now I am saying to my Iraqi counterparts, ‘What do you want to do?’”

So we are fighting a very different war in Iraq, which Trump has amped up. But you can’t grasp its true dimensions unless you go to the overall U.S. regional air headquarters in Qatar and watch on giant screens a 24/7 choreography that boggles the mind: B-52s, U-2s, F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, F-15s, A-10s, C-17s, V-22s, U-28s, C-130s, JStars, AWACs, satellites and unmanned Reapers and Predators — all fueled aloft by a fleet of KC-10 and KC-135 flying gas stations — that have conducted 23,934 strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, using 84,585 precision-guided bombs, since we came back in 2014.

There is much still to worry about. At the joint operations headquarters in Baghdad, U.S. officers plan on computer screens and the Iraqi planners on wall-size maps with markers and blue arrows representing troops that they move around. It can drive American planners crazy when speed is of the essence.

More worrying: American advisers at the joint operations headquarters told me that many of their Iraqi counterparts take their uniforms off before they go home at night. Not everyone respects them for working with the Americans, particularly in the hard-line Shiite areas. Some have even had to change houses.

And yet, they still show up, and their men still fought house-to-house to recapture Mosul, taking huge casualties. At the height of the battle for Mosul, the U.S. Air Force field hospital at Al-Asad Air Base treated many Iraqi soldiers. The U.S. officer who heads the hospital told us that when the first Iraqi wounded soldier arrived, and he desperately needed blood, the U.S. commander asked for six volunteers. Some 50 American military personnel showed up to donate.

“It is one thing for us to be respectful of the Iraqis and another to respect the Iraqis,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Dave Goldfein, remarked to me. “Today there is mutual respect. We admire their tenacity.”

All of that said, I am still wary. There is no slam-dunk here. While ISIS is on the run, lasting victory in Iraq depends entirely on whether Iraqis can come together — not just to fight a shared enemy but to build a shared government — the morning after ISIS is defeated.

Alas, there is no “power-sharing” bomb that we can drop on the Iraqi Parliament that will make Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds trust one another enough to live together as equal citizens. And there is no “culture-buster” bomb that we can drop that will burrow deep into Iraqi/Arab culture and stop them from always letting their past bury their future and instead start letting their future bury their past.

Culture always trumps strategy and only they can change their political culture. As the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, put it to me: After ISIS is defeated, Iraqis need to produce a government “for all Iraqis.” It cannot be a government where “Sunnis feel disenfranchised.” We better have in place a strategy for coaching Iraqis on power-sharing as much as we did on dynamic targeting. Otherwise, the morning after ISIS 1.0 is defeated we’ll see ISIS 2.0.

The war in Afghanistan is different. The air power component is there but U.S. Special Forces are still doing too much fighting and dying. And Trump talked on Monday night like they will now do more. And we don’t have the legitimacy you now feel in Iraq.

Personal security for our Afghan allies is still minimal. I stood on the tarmac at Bagram Airfield and listened as a U.S.-trained Afghan pilot explained that the last thing he does before climbing into the cockpit is call home to be sure his kids have not been abducted by the Taliban, who know that he works with the U.S. and have threatened him repeatedly.

Again, the fact that this pilot is still ready to fly with the U.S. shows real courage. He wants something different for his country, and he’s not alone. But is he in the majority? Clearly he’s got neighbors who don’t think that we, or the Afghan government we’re supporting, are legitimate. Culture trumps strategy.

This is going to take ages to fix, and if you fix Afghanistan, well, you fix Afghanistan. So what. If you fix Iraq with a real power-sharing accord you create a model that can radiate out across the Arab world, because Iraq is a microcosm of the Arab world, with Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and many others.

I slept well in the U.S. Embassy green zone in Baghdad, which is protected outside by Iraqis. Two nights earlier we slept at the Bagram base near Kabul and were repeatedly awakened by a blaring loudspeaker saying “take cover,” because another rocket was coming in.

For the moment — and I stress moment — we have a sustainable military strategy to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But a sustainable political outcome depends on Iraqis rising to the occasion. I do not see that in Afghanistan and I did not hear it in Trump’s speech. I fear our choices there are unchanged: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Here was Donald Trump tethered by his generals. The new-old Afghan war strategy set out by the president Monday night contained a Trump line or two — terrorists as “losers,” the nixing of “nation-building” — but was the work of the adults in the room. They forced the commander-in-chief to curtail his wilder instincts.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, both have bitter experience of Afghanistan. John Kelly, the chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, there. They were not about to let Trump declare Afghanistan “a complete waste,” as he did in 2012, and walk away.

In a sense this is reassuring. Trump is not home alone. He fires off, gets a lesson on the real world, bridles again, and is momentarily muted. Qatar, North Korea, Iran and Charlottesville: the pattern repeats itself. It’s ominous but it has not sent the world over a cliff, yet.

And now we have Afghanistan, the nearly 16-year-old war that just became Trump’s war, against the wishes of Steve Bannon, his ousted chief strategist.

The decision not to leave was the right decision; and Trump was also right to note that telegraphing future pullout dates for American troops, as President Obama did, is military folly. Ashraf Ghani, the embattled Afghan president, needs United States help in holding the line against an invigorated Taliban. But what Trump announced did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one. It amounted rather, in the tweeted words of Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, to “a set of incoherent slogans.”

Trump talked plenty about “victory” but did not even attempt to define what would constitute it. That’s because there can be no military victory in Afghanistan. The best that can be hoped for is keeping the Taliban from power, and bolstering government forces to the point the Taliban can be persuaded to sue for peace. In other words, the end game can only be diplomatic.

Yet Trump has eviscerated the State Department. He has not named an ambassador to Afghanistan; he has eliminated the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has shown no inclination to engage allies or Afghanistan’s neighbors on ways to end the war.

While the president talked distantly of reaching “a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was explicit about supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “without preconditions”: the usual disconnect.

Iran could have been helpful; Trump has rebuffed it in his Saudi love trance. Russia could have been helpful; Trump is paralyzed by his Moscow secrets with respect to President Vladimir V. Putin. So Iran and Russia will do their worst in Afghanistan. As for China, another important regional player, it did not even get a mention.

Trump invited India “to help us more with Afghanistan” — effectively holding a red rag to the Pakistani bull. The military in Pakistan will be enraged by the combination of Trump’s blunt (if justified) criticism and blandishments to India. This looks like sheer diplomatic stupidity. I wonder if the State Department, whose expertise has been flouted since January, even got to vet the speech.

The Afghan war could have been ended a long time ago when people still remembered what it was about. But the United States diverted its forces and treasure to Iraq. Then Obama, in preparing to withdraw from Iraq, tried to compensate with a hapless “surge” in Afghanistan. This is a zigzagging chapter in American military history that soldiers are not about to resolve now. The mission became a mess; some 2,400 American troops have given their lives for a moving target. Trump’s words did nothing to redress this shame.

“Trump put forward no coherent plan for finishing the war,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me. “He needs a serious diplomatic tack.”

The problem is Trump has no notion of diplomacy. He looked like an impersonator as he spoke, a man pretending to be something we know he’s not. A man of such evident moral shallowness, to whom personal sacrifice is a stranger, cannot speak of valor, bravery and heroism without becoming cringe-worthy.

He spoke of “principled realism.” His presidency has been about unprincipled recklessness: allies shunned, dalliances with dictators, environmental sabotage. The man who earlier this month could not distinguish between neo-Nazi white supremacists with blood on their hands and leftist protesters calls for America’s soldiers to come home to a country that rejects bigotry and “has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty.”

Really?

Shortly after Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his son in Afghanistan, he gave a eulogy for two marines killed in Iraq. Kelly described how, confronted by a suicide bomber in a truck, “they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight.”

For that brave act, of course, they needed something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.

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Brooks and Cohen

August 1, 2017

Bobo has decided to discuss the time “Before Manliness Lost Its Virtue.”  He gurgles that the ancient Greeks wouldn’t recognize the Trump administration’s concept of manliness.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have a response.  Mr. Cohen, in “Goodbye to the Scaramouche,” discusses a president with a codpiece and a former Marine Corps general trying to rein him in.  Here’s Bobo:

The Trump administration is certainly giving us an education in the varieties of wannabe manliness.

There is the slovenly “I don’t care what you think” manliness of Steve Bannon. There’s the look-at-me-I-can-curse manliness that Anthony Scaramucci learned from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” There is the affirmation-hungry “I long to be the man my father was” parody of manliness performed by Donald Trump. There are all those authentically manly Marine generals Trump hires to supplement his own. There’s Trump’s man-crush on Vladimir Putin and the firing of insufficiently manly Reince Priebus.

With this crowd, it’s man-craving all the way down.

It’s worth remembering, when we are surrounded by all this thrusting masculinity, what substantive manliness once looked like. For example, 2,400 years ago the Greeks had a more fully developed vision of manliness than anything we see in or around the White House today.

Greek manliness started from a different place than ours does now. For the ancient Greeks, it would have been incomprehensible to count yourself an alpha male simply because you can run a trading floor or sell an apartment because you gilded a faucet handle.

For them, real men defended or served their city, or performed some noble public service. Braying after money was the opposite of manliness. For the Greeks, that was just avariciousness, an activity that shrunk you down into a people-pleasing marketer or hollowed you out because you pursued hollow things.

The Greeks admired what you might call spiritedness. The spirited man defies death in battle, performs deeds of honor and is respected by those whose esteem is worth having.

The classical Greek concept of manliness emphasizes certain traits. The bedrock virtue is courage. The manly man puts himself on the line and risks death and criticism. The manly man is assertive. He does not hang back but instead wades into any fray. The manly man is competitive. He looks for ways to compete with others, to demonstrate his prowessand to be the best. The manly man is self-confident. He knows his own worth. But he is also touchy. He is outraged if others do not grant him the honor that is his due.

That version of manliness gave Greece its dynamism. But the Greeks came to understand the problem with manly men. They are hard to live with. They are constantly picking fights and engaging in peacock displays.

Take the savage feuding that marks the Trump White House and put it on steroids and you get some idea of Greek culture. The Greek tragedies describe cycles of revenge and counter-revenge as manly men and women wreak death and destruction on each other.

So the Greeks took manliness to the next level. On top of the honor code, they gave us the concept of magnanimity. Pericles is the perfect magnanimous man (and in America, George Washington and George Marshall were his heirs). The magnanimous leader possesses all the spirited traits described above, but he uses his traits not just to puff himself up, but to create a just political order.

The magnanimous man tries to master the profession of statecraft because he believes, with the Athenian ruler Solon, that the well-governed city “makes all things wise and perfect in the world of men.” The magnanimous leader tries to beautify his city, to arouse people’s pride in and love for it. He encourages citizens to get involved in great civic projects that will give their lives meaning and allow everybody to partake in the heroic action that was once reserved for the aristocratic few.

The magnanimous man has a certain style. He is a bit aloof, marked more by gravitas than familiarity. He shows perfect self-control because he has mastered his passions. He does not show his vulnerability. His relationships are not reciprocal. He is eager to grant favors but is ashamed of receiving them. His personal life can wither because he has devoted himself to disinterested public service.

The magnanimous man believes that politics practiced well is the noblest of all professions. No other arena requires as much wisdom, tenacity, foresight and empathy. No other field places such stress on conversation and persuasion. The English word “idiot” comes from the ancient Greek word for the person who is uninterested in politics but capable only of running his or her own private affairs.

Today, we’re in a crisis of masculinity. Some men are unable to compete in schools and in labor markets because the stereotype of what is considered “man’s work” is so narrow. In the White House, we have phony manliness run amok.

But we still have all these older models to draw from. Of all the politicians I’ve covered, John McCain comes closest to the old magnanimous ideal. Last week, when he went to the Senate and flipped his thumb down on the pretzeled-up health care bill, we saw one version of manliness trumping another. When John Kelly elbowed out Anthony Scaramucci, one version of manliness replaced another.

The old virtues aren’t totally lost. So there’s hope.

Isn’t it odd that Bobo couldn’t come up with Barack Obama as an example of the magnanimous man…  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“The real lesson of the Trump administration is that it’s giving us a daily education in the fruits of the nihilistic Republican platform of unfettered greed complemented by infinitely cultured American stupidity.

What led us to this obvious catastrophe was 35-plus years of sustained psychopathic right-wing greed while simultaneously drowning the national IQ in a bathtub of God-Guns-Gays, hate radio, Fake News channel and Up Is Down stupidity.

The Republican political platform, fundamentally and comprehensively predicated on excess greed and excess stupidity, was bound to wreck something if left to blossom.

There’s nothing manly about greediness or stupidity, our Moron-In-Chief’s two shining attributes.

In the Art of the Idiot, our Idiot-In-Chief said:

“The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”

Dumber words were never written or spoken.

The fact that 60 million systematically stupified Americans thought it wise to place a lecherous, unlearned, lying Lothario and demonstrated Con Artist grifter in supreme power is evidence not of wannabe manliness, but of real exceptional stupidity.

The word ‘idiot’ means a “person so mentally deficient as to be incapable of ordinary reasoning”, “simple man, uneducated person, layman”, “ignorant person.”

That Trump is in the Oval Office wreaking national and international stupidity on an hourly basis is the manifest destiny of the Party of Stupid.

Perhaps collapsing the national IQ for cold cash wasn’t such a bright idea after all.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

So the Scaramouch, a stock clown figure of old Italian comedy, is goneas White House communications director. Anthony Scaramucci’s foul mouth was never going to pass muster in a White House run by a retired United States Marine Corps general. John Kelly, President Trump’s new chief of staff, duly took care of him.

Scaramucci was perfect right down to his name. The Scaramouch, to quote my Webster’s dictionary, was a “braggart and a poltroon” in the theater that emerged in 16th-century Italy. Boastfulness and cowardice are Trump trademarks, one the other face of the other. In his White House job, Scaramucci communicated stupidity above all.

Good riddance to him. After he’d unloaded his bile, Scaramucci askedus all in a tweet to pray for his family, which seemed a bit rich. Still, I do want to thank the Scaramouch. He came straight from Central Casting. In his total absence of dignity and decorum, his violence and his vulgarity, he was the emblem par excellence of the Trump White House. That reports of his wife filing for divorce surfaced during his brief apotheosis completed the picture. Fast-talking and fatuous, self-important and servile, he embodied the “commedia dell’arte” of Trump’s dysfunctional crew.

The commedia featured larger-than-life stock characters like the Scaramouch. They included deluded old men, devious servants, craven braggarts and starry-eyed lovers. The president, at 71, is clearly a “vecchio,” or elder. He is probably best imagined as the miserly Venetian known as Pantalone wandering around in red breeches with the oversized codpiece of the would-be womanizer.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, fits the bill as the “Dottore,” who, as Jennifer Meagher writes in an essay, is “usually depicted as obese and red-cheeked from drinking.” I’m tempted to offer the role of the belligerent, windy “Il Capitano,” or Captain, to Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Trump, who recently told the BBC that, “The military is not a microcosm of civilian society. They are not there to reflect America. They are there to kill people and blow stuff up.”

The lovers, of course, have to be Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — they of the almost bloodless perfection — whose doting father complicates their sumptuous lives by bestowing upon them titles and tasks for which they are unqualified. The lovers grow quieter and quieter but are so pale they are unable to blush.

Will Kelly close down the “commedia?” The White House is supposed to run the free world. It’s time for seriousness. The president, busy and colorful and burrowing as a chipmunk, appears to have awoken to some vague desire for discipline that Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, was unable to provide.

It has to be said, in passing, that Priebus and “cojones” are utter strangers to each other. Ousted, Priebus confused taking the high road — territory unknown to this administration — with gelatinous loyalty to the president who knifed him. It is hard to keep up with these guys. If one tries too hard the urge to take a shower and scrub off the oleaginous ooze becomes overwhelming.

But back to Kelly: I doubt, however tough the new chief of staff may be, that the commedia is at an end. The Scaramouch was just a stand-in for the president he professed to love. The real “braggart and poltroon” sits in the Oval Office. The key to understanding him is probably that oversize codpiece.

What but some profound sense of inadequacy could explain the neediness and the nastiness, the pout and the pettiness, the vanity and the vulgarity, the anger and the aggression? This president gets off on the humiliation of others. He is inhabited by some deep violence to which self-control is a stranger. It is almost painful to watch the degree to which he pursues self-aggrandizement. He confounds masculinity with machismo. As J.K. Rowling put it in a tweet: “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.”

In a single week, Trump reminded everyone — if a reminder were needed — just how mean he is. He tweeted an announcement that he had reinstated a ban on transgender individuals serving in “any capacity” in the United States armed forces, and suggested during a visit to Suffolk County Community College in New York that he wanted law enforcement to be “rough” on suspects.

The transgender decision (the one Gorka defended to the BBC by exalting the military’s mission to kill people) was, in the words of Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, “an engine of malice.” It illustrated how, “In the realm of moral leadership, President Trump is leading a race to the bottom.” The military promptly said policy would remain unchanged until the White House sends the Defense Department new rules. The police department in Suffolk County also pushed back; it would not tolerate brutality.

Multiple forces in American society are pushing back against Trump. But this is the president we have: turbulent, chaotic, boastful, cowardly and violent. He thrives on the commedia that brought the bilious Scaramouch to the White House. Kelly’s task is enormous. Because life is not comedy, much depends on his success: things like war and peace, for example.

Brooks and Cohen

June 13, 2017

Bobo has decided to pose a question:  “Is Radicalism Possible Today?”  He gurgles that the best change is not hasty, as dreamed by the last century’s idealists, but a gradual, grinding conversation.  “Jack Mahoney” from Brunswick, Maine will have things to say to him.  Mr. Cohen, in “Theresa May’s Weak and Wobbly Outfit,” says a feeble hand means a soft Brexit, if one can be negotiated at all.  Here’s Bobo:

Are you feeling radical? Do you think that the status quo is fundamentally broken and we have to start thinking about radical change? If so, I’d like to go back a century so that we might learn how radicalism is done.

The years around 1917 were a great period of radical ferment. Folks at The New Republic magazine were championing progressivism, which would transform how the economy is regulated and how democracy works. At The Masses, left-wing activists were fomenting a global socialist revolution. Outside the White House radical suffragists were protesting for the right to vote and creating modern feminism.

People in those days had one thing we have in abundance: an urge to rebel against the current reality — in their case against the brutalities of industrialization, the rigidities of Victorianism, the stale formulas of academic thinking.

But they also had a whole series of mechanisms they thought they could use to implement change. If you were searching for a new consciousness, there was a neighborhood to go to: Greenwich Village. If you were searching for a dissident lifestyle, there was one — Bohemianism, with its artistic rejection of commercial life.

People had faith in small magazines as the best lever to change the culture and the world. People had faith in the state, in central planning as an effective tool to reorganize the economy and liberate the oppressed. Radicals had faith in the working class, to ally with the intellectuals and form a common movement against concentrated wealth.

There were many people then who had a genius for creating ideals, and for betting their whole lives on an effort to live out these ideals. I’ve just been reading Jeremy McCarter’s inspiring and entertaining new book “Young Radicals,” which is a group portrait of five of those radicals: Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne, Max Eastman, Alice Paul and John Reed.

All of them had a youthful and exuberant faith that transformational change was imminently possible. Reed was the romantic adventurer — the one who left Harvard and ventured to be at the center of wherever the action might be — union strikes, the Russian Revolution. Paul was the dogged one — the diminutive activist who gave up sleep, gave up leisure, braved rancid prisons to serve the suffragist movement.

But the two true geniuses were Lippmann and Bourne, who offer lessons on different styles of radicalism. With his magisterial, organized mind, Lippmann threw his lot in with social science, with rule by experts. He believed in centralizing and nationalizing, and letting the best minds weigh the evidence and run the country. He lived his creed, going from socialist journalism to the halls of Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

Bourne was more visionary and vulnerable. He’d grown up in a stiflingly dull WASP town. It was only when he met the cosmopolitan stew of different ethnicities in New York that he got the chance to “breathe a larger air.” At a time of surging immigration, and fierce debate over it, Bourne celebrated that “America is coming to be, not a nationality but a trans-nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colors.”

Bourne believed in decentralized change — personal, spiritual, a revolution in consciousness. The “Beloved Community” he imagined was a bottom-up, Whitmanesque “spiritual welding,” a graceful coming together of unlike ethnicities.

The crucial decision point came as the United States approached entry into World War I. Lippmann supported the war, believing that it would demand more federal planning and therefore would accelerate social change. Bourne was appalled by such instrumentalist thinking, by the acceptance of war’s savagery. As McCarter puts it, “As Bourne has been arguing, no choice that supports a war will realize any ideal worth the name.”

The radicals split between pragmatists willing to work within the system and visionaries who raised larger possibilities from outside. Spreading their ideals, they pushed America forward. Living out their ideals, most were disillusioned. Reed lost faith in the Soviet Union. Lippmann lost faith in Wilson after Versailles. Bourne died marginalized and bitter during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Bourne was the least important radical a century ago, but with his fervent embrace of a decentralized, globalist, cosmopolitan world, he is the most relevant today. He is the best rebuttal to both Trumpian populism and the multicultural separatist movements on the left, who believe in separate graduation ceremonies by race, or that the normal exchange of ideas among people represents cultural appropriation.

Most of the 20th-century radicals were wrong to put their faith in a revolutionary vanguard, a small group who could see farther and know better. Bourne was right to understand that the best change is dialogical, the gradual, grinding conversation, pitting interest against interest, one group’s imperfections against another’s, but bound by common nationhood and humanity.

Are we really going to hand revolutionary power to the state, the intellectuals, the social scientists, the working class or any other class? No. This is not 1917. But can we recommit ourselves to the low but steady process of politics, bartering and exchanging, which is incremental about means but radical about ends? That’s a safer bet.

And now here’s what “Jack Mahoney” has to say about that:

“David, aren’t labels fun?

For example, for the last 40 years, a bloc of voters and politicians has done everything in its power to unravel GOP Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s America that built superhighways and taxed the richest (and therefore those most beholden to the opportunities inherent in a land with so few highwaymen and home invaders) severely.

Somehow, under his Socialist lash, tearing up America to build an Interstate Highway system made up of “freeways,” meaning that drivers could make use of them without paying tolls, the country surged ahead. The GI Bill made going to college and buying a house easier for veterans. In New York City, college tuition was free. This country, which boasts that hard work and determination can make a poor kid into a rich adult, seemed to be coming through on that promise.

Then came the privatizers, waving Ayn Rand as if her prescriptions weren’t the equivalent of L. Ron Hubbard’s, arguing that mutual action denied each of us the opportunity to … what exactly? How does free college adversely impact individuals’ education and the national level of learning? How does allowing the country’s infrastructure to so grossly deteriorate celebrate individual achievement? How does privatizing our occupation forces in Asia make America stronger?

Almost mockingly, the dismantlers of America called themselves conservative, and somehow the supine press has gone along with the joke.

They have ripped out the guts of America. Healthcare’s next.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British, sleepwalking into what Will Hutton of The Guardian has called “a national act of self-harm on an epic scale,” have voted to be near ungovernable – a condition in which the enfeebled Prime Minister Theresa May claims she can offer “certainty,” but that in fact constitutes, as she has conceded, a “mess.”

The epic self-harm is, of course, Britain’s planned exit by 2019 from the European Union, the foundation of its prosperity and strategic heft over more than four decades. The self-inflicted mess stems from the prime minister’s humiliation in an election last week: call it May-hem. She is set to limp, vulnerable to the whims of her Conservative Party and to any crisis, into a rickety government propped up by a bunch of rabid Ulster Unionists who are the ideological heirs of the firebrand preacher, Ian Paisley.

An inept campaign saw May promising “strong and stable” government so often it became a joke. Britain, on the eve of a momentous negotiation that will define the lives of the youth who never wanted “Brexit,” now has the opposite: weak and wobbly government. This will mean that May has to compromise more; hence a softer departure from the Union, if there’s enough political coherence even for that. Those who cling, as I do, to the faint hope that Brexit will collapse under the weight of its folly have been given a fillip; this is not over.

May has been repudiated for her arrogance, but above all for her utter vacuity. Almost single-handedly she revived the Labour Party of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn, who at least appeared to believe in something.

May was for remaining in the Union before she was against it; at which point all she could say was “Brexit means Brexit.” This tautology, combined with May’s laughable fantasy of taking Britain “global” by exiting a single market of more than a half-billion people, summed up the nothingness of a decision informed by lies, fueled by jingoism, and spearheaded by charlatans.

The Conservative Party through a double own-goal – first the needless Brexit referendum and then May’s needless snap election – has delivered the country to polarization. The political center has evaporated. The extremes, and The Daily Mail, have won. Economic downturn, fueled by uncertainty, is almost sure to follow.

Together, Britain and the United States have succumbed to a strange delusion of restored greatness, symbolized by May’s embrace of Donald Trump. It is the allies’ un-finest hour. They have turned inward; they have turned nasty. Trump’s planned visit to Britain later this year, a sop to his vainglory that revealed British desperation at the loss of Europe, is on hold – because a sitting American president is that unpopular in London! To sabotage British goodwill toward America to this degree is something, even for Trump.

There is a vacuum where Anglo-American liberalism once stood: Angela Merkel’s Germany and Emmanuel Macron’s France have stepped up to face down Vladimir Putin and his ilk. The postwar order had a good run: 1945-2017.

Fintan O’Toole offered a good summary of Brexit in The New York Review of Books: “Strip away the post-imperial make-believe and the Little England nostalgia, and there’s almost nothing there, no clear sense of how a middling European country with little native industry can hope to thrive by cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner and most important political alliance.”

Still, it’s what the people, or at least a narrow majority, wanted. That has to be respected, unless the people change their mind.

May’s other mantra was, “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.” That’s off the table, unless Ireland along with British prosperity is to be sacrificed on the Brexit altar. The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, whose ten seats are now essential to May’s flimsy majority, are anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, but even they are not so retrograde as to want a hard border with Ireland, an E.U. member, imposed as a result of a chaotic exit. Nor do they want the border controls that would accompany British withdrawal from the customs union. May’s D.U.P. dalliance does not come free.

The prime minister will also have to listen more to Conservatives, like Ken Clarke, who have opposed a hard Brexit. She will have to accept that the E.U. is going to exact a price for this decision: Britain cannot have its cake and eat it. If the country wants to remain in the single market, overwhelmingly in its interest, it will have to accept free movement of people, but then, as Hugo Dixon observed on Infacts.org, “Wouldn’t we be better off staying in the E.U., where we have lots of influence?”

Weak and wobbly means weak and wobbly. May could well fall within the next two years, possibly leading to another election. A parliament that is restive may reject any deal she does cobble together. Buyers’ regret was evident in the Labour surge. It is no longer wishful thinking to believe such regret could yet lead to a second referendum, based this time on real terms rather than wretched lies.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 10, 2017

Here they are, a day late (sorry about that!), but I guess better late than never.  In “It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Culture” Bobo tells us that the Trump presidency will probably not be brought down by outside forces. Instead, it will implode.  Mr. Cohen says “James Comey Moves the Pendulum,” and that Trump is vulnerable. He wanted the former F.B.I. director to “lift the cloud” but it has now enveloped him.  Prof. Krugman, in “Wrecking the Ship of State,” says Trump shows the damage a bad president can do.  Here’s Bobo:

The first important part of James Comey’s testimony was that he cast some doubt on reports that there was widespread communication between the Russians and the Trump campaign. That was the suspicion that set off this whole chain of events and the possibility that could have quickly brought about impeachment proceedings.

The second important implication of the hearings is that as far as we know, Donald Trump has not performed any criminal act that would merit removing him from office.

Sure, he cleared the room so he could lean on Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn. But he didn’t order Comey to shut down the investigation as a whole or do any of the things (like following up on the request) that would constitute real obstruction.

And sure, Trump did later fire Comey. But it’s likely that the Comey firing had little or nothing to do with the Flynn investigation.

Trump was, as always, thinking about himself. Comey had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation. Trump wanted Comey to repeat that fact publicly. When Comey didn’t, Trump took it as a sign that Comey was disloyal, an unforgivable sin. So he fired him, believing, insanely, that the move would be popular.

All of this would constitute a significant scandal in a normal administration, but it would not be grounds for impeachment.

The third important lesson of the hearing is that Donald Trump is characterologically at war with the norms and practices of good government. Comey emerged as a superb institutionalist, a man who believes we are a nation of laws. Trump emerged as a tribalist and a clannist, who simply cannot understand the way modern government works.

Trump is also plagued with a self-destructive form of selfishness. He is consumed by a hunger for affirmation, but, demented by his own obsessions, he can’t think more than one step ahead.

In search of praise he is continually doing things that will end up bringing him condemnation. He lies to people who have the power to publicly devastate him. He betrays people who have the power to damage him. Trump is most dangerous to the people who are closest to him and are in the best position to take their revenge.

The upshot is the Trump administration will probably not be brought down by outside forces. It will be incapacitated from within, by the bile, rage and back-stabbing that are already at record levels in the White House staff, by the dueling betrayals of the intimates Trump abuses so wretchedly.

Although there may be no serious collusion with the Russians, there is now certain to be a wide-ranging independent investigation into all things Trump.

These investigations will take a White House that is already acidic and turn it sulfuric. James Hohmann and Joanie Greve had a superb piece in the Daily 202 section of The Washington Post. They compiled the lessons people in the Clinton administration learned from the Whitewater scandal, and applied them to the Trump White House.

If past is prologue, this investigation will drag on for a while. The Clinton people thought the Whitewater investigation might last six months, but the inquiries lasted over seven years. The Trump investigation will lead in directions nobody can now anticipate. When the Whitewater investigation started, Monica Lewinsky was an unknown college student and nobody had any clue that an investigation into an Arkansas land deal would turn into an investigation about sex.

This investigation will ruin careers far and wide. Investigators go after anybody they think can yield information on the president. Before the Whitewater investigators got to Clinton they took down Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, Webb Hubbell, Susan and Jim McDougal, and many others.

This investigation will swallow up day-to-day life. As Clinton alum Jennifer Palmieri wrote in an op-ed in the USA Today network of newspapers: “No one in a position of authority at the White House tells you what is happening. No one knows. Your closest colleague could be under investigation and you would not know. You could be under investigation and not know. It can be impossible to stay focused on your job.”

Everybody will be affected. Betty Currie, Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, finally refused to mention the names of young White House employees to the investigators because every time she mentioned a name, the kid would get a subpoena, which meant thousands of dollars of ruinous legal fees.

If anything, the Trump investigation will probably be more devastating than the Whitewater scandals. The Clinton team was a few shady characters surrounded by a large group of super-competent straight arrows. The Trump administration is shady characters through and through. Clinton himself was a savvy operator. Trump is a rage-prone obsessive who will be consumed by this.

The good news is the civic institutions are weathering the storm. The Senate Intelligence Committee put on a very good hearing. The F.B.I. is maintaining its integrity. This has, by and large, been a golden age for the American press corps. The bad news is that these institutions had better be. The Trump death march will be slow, grinding and ugly.

So, Bobo gurgles that what we’re seeing now will “probably” be worse than Whitewater.  Interesting…  James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, has said that “Watergate pales in comparison.”  Who ya gonna believe — Bobo or Clapper?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Somebody’s lying. I think we know who it is. People have habits; to lie is one of Donald Trump’s.

On May 18 Trump was asked: “Did you, at any time, urge former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in any way, shape or form, to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” The president’s response: “No. No. Next question.”

Comey, in his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says that in a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting Trump did precisely what he denies. The president asked the attorney general and his son-in-law Jared Kushner (among others) to leave the room before — one on one — broaching a matter he should never have raised. Alluding to Flynn, Trump told Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

A meticulous man, Comey immediately wrote a memo recording this improper attempt by Trump to halt the F.B.I. investigation of the former national security adviser and his dealings with Russia. Alone in the Oval Office with a president who had already tried through a veiled threat to establish a “patronage relationship,” Comey, as he explained in testimony to the committee, interpreted the president’s words as “a direction.”

How could he not? The mob slides in the knife with a let’s-hope-for-the-best smile. Trump was “hoping” for Flynn’s absolution the way King Henry II was hoping for Thomas Becket’s elimination when he wondered aloud if nobody would rid him of this “turbulent priest.” Becket was duly murdered.

Trump had fired Flynn the previous day. He was worried; Flynn knows a lot. So much, in fact, that in Vladimir Putin’s Russia he’d be dead. Indeed if Trump, from Comey’s testimony, seems more than ready to cast aside “some of my satellites” for their Russian shenanigans — perhaps even Kushner — he’s obsessive about Flynn.

The president appointed him despite warnings from Barack Obama; stuck by him for 18 days after Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, warned him that Flynn was compromised by the Russians; made his first insistent demands for “loyalty” from Comey the day after the Yates warning; fired Flynn only to ask Comey to “let this go”; and dismissed Comey for a cascade of contradictory reasons whose essence was that he’d resisted Trump’s attempts to alter the way the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation was being conducted.

Why Flynn? We will find out. My suggestion: follow the money. I’m sure that’s what Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is already doing. No doubt Mueller is also wondering what possible benign motive could lead Trump to clear the Oval Office before asking the F.B.I. director to spare Flynn.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. Russia is big; so is Trump’s problem with it. He never — never! — asked Comey what should be done to stop Russian interference in American democracy. Yet, as Comey said in his testimony: “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle.” The effort was driven “from the top of that government;” it was “about as unfake as you can possibly get.” Trump’s silence on this subversion qualifies as sinister.

Trump called Comey “a showboat.” That’s funny. Comey, conscientious to a fault, is an American patriot who understands that the law and defense of the Constitution stand at the core of the nation’s being. Dispense with them, you dispense with America. “We remain that shining city on the hill,” he insisted. Trump, by contrast, has always skirted the law and since his inauguration has shown contempt for the Constitution. The only thing that interests the president about checks and balances is how to dispense with them.

As Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, put it to me: “Trump’s business is infecting the people around him. To show loyalty you have to engage in the corrupt or mendacious behavior he engages in. So he’s a form of contagion — and Comey did not want the investigation infected.”

That’s the sum of this sordid story. Trump wanted Comey to show “loyalty,’’ by which he meant pliant subservience; he wanted him to shelve the F.B.I. investigation of Flynn; he demanded that Comey “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation by declaring that Trump was not being personally investigated; and then fired Comey for his refusal to obey the “boss.” The firing was a vain attempt to get the pressure of the Russia investigation relieved, as Trump subsequently boasted he had — to the Russians no less.

What was Trump’s motive? It’s hard to see an innocent one. His actions look like a corrupt attempt to interfere with the due administration of justice — that is, the independent F.B.I. investigation. Given Republican control of Congress, it’s very unlikely there’ll be any move to impeach until Mueller completes his inquiry. But if Mueller suggests the president could be indicted, impeachment proceedings will be hard to resist — and then, as Burbank put it, “what we might colloquially call ‘obstruction of justice’ might be deemed a high crime or misdemeanor even if it would not violate federal criminal law.”

Comey has moved the pendulum. Trump is vulnerable.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

After Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, many people on the right and even in the center tried to make the case that he wouldn’t really be that bad. Every time he showed a hint of self-restraint — even if it amounted to nothing more than reading his lines without ad-libbing and laying off Twitter for a day or two — pundits rushed to declare that he had just “become president.”

But can we now admit that he really is as bad as — or worse than — his harshest critics predicted he would be? And it’s not just his contempt for the rule of law, which came through so clearly in the James Comey testimony: As the legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin says, if this isn’t obstruction of justice, what is? There’s also the way Trump’s character, his combination of petty vindictiveness with sheer laziness, leaves him clearly not up to doing the job.

And that’s a huge problem. Think, for a minute, of just how much damage this man has done on multiple fronts in just five months.

Take health care. It’s still unclear whether Republicans will ever be able to pass a replacement for Obamacare (although it is clear that if they do, it will take coverage away from tens of millions). But whatever happens on the legislative front, there are big problems developing in the insurance markets as we speak: companies pulling out, leaving some parts of the country unserved, or asking for large increases in premiums.

Why? It’s not, whatever Republicans may say, because Obamacare is an unworkable system; insurance markets were clearly stabilizing last fall. Instead, as insurers themselves have been explaining, the problem is the uncertainty created by Trump and company, especially the failure to make clear whether crucial subsidies will be maintained. In North Carolina, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 23 percent rise in premiums, but declared that it would have asked for only 9 percent if it were sure that cost-sharing subsidies would continue.

So why hasn’t it received that assurance? Is it because Trump believes his own assertions that he can cause Obamacare to collapse, then get voters to blame Democrats? Or is it because he’s too busy rage-tweeting and golfing to deal with the issue? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s no way to make policy.

Or take the remarkable decision to take Saudi Arabia’s side in its dispute with Qatar, a small nation that houses a huge U.S. military base. There are no good guys in this quarrel, but every reason for the U.S. to stay out of the middle.

So what was Trump doing? There’s no hint of a strategic vision; some sources suggest that he may not even have known about the large U.S. base in Qatar and its crucial role.

The most likely explanation of his actions, which have provoked a crisis in the region (and pushed Qatar into the arms of Iran) is that the Saudis flattered him — the Ritz-Carlton projected a five-story image of his face on the side of its Riyadh property — and their lobbyists spent large sums at the Trump Washington hotel.

Normally, we would consider it ridiculous to suggest that an American president could be so ignorant of crucial issues, and be led to take dangerous foreign policy moves with such crude inducements. But can we believe this about a man who can’t accept the truth about the size of his inauguration crowds, who boasts about his election victory in the most inappropriate circumstances? Yes.

And consider his refusal to endorse the central principle of NATO, the obligation to come to our allies’ defense — a refusal that came as a shock and surprise to his own foreign policy team. What was that about? Nobody knows, but it’s worth considering that Trump apparently ranted to European Union leaders about the difficulty of setting up golf courses in their nations. So maybe it was sheer petulance.

The point, again, is that everything suggests that Trump is neither up to the job of being president nor willing to step aside and let others do the work right. And this is already starting to have real consequences, from disrupted health coverage to ruined alliances to lost credibility on the world stage.

But, you say, stocks are up, so how bad can it be? And it’s true that while Wall Street has lost some of its initial enthusiasm for Trumponomics — the dollar is back down to pre-election levels — investors and businesses don’t seem to be pricing in the risk of really disastrous policy.

That risk is, however, all too real — and one suspects that the big money, which tends to equate wealth with virtue, will be the last to realize just how big that risk really is. The American presidency is, in many ways, sort of an elected monarchy, in which a temperamentally and intellectually unqualified leader can do immense damage.

That’s what’s happening now. And we’re barely one-tenth of the way through Trump’s first term. The worst, almost surely, is yet to come.

Welp, it’s time to head back under the bed…

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

May 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohen and Krugman

May 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Cohen

May 2, 2017

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuperJared has taken flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.

Cohen and Collins

April 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

Devin Nunes

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

Paul Ryan

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

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

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

Reince Priebus

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

Chris Christie

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

Coal Miners

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

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

Jeanine Pirro

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

Sean Spicer

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

Russia

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

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

Michael Flynn

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