Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Collins, solo

March 18, 2017

In “Trump Stays Buggy” Ms. Collins, taking the words from the mouth of Mein Fubar, says let’s blame British spies, Fox News and — oh, did you know he used to have a TV show?  Here she is:

Whatever Donald Trump has, it’s spreading.

We’ve got a president who makes things up, and won’t retract when he’s cornered. This week press secretary Sean Spicer followed the leader. He picked up Trump’s wiretap story and added a new exciting detail: Not only had Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, he might have used British intelligence spies to do the dirty work.

The British, of course, went nuts, and national security adviser H. R. McMaster tried to smooth things over. McMaster is new to the job, having succeeded Mike Flynn, who had to resign for lying about his phone conversations. Flynn was not even around long enough for us to find out that he was also a lobbyist for Turkish interests and took $68,000 from various Russian connections.

This is how insane the Trump administration is: On his first day, the new secretary of the interior rode to work on a horse named Tonto, and nobody really even noticed.

The part of the gang that isn’t involved in active fiction-writing is still saying things that are … peculiar. When budget director Mick Mulvaney rolled out the new Trump budget plan, the nation discovered he’s Sean Spicer with a calculator.

Mulvaney’s most memorable comment was an apparent dis of Meals on Wheels. (“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.”) He also explained that tons of federal employees had to lose their jobs because “you can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it.”

Aid to public broadcasting had to go because Mulvaney couldn’t bear to tell “the coal mining family in West Virginia” that their taxes were going to the people who gave us “Sesame Street.”

Meanwhile, Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, was making the rounds attempting to explain the Republican health care bill. Including the part that lifts a $500,000 cap on health insurance company tax deductions for executive pay. (“That doesn’t sound like America to me.”)

Try to imagine, people, that you are the coal mining family in West Virginia. Which would you find more bothersome? Taxes going to help pay for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, or tax breaks for insurance companies that pay their C.E.O.s eight-figure salaries?

But budget and health care considerations faded in the glare of Donald Trump still insisting that Barack Obama had him wiretapped. The man is never going to admit he’s wrong about anything, is he?

All this began with twittering. You’d think at least he’d give that up, but no. “I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter, because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press,” Trump told Tucker Carlson in a Fox interview. He then launched into an attack on NBC’s ingratitude. (“I made a fortune for NBC with ‘The Apprentice.’ I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time.”)

Have we had a day of the Trump presidency without a mention of “The Apprentice”?

“I made — and I was on for 14 seasons. And you see what happened when I’m not on. You saw what happened to the show. It was a disaster,” said the head of the most powerful nation in the world, who appears to think about Arnold Schwarzenegger more than he thinks about North Korea.

Pity his poor press secretary. This week, clearly at the president’s urging, Spicer read aloud an endless series of news stories that would have supported Trump’s claim to be a wiretap victim except for the part in which none of them did. Then he quoted a Fox commentator posing the theory about British spies.

The ensuing uproar pretty much ate up a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Trump seemed to relate to only as a potential fellow victim of Obama bugs. (“At least we have something in common perhaps.”) At first, when Merkel suggested they shake hands, Trump stared blankly ahead. But he did express a little sense of connection when the discussion turned to Germany’s programs for apprenticeships. (“That’s a name I like.”)

At a press conference, the president refused to even acknowledge that it was a bad idea for Spicer to bring up that British spy theory. “We said nothing,” he insisted, passing the buck. “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Meanwhile, over in Congress, powerful Republicans were beginning to move toward flat-out admissions that their chief executive was … untruthing.

“We see no evidence of that,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, when asked about the wiretap story. Living with President Trump has made Ryan so pathetic you almost have to feel sorry for him, although not quite.

Imagine what would have happened if, at some point over the last two weeks, the president had just casually conceded that he had been misinformed about the wiretap thing. His health care plan wouldn’t look any better. His budget wouldn’t have been more defensible. But we’d feel slightly less terrified that the nation’s security is in the hands of a nut job.

Collins, solo

March 11, 2017

In “Glad Tidings About the Three Faces of Donald Trump” Ms. Collins gives us one congressman’s 50 days of peculiar presidential encounters.  Here she is:

Good news: the president seems pretty enthusiastic about bringing down drug prices. This is important both because drug prices are way too high and because positive reports out of Washington are so very, very rare.

Every day we get up and stagger forward through the great, barren desert that is the Trump administration, yearning for happy tidings. (Did you know the A.S.P.C.A. says pet adoptions are up?) If we never find an oasis, maybe at least there’ll be a shiny little rock.

So. This week the president took time out from the Trumpcare battles to meet with two Democratic lawmakers and talk about lowering the cost of drugs. “I want to get some things done. … I keep telling myself, four years is a long time. I could be dead in four years,” said one of the conferees, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Cummings wants to give the government power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of drugs for Medicare patients. I know, it seems insane that they don’t do that already. But there’s actually a rule against it. Inserted at the behest of Big Pharma during the Bush administration.

And Trump seemed interested. “I do believe he heard me. And he was very enthusiastic,” Cummings told me.

he one worry here is which version of the president it was that Cummings, and his colleague, Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, were meeting with.

There are three basic variations. Reasonable Chatting Trump is pleasant but useless. Unscripted Trump is pretty close to nuts. And then there’s the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who we enjoy calling SNORT.

To be fair, all three faces have called for lower drug prices. SNORT even mentioned it in the much-praised speech he read to Congress. That performance was so highly regarded we’d still be hearing about it, had not Unscripted Trump gotten out of bed at dawn last weekend and tweeted that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

My theory is that Cummings saw Reasonable Chatting Trump — the guy who’s always sitting down and having rewarding talks with progressives, who emerge from the discussions convinced they’ve scored a coup. Unfortunately, by the time they hit the street he’s forgotten every word.

Here’s a hint: After the meeting with the two Democrats, Trump’s office issued a statement saying the president did indeed want to work “in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans.” But the idea of actual price negotiations wasn’t mentioned. Instead, it talked about “reducing the regulatory burdens on drug manufacturers so as to enhance competition.”

Cummings, on the other hand, is pretty sure he was dealing with an open-minded SNORT. “I had a follow-up call from the president this morning,” he reported.

This is pretty good evidence — the Chatter never follows up. And Cummings, who’s the top-ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, has already had wide, varied and frequently weird interactions with the new administration. Right after the election, he warned Vice President Mike Pence about naming Michael Flynn national security adviser, pointing out that during the campaign, Flynn had been not only a Trump surrogate, but also a lobbyist for Turkish government interests.

Yes! Three weeks after the Republican presidential convention, Flynn signed a $500,000-plus contract to work for a powerful associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the thuggish ruler of Turkey. Then he was appointed national security adviser. Then he was fired for matters having nothing whatsoever to do with the Turkish connection. It wasn’t until this week that he got around to filing the appropriate disclosure forms for foreign agents.

How many variations do you think there are for Michael Flynn? Pence, who seemed to have forgotten the Cummings letter entirely, only admitted knowing Mike Without Turks. The administration apparently only recognized the Dotted Line version.

“There’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed,” the legendary Sean Spicer told the media.

Holy moly.

But about Representative Cummings. He had a run-in with Unscripted Donald Trump a few weeks ago, when a reporter asked the president if he’d have any discussions with the Congressional Black Caucus on urban issues. The president responded by asking the reporter, who is African-American, whether she knew any black caucus members and wanted to set up a meeting. Then he claimed he had once had an appointment with Cummings, but that the lawmaker had backed down. Probably under pressure from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Cummings heard it on a TV in the gym. “I was laying on the floor lifting some weights. I almost killed myself,” he recalled. “I was shocked.”

His version of events is, of course, different, but Cummings didn’t try to correct the record during his meeting with one of the other variations of the president. “I got bigger fish to fry,” he said.

We are so fucked…

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 9, 2017

In “A Ticket to Hell” Mr. Blow says that as he’s done all his life, Donald Trump sold those around him a bill of goods.  Mr. Kristof, in “Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia,” says coincidences happen, but there are reasons to suspect collusion.  In “Getting Freedom From Health” Ms. Collins says Janis Joplin had President Trump’s number.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has spent his whole life overselling an overinflated vision of himself and his success.

He was the outer-borough boy whose father’s “boxlike office” was on Avenue Z in Brooklyn; he always dreamed of making it to Manhattan and breaking into the big league.

With a hustler’s spirit and some sleight of hand, he made it, but not in total.

He made the move, made the money and made his mark on New York’s skyline, but he never quite made it into the inner sanctum of New York high society.

I’m convinced that this is part of his obsession with former President Barack Obama. Obama was quickly granted the thing Trump never had: upper-class acceptance and adulation.

For Trump’s part, his sin was even worse than being new-money: He was tacky rich.

No amount of money or success could completely rid him of the odiousness of being coarse and crass.

He upset social conventions.

For him, things had to be gilded to be glamorous. All modesty — either real or contrived to guard against exposure — was absent from the man. He was a glutton for attention and adoration. He chased the spotlight and pimped celebrity for profit. He valued flaunting over philanthropy.

In New York City’s elite social circles, Trump was persona non grata.

As many others have pointed out, he became the idiot’s image of an intellectual, the coward’s image of a courageous man and the pauper’s image of a prosperous man.

But rather than being crimped by his ostracism, he wore it as a badge of honor.

He became the Everyman of rich men. He was the outsider, too authentic and even acerbic to be tamed by the convention of the elites. He was the populist billionaire, still engaged in the rough and tumble, at home on reality television just as he was in overpriced real estate.

He was impolitic in the way that many average Joes would be if they came into wealth and not from it.

He swept into politics at just the time that message had its greatest resonance, when there were enough people leery of institutions and weary of the establishment; the wealthy, social, cultural and intellectual elites were on the outs, and there was an opening for an outsider who knew how to work his way in.

The elites who had rejected Trump were now the rejected class. They were the 1 percent, the Wall Street barons, the manifestation of the evils of income inequality. This was the time for a populist, or at least someone who could pretend to be one.

It was in that environment that Trump swept into the presidential election, with the same bluster and bravado, aggression and subversion that had worked well for him in business.

He was not book smart or well mannered. He was all gut and elbow and verbal barbs. For too many, he was refreshingly anti-polish and anti-convention.

And, as is Trump’s wont and calling card, he oversold his voters a bill of goods that he would never be able to deliver. The Pied Piper of pipe dreams did in politics what he had done in business: He got people to buy into a success mythology in which he was a wizard. In this mythology, ethics, honor and truth are casualties.

Everything is going to be the greatest and the best and the most successful simply because he deems it so.

But now, the legend of Trump, the one most rigid in his own mind, is rubbing up against the harsh reality of presidential politics, where cooperation is needed and accountability is demanded. In this new world, Trumpism appears brittle, hollow and impotent.

No matter your politics, Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster, as his rush to action, lack of focus and absence of acuity have led him to calamitous missteps and conspiratorial misstatements.

And now his oversold promises are being exposed for the lies they were — draining the swamp in Washington, forcing Mexico to pay for his ridiculous southern border wall, the incredibly defective Obamacare repeal and replacement proposal.

In January, Trump oversold again in an interview with The Washington Post about what he would deliver. The Post reported Trump’s comments this way:

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People covered under the law “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

But the plan just announced and endorsed by Trump doesn’t even come close to delivering on this promise. Not only would prices most likely rise for many Trump voters, but millions of Americans would be at risk of losing coverage under the plan.

Not only that, but as NBC reported last month:

“Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are likely to be hit the hardest if he makes good on his promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and embark on trade wars with China and Mexico.”

The report continued:

“An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 6.3 million of the 11.5 million Americans who used the A.C.A. marketplace to buy their insurance last year live in Republican congressional districts. Policy analysts say that a rollback of the A.C.A. would hurt older and rural Americans — two populations that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.”

As he has done his whole life, Trump has sold those who follow him as some sort of money-drenched messiah a bill of goods, but this time the lie is likely to manifest in loss of life, as sick people lose coverage.

Donald Trump has sold his supporters — and by extension, this country — a ticket to hell.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

I enjoyed the show “House of Cards” but always felt that it went a bit too far, that its plot wasn’t plausible. After seven weeks of President Trump, I owe “House of Cards” an apology. Nothing seems impossible any more.

That includes the most towering suspicion of all: that Trump’s team colluded in some way with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election. This is the central issue that we must remain focused on.

There are a lot of dots here, and the challenge is how to connect them. Be careful: Democrats should avoid descending into the kind of conspiratorial mind-set that led some Republicans to assume Hillary Clinton was a criminal about to be indicted or to conjure sex slaves belonging to her in a Washington pizza restaurant. Coincidences happen, and I think there has been too much focus on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, not enough on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager. Here are 10 crucial dots:

1. President Trump and his aides have repeatedly and falsely denied ties to Russia. USA Today counted at least 20 denials. In fact, we now know that there were contacts by at least a half-dozen people in the Trump circle with senior Russian officials.

2. There’s no obvious reason for all these contacts. When Vice President Mike Pence was asked on Jan. 15 if there had been contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin officials, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be?” We don’t know either, Mr. Vice President.

3. There were unexplained communications between a Trump Organization computer server and Russia’s Alfa Bank, which has ties to President Vladimir Putin. These included 2,700 “look-up” messages to initiate communications, and some investigators found all this deeply suspicious. Others thought there might be an innocent explanation, such as spam. We still don’t know.

4. “Repeated” and “constant” contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, as reported by The New York Times and CNN, are underscored by intercepts of communications involving Russian officials, and by the British and Dutch governments monitoring meetings in Europe between Russians and members of the Trump team.

5. A well-regarded Russia expert formerly with MI6, Christopher Steele, produced a now-famous dossier alleging that Russia made compromising videos of Trump in 2013, and that members of the Trump team colluded with the Kremlin to interfere with the U.S. election.

The dossier quoted a Russian as saying that a deal had been arranged “with the full knowledge and support of Trump” and that in exchange for Russian help, “the Trump team agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue.” James Clapper, the American former national intelligence director, says he saw no evidence of such collusion but favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

6. Trump has expressed a bewilderingly benign view of Russia and appointed officials also friendly to Moscow. He did not make an issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the campaign.

Kristof and Collins

March 2, 2017

In “However Much Trump Spends on Arms, We Can’t Bomb Ebola” Mr. Kristof says a bigger military isn’t a substitute for diplomacy, foreign aid and good will.  Ms. Collins, in “The Three Donald Trumps Speak,” says the key to understanding our president is to realize there are several versions.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Before he became defense secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis once pleaded with Congress to invest more in State Department diplomacy.

“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition,” he explained. Alas, President Trump took him literally, but not seriously.

The administration plans a $54 billion increase in military spending, financed in part by a 37 percent cut in the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

That reflects a misunderstanding about the world — that security is assured only when we’re blowing things up. It’s sometimes true that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, as Chairman Mao said, but it also emerges from diplomacy, foreign aid and carefully cultivated good will.

Military power is especially limited when threats come from new directions. More than four times as many Americans now die each year from opioids as have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars combined, but warships can’t defeat drug traffickers. To beat traffickers, we need diplomacy and the good will of countries like Mexico and Afghanistan.

And we certainly can’t bomb Ebola or climate change.

Even before Trump’s election, we underfunded diplomacy and aid. Consider that the New York City police alone employ more than twice as many uniformed officers as the State Department has Foreign Service officers.

The military is one of the strongest advocates for nonmilitary investments — because generals know that they need diplomacy and aid to buttress their hard power. That’s why 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter pleading with Congress to fund the State Department and foreign aid.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates used to lament that the military had more musicians in its marching bands than the State Department had diplomats. As I do the numbers, that statement is no longer true, but it does reflect the continuing reality that Congress feeds the Pentagon while starving the State Department.

“Two brigades in the armed forces equal our entire diplomatic corps,” noted Nicholas Burns, a former senior diplomat who now teaches at Harvard. Burns said that he agrees with Trump that the military should get more funding but emphasized that slashing diplomacy and foreign aid will make it more difficult to address crucial transnational challenges, from drugs to crime to immigration.

“If you so dramatically underfund the State Department, you defeat the Trump agenda,” he said.

One of the biggest security threats the world faced in recent years was Ebola — and the next pandemic may be much worse — and the only effective response was to work with other countries to tackle the problems collectively.

That’s also true of terrorism. The RAND Corporation examined how 648 terrorist groups ended between 1968 and 2006. Most were absorbed by the political process or defeated by police work; only 7 percent were crushed by military force.

On balance, terrorists are probably less threatened by drones overhead than by girls with books. That’s why extremists shot Malala, threw acid in the faces of Afghan schoolgirls and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Terrorists understand what most threatens them, but I’m not sure we do.

The U.S. just lost a Navy SEAL in Yemen, and it’s useful to compare Yemen with its neighbor Oman. Until 1970, Oman was more backward than Yemen, for Oman banned radio as the work of the devil, locked the gates to the capital at night and offered no education for girls and almost none for boys. Then a new sultan took over and focused on education, of girls as well as boys, and Oman is now a boring, peaceful place, while Yemen floundered — and is torn apart by terrorism and civil war.

One can’t help wondering: If U.S. aid programs had invested in education in Yemen, might we have reduced today’s terrorism and violence? One study found that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country halves the risk of civil war.

Education is no panacea, but it is a bargain: For the cost of deploying one soldier abroad for a year, we can start about 40 schools.

I’m focusing on security interests here, but let’s also note that humanitarian aid is a matter of our values as well as of our interests. Do we really want to cut humanitarian aid just as hunger crises are spreading in Africa and the Middle East, threatening 20 million people with starvation?

Our security is advanced not just by being scary, but also by winning friends. President Trump will face a crisis — maybe with North Korea, maybe with China, maybe with some new pandemic — and he will need not just a robust military but also the cooperation of friendly nations.

Tanks can’t help when our president antagonizes Mexico, or hangs up on the Australian prime minister. Or when immigration officials detain and humiliate to tears a beloved 70-year-old Australian children’s author on her 117th visit to America.

“In that moment, I loathed America,” Mem Fox, the author, wrote. That’s one way nations lose their soft power and undermine their own national security.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Dear Advice Lady: Everybody is saying how reasonable President Trump sounded in his big speech to Congress, but it made me crazy! I was yelling at the TV the whole time. If he bothers me this much when he’s trying to be statesmanlike, how am I going to make it through four years?

— Sincerely, Can’t Stand Trump

Dear Can’t Stand Trump: Prioritize. If everything he says makes you start howling, your loved ones are going to stop paying attention to you. Or lock you in the attic.

— Advice Lady

C.S.T.: The stock market is booming after that speech! Just because they didn’t have to haul him off in a straitjacket! There’s such a thing as setting the bar too low.

A.L.: The key to understanding our president is to realize there are three versions. Unscripted Trump is the one who obsesses about crowd size and expresses complete astonishment that constructing a national health care plan is hard. That’s the one we worry will start a nuclear war.

C.S.T.: So the Dow went up 300 points because Unscripted didn’t show up to address Congress?

A.L.: Yep. The second version is Reasonable Chatting Trump. R.C.T. is the one who had pre-speech gatherings with journalists in which he mused about passing immigration law reform and making the Dreamers legal. Everyone was very excited until it became clear this had no relation to anything he was actually planning to say in public.

If you ever have an opportunity to sit down with the president for a private conversation, let me warn you: He’s going to be totally open to all your suggestions, nod frequently and leave you with the impression that you’ve scored a huge breakthrough. But he will not remember a thing that you discussed. In fact, he’ll have forgotten everything the minute you said it.

C.S.T.: Then he walked in front of Congress and became Version 3?

A.L.: Yes, the guy with the teleprompter. We will call him Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, or SNORT.

C.S.T.: When he started off with a call for unity against anti-Semitism, I threw my sock at the screen. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked him about attacks on Jewish institutions and he just quoted his Electoral College numbers.

A.L.: True, we don’t normally expect to have to educate our new presidents in how to express disapproval of anti-Semitism. But just be glad he seems to have absorbed the lesson.

C.S.T.: Only when he has a teleprompter.

A.L.: If you want to find something to throw your footwear at, take a closer look at those brief remarks condemning “hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” Trump began with a nod to Black History Month, then decried threats against Jewish community centers and vandalism against Jewish cemeteries “as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City.”

You’d think there’d be a little more attention to the “shooting,” which was in fact the murder of a tech worker from India that is being investigated as a hate crime.

C.S.T.: It wasn’t even in Kansas City! It was in Olathe, Kan.!

A.L.: O.K., that’s a tad over-obsessive.

The shooting involved two young men who had come to the United States as college students, liked it here and stayed legally. The gunman apparently thought they were Iranian and demanded to know what they were doing in this country. One was left dead and the other injured. A bystander who tried to intervene was wounded. The president never personally commented on it before the speech, where it got nine words.

If you suspect Donald Trump doesn’t want to call attention to the violent emotions he may be stirring up with his rants against immigrants and people from certain Muslim-majority nations, feel free.

C.S.T.: And what about his rants about the inner cities? I hate it when he acts as if every place with black people is a death zone. But you can’t just say, “Stop picking on Chicago’s murder rate.”

A.L.: Try yelling: “Yes! Crack down on gun sales to gangs!” He finds it upsetting when anybody suggests the problem with gun violence is guns.

C.S.T.: I think I could definitely do that.

A.L.: You could also try giving Trump a thumbs-up whenever he says something you agree with. It’ll make you feel fair-minded, and if he ever found out, it would confuse the heck out of him.

C.S.T.: There is nothing I agree with.

A.L.: What about lots of infrastructure spending?

C.S.T.: He’ll spend it on the wrong things.

A.L.: You really are tough.

C.S.T.: In an hourlong speech, the only thing he said about the environment was that he wanted to “invest in women’s health and to promote clean air and clean water.”

A.L.: Well, that was SNORT reading. Reasonable Chatting Trump is crazy about the environment. He’s even worried about climate change. Just ask him, before he forgets. And Donald the Unscripted thinks environmentalism is an evil plot by the same people who bussed millions of unregistered noncitizens to the polls to dilute his election triumph.

Take your pick. They’ll all be around for the next four years.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 23, 2017

In “The Death of Compassion” Mr. Blow says the Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise.  Mr. Kristof tells us that “Even if Trump Is the Enemy, His Voters Aren’t,” and then he tells us not to adopt Trump’s trick of “otherizing” people, even Trump supporters.  It’s unusual that I feel compelled to put in a comment to Mr. Kristof this time “Sheri” from New Mexico has something to say.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Is Bad For Water and Puppies,” and that maybe the president keeps talking crazy to divert attention from the fact that he doesn’t have anything else to report.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Folks, we have been here before.

After Ronald Reagan, a celebrity-turned-politician, carried 49 states in his devastating defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984, Democrats were whining and moaning, shuffling their feet and scratching their heads.

Reagan had done particularly well with those who would come to be known as Reagan Democrats — white, working-class voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, whom a New York Times contributor would later describe as “blue-collar, ethnic voters,” who were drawn to Reagan’s messages of economic growth and nationalistic pride.

But just like Donald Trump’s path to victory, Reagan’s was strewn with racial hostilities and prejudicial lies.

While Trump’s tropes involved Mexicans and Muslims and that tired euphemism of disastrous inner cities, Reagan used the “welfare queen” scare, as far back as his unsuccessful bid for president in 1976.

As I have written before, Reagan explained at nearly every stop that there was a woman in Chicago who “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

But it was not as it seemed.

As my colleague Paul Krugman wrote in 2007: “Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman’s race, but he didn’t have to.”

As Gene Demby perfectly summed up on NPR in 2013: “In the popular imagination, the stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ is thoroughly raced — she’s an indolent black woman, living off the largess of taxpayers. The term is seen by many as a dog whistle, a way to play on racial anxieties without summoning them directly.”

So, then as now, economic anxiety and throbbing xenophobia were convenient shields behind which brewing racial animus could hide.

Indeed, Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again” was first used by Reagan.

And yet, Democrats in 1984 were quick to look for the lessons they could learn on how to reach out to the Reagan coalition, instead of condemning it.

In the days following Reagan’s win that year, The New York Times reported:

“Democratic Party leaders began yesterday what they foresee as a long and agonizing appraisal of how they can renew their appeal to the white majority in presidential elections and still hold the allegiance of minorities, the poor and others who seek federal assistance.”

In a telephone interview with The Times for the article, then-Representative James R. Jones of Oklahoma, a fiscal conservative, said, “I think we should adopt the slogan of compassionate conservatism.” He continued, “We can be fiscally conservative without losing our commitment to the needy and we must redirect our policy in that direction.”

But in truth, there was no compassion to be had in that conservatism then — and definitely not now.

In 1981, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who was then president of the National Urban League, stung the Reagan administration:

“I do not challenge the conservatism of this administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.”

But while Reagan at least operated under the veneer of positivity and hopefulness with the language of a “shining city on a hill,” Trump has pursued a blatant appeal to anger and hostility with his talk of a nation in decline.

Over the years, compassionate conservatism has had its moments, including being espoused by Jack Kemp and President George W. Bush. That all feels like quaint, retrospective ephemera now.

Compassionate conservatism is dead; Trump and his band of backward-thinking devotees killed it.

Trump is rushing headlong into Muslim bans and mass deportations, wall building and Obamacare dismantling. Indeed, it feels like the campaign promises Trump is keeping have to do with cruelty and those he’s flip-flopping on have to do with character.

For instance, it is now abundantly clear that Trump had no intention whatsoever of draining the swamp in Washington. He is simply restocking it to his liking.

This is why I have no patience for liberal talk of reaching out to Trump voters. There is no more a compromise point with those who accept, promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia than there is a designation of “almost pregnant.”

Trump is a cancer on this country and resistance is the remedy. The Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise.

No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute. This is a culture war in which truth is the weapon, righteousness the flag and passion the fuel.

Fight, fight, fight. And when you are finished, fight some more. Victory is the only acceptable outcome when freedom, equality and inclusion are at stake.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A few days ago, I blithely tweeted a warning that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking of Trump voters. That provoked a vehement reaction.

[the text of his tweet, which will not embed for me, is “Yes! Democrats still too often sound patronizing when they speak of Trump voters, and it’s hard to recruit people you’re patronizing.”]

“Sorry,” Jason tweeted back, “but if someone is supporting a racist ignoramus who wants to round up brown ppl and steal my money, I’m gonna patronize.”

“This is normalization of a hateful ideology and it’s shameful,” protested another.

“My tone isn’t patronizing,” one person responded. “It’s hostile. Intentionally. I won’t coddle those who refuse to recognize my humanity.”

“What a great idea!” another offered. “Let’s recruit a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains because we could possibly ‘WIN!’”

And so the comments went, registering legitimate anxieties about President Trump — but also the troubling condescension that worried me in the first place. I fear that the (richly deserved) animus toward Trump is spilling over onto all his supporters.

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let’s be careful about blanket judgments.

My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but don’t always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn’t because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they didn’t know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people don’t actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they don’t know any.

There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

Tolerance is a liberal value; name-calling isn’t. This raises knotty questions about tolerating intolerance, but is it really necessary to start with a blanket judgment writing off 46 percent of voters?

When Trump demonizes journalists as “the enemy of the American people,” that is an outrageous overstep. But suggesting that Trump voters are enemies of the people is also inappropriate.

The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races — including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.

Clinton’s calling half of Trump voters “deplorables” achieved nothing and probably cost her critical votes. Why would Democrats repeat that mistake?

Yes, the Trump camp includes some racists and other bigots. But it’s a big camp, and let’s not be so quick to affix labels on every member of a vast group.

This column may offend everyone, from Trump enthusiasts to liberals who decry them. But my message is simple:

Go ahead and denounce Trump’s lies and bigotry. Stand firm against his disastrous policies. But please don’t practice his trick of “otherizing” people into stick-figure caricatures, slurring vast groups as hopeless bigots. We’re all complicated, and stereotypes are not helpful — including when they’re of Trump supporters.

So apparently it’s just fine when Bobo Brooks stereotypes liberals, but we have to suck it up…  Gotcha, Nick.  Here’s what “Sheri” in New Mexico had to say to him:

“OK — 63 million aren’t deplorable…just 62 million are…Really, Mr. Kristof. I almost always enjoy reading your columns and think you are a man of conscience, but you are going too far with this one. In WHAT way did Hillary Clinton indicate that she didn’t care about the economic conditions around the country? She cared, but they refused to hear her. That makes them at least stupid if not deplorable.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

And now, things that are Really Happening in the world of Donald Trump.

We bring you this list as a public service. It’s easy to be distracted by all the strange/contradictory/awful things the president says. For instance, a lot of people were stunned when he responded to a question about anti-Semitic attacks in the United States by citing his winning numbers in the Electoral College. Then, when the question came up again and he yelled at the reporter who asked it.

Much, much later, Trump did read a statement denouncing racism and anti-Semitism. But even that seemed … worrisome. It’s not just that an elected official should know how to answer that question without a lot of prep work. Everybody should know how to answer that question. Your 3-year-old nephew. Your Uber driver. Uncle Fred who gets drunk at Thanksgiving. Nobody gets to ask for a script.

Maybe he keeps talking crazy to divert attention from the fact that he doesn’t have anything else to report. In Washington, outside of the ongoing disaster that is immigration policy, actual changes have been sparse. A lot of the departments don’t have new staffs yet — and some never will if Trump keeps insisting on only hiring people who never said anything negative about him during the campaign.

However, some little gremlins have been busy on the government websites, clearing out unpleasant information on issues like climate change. The Department of Agriculture has taken down its list of violators of the Animal Welfare Act, including “puppy mills” rife with dangerous and unsanitary conditions.

The justification for that one seemed to involve concern that the list violated the privacy of people who are terrible to little dogs. It’s hard to say for sure, since no one is picking up the phone at the headless Department of Agriculture. But if you’ve got a Republican member of Congress, be sure to go to the next town meeting and yell, “What about the puppies?”

Trump, who likes to be thought of as a decider, showed his stuff this week, resolving a dispute between two of his top appointees. It was a surprising development — who knew there were enough cabinet members in place for a fight? The battle featured Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in an argument over transgender rights.

Sessions, in one of his very first moves on the job, had decided to reverse a federal guideline that public schools should let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. DeVos — who knew she had it in her? — objected. Trump sided with Sessions, taking what appeared to be the opposite position from the one he espoused during the campaign.

The president, it turns out, is more conservative on social issues than the guy who was running in all those primaries against Ted Cruz. Now, with virtually nothing to lose, he’s gotten worse. Wow.

This gets depressing really fast. No wonder we’re looking for distractions. Everything weird going on in the world seems to have a Trump connection. For instance, there’s that assassination story involving the North Korean dictator — the guy who has, um, a really strange hairdo. His estranged half brother was mysteriously murdered in a bizarre assault. One of the women arrested claimed she believed the whole thing was a segment of a TV reality show. Just saying.

Congress, meanwhile, has just been sort of wandering around, trying to avoid thinking about health care or schedule any town meetings. Repealing Obama-era regulations is just about the only thing getting accomplished:

Guns: Last week our lawmakers took a very strong stance protecting the right of Americans to purchase guns despite severe mental impairment. Thanks, Congress!

The House and Senate voted to repeal a background check rule that screened out people who are receiving special Social Security benefits because mental problems made it impossible for them to work or even manage their own money. The National Rifle Association calls this “Obama’s unconstitutional gun grab.” Because, obviously, just because you can’t handle a Social Security check doesn’t mean you can’t handle an assault weapon.

Clean Water: Another repealed regulation prohibited coal companies from dumping their waste into streams. When he signed the bill, Trump claimed the change would save “many thousands of American jobs,” which is of course completely nuts, unless polluting the water is going to eliminate competition from natural gas. The federal estimate of lost jobs is around 260 per year.

Free the oil and gas companies: Trump also signed a bill repealing a rule that publicly traded oil, gas and mining companies had to disclose payments they make to foreign governments.

Talk about keeping your campaign promises. The president vowed to get rid of useless regulations, and already he’s opened the road for dirty Appalachian water and oil companies bribing other governments. With mentally deranged gunmen waiting on his desk.

Collins, solo

February 18, 2017

Ms. Collins, in “Mr. Trump, Our 15th President Thanks You,” says James Buchanan’s days as the worst American leader may be numbered.  Here she is:

There’s a bright side to everything. It’s true that Donald Trump could turn out to be the worst American president ever. But think how happy that’s going to make James Buchanan fans.

Buchanan’s been on the bottom for 150 years, but his days may be numbered. Sure he sent the country careening into civil war. But he never tweeted about it.

“We’ve heard that from some visitors,” said Patrick Clarke, director of Buchanan’s home in Lancaster, Pa.

You can’t help thinking about this stuff on Presidents’ Day weekend. When the guy we’ve got now has scheduled the first big political rally of his 2020 campaign.

He told you he’d make history! Trump is running for re-election before he can find the bathroom switch in the White House. It’s definitely something to tell the grandchildren. Don’t forget to print out the stories. You can use them as decorations on the wall of that old basement bomb shelter where you’ve secretly been starting to store canned goods and bottled water.

I know some of you are worried that the president is losing his mind. Perhaps you think that he’s depressed over the fact that his first four weeks in power have been marked by a disastrous attempt at immigration control, the axing of the national security adviser, the ignominious retreat of a nominee for labor secretary and a failed military raid in Yemen.

No. “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done,” Trump said at his press conference. Remember, this is not a man who does self-deprecating irony.

The now-famous press conference did give us a whole new vision of what the Trump Era is going to entail. Beginning when he called in reporters to announce a new nominee for secretary of labor and then gave the topic only 100 words in the next hour and a quarter.

You may have been unnerved by the president’s description of Obamacare. (“I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they’re not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.”)

And perhaps his riff about Russia weirded you out. (“… probably Putin assumes that he’s not going to be able to make a deal with me because it’s politically not popular for me to make a deal. So Hillary Clinton tries a reset. It failed. They all tried. But I’m different from those people.”)

Stop this. We’re trying to think positive. The good news is all this was not actually evidence the president is suffering a mental collapse. He’s always been like that.

We’ll take any cheering up we can get. Earlier in the week, Trump invited Chris Christie to a lunch at the White House. While everybody else at the table got to pick what they wanted to eat, the president made Christie order meatloaf. “It’s emasculating!” cried a talk-show host to whom the governor of New Jersey — for some reason — reported the tale.

“No it’s not,” Christie responded, rather weakly. “It is the president.… And the meatloaf was good.” It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to contemplate the fall, humiliation and political ruination the governor suffered at the hands of his alleged friend Donald. But every time it happens, there’s a little sunbeam.

Right now the administration is such a mess that after national security adviser Mike Flynn was pushed out of office, Trump’s next pick claimed he couldn’t take the job because he needed to spend more time with his family. That’s bad. On the other hand, the president did promise to create jobs. And the way we’re going, sooner or later everybody in the country is going to get an offer to serve in a top White House position.

En route to Florida for his re-election rally, the president stopped off at a Boeing plant in South Carolina, and supporters who had worried that the administration was going off the rails were heartened when he read his speech like a normal person. There were only a couple of off-the-cuff remarks about what a winner he is, and only one sort of strange moment, when he was talking about Air Force One. “What can look so beautiful at 30?” Trump demanded. “An airplane.”

Meanwhile, at the James Buchanan house, Patrick Clarke declined to offer any personal opinion on whether Trump could send Buchanan up a notch in the ratings. But he did provide an excellent example of thinking positive: “You know, if my guy wasn’t rated worst — if he fell smack dab in the middle — he’d be lost.”

Hold that thought. Whatever else happens you can take comfort in the realization that we’re not going to spend the next four years stuck with some boring mediocrity. We’re going nowhere near the middle.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 16, 2017

In “Drip, Drip, Drip” Mr. Blow says what we know about Russia only makes what we don’t know more ominous.  Mr. Kristof has a question:  “What Did Trump Know, and When Did He Know It?”  He says dots involving Russia are begging to be connected.  Ms. Collins says “Well, Trump Watchers, Things Could Be Worse,” and that on the plus side, we’re not in Pyongyang.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Every day there is a fresh outrage emerging from the murky bog of the Donald Trump administration.

Every day there is a new round of questions and a new set of concerns that raise anxieties and lower trust.

Every day it becomes ever more clear that it is right and just to doubt the legitimacy of this regime and all that flows from it.

The latest round involves the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who this week was forced to resign following disclosures about his communications with the Russian ambassador on the same day that then-President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its interference in our election to help Trump and damage Hillary Clinton.

The official reason given for requesting Flynn’s resignation was, according to the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer: “The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”

Spicer continued later, “The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.”

Spicer further stated, “The White House counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

If you are thinking, “Something about this just doesn’t smell right,” you’re right; it stinks. This doesn’t add up and it leads to a multiplying number of questions to which we don’t yet have answers.

The president was made aware of Flynn’s communications weeks ago, and apparently didn’t think it prudent to alert the vice president or to correct the record when the vice president said that Flynn had not discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador, when indicators pointed to the fact that he did.

Flynn lied. Trump knew Flynn lied. But Trump kept Flynn in his circle of confidence and apparently left the vice president out of the circle of knowledge. Why?

In tweets the president has posted since Flynn’s resignation (or firing — you choose how you want to cast it), Trump has seemed more upset by the fact that Flynn’s lies were leaked and reported than by the original transgression.

Furthermore, the president’s tweets and limited public pronouncements on the matter would lead reasonable readers and listeners to conclude that Flynn would still be on the job if his dealings had not become public.

This is an office culture issue. If the boss — in this case Trump — is a pathological liar who forces underlings to repeat and bolster his lies, what signal does that send to everyone else who works in that environment? That lying is not only accepted but also valued, that lying is simply a rhetorical device, a propaganda tool that is inexcusable only when not exercised with skill.

Trump knew exactly who he was getting when he hired Flynn, who had been fired by the Obama administration. Flynn is a habitual liar who lied so much when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency that, according to The New York Times, “subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: ‘Flynn facts.’ ”

Trump doesn’t mind a lie if it serves him; he does apparently mind if the liar is intentionally, maleficently trying to deceive him.

But even here, there are questions. It’s not clear whether Trump was aware of Flynn’s conversation with the Russians when it happened, or that he didn’t in some way direct it or receive a report of the call from Flynn himself after it happened.

Furthermore, Flynn’s communications with the Russians are not the only calls of concern. The New York Times reported Tuesday:

“Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”

What was the nature of these calls? Why were they made? Was anyone in the Trump orbit aware of Russian plans to hack the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign? Were they made aware in any way of when emails would be leaked?

Two things bear repeating ad infinitum:

In July, at a televised campaign event, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Then in October, an hour after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, WikiLeaks began to dump the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails on the internet.

Coincidence? Maybe. But that would be one hell of a coincidence, considering all the other reinforcing “coincidences”: Trump’s inexplicable, inexhaustible praise of Russia and Vladimir Putin; Putin’s failure to respond to Obama’s sanctions; an explosive report last week from CNN that read: “For the first time, U.S. investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent.”

What we know only makes what we don’t know feel all the more ominous. But I believe that facts are forthcoming. Reporters are digging like a crew of coal miners hopped up on a case of Red Bull, and sources in Washington are leaking to anyone with a press credential.

Drip, drip, drip it goes until the dam breaks and the truth spills.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

During the Watergate scandal, until now the most outrageous political scandal in American history, the crucial question was drawled by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Today the question is the same.

This is not about Mike Flynn. It is about the president who appointed him, who earlier considered Flynn for vice president. The latest revelation of frequent contacts between the Trump team and Russian intelligence should be a wake-up call to Republicans as well as Democrats.

When Vice President Mike Pence was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News on Jan. 15 if there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?”

Great question, Mr. Vice President.

Look, there’s a great deal we don’t know, but Russian interference in our election is potentially a bigger scandal than Watergate ever was. Watergate didn’t change an election’s result — President Richard Nixon would have won anyway in 1972 — while the 2016 election was close enough that Russian interference might have tipped the balance.

We don’t know whether the Russians had domestic help in their effort to steal the U.S. election, but here are a few dots that are begging to be connected:

First, the American intelligence community agrees that the Kremlin interfered during the campaign in an attempt to help Donald Trump. This isn’t a single agency’s conclusion, but reportedly a “strong consensus” among the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence.

Second, the dossier prepared by a former MI6 Russia expert outlines collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. CNN reports that American intelligence has communications intercepts corroborating elements of the dossier, and the latest revelation of repeated and constant contacts between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign give additional weight to the dossier’s allegations — although it’s also important to note that officials told The Times that they had seen no evidence of such cooperation in election manipulation.

Third, President Trump has been mystifyingly friendly toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin. As Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel to the C.I.A., puts it: “The bigger issue here is why Trump and people around him take such a radically different view of Russia than has been the case for decades. We don’t know the answer to that.”

Fourth, Flynn, before taking office, discussed Obama administration sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador. Flynn has now resigned, but he was steeped in the principle of a chain of command; I doubt he made these calls completely on his own. Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department who has known Flynn for years, says it would have been out of character for Flynn to do so. So who told Flynn to make these calls? Steve Bannon? Trump himself?

We’re back to our question: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

The White House hasn’t responded to my inquiries, and Trump lashes out wildly at “the fake news media” without answering questions. He reminds me of Nixon, who in 1974 said Watergate “would have been a blip” if it weren’t for journalists “who hate my guts.” Soon afterward, Nixon resigned.

Collins, solo

February 11, 2017

In “Footing the Bill for the Trumps” Ms. Collins points out that on the public’s dime, the first family is costing a pretty penny. It’s curious behavior considering the president’s 2011 complaints about the Obamas.  Here she is:

All these Trumps are getting damned expensive.

Last month, taxpayers forked over nearly $100,000 to protect Eric Trump while he was on a business trip to Uruguay. And the Defense Department is looking to rent space in Trump Tower — which goes for as much as $1.5 million a year per floor — so they can bring the nuclear launch codes along when the president comes to visit his wife in New York.

The mere idea of Donald Trump and the nuclear codes is way more disturbing than the money. But still, critics claim that Melania Trump’s decision not to move into the White House is costing the country more in security than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Melania is staying in New York so her son, Barron, can continue at his school. Presumably, the bill will drop somewhat over the summer. Meanwhile, the city police and the Secret Service have wrapped an incredibly expensive security blanket around a chunk of Fifth Avenue.

Of course she’s totally within her rights. One of the rules for criticizing a first family is that you leave the kids alone. (I am not thinking here of Eric.) If Melania decides never to become part of official Washington at all, that’s fine. There’s plenty of precedent. Zachary Taylor’s wife, Margaret, hated the whole idea so much that when Taylor died in office, the engraving of the deathbed scene showed Mrs. Taylor with her hands over her face in grief, because nobody knew what she actually looked like.

On the other hand, she never filed a lawsuit claiming an erroneous news story had hurt her ability to market a “broad-based commercial brand” while she had an unmatchable opportunity to be in the public eye as first lady.

Melania says her legal actions are completely misunderstood.

Conservatives used to have a field day complaining about the high cost of moving the Obamas around. The future President Trump himself once tweeted: “The habitual vacationer, @BarackObama, is now in Hawaii. This vacation is costing taxpayers $4 million +++ while there is 20% unemployment.”

The unemployment rate was not, at the time, anywhere near 20 percent. And last weekend Trump happily ran up a federal bill of around $3 million for a trip to Mar-a-Lago where he watched the Super Bowl and dropped in on a Red Cross ball, which presumably brought his resort a hefty fee.

Yeah, it’s the profit-making end of the story that’s so irritating. When Eric Trump went to Uruguay, his mission was to promote Trump Tower Punta del Este. “We’re going to have an amazing company,” Eric told the local media, adding that his father was going to do “amazing things for the United States.” And that Dad would be “an incredible commander in chief.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, adjective-wise.

The president has theoretically separated himself from all his businesses, but they still belong to him. He may not have operational command, but Eric does, and it’s hard for folks in Uruguay not to believe that the president is watching when the son comes to call and mix with his fellow realtors, flanked by a security detail that’s on our dime.

Those continuing financial interests around the world are a huge problem — you probably noticed that the immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries didn’t include the ones in which the president had hotels or condos or golf courses? And he’s never going to do anything to fix it. When Trump was calling for better ethics in Washington, he only wanted us to drain the other guys’ swamp.

But don’t you wish he’d try to show he appreciates the security price tag? We don’t want to make little Barron change schools, but Trump could buy Melania a condo in a relatively low-traffic location to save security from having to create a no-go zone in Midtown. It would send up a signal that he realized the problems he was causing. Also it would be cheaper for the Defense Department. And maybe closer to the school. The only thing inconvenienced would be Donald’s bottom line.

And Eric could have put his security detail up for free. Given that he was traveling on a moneymaking venture and all.

Trump did announce that when the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, came to visit him in Mar-a-Lago this weekend, he was not going to charge Abe for his room. “That is a gift that the president is extending to the prime minister,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, otherwise known as The Most Miserable Man on Earth.

That was the grand gesture. Meanwhile, you could argue that Trump is using a visit by an important foreign leader to promote one of his brands.

At least Abe has not been requested to pose holding up a gift bottle of Trump wine. As far as we know.

Well, you know, Gail — grifters gotta grift.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 9, 2017

In “Trump’s Leading Rivals Wear Robes” Mr. Blow says the president doesn’t have respect for separation of powers.  More likely, Charles, is that he doesn’t have any idea of what that means.  In “To Reject Trump the Perverse, Poets Wage a Battle in Verse” Mr. Kristof invites us to read the winners from among about 2,000 entries in my Donald Trump Poetry Contest.  Ms. Collins says “Elizabeth Warren Persists,” and that wow, there’s nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

President Obama was no fan of the dreadful 2010 Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of corporate personhood. In that case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court asserted that political spending, including by corporations, was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited money on ads and other tools to get candidates elected.

The president was not alone. As The Washington Post reported the month after the ruling:

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The Post continued:

“Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent ‘strongly’ opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits. The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).”

An overwhelming majority of America was aghast. So Obama reflected that frustration in his public statements.

The president addressed the debacle in his 2010 State of the Union address, in the presence of the Supreme Court justices who decided the case. He began his comments with a phrase that had not appeared in the prepared text, “With all due deference to separation of powers.” Then he let loose:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

Obama had previously criticized the ruling in one of his weekly radio addresses, stating:

“I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.”

He continued later:

“We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans, and we don’t intend to.”

That was his personal opinion — and the opinion of millions of Americans, many of whom were his supporters — and he had every right to voice it. Furthermore, he did so by confining his displeasure to the ruling itself and not impugning in any way the character or qualifications of the justices who rendered it.

And yet, condemnation of Obama was swift and brutal from some quarters.

You could argue that the venue of the State of the Union was not the appropriate one for Obama to repeat his criticism. But it is impossible to argue that his judicial rebuke, which looks quaint in retrospect, comes anywhere close to the venom Donald Trump is spewing at the judicial branch.

You could argue that Obama’s criticism carried more weight because it was aimed at the highest court. But Trump’s treatment of federal judges is worse. He’s punching down. He’s using the awesome power of the presidency to lob highly injurious and personal accusations at public servants below his station. The Supreme Court is on parity with the presidency; federal judges aren’t. This is the behavior of a bully.

As a candidate, Trump claimed that the federal judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn’t be able to preside over his Trump University fraud case because, as Trump put it:

“I’m building the wall, I’m building the wall. I have a Mexican judge. He’s of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things.”

This of course was a lie. Curiel is an American citizen born in East Chicago, Ind.

Last week, when a federal judge ruled against his Muslim ban, Trump lashed out on Twitter (where else?):

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

The next day, Trump again took to Twitter:

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

On Wednesday, while speaking to a gathering of police chiefs, Trump again lashed out at the court and the appeals process, reading a section of law and sniping, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

Trump should know. As a child, he got into so much trouble and became such an embarrassment to his parents that they sent him up the river, quite literally, to a military academy in the Hudson Valley for high school.

This constant, lowbrow attack on the courts is not an insignificant thing and not without consequence. And it is a major break from the way modern presidents have related to and dissented from the opinions of the judicial branch.

The New York Times’s Adam Liptak spoke with Peter G. Verniero, a former justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, after Obama’s 2010 State of the Union, and Liptak reported the exchange this way:

“The court’s legitimacy is derived from the persuasiveness of its opinions and the expectation that those opinions are rendered free of partisan, political influences,” Mr. Verniero said. “The more that individual justices are drawn into public debates, the more the court as an institution will be seen in political terms, which was not the intent of the founders.”

Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s own nominee for the Supreme Court, condemned the president’s attacks on the judges as demoralizing and disheartening.”

In the same way and for the same reason Trump is attacking the press, he is attacking the courts: They are the only real checks on his power and raging ego, while most congressional Republicans sit on their hands and swallow their pride.

The only courts or press that Trump sees as legitimate are those that bow to his will. All others are fake, very, very dishonest, unfair or some such. Trump’s intent here is to besmirch the means and motives of his opponents, to drag them down from their perches of principle, to make them more vulnerable to grievous political injury.

He always wants to grind the opposition underfoot. This is how democracy slips away, not always by a singular eruption, but sometimes by slow, constant erosion, the way the river carves itself into the rock.

This is not the behavior of a man who respects the independence of the judiciary or who grants any “deference to separation of powers,” as Obama improvised in 2010. This is a tyrant who sees power as a zero-sum game: The exercise of it by another branch means diminution of his own.

He doesn’t want to be president, but emperor.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Some people stand up to President Trump in the courts, others in street protests. And the poets among us, they battle President Trump with an arsenal of verse.

The Republican man of the hour
Is a wellspring of bluster and glower.
Trump is rich and he’s white,
How’s he leading the fight
Against entrenched Establishment power?

That’s by Bill McGloughlin, a librarian in Charlotte, N.C., who was one of the winners of my Donald Trump Poetry Contest. We had about 2,000 entries, and today I’m publishing the winners.

Some relied on humor — while complaining that almost nothing rhymes with “orange”! — and that’s the tack taken by Stephen Benko, a retired businessman in Fairfield, Conn. Benko has published an entire book of poems about Trump, but this one is new:

If God made man in his image
Please explain our new President’s visage
That pucker and scowl
Look like murder most foul
What in heaven, Lord, earned us this priv’lege?

Dan Letwin, a history professor at Penn State, wrote a timely “ode to alternative facts”:

Well now, Kellyanne Conway has lately conceived
Of a new understanding of what to believe
When the truth gives you heartburn, don’t worry, relax
You can always resort to alternative facts!

Oh it works for the Donald and all of his hacks
As they go ’bout promoting their retrograde acts
Don’t fret if your documentation is lax
You can always get by with alternative facts!

Don’t fear all those women with signs on their backs
The straight and the queer, the whites and blacks
You can trivialize them with snide little cracks
And wash them away with alternative facts!

Just as loggers might swing an alternative ax
And fell a great tree with alternative whacks
When the truth won’t cooperate, try some new tacks
We live in an age of alternative facts!

I sought out pro-Trump poems, but poets seem to be disproportionately aghast at his presidency. One of the most personal poems came from Amit Majmudar, the poet laureate of Ohio, who submitted a moving poem about his mother becoming a U.S. citizen. It’s a long poem, but it ends:

In the year of our liar 2016
My mom became the citizen
Of a strange America.
Improbability, too, is a force of nature.
We couldn’t not watch.
Unnatural untruths become natural lies.

In 2016, my mom became a naturalized

Citizen just in time to watch
America denature.

Najma Menai of West Lafayette, Ind., a student at Purdue, says that writing poetry is “one of the chief ways I’m keeping myself sane these days.” She submitted this poem warning against Trump’s antics distracting us from critical issues:

He will say something awful
And cause quite the fuss
Until that one thing
Is all we discuss.…

So when Trump says
The wall will now be a fence
Worry more about
Bannon and Priebus and Pence….

And when he acts like a child
On the global stage
Worry more about
How you, yes you, must engage

Richard Kenney, a poet who teaches at the University of Washington, offered a lovely poem about our “commander in tweet.” Two excerpts:

We mustn’t slander our Twitter Commander,
he’ll burble our bird and snatch our bander
and fire off a tweet with his hot little hand, or
maybe report us, so stay discreet—
Commander in Tweet! Commander in Tweet!
Muster the army, commission the fleet!
He’s a patsy for Putin, buffoon complete—
(And that old Constitution? Hit Delete—)

I held this contest partly because we’ve all heard so much commentary about Trump, and I figured that verse might offer a new lens through which to see our president. It also struck me that there are fears that Trump will slash budgets for the humanities and the arts, including the National Endowment for the Arts. So it seemed appropriate to applaud the artists fighting the perverse with verse — and in that spirit, I’ll give the last word to Susan McLean, a poet and English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University:

Trump seethes at what the writers say.
He’ll pull the plug on the N.E.A.
The joke’s on him. Art doesn’t pay.
We write our satires anyway.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a dark and dismal time for American liberals. Except for the part where the opposition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

We will now pause to contemplate the fact that this week the Senate Republicans attempted to forward their agenda by silencing Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow.

In explanation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell basically called Warren a pushy girl.

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Never has a political party reached such a pinnacle of success, and then instantly begun using it to inspire the opposition.

We’re less than three weeks into the Trump administration, and almost every day the people in power stop delivering the message of the day and veer off into a Strange Tale.

Which do you think the Democrats found most empowering — Trump’s first full day in the White House, when he marched off to the C.I.A. to deliver a rambling tirade about the inauguration crowd size? The Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation that eliminated any reference to the Jews? Or the new Supreme Court nominee saying the president who named him was being “demoralizing” and “disheartening”?

Or this Senate-silencing moment? The subject at hand was the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The debate was going to be endless. It was evening and nobody was listening. Warren was taking her turn and reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions in 1986.

That was when Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship on the basis of an impressive record of racial insensitivity as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. The charges included referring to a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy,” joking about the Ku Klux Klan and referring to the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American.”

His supporters say he’s changed. Indeed, Sessions has evolved into a senator who is well liked by his peers and obsessed with illegal immigrants. Totally different person.

Mrs. King’s letter was not flattering. (“…has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”) Neither were the quotes Warren read from the late Senator Edward Kennedy (“a disgrace”). But none of it was exactly a surprise, and all of Washington knew the nomination was eventually going to pass. Yet McConnell decided to shut down Warren, claiming she had “impugned the motives and conduct” of a fellow senator.

McConnell cited Rule 19, which is more than a century old. It comes up about once a generation, when somebody calls a colleague an idiot or a liar. But this was totally different. The other senators were startled — or would have been if most of them had not been napping or back in their offices, dialing up donors.

“She was warned,” McConnell said later. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Wow, nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.

“They were waiting to Rule 19 someone and they specifically targeted Elizabeth,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I think because she’s effective.”

The social media exploded. You have to admit we live in wondrous times, people. There was a day when people only took to Facebook to post pictures of their vacation. On Wednesday they were pouring in to watch Elizabeth Warren read her forbidden letter.

Dark and extremely conspiratorial minds suggested the whole thing was a Republican plot to promote Warren as a presidential candidate, since they believe Trump could defeat her in 2020. This presumes that McConnell is suffering from a pathological case of advance planning.

More likely he’s simply exhausted from dealing with a White House occupant who’s managed, just this week, to accuse the media of not covering terrorism, to suggest that George W. Bush was more of a killer than Vladimir Putin, and to use the official presidential account to tweet an attack on Nordstrom’s for discontinuing his daughter’s fashion line.

And the Republicans in Congress can’t figure out how to work around him. The other day the House majority refused to approve a Democratic resolution affirming “that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetuation of the Holocaust.” It obviously was an attempt to remind people of that Holocaust Memorial Week debacle. But still.

“They’re definitely squirming,” said Representative Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, in a phone interview. Crowley was on his way to Baltimore for a party strategy conference. I believe I speak for a great many Americans when I say a strategy would be a very good thing.

The Democrats are immersed in an ongoing battle between centrists and progressives and a long way from coming up with a united message. “There’s still anger and a bit of depression, but … they’re giving us incredible fodder to use against them,” Crowley said.

It’s true. Always look for a silver lining. Or at least a little fodder. Keep talking, Elizabeth.

Collins, solo

February 4, 2017

In “Trump With a Tail” Ms. Collins says Mike Pence pulls leash; the president barks.  Here she is:

How bad do you need to be to get rejected for Donald Trump’s cabinet?

We’ve got nominees who don’t really know anything about the subject they’d be overseeing. Some hatehatehate the federal programs they’d be charged with guiding. Some have messy financial issues that haven’t been resolved.

But Trump’s pick for secretary of education swept the board. Trifecta! Betsy DeVos, it’s become clear, knows very little about public schools, doesn’t like them and has minimal experience in management. Plus, she’s a billionaire whose money is in a bewildering stack of holding companies.

“I have never seen a nominee with such tangled and opaque finances,” complained Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington.

This was after a procedural vote on the nomination on Friday. The Republican leadership dragged the senators in at dawn, before everybody left town for the weekend. It was a productive morning. Not only did they kick the DeVos can down the line, but by 7 a.m., the majority had also managed to castrate a formerly bipartisan rule aimed at keeping oil and mining companies from bribing foreign governments.

The big DeVos vote is next week. After listening to her flounder around in a hearing, two Republican senators said they just couldn’t bring themselves to support her, so it looks like it’ll come down to 50-50. All eyes will turn to Mike Pence. Who will become the first vice president since the founding of the republic to break a tie on a cabinet nomination.

And you thought Donald Trump was just babbling when he promised to make history.

Pence is looking more and more like the Big Man in the administration. Conservatives who see their president as a large, scary spending machine follow Pence’s every move with adoration. The religious right is counting on him to keep a chief executive with a history of crotch-grabbing on the straight and narrow when it comes to their agenda. And Republicans in Congress realize he’s the only member of the top team who could get through a phone conversation with the prime minister of Australia without causing an international crisis.

It’s a lot of fun to think of Donald Trump as a mere lap dog. Granted, a lap dog who runs around snarling and snapping and signing executive orders, which he seems to regard as some long form of Twitter. But at the end of the leash — Mike Pence.

It’s very likely that having the vice president in command would only give us a more conservative, better-organized version of the Trump brand. But the important thing is that nothing could drive our new president crazier than suggesting he’s just Pence’s pet.

Our readers seem very interested in this concept, particularly when it comes to torturing Trump. This week I suggested some possible nicknames for the president, and the votes are in. I am happy to report that we will now be calling Donald Trump … wait for it … Pence’s Poodle.

I was kind of hoping for Pence’s Pomeranian — because, you know, of the hair. There were some write-ins for Pence’s Pug, and a number of protests from people who did not want their dog connected in any way with the 45th president of the United States. But what can I tell you? A vote is a vote.

The Poodle had a big week — unnerving other heads of state over the phone, confusing people at meetings and signing those executive orders. On Friday, he was directing the government to liberate our financial industry from the heavy boot of regulation that left the nation’s bankers and hedge fund managers living on rice and beans during the Obama era.

One of the goals is to get rid of a pending rule requiring brokers to act in their clients’ “best interests” when they’re giving advice about retirement investments. Obviously, this would be really, really hard on our nation’s forgotten financial consultants. And you know how much the beleaguered working class hates the gloom of transparency in their I.R.A.s. But liberation is on the way.

Trump was the star of the National Prayer Breakfast while Pence sat in the audience, smiling and nodding and occasionally offering his boss an extra bowl of kibble. Our chief executive thanked Pence for being “incredible” right after he told the audience that the ratings for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” are much lower now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the host. (“It’s been a total disaster.”) The show’s creator was in the room and the president said he was sure “Mark [Burnett] will never, ever bet against Trump again.”

Have you noticed that Pence’s Poodle tends to refer to the hero of all his stories as “Trump”? Perhaps he thinks of “Trump” as a separate person. Maybe an action hero who leaps around the country saving people from public schools or financial oversight, while occasionally stopping to wag his powder-puff tail in the direction of the vice president.