Archive for the ‘Cohen’ Category

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuperJared has taken flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.

Cohen and Collins

April 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

Devin Nunes

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

Paul Ryan

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

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

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

Reince Priebus

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

Chris Christie

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

Coal Miners

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

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

Jeanine Pirro

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

Sean Spicer

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

Russia

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

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

Michael Flynn

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

Brooks and Cohen

March 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Cohen

February 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s “gemli”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpresidented!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can only shudder at the thought.

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Cohen

February 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with a little historical perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit is the rift that will keep on giving.

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

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

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 3, 2017

Bobo has surpassed himself this time…  He’s extruded a thing called “A Return to National Greatness” in which he moans that the true American myth is dynamic and universal, yet the countermyth of Trump and Bannon is winning, and he also has the unmitigated gall to inform his readers that people on the left aren’t patriotic.  Maybe he should consider the differences between patriotism and jingoism…  There will be a response from a reader.  Mr. Cohen, in “United States to Australia: Get Lost,” says it is grotesque for Trump to dismiss Australia’s stranded refugees as the next “Boston bombers.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Menace,” says this isn’t a strategy; it’s a syndrome.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal, tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America. More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.

The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting, turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and what that civilization contributed to the human story.

It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics), Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England (literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America (science).

In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.

Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.

That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.

But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.

The myth has been bruised, too, by the humiliations of Iraq and the financial crisis. By a cultural elite that ignored the plight of the working class and thus broke faith with the basic solidarity that binds a nation.

And so along come men like Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with a countermyth. Their myth is an alien myth, frankly a Russian myth. It holds, as Russian reactionaries hold, that deep in the heartland are the pure folk who embody the pure soul of the country — who endure the suffering and make the bread. But the pure peasant soul is threatened. It is threatened by the cosmopolitan elites and by the corruption of foreign influence.

The true American myth is dynamic and universal — embracing strangers and seizing possibilities. The Russian myth that Trump and Bannon have injected into the national bloodstream is static and insular. It is about building walls, staying put. Their country is bound by its nostalgia, not its common future.

The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning. The policies that emanate from it are surprisingly popular. The refugee ban has a lot of support. Closing off trade is popular. Building the wall is a winning issue.

The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism. It has exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.

We are in the midst of a great war of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage.

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project?

Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

He’s become a national disgrace.  Here’s what “chickenlover” from Massachusetts had to say to him:

“”The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
And do you know why this myth is winning? It is the result of relentless, non-stop barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigrants, anti-common sense that has been spewing from Fox News for the past two decades. It is the result of pundits like you who have been pushing the GOP agenda over the same period. It is the result of the GOP which has been unwilling to challenge this downward trend. Where were you when Obama was delegitimized from day one by Mitch McConnell and his pals? No wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.
Unfortunately, even though you helped make it, we all own it now. Why, for that matter, even in this column you write, “That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Why do you stop at Reagan? You are still unwilling to include Obama as part of that rich American tradition. Why? Obama saved the American economy that was ravaged and savaged by his predecessor. He saved the auto industry. Don’t you remember?
If you as a scholar and a pundit do not see the need to include Obama in that list, why do you expect the average American will? Little wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”

Net up we have Mr. Cohen:

Let’s imagine for a moment Rex Tillerson, the newly installed secretary of state, awakening to this tweet from President Trump about an important American ally:

“Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

First, the “illegal immigrants” are in fact desperate people fleeing conflict whose status as refugees has in most cases been officially recognized. Second, as refugees, they have the right, under the Geneva Conventions, of which the United States is a signatory, to be treated “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Third, the “thousands” are in fact about 1,250 of the 2,500 men, women and children who, for more than three years now, have been marooned on two remote South Pacific islands, Manus and Nauru, in appalling conditions that have seen suicide, deaths through negligence, a killing, and relentless mental abuse. Fourth, this “dumb deal” reflects the pressing Australian interest in finding a way out of its predicament with the refugees and the American interest in strengthening its Australian alliance at a time when United States Marines are rotating through Darwin and China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Fifth, diplomacy is about identifying shared interests; it stands no chance when the tweeted tantrums of a tempestuous president constitute Washington’s highest-level communications with a world held in America-first contempt.

The notion must cross Tillerson’s mind that Trump’s inaccurate tweet is needless provocation of a friend; that simultaneously infuriating Asian and European allies may not be smart; and that his task will be a thankless one as Trump’s White House coterie hatches seat-of-the-pants policy and leaves his already restive State Department to deal with weighty issues in Luxembourg and the Solomon Islands.

Let’s further imagine that all this passes through Tillerson’s head before he grabs the Washington Post and discovers that Trump has taken his Australia bashing further. He has hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after telling him it’s his “worst call by far” with world leaders (behind Vladimir Putin, of course), and accused Turnbull of preparing to send the next “Boston bombers” America’s way.

At which point Tillerson must really be wondering — as is the rest of the world after two weeks of fast-tracked chaos from Trump. The president wants to run the United States like his business, with scant accountability and contempt for rules. Fine, except that bankruptcy is the worst conceivable outcome for a business whereas nuclear war is the worst conceivable outcome for America and all of humanity. Trump is in way over his skis.

From the pointless, counterproductive, prejudice-reeking temporary ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries to a botched Navy SEAL raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, the same traits of haste and imprudence have been apparent. Trump is a propagator of mayhem at the head of a TV- and Twitter-driven movement whose goal is to circumvent democratic institutions through the exercise of hypnotic and disorienting power. He is only incidentally the president.

That is already clear, as is the fact that Trump’s embrace of Putin was not some weird whim but reflected a fundamental alignment of values around bigotry, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, calculated religious absolutism, 21st-century big-data autocracy and hatred of the media. The president therefore feels more “allied” with Russia than with America’s European allies, whose values run counter to his.

“The worst deal ever” — as Trump put it according to the Washington Post — was signed in September in New York by Anne C. Richard, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and Rachel Noble, deputy secretary of Australia’s department of immigration. It was kept secret, however, until Nov. 12, four days after the election, because refugees, particularly Muslims from the Middle East, were such a sensitive issue in the campaign.

“We really want to mothball these places,” Richard recalls Australian officials telling her, referring to Manus and Nauru. They have become an acute embarrassment to Australia. The United States got help with some national security issues in return, as well as Australian commitments to take more refugees from Central America.

Poor Turnbull who’s white and conservative and might therefore have thought he could get on the right side of Trump. No way! Many of the refugees are Iranians persecuted by the Islamic Republic. There’s no surer way to drive the president to paroxysms than to suggest he extend a hand to Muslims, signed accords between allies notwithstanding.

I went to Manus last year with the photographer Ashley Gilbertson to see the suffering. It’s not easy to get in; Australia does not want prying eyes. I met a young Iranian, Benham Satah, who has a college degree in English and has languished there since Aug. 27, 2013. His roommate, another Iranian called Reza Barati, was killed by a local mob in 2014.

“Sometimes I cut myself,” Satah told me, “so that I can see my blood and remember, oh yes! I am alive.”

It is grotesque and offensive for Trump to dismiss these stranded, mistreated human beings as “Boston bombers.” Muslim equals terrorist is an idea that sullies America.

What refugees like Satah want by an overwhelming majority is not more violence but the dignity that comes with a job, a roof over their heads and decent schooling for their children. Vetting to enter the United States takes at least 18 to 24 months — one reason nobody from Manus or Nauru has moved yet despite Australian hopes they’d all be scooped up by a C-130. The vetting is already “extreme” — Trump’s word.

For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice and give Tillerson inspiration to be brave.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.

The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.

But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?

There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Thanks, Comey.

Brooks and Cohen

January 31, 2017

Bobo has extruded another mealy-mouthed whine about how “those” Republicans, over there, betrayed his party.  Cripes.  In “The Republican Fausts” he gurgles that they struck a deal with the devil, Donald Trump, that comes at too high a price.  It’s always “them,” you know, “those” Republicans WAAAAY over there — Bobo has no responsibility whatsoever…  “Soxared, 04-07-13” will have something to say in rebuttal.  Mr. Cohen considers “The Abnormal Presidency of Donald Trump” and says his immigration measures reflect a streak of gratuitous cruelty.  Here’s Bobo:

Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.

Their position was at least comprehensible: How many times in a lifetime does your party control all levers of power? When that happens you’re willing to tolerate a little Trumpian circus behavior in order to get things done.

But if the last 10 days have made anything clear, it’s this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

In the first place, the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policy making.

The administration has swung sharply antitrade. Trump’s economic instincts are corporatist, not free market. If Barack Obama tried to lead from behind, Trump’s foreign policy involves actively running away from global engagement. Outspoken critics of Paul Ryan are being given White House jobs, and at the same time, if Reince Priebus has a pulse it is not externally evident.

Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.

It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.

Third, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench.

The administration could have simply tightened up the refugee review process and capped the refugee intake at 50,000, but instead went out of its way to insult Islam. The administration could have simply tightened up immigration procedures, but Trump went out of his way to pick a fight with all of Mexico.

Other Republicans have gone far out of their way to make sure the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or on Arabs, but Trump has gone out of his way to ensure the opposite. The racial club is always there.

Fourth, it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty. The Trump administration is often harsh and never kind. It is quick to inflict suffering on the 8-year-old Syrian girl who’s been bombed and strafed and lost her dad. Its deportation vows mean that in the years ahead, the TV screens will be filled with weeping families being pulled apart.

None of these traits will improve with time. As former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”

The danger signs are there in profusion. Sooner or later, the Republican Fausts will face a binary choice. As they did under Nixon, Republican leaders will have to either oppose Trump and risk his tweets, or sidle along with him and live with his stain.

Trump exceeded expectations with his cabinet picks, but his first 10 days in office have made clear this is not a normal administration. It is a problem that demands a response. It is a callous, bumbling group that demands either personal loyalty or the ax.

Already one sees John McCain and Lindsey Graham forming a bit of a Republican opposition. The other honorable senators will have to choose: Collins, Alexander, Portman, Corker, Cotton, Sasse and so on and so on.

With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.

What a fucking little weasel he is…  (Apologies to all 4-legged weasels.)  Here’s what “soxared, 04-07-13” had to say:

“Well, Mr. Brooks, the sky is falling.

Take a look at he image that accompanies your essay. The Republican (a/k/a, White Man’s) retreat at Philly last week was a good ole boy campfire. Notice the glee on the faces of Mitch McConnell, the architect of the Tea Party movement (racist resistance to the black president) and John Cornyn, his fellow saboteur to his (appropriately) right. Your president’s arms are outstretched in a “what now?” appeal? Indeed, what now?

Paul Ryan defended his president’s draconian anti-Muslim ban, a stunning 180 from the campaign trail (“this is not conservatism”). Mr. Brooks, it’s really way past time that you and others with your audience cease with the mantra of respectability when it comes to “conservatism.” It’s really a cover for intolerance, for misogyny, for xenophobia, for protectionism; not for “the base,” but for the anonymous billionaires in the shadows, the Saurons and Voldemorts who run this country, from the county level to the SCOTUS.

Your littering of President Obama is entirely uncalled-for. He has nothing to do with the catastrophe that has descended upon our nation, courtesy of you and the GOP. “Leading from behind?” Yes, from behind an impenetrable wall of recalcitrance and denial, a huge Congressional middle finger to the “will of the people”. Twice.

Where was your patriotism, Mr. Brooks, as a town crier? Did you warn against this day when you stood silent as your party gouged and savaged Barack Obama?

No. 45 is all yours.”

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

For Ghassan and Sarmad Assali, naturalized Americans from Syria, 14 years of efforts to bring their family to the United States from Damascus unraveled this weekend at the stroke of Donald Trump’s pen.

They had applied in 2003 for Ghassan’s two brothers and their families to join them in Allentown, Pa., where Ghassan works as a dentist. Finally, last month, after an interview in Jordan, the relatives were granted immigrant visas. The Assalis bought and furnished a house for them.

“They landed at 7:45 a.m. Saturday,” said Sarmad, who goes by the name Sue. “We got a call from Philadelphia airport telling us if you’re waiting for somebody they’re not coming out. My husband said, ‘You’re joking.’ ”

The family was sent back to Damascus, arriving Sunday night.

Of course, Trump cares nothing for the plight of the Assalis’ Damascus relatives, who arrived about 15 hours after the president signed an executive order on Friday suspending all immigration from Syria and six other mainly Muslim countries, and barring entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. In fact, he cares nothing for Syria. Trump’s airy mention of creating safe zones in the war-ravaged country was an example of how the American president’s word — the basis of global stability since 1945 — has already ceased to mean anything. It’s noise.

Trump insisted his decision was designed to keep America safe, but the measure was rushed, uncoordinated, sloppy, arbitrary and punitive — the work of an impulsive man driven by anti-Muslim prejudice. Hatched by his inner circle in contempt of normal procedure, it has provoked a crisis. Trump has fired the acting attorney general who questioned its legality.

People are now stranded, many diplomats at the State Department outraged (Trump has told them to quit), allies agitated, artists and athletes disgusted by this un-American act. Former President Barack Obama, scarcely out of office, has dissented.

As my colleague Scott Shane noted, citing studies by Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, no one since 9/11 “has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.”

A draft dissent memo circulating at the State Department noted that, “A vanishingly small number of terror attacks on U.S. soil have been committed by foreign nationals who recently entered the United States on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.”

It said: “We are better than this ban.”

As Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, observed of Trump’s order on the Lawfare blog: “This is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

And here we get to the president’s character, doubly important when, as in the Trump White House, personality dominates process.

For well over a decade Trump hosted a successful TV show that hinged on a spectacle of controlled cruelty — his summary dismissal of a contestant with the words “You’re fired!” All the action built toward the tantalizing moment when Trump brought down the guillotine.

No doubt the experience offered him insights into the human fascination with power, as well as the human capacity for pleasure in others’ suffering. Certainly, in just 10 tumultuous days as president of the United States, Trump has demonstrated a streak of gratuitous cruelty.

There is no other explanation for such a pointless measure that inflicts so much pain.

Here in Britain a petition started this weekend against a planned State visit later this year by Trump has already gained some 1.5 million signatures. The government of Prime Minister Theresa May, desperate for Trump’s favor to offset its Brexit travails, has had to scramble to reassure British dual nationals who may have an Iraqi passport, for example, that they can enter the United States.

Sir Mo Farah, the British Olympic gold medalist who was born in Somalia, and whose family lives in the United States, wrote: “On 1st January this year, her majesty the Queen made me a knight of the realm. On 27th January, President Donald Trump seems to have made me an alien.”

The measure has given many this feeling they no longer belong. Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini has British and Iranian passports, holds a green card, has an American husband and two American children, and works in Washington as executive director of the International Civil Society Action Network. She told me she’s unsure if she should travel to Germany in a few days on business.

“It’s just insane,” she told me. “May talks about Churchill, but it feels like she’s appeasing Trump.”

Trump does not retreat. He does not admit mistakes. That is not his style. This month, in tweets, he has written, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” and he has accused two prominent and dissenting Republican senators of “always looking to start World War III.”

Impetuosity allied to cruelty combined with immense power equals trouble. The current storm would cause a normal man who’s a neophyte in a big job to reflect on other approaches. But is anything about Trump normal?

No, Mr. Cohen.  This has been yet another installment of SASQ.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

January 27, 2017

Oh, poor, poor Bobo.  He’s got a BAD case of buyer’s remorse.  In “The Politics of Cowardice” he moans that the party of Trump is a far cry from the party of Reagan.  Actually, Bobo, not all that far.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Closing of Trump’s America,” says a rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last.  Or browns last.  Don’t forget about that moronic wall, Roger.  In “Making the Rust Belt Rustier” Prof. Krugman says that manufacturing will decline faster under President Trump.  But of course it will be Obama’s fault, right?  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment from “James Landi” of Salisbury, MD:

This is a column directed at high school and college students. I’m going to try to convey to you how astoundingly different the Republican Party felt when I was your age.

The big guy then was Ronald Reagan. Temperamentally, though not politically, Reagan was heir to the two Roosevelts. He inherited a love of audacity from T.R. and optimism and charm from F.D.R.

He had a sunny faith in America’s destiny and in America’s ability to bend global history toward freedom. He had a sunny faith in the free market to deliver prosperity to all. He had a sunny faith in the power of technology to deliver bounty and even protect us from nuclear missiles.

He could be very hard on big government or the Soviet Union, but he generally saw the world as a welcoming place; he looked for the good news in others and saw the arc of history bending toward progress.

When he erred it was often on the utopian side of things, believing that tax cuts could pay for themselves, believing that he and Mikhail Gorbachev could shed history and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

The mood of the party is so different today. Donald Trump expressed the party’s new mood to David Muir of ABC, when asked about his decision to suspend immigration from some Muslim countries: “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place.”

Consider the tenor of Trump’s first week in office. It’s all about threat perception. He has made moves to build a wall against the Mexican threat, to build barriers against the Muslim threat, to end a trade deal with Asia to fight the foreign economic threat, to build black site torture chambers against the terrorist threat.

Trump is on his political honeymoon, which should be a moment of joy and promise. But he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Instead of savoring the moment, he’s spent the week in a series of nasty squabbles about his ratings and crowd sizes.

If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”

Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005.

Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition.

In the summer of 2015, according to a Pew Research Center poll, Republicans said free trade deals had been good for the country by 51 to 39 percent. By the summer of 2016, Republicans said those deals had been bad for America by 61 percent to 32 percent.

It’s not that the deals had changed, or reality. It was that Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and his dark fearfulness became the party’s dark fearfulness. In this case fear is not a reaction to the world. It is a way of seeing the world. It propels your reactions to the world.

As Reagan came to office he faced refugee crises, with suffering families coming in from Cuba, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filled with optimism and confidence, Reagan vowed, “We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society,” and he delivered on that promise.

Trump faces a refugee crisis from Syria. And though no Syrian-American has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil, Trump’s response is fear. Shut them out.

Students, the party didn’t used to be this way. A mean wind is blowing.

Here’s hoping that no students believe this line of horse pucky…  And here’s what “James Landi” had to say to Bobo:

“UGH! David’s alt-reality reinvents Reagan, and air-brushes out the ugly, unacceptable, cynically divisive and un American dark side of reactionary radical racist Reagan. The Philadelphia, Mississippi, “welfare queen” Reagan, the Grenada invasion Reagan, the Beirut bombing Reagan, the Iran Contra Reagan, the anti-EPA Reagan, the cynical divisive B grade movie actor who set the anti-intellectual tone and substance for what has devolved into the modern day Party of Lincoln.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Donald Trump is an ahistorical man. He knows nothing of European history and cares less, as his cavalier trashing of the alliance and union that ushered the Continent from its darkest hours demonstrates.

He knows little enough of American history to have chosen as his rallying cry “America First,” a slogan with a past clouded by allies-be-damned isolationism at the start of World War II. (Or perhaps that’s why he embraced it.)

The president does not even know the history of the C.I.A., as his self-regarding speech before the hallowed Memorial Wall showed. This was desecration of patriotic sacrifice through advanced narcissistic disorder.

He called the speech a “home run.”

Great. Terrific. Phenomenal. Tremendous. Fabulous. Beautiful. How Trump has hollowed out these words. How arid, even nauseating, he has made them. They mean nothing. They are space-fillers issuing with a thudding regularity from his uncurious mind, and in the end of course they are all about him. Emptying words of meaning is an essential step on the road to autocratic rule. People need to lose their bearings before they prostrate themselves.

From Trump’s White House there now seeps a kind of ignorance mixed with vulgarity and topped with meanness that I find impossible to wash from my skin. I wake up to its oleaginous texture.

This is worse than had seemed possible: Trump’s inexhaustible obsession with the crowd size at the inauguration; his constant untruths; his perverse inability to accept that he won the election, to the point that he wants to investigate the popular vote that he lost; his startling lust for torture, walls, banishment and carnage.

“The world is a total mess,” he told David Muir of ABC. Funny, I travel the world and that was not my impression a week ago.

The president does not like Muslims. That, too, is clear. It was obvious when he called during the campaign for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. It was obvious when he showed contempt for the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq. It is obvious now as he attempts to justify a planned suspension of visas for Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis and citizens of four other majority Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as a temporary ban on almost all refugees.

A rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last. “It’s not the Muslim ban,” Trump insisted to Muir. No. It’s just a ban on lots of Muslims.

Trump said, in the ABC interview, that the people to be barred “are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.” He declared: “They’re ISIS.”

There is no credible evidence for this wild claim, a smear on entire populations. (Saudi Arabia, the source of most 9/11 terrorists, is unsurprisingly not on the list.)

In their overwhelming majority refugees are fleeing violence in their homelands, not plotting it against the United States. They do not put their little children in dinghies on the high seas because they have a choice but because they have no choice.

Screening to get into the United States is already rigorous, one reason only a tiny fraction of some 5 million Syrian refugees have come here.

A Cato Institute study of refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 and 2015 found that the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.

This is policy fed by anger and prejudice, not reason. The wall announcement has already provoked a damaging clash with Mexico. The proposed visa and refugee measures are not about keeping America safe. They are conceived to nurture an atmosphere of nationalist xenophobia.

Trump has been right to call jihadi Islamist terrorism by its name. But conflating a religion of 1.6 billion people with it is no way to fight it. As for his promise of safe areas within Syria, we will see.

I am lucky enough to live in Brooklyn Heights with a view out over the East River to lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. So while watching President Donald Trump’s dark inaugural speech a week ago I was able at the same time to glance out at the torch that symbolizes American openness and generosity of spirit.

As Trump’s “AMERICA FIRST,” “AMERICA FIRST” echoed across my living room I thought of Emma Lazarus’ words inscribed on the pedestal of the statue:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Friedrich Trump, a penniless German immigrant, was one of those “huddled masses” back in 1885. Lucky he did not attempt to enter the America taking shape under his grandson.

Over time, but not without struggle, I believe the torch will prove stronger than Trump’s fear-filled jingoistic darkness. With the stranger comes renewal. America cannot be itself without it, and Americans will fight for their idea. It is, after all, how they became who they are.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump will break most of his campaign promises. Which promises will he keep?

The answer, I suspect, has more to do with psychology than it does with strategy. Mr. Trump is much more enthusiastic about punishing people than he is about helping them. He may have promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare, or take health insurance away from the tens of millions who gained coverage under Obamacare, but in practice he seems perfectly willing to satisfy his party by destroying the safety net.

On the other hand, he appears serious about his eagerness to reverse America’s 80-year-long commitment to expanding world trade. On Thursday the White House said it was considering a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico; doing so wouldn’t just pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, it would violate all our trading agreements.

Why does he want this? Because he sees international trade the way he sees everything else: as a struggle for dominance, in which you only win at somebody else’s expense.

His Inaugural Address made that perfectly clear: “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” And he sees punitive tariffs as a way to stop foreigners from selling us stuff, and thereby revive the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.”

Unfortunately, as just about any economist could tell him — but probably not within his three-minute attention span — it doesn’t work that way. Even if tariffs lead to a partial reversal of the long decline in manufacturing employment, they won’t add jobs on net, just shift employment around. And they probably won’t even do that: Taken together, the new regime’s policies will probably lead to a faster, not slower, decline in American manufacturing.

How do we know this? We can look at the underlying economic logic, and we can also look at what happened during the Reagan years, which in some ways represent a dress rehearsal for what’s coming.

Now, I’m talking about the reality of Reagan, not the Republicans’ legend, which assigns all blame for the early-1980s recession to Jimmy Carter and all credit for the subsequent recovery to the sainted Ronald. In fact, that whole cycle had almost nothing to do with Reagan policies.

What Reagan did do, however, was blow up the budget deficit with military spending and tax cuts. This drove up interest rates, which drew in foreign capital. The inflow of capital, in turn, led to a stronger dollar, which made U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive. The trade deficit soared — and the long-term decline in the share of manufacturing in overall employment accelerated sharply.

Notably, it was under Reagan that talk of “deindustrialization” and the use of the term “Rust Belt” first became widespread.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Reagan-era manufacturing decline took place despite a significant amount of protectionism, especially a quota on Japanese car exports to America that ended up costing consumers more than $30 billion in today’s prices.

Will we repeat this story? The Trump regime will clearly blow up the deficit, mainly through tax cuts for the rich. (Funny, isn’t it, how all the deficit scolds have gone quiet?) True, this may not boost spending very much, since the rich will save much of their windfall while the poor and the middle class will face harsh benefits cuts. Still, interest rates have already risen in anticipation of the borrowing surge, and so has the dollar. So we do seem to be following the Reagan playbook for shrinking manufacturing.

It’s true that Mr. Trump appears ready to practice a much more extreme form of protectionism than Reagan, who avoided outright violations of existing trade deals. This could help some manufacturing industries. But it will also drive the dollar higher, hurting others.

And there’s a further factor to consider: The world economy has gotten a lot more complex over the past three decades. These days, hardly anything is simply “made in America,” or for that matter “made in China”: Manufacturing is a global enterprise, in which cars, planes and so on are assembled from components produced in multiple countries.

What will happen to this enterprise if the United States takes a meat ax to the agreements that govern international trade? There will, inevitably, be huge dislocation: Some U.S. factories and communities will benefit, but others will be hurt, bigly, by the loss of markets, crucial components or both.

Economists talk about the “China shock,” the disruption of some communities by surging Chinese exports in the 2000s. Well, the coming Trump shock will be at least as disruptive.

And the biggest losers, as with health care, will be white working-class voters who were foolish enough to believe that Donald Trump was on their side.

Or, as was pointed out in “Blazing Saddles,”:

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

January 25, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom thinks he knows all about “Smart Approaches, Not Strong-Arm Tactics, to Jobs” and he, as usual, informs us that Democrats need to take the long view.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Banal Belligerence of Donald Trump,” says Americans will have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why.  Mr. Bruni is sure he knows all about “The Wrong Way to Take On Trump,” and says if we insult his youngest son, curse, or surrender the high ground we’ll lose it all.  There will be a comment from one of the ladies after that…  Here’s TMOW, writing from London:

I’ve actually been watching the early Trump presidency from London. (I would have gone to the moon, but I couldn’t get a ride.) Even from here I have vertigo.

My head is swirling from “alternative facts,” trade deals canceled, pipelines initiated, Obamacare in the Twilight Zone and utterly bizarre rants about attendance on Inauguration Day and fake voters on Election Day. Whatever this cost Vladimir Putin, he’s already gotten his money’s worth — a chaos president. Pass the vodka.

But moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats who opposed Donald Trump need to beware. He can make you so nuts — he can so vacuum your brains out — that you can’t think clearly about the most important questions today: What things are true even if Trump believes them, and therefore merit support? And where can Democrats offer smarter approaches on issues, like jobs, for instance — approaches that can connect to the guts of working-class voters as Trump did, but provide a smarter path forward.

Where Trump’s instinct is not wrong is on the need to strike a better long-term trading arrangement with China. But I worry about his pugnacious tactics. I would be negotiating with Beijing in total secret. Let everybody save face. If he smacks China with “America First,” China will smack him with “China First,” and soon we’ll have a good ol’ trade war.

Where I think Democrats should focus their critique, and fresh thinking, is how we actually bring back more middle-class jobs. A day barely goes by without Trump threatening some company that plans to move jobs abroad or build a factory in Mexico, not America.

If Trump’s bullying can actually save good jobs, God bless him. But what Trump doesn’t see is that while this may get him some short-term jobs headlines, in the long-run C.E.O.s may prefer not to build their next factory in America, precisely because it will be hostage to Trump’s Twitter lashings. They also may quietly replace more workers with robots faster, because Trump can’t see or complain about that.

“Trump wants to protect jobs,” explained Gidi Grinstein, who heads the Israeli policy institute Reut. “What we really need is to protect workers.”

You need to protect workers, not jobs, because every worker today will most likely have to transition multiple times to multiple jobs as the pace of change accelerates. So the best way you help workers is by ensuring that they are flexible — that they have the skills, safety nets, health care and lifelong learning opportunities to make those leaps and that they live in cities open to innovation, entrepreneurship and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

The societal units protecting workers best are our healthy communities — where local businesses, philanthropies, the public school system and universities, and local government come together to support a permanent education-to-work-to-life-long-skill-building pipeline.

Businesses signal to schools and colleges, in real time, the skills they need to thrive in the global economy, and philanthropies fund innovative programs for supplemental education and training. Schools also serve as adult learning and social service centers — and local and state governments support them all, including reaching out globally for investors and new markets.

Eric Beinhocker, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford, calls this the “new progressive localism.” For too long, he argues, “progressives have been so focused on Washington, they’ve missed the fact that most of the progress on the issues they care about — environment, education, economic opportunity and work-force skills — has happened at the local level. Because that is where trust lives.” Trust is what enables you to adapt quickly and experiment often, i.e., to be flexible. And there is so much more trust on the local level than the national level in America today.

When Trump strong-arms a company to retain jobs, but kills Obamacare without a credible alternative, he is saving jobs but hurting workers, because he is making workers less secure and less flexible.

Another of Trump’s jobs fallacies is that regulation always holds companies back. In some cases it does, and thoughtful deregulation can help. But Trump’s argument that we must ignore climate science because steadily upgrading clean energy standards for our power, auto and construction companies kills jobs is pure nonsense.

Fact: California has some of the highest clean energy standards for cars, buildings and electric utilities in America. And those standards have kept California one of the world’s leaders in clean-tech companies and start-ups, and its jobs and overall economy have grown steadily since 2010.

“The Golden State has more than half a million advanced energy jobs,” says Energy Innovation C.E.O. Hal Harvey. “That’s 10 times more — in this state alone — than total U.S. coal jobs.” Trump’s strategy is to “make America last” on clean energy and to double down on coal. Insane.

In sum, Democrats should and can take the language of “strength” away from Trump and own it themselves. They should be for strong workers, not strong walls; for building strong communities, not relying on a strongman to strong-arm employers; and for strong standards to create strong companies. Those would be my fightin’ words.

Well, at least this time he’s not suggesting that we take our gently used designer frocks to the consignment store to earn money.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

The soldiers, millions of them, came home from the war. They dispersed across the country, in big towns and small. It was not easy to recount what had happened to them, and for the dead it was impossible.

Something in the nature of their sacrifice was unsayable. The country was not especially interested. War had not brought the nation together but had divided it. The sudden flash, the boom, the acrid stench and utter randomness of death were as haunting as they were incommunicable.

This was war without victory, the kind that invites silence. For the soldiers, who fought in the belief that their cause was right and their nation just, the silence was humiliating. They bore their injuries, visible and invisible, with stoicism.

Resentments accumulated. The years went by, bringing only mediocrity. Glory and victory were forgotten words. Perhaps someone might mutter, “Thank you for your service.” That was it. There was no national memorial, for what would be memorialized?

Savings evaporated overnight in an economic meltdown engineered by financiers and facilitated by the abolishers of risk.

Democracy, the great diluter, slow and compromised, was inadequate for the expression of the soldiers’ emotions. Reasonable leaders with rational arguments could not assuage the loss. They seemed to belittle it with their parsing of every question and their half-decisions.

No, what was needed was a leader with answers, somebody to marshal a popular movement and cut through hesitations, a strongman who would put the nation first and mythologize its greatness, a figure ready to scapegoat without mercy, a unifier giving voice to the trampled masses, a man who could use democracy without being its slave.

Over 15 years national embitterment festered and yearning intensified. But which 15 years? Anyone these days may be forgiven for moments of disorientation. The 15 years from the devastating German defeat of 1918 to the electoral victory (with 43.9 percent of the vote) of Adolf Hitler in 1933? Or the 15 years from the devastating 9/11 attack on the United States to the electoral victory (with 46.1 percent of the vote) of Donald Trump in 2016?

National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution.

German soldiers, two million of them killed in the Great War, came home to fractious and uneasy democratic politics, the ignominy of reparations, the hyperinflation of the early 1920s, the crash of 1929, and the paralysis of a political system held hostage by the extremes of left and right.

Some 2.7 million American soldiers came home to a country that had been shopping while they served in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, with 6,893 killed and more than 52,000 injured. They returned to an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized polity; to the financial disaster of 2008; to the mystery of what the spending of trillions of dollars in those wars had achieved; to stagnant incomes; to the steady diminishment of American uniqueness and the apparent erosion of its power.

Every American should look at the map in Kael Weston’s powerful book, “The Mirror Test.” It shows, with dots, the hometowns of U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. No state is spared. The map should be hung in classrooms across the country.

I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency — whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 — pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.

To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of the which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.

Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought. When Primo Levi arrived at Auschwitz he reached, in his thirst, for an icicle outside his window but a guard snatched it away. “Warum?” Levi asked (why?). To which the guard responded, “Hier ist kein warum” (here there is no why).

As the great historian Fritz Stern observed, “This denial of ‘why’ was the authentic expression of all totalitarianism, revealing its deepest meaning, a negation of Western civilization.”

Americans are going to have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why against the banal belligerence of Trump.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

You know how Donald Trump wins? I don’t mean a second term or major legislative victories. I’m talking about the battle between incivility and dignity.

He triumphs when opponents trade righteous anger for crude tantrums. When they lose sight of the line between protest and catcalls.

When a writer for “Saturday Night Live” jokes publicly that Trump’s 10-year-old son has the mien and makings of a killer.

“Barron will be this country’s first home-school shooter,” the writer, Katie Rich, tweeted. I cringe at repeating it. But there’s no other way to take proper note of its ugliness.

That tweet ignited a firestorm — and rightly so — but it didn’t really surprise me. It was just a matter of time. This is the trajectory that we’re traveling. This, increasingly, is what passes for impassioned advocacy.

Look elsewhere on Twitter. Or on Facebook. Or at Madonna, whose many positive contributions don’t include her turn at the microphone at the Women’s March in Washington, where she said that she’d “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” erupted into profanity and tweaked the lyrics to one of her songs so that they instructed Trump to perform a particular sex act.

What a sure way to undercut the high-mindedness of most of the women (and men) around her on that inspiring day. What a wasted opportunity to try to reach the many Americans who still haven’t decided how alarmed about Trump to be. I doubt that even one of them listened to her and thought: To the barricades I go! If Madonna’s dropping the F bomb, I must spring into action.

All of this plays right into Trump’s hands. It pulls eyes and ears away from the unpreparedness, conflicts of interest and extreme conservatism of so many of his cabinet nominees; from the evolving explanations for why he won’t release his tax returns; from his latest delusion or falsehood, such as his renewed insistence that illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote; from other evidence of an egomania so profound that it’s an impediment to governing and an invitation to national disaster.

There’s so much substantive ground on which to confront Trump. There are acres upon acres. Why swerve into the gutter? Why help him dismiss his detractors as people in thrall to the theater of their outrage and no better than he is?

And why risk that disaffected Americans, tuning in only occasionally, hear one big mash of insults and insulters, and tune out, when there’s a contest — over what this country stands for, over where it will go — that couldn’t be more serious.

After Rich’s tweet, “Saturday Night Live” suspended her, and she was broadly condemned, by Democrats as well as Republicans, for violating the unofficial rule against attacks on the young children of presidents. Chelsea Clinton, on her Facebook page, urged people to give Barron space and peace — something that wasn’t always done for her, for George W. Bush’s daughters or for Barack Obama’s.

But the treatment of presidential progeny isn’t the real story here. And that’s a complicated saga anyway, because so many presidents and candidates try to have things both ways, putting family on display when it suits them and then declaring them off limits when it doesn’t.

The larger, more pressing issues are how low we’re prepared to sink in our partisan back-and-forth and what’s accomplished by descending to Trump’s subterranean level. His behavior has been grotesque, and it’s human nature to want to repay him in kind. It feels good. It sometimes even feels right.

Many people I know thrilled to the viral footage a few days ago of the vile white supremacist Richard Spencer being punched in the head during a television interview. But that attack does more to help him than to hurt him.

Many people I know thrilled to BuzzFeed’s publication of a dossier with unsubstantiated allegations about Trump. But that decision bolstered his ludicrous insistence that journalists are uniquely unfair to him. It gave him a fresh weapon in his war on the media.

If Trump’s presidency mirrors its dangerous prelude, one of the fundamental challenges will be to respond to him, his abettors and his agenda in the most tactically prudent way and not just the most emotionally satisfying one. To rant less and organize more. To resist taunts and stick with facts. To answer invective with intelligence.

And to show, in the process, that there are two very different sets of values here, manifest in two very distinct modes of discourse. If that doesn’t happen, Trump may be victorious in more than setting newly coarse terms for our political debate. He may indeed win on many fronts, over many years.

I’m not the only woman who is sick unto death of being told how to behave by the likes of David Brooks and Frank Bruni.  Here’s a comment on this POS by “Lorie” from Portland, OR:

“And there you have it, ladies. First David Brooks and now Mr. Bruni schooling women on how to respond to the election to the highest office in the country of a man who has admitted to sexually assaulting women, and we are expected to immediately take the high road. Do you know how well acting “ladylike” has worked for us? All you need to do is look at the picture of seven white men reinstating the gag order. The gloves need to come off. Please stop telling us how we need to express our anger in a gentle way so as not to be displeasing to the delicate sensibilities of men (and some women) who find profanity too much for their adult minds to bear. And enough with this “stop picking on Barron” nonsense. It was one tweet, and a few other comments – nothing compared to the barrage of horrible, profane comments “conservatives” unleashed on the Obama girls when one celebrated her 15th birthday and the other announced her intention to attend Harvard. There is no comparison. Again, we are being asked to accept a false equivalence in the name of “civility”. Can we women at least have a few months to express our anger how we want before the men swoop in to tell us how wrong we are doing it? Or is that just too much to ask?”

I’m sure it is, Lorie.  And maybe I’d be more willing to keep my mouth shut if there were substantial numbers of men protesting as well.  But, of course, Trump and his minions aren’t about to get all up in their vaginas, are they?