Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Collins, solo

April 29, 2017

In “The Trump 100 Day Quiz, Part 2” Ms. Collins wants us to put on our thinking caps and see how closely we’ve kept an eye on our commander in chief so far.  Here she is:

Happy hundredth day of the Trump administration! Hey, only one thousand, three hundred and — no, wait. Don’t count down the days. It’ll make you crazy. Let’s just see how closely you’ve kept an eye on our commander in chief so far:

1 of 17

Early in his first round of calls to foreign leaders, Donald Trump told British Prime Minister Theresa May …

“The relationship between our two nations is a special one, and always will be.”
“If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know.”
“I’ve just finished reading a very long book about all the kings.”
2 of 17

At the end of a talk with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the new president told Turnbull he’d had phone conversations with a lot of other heads of state that day. But their chat, Trump said, was …

“Special in a special way.”
“The worst call by far.”
“Good even though your accent is funny.”
3 of 17

During his first official meeting with congressional leaders, Trump zeroed right in on …

His desire to be fully briefed on the details of the federal budget.
His complaint that Barack Obama’s dog had left hair on the furniture.
How millions of illegal voters robbed him of a popular vote majority.
4 of 17

The public soon learned that their new president liked to spend the early morning hours …

Twittering about stuff he saw on Fox News.
Reading the Bible.
Walking in disguise through government buildings, chatting with workers on the night shift.
5 of 17

In remarks celebrating Black History Month, Trump went out of his way to praise the great ex-slave turned civil rights leader Frederick Douglass. However, the president did not appear to know that …

Black History Month was already over.
Frederick Douglass was not currently alive.
Frederick Douglass was not the guy who starred in “Spartacus.”
6 of 17

At his first National Prayer Breakfast, Trump told the audience that …

His search for understanding of the meaning of life was unending.
He was working hard to learn more about the Muslim faith.
The ratings for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” are much lower now with Arnold Schwarzenegger as host.
7 of 17

Celebrating Women’s History Month, Trump asked a roomful of women …

“Have you ever read the poems of Phillis Wheatley?”
“Do you know the story of how Deborah Sampson Gannett fought in the Revolutionary War?”
“Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?”
8 of 17

When Trump asked an audience, “What can look so beautiful at 30?” he was referring to …

An airplane.
A new mother.
Melania when they were dating.
9 of 17

Twittering a denunciation of Congress, Trump claimed lawmakers were conducting a “witch hunt” against …

Already-fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Ivanka’s fashion line.
Witches.
10 of 17

In an early-morning tweet, Trump claimed that during the campaign President Obama …

Whispered, “I know you’ll be better than Hillary.”
Had him wiretapped.
Tried to break up him and Vladimir Putin.
11 of 17

As the Republicans were working on the Obamacare-repeal bill, Trump told a meeting of governors …

“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
“Nobody knew it was hard to get Republicans to agree.”
“Nobody knew some people don’t have insurance.”
12 of 17

Trump had his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said that “after listening for 10 minutes” he’d learned …

Handling North Korea was “not so easy.”
“Fortune cookies didn’t come from China.”
“Beijing is a really big city.”
13 of 17

In one of his first bill signings, Trump repealed an Obama-era rule about people who are so mentally disabled they’re unable to handle their own Social Security payments. The change allows them to …

Get better mental health care.
Get better financial advice.
Buy guns.
14 of 17

Describing Obamacare patients, Trump said …

“They think colonoscopies come on a silver platter.”
“They’re not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.”
“They’re probably very bad golfers.”
15 of 17

When international concerns about a possible North Korean missile test rose, Trump said he was sending “an armada” to take care of the problem. The only hitch was that …

He was under the impression “armada” was a form of Mediterranean dessert.
The ships in question were sailing in the other direction.
The ships in question belonged to Canada.
16 of 17

Describing the moment when he gave the order to shoot missiles into Syria, Trump said at the time he was …

Eating “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”
Reading the Bible.
Consulting with Ivanka and Jared.
17 of 17

Asked about his first 100 days, Trump said one thing he’d never realized was …

How big the White House pool is.
How big Air Force One is.
How big American government is.
I got 15 of 17 correct.  Here’s the answer key:
1B, 2B, 3C, 4A, 5B, 6C, 7C, 8A, 9A, 10B, 11A, 12A, 13C, 14B, 15B, 17A, 17C

Kristof and Collins

April 27, 2017

In “This Isn’t Tax Policy; It’s a Trump-Led Heist” Mr. Kristof says for all of the president’s talk of helping ordinary Americans, they’re not the big beneficiaries of his plan.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Trump’s Can’t-Do Record:”  Who expected 100 days of dull?  Well, maybe for different values of dull…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

I’m deeply skeptical that President Trump will manage to get a tax reform package passed into law, and that’s just as well. Trump’s new tax “plan” (more like an extremely vague plan for a plan) is an irresponsible, shameless, budget-busting gift to zillionaires like himself.

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans — and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

Trump’s tax “plan” is a betrayal of his voters. He talks of helping ordinary Americans even as he enriches tycoons like himself.

For example, it’s great that the tax plan promises help with child care costs, a huge burden for low-income families, especially single moms. But Trump doesn’t explain what form his help will take.

Maybe he will eventually provide details, but in his campaign tax plan (which over all seems similar to the latest), fewer than 10 percent of low-income households with children would get anything at all, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in February. It added that under the campaign plan, families earning between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would receive an average child care benefit of just $10.

In fairness, Trump’s proposal does include some sensible elements. Raising the standard deduction is smart and would simplify everything, reducing cheating and the need for record-keeping because millions of filers would no longer itemize deductions.

But the heart of Trump’s “plan” is to lower taxes for corporations and the affluent. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, without which Trump would have paid less than 4 percent in taxes for 2005; with it, he paid 25 percent.

Conservatives emphasize that the official top corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, and they have a point. The top rate for American corporations — almost 39 percent, including a 35 percent federal rate and a bit more for the average state rate — is among the highest in the world, according to the Tax Foundation.

Yet that’s deeply misleading, because most companies don’t pay that rate. The Government Accountability Office found that two-thirds of active corporations paid no federal tax. Even large, profitable corporations paid an average federal rate of only 14 percent — and Boeing, Verizon, General Electric and Priceline paid no federal income tax over a five-year period, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

There’ve been many studies showing that the U.S. effective marginal rate for corporations is in the same ballpark as in other industrialized countries (some say it’s a bit lower, others a bit higher).

So, sure, let’s lower the official corporate tax rate while reducing loopholes, but don’t pretend this will create a ton of new jobs.

Where the tax plan would have a big impact is in empowering some very wealthy people, because of another bit of chicanery in the proposal: Trump apparently would allow some business owners to dodge personal income tax by paying at the much lower corporate rate. In other words, tycoons would try to structure their incomes to pay not at a 39.6 percent top personal rate but at a 15 percent corporate rate.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.

Then there’s the elimination of the estate tax. The White House talks solemnly about protecting family farms and other businesses, but give us a break! The estate tax now affects only couples worth more than $11 million. About one-fifth of 1 percent of Americans are affected — but the estate tax does limit the rise of inequality and assures a hint of fairness, since much of the wealth in rich estates has never been taxed at all.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Trump’s tax “plan” would be paid for partly “with growth” — which means that he has no idea how to pay for it. The Tax Policy Center examined Trump’s campaign tax plan and found it would cause the federal debt to rise by at least $7 trillion in the first decade, and more than $20 trillion by 2036 — slowing growth, not raising it. To put the latter number in perspective, that’s additional borrowing of about $160,000 per American household.

Effectively, we’d borrow from China or other countries to finance huge tax breaks for Trump and his minions. And this is populism?

I can’t wait until Prof. Krugman takes this on…  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, heck, who said Donald Trump isn’t going to accomplish anything in his first 100 days? All of a sudden there’s a one-page tax plan and a raft of deal-making, while the Senate was bused over to the White House grounds for a briefing on North Korea.

Maybe the president believes that when you can make an entire chamber of Congress ride around like so many tour groups, the world will understand that you’re a can-do kind of guy.

Trump wasn’t actually in public for any of this. Outside of congratulating the National Teachers of the Year, the man himself was in sight only for events in which he announced that a cabinet member had been directed to look into something.

On Day 97, Trump first appeared before the cameras to tell us the secretary of the interior is going to review previous presidents’ habit of saving federal lands from development. Federal land, Trump reminded the audience, “belongs to all of us.” He then called for turning it over to the states.

His recent predecessors have tried to defend places like a gorgeous section of Utah called Grand Staircase-Escalante by declaring them national monuments. You can do that because of a law called the Antiquities Act that goes back to Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans love to brag about Theodore Roosevelt, except when he was protecting the wilderness.

People, I want a show of hands: How many of you would like to see coal mining at the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument? I thought so.

Trump, who took only one question, seemed extremely proud of himself when he announced this new study-the-issue initiative. Other politicians, he confided, were always telling him: “You’re doing the right thing. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things.”

Second show of hands: How many of you think politicians are actually telling the president that if they were in his shoes they’d be too chicken to favor the energy industry over environmental protection programs? I know they can be craven, but really.

Everybody knows that Trump wants a can-do record when he hits Day 100 on Saturday. To get there, he appeared to be adopting the garb of Somewhat Normal Republican (SNORE). The House leaders were working out an agreement with conservatives on health care, tossing people with pre-existing ailments over the rail. The administration seemed ready to make a deal with Democrats to keep the government running. And his new tax plan is almost identical to the approach his recent Republican predecessors have taken, which is basically to cut the heck out of revenue and to hell with the deficit.

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

The idea that huge tax cuts will gin up the economy so much that everything will balance out is a beloved fairy tale. It can be found in the same book as “The Beauty Starves the Beast,” which tells the saga of a handsome prince who cut down a thicket of taxes, and was saved from a witch’s curse when Congress arrived with matching cuts in spending.

The president was not around for the news conference in which his plan was revealed, in the form of a super-short press release. (The description of how the administration wants to help families with child care costs was, in total, “providing tax relief.”)

For a man who loves drama, Trump’s domestic role lately has been super undramatic. While the senators were getting off their buses, Trump went before the cameras to announce that he’s directed the secretary of education to investigate whether there are too many federal regulations of public schools.

We can already guess where this one is going, so there wasn’t a lot of suspense — the high point of the event was his introduction of the new governor of Alabama, who had arrived at her office through the time-honored method of waiting for her superior to get driven out of office in a sex scandal.

It’s a bit ironic that Trump makes such a show of directing his cabinet members to do things when the administration hasn’t gotten around to nominating their top staff. Do you think Mnuchin would have had a longer tax description to hand out if he had an assistant secretary for tax policy?

This is going on all over the government. But then who needs an ambassador in Afghanistan or South Korea?

The Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for battle on the tax cuts — once they figure out exactly what they are. The super-easy response is just to say that before Trump asks Congress to do anything, he should show us his taxes. This came up at the press conference, and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin’s response was approximately the same as if someone suggested his boss might want to disembowel puppies.

“The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else,” he said quickly and with deep inaccuracy.

SNORE.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 20, 2017

In “A Fake and a Fraud” Mr. Blow says Trump’s philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.  In “The North Korea-Trump Nightmare” Mr. Kristof says it’s scary to consider what a frustrated president could do.  Ms. Collins is “Paging the Trump Armada” and says it’s not easy to misplace a flotilla.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s mounting reversals, failures and betrayals make it increasingly clear that he is a fake and a fraud.

For many of us, this is affirmative reinforcement; for others, it is devastating revelation.

But it is those who believed — and cast supportive ballots — who should feel most cheated and also most contrite. You placed your faith in a phony. His promises are crashing to earth like a fleet of paper airplanes.

He oversold what he could deliver because he had no idea what would be required to deliver it, nor did he care. He told you what you wanted to hear so that he could get what he wanted to have. He played you for fools.

That wall will not be paid for by Mexico, if in fact it is ever built. If it is built, it will likely look nothing like what Trump said it would look like. His repeal and replace of Obamacare flopped. That failure endangers his ability to deliver on major tax reform and massive infrastructure spending. China is no longer in danger of being labeled a currency manipulator. The administration is now sending signals that ripping up the Iran nuclear deal isn’t a sure bet.

Trump has done a complete about-face on the Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, and when was the last time you heard him threaten to lock up Hillary Clinton?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the positions he took for in-the-moment advantage that have been quickly converted into in-reality abandonment.

He isn’t cunningly unpredictable; he’s tragically unprepared and dangerously unprincipled.

No wonder then that a Gallup poll released Monday found:

“President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent. The public is also less likely to see him as a ‘strong and decisive leader,’ as someone who ‘can bring about the changes this country needs’ or as ‘honest and trustworthy.’”

While the largest decline in the percentage of those who think Trump keeps his promises came among women, young people and Democrats, the number also dropped 11 percentage points among Republicans and nine percentage points among conservatives.

Even so, The Washington Post’s The Fix warned readers to beware “the myth of the disillusioned Trump voter,” citing a Pew Research Center poll released Monday “showing very little buyer’s remorse among Trump voters.”

As the newspaper pointed out: “The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better.”

This seems to me a fair point, but it requires us to have a better handle on the expectations for him in the first place. After all, the union has yet to crumble into ashes and his Twitter tirades have yet to push us into an impulse war.

Furthermore, the stubborn human resistance to admitting a mistake should never be underestimated. Admitting that Trump is failing, even when he is failing you and your family specifically, is an enormous pill to swallow. Acknowledging that your blindness, selfishness and fear compelled you to buy into a man who is selling you out may take more time.

But I think that time is coming, because Trump is an unabashed leech and an unrepentant liar.

Trump cares only about Trump, his brand and his image, his family and his fortune. Indeed, his personal philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.

Instead of being a grenade-throwing iconoclast bent on blowing up the D.C. establishment and the big-money power structures, he has stocked his inner circle with billionaires and bankers, and he has bent to the establishment.

Trump sold himself as a populist only to line his own pockets. Trump built his entire reputation not as the champion of the common man, but by curating his image as a crude effigy of the cultural elite.

He accrued his wealth by selling hollow dreams of high society to people who wanted to flaunt their money or pretend that they had some.

Put another way, Trump’s brand is built on exclusivity, not inclusivity. It is about the separate, vaulted position of luxury, above and beyond the ability for it to be accessed by the common. It is all about the bourgeois and has absolutely nothing to do with the blue collar.

And yet somehow, it was the blue collar that bought his bill of goods. People saw uncouth and thought unconventional; they saw raffish and thought rebel.

They projected principle and commitment onto a person anathema to both. Now, we all have to pay a hefty toll as Trump’s legions cling to thinning hope.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof;

President Trump is scary in many ways, but perhaps the most frightening nightmare is of him blundering into a new Korean war.

It would begin because the present approach of leaning on China to pressure North Korea will likely fail. Trump will grow angry at public snickering at the emptiness of his threats.

At some point, U.S. intelligence will see a North Korean missile prepared for a test launch — and it may then be very tempting for a deeply frustrated rogue president to show his muscle. Foreign Affairs describes just such a scenario in an excellent new essay by Philip Gordon imagining how Trump might drift into war by accident:

“He could do nothing, but that would mean losing face and emboldening North Korea. Or he could destroy the test missile on its launchpad with a barrage of cruise missiles, blocking Pyongyang’s path to a nuclear deterrent, enforcing his red line, and sending a clear message to the rest of the world.”

Alas, no one has ever made money betting on North Korean restraint, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul, a metropolitan area of 25 million people.

The upshot of a war would be that North Korea’s regime would be destroyed, but the country has the world’s fourth-largest army (soldiers are drafted for up to 12 years) with 21,000 artillery pieces, many of them aimed at Seoul. It also has thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and missiles that can reach Tokyo.

Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, estimates that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and now chairman of the Asia Group in Washington, warns, “I do not believe there is any plausible military action that does not bring with it a possibility of a catastrophic conflict.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knows all this, and he and other grown-ups in the Trump administration would resist any call for a pre-emptive strike. Concern about the North Korean response is what prevented Richard Nixon from a military strike in 1969 when the North shot down a U.S. plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. And it’s what has prevented presidents since from striking North Korea as it has crossed one red line after another, from counterfeiting U.S. hundred-dollar bills to expanding its nuclear program.

Yet I’m worried because the existing policy inherited from Barack Obama is running out of time, because all U.S. and South Korean policies toward North Korea have pretty much failed over the years, and because Trump seems temperamentally inclined to fire missiles.

When Vice President Mike Pence says of North Korea, “The era of strategic patience is over,” he has a point: Patience has failed. North Korea is the strangest place I’ve visited, but it has made progress as a military threat: When I started covering North Korea in the 1980s, it had zero nuclear weapons. It now has about 20 and is steadily churning out more.

Worse, North Korea is expected in the next few years to develop the capacity to attach a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental missile that could devastate Los Angeles. U.S. “left of launch” cyberwarfare may slow North Korean efforts, but the threat still looms.

If a military strike is unthinkable, and so is doing nothing, what about Trump’s plan of nudging China to apply pressure to North Korea?

It’s worth trying, but I don’t think it’ll work, either. China’s relations with North Korea aren’t nearly as close as Americans think. One North Korean once introduced me to another by saying, “The Chinese government doesn’t like Kristof,” and then beaming, making clear this was a high compliment.

President Xi Jinping of China will probably amp up the pressure somewhat, and that’s useful — North Korean missiles are built using some Chinese parts — but few expect Kim Jong-un to give up his nukes. In the 1990s, North Korea continued with its nuclear program even as a famine claimed the lives of perhaps 10 percent of the population, and it’s hard to see more modest sanctions succeeding now.

“North Korea will never, ever give up its nuclear weapons,” says Jieun Baek, author of a fascinating recent book, “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution.” Sanctions will squeeze the regime, she says, but not deter it. Instead, she urges greater measures to undermine the regime’s legitimacy at home by smuggling in information about it and the world (as some activists are already doing).

The only option left, I think, is to apply relentless pressure together with China, while pushing for a deal in which North Korea would verifiably freeze its nuclear and missile programs without actually giving up its nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief. This is a lousy option, possibly unattainable, and it isn’t a solution so much as a postponement of one. But all the alternatives are worse.

And if Trump tries to accelerate the process with a pre-emptive military strike? Then Heaven help us.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Let’s consider the case of the wrong-way warships.

Last week, North Korea was planning a big celebration in honor of its founder’s birthday. For North Koreans, holiday fun is short on barbecues and high on weaponry. The big parade in Pyongyang featured monster canisters that theoretically contained intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s possible they were actually empty and that right now, North Korea only has bragging rights in the big-container race.

But its intentions were definitely bad, and the United States was worried there might be a missile launch or an underground nuclear test.

What should Donald Trump do? “We’re sending an armada,” said the president. Possible confrontation? As a concerned citizen, you had to be very worried. North Korea is, in every way, a special and dangerous case. It has a leader who is narcissistic to the point of psychosis, with a celebrity fixation and a very strange haircut.

O.K., maybe not entirely unique.

Trump was talking about bringing in four warships, one of them an aircraft carrier. Was this going to mean real shooting? His critics back home had to decide whether to protest, wave the flag in support or simply stock the fallout shelter. (This would be the fallout shelter you repurposed a couple decades ago as a wine cellar, but lately you’ve been thinking it can work both ways.)

Everybody was talking about the dangers. If North Korea sent up a missile, would the U.S. retaliate? Then what would happen to South Korea and Japan? People debated all the variables. The only thing that did not come up was the possibility that the American flotilla was actually no place near the neighborhood.

Yet, as Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt reported in The Times, at the moment the president was announcing his armada, the warships in question were actually going in the opposite direction, en route to a destination 3,500 miles away, where they were to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Whoops. The official response was that the administration was sending an armada eventually.

“We said that it was heading there. And it was heading there, it is heading there,” said press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday. Under this theory, the president could have responded to North Korea’s latest saber-rattling by announcing that he was going to China, since chances are he’ll get there someday. Sooner or later. Especially if the Chinese can come up with a gold coach like the queen of England’s.

Poor Sean Spicer. Every day a new official fantasy to defend. Tonight the president will go to bed and dream that he’s actually the true heir to the principality of Liechtenstein. Tomorrow Spicer will come into the pressroom on skis and announce we’re declaring war on Switzerland.

But about the missing warships. It’s possible Trump was bluffing, which certainly sounds like a bad idea. After all, if this administration has a strong card in foreign policy, it’s that the rest of the world thinks he’s so crazy he might do anything. It seems more likely that the administration just screwed up, and some people thought the warships had been rerouted when they really weren’t.

We’re really not asking for a lot, but can’t the president at least be clear about the direction our ships are headed? Concerned citizenry has already adapted to the idea that half the things Trump said during the campaign have now been retracted. NATO is great, the Chinese don’t manipulate their currency. And the Export-Import bank is, well .…

Pop Quiz: Which best describes your feelings about the president’s attitude toward the Export-Import Bank?

A) Happy when he denounced it during the campaign.

B) Glad when he said it was a good thing after all.

C) Worried when he nominated an Export-Import Bank head who seems to hate it.

D) I don’t care about the Export-Import Bank! What about all those bombs?

O.K., O.K. In the end, the North Koreans did test a missile but it exploded right after launch. It is possible this was due to a long-running American cybersabotage program. If so, Trump couldn’t have mentioned it as a matter of security. Otherwise he’d certainly have been out there expressing his gratitude to the Obama administration for having done so much work on it. Hehehehe.

When it comes to Trump and foreign affairs, the big problem is that you want to be fair, but you don’t want to encourage him. A lot of Americans liked the idea of responding to a chemical attack in Syria by bombing a Syrian air base. But if the president thought it was popular, wouldn’t he get carried away? It’s like praising a 4-year-old for coloring a picture, and the next thing you know he’s got his crayons out, heading for the white sofa.

What we want to do is take the crayons away and murmur: “Good boy. Now why don’t you go off and nominate some ambassadors for a change?”

And go find your boats.

Kristof and Collins

April 13, 2017

Mr. Kristof has some ideas on “How to Stand Up to Trump and Win.”  He says don’t just hold a sign. Experts share how to resist and get results.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Versus the Love Gov,” says let’s compare the president and Alabama’s new former chief executive.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

After President Trump’s election, a wave of furious opposition erupted. It was an emotional mix of denial and anger, the first two stages of grief, and it wasn’t very effective.

Yet increasingly that has matured into thoughtful efforts to channel the passion into a movement organized toward results. One example: the wave of phone calls to congressional offices that torpedoed the Republican “health care plan.”

Yes, Trump opponents lost the election and we have to recognize that elections have consequences. But if “resistance” has a lefty ring to it, it can also be framed as a patriotic campaign to protect America from someone who we think would damage it.

So what are the lessons from resistance movements around the world that have actually succeeded? I’ve been quizzing the experts, starting with Gene Sharp, a scholar here in Boston.

Sharp’s works — now in at least 45 languages and available free online — helped the Baltic countries win freedom from Russia, later guided students in bringing democracy to Serbia, and deeply influenced the strategy of Arab Spring protesters. Sharp is THE expert on challenging authoritarians, and orders for his writings have surged since Trump’s election.

Today Sharp is 89 and in fading health. But his longtime collaborator, Jamila Raqib, has been holding workshops for anti-Trump activists, and there have even been similar sessions for civil servants in Washington exploring how they should serve under a leader they distrust.

The main message Sharp and Raqib offered is that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.” His work emphasizes grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration — and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts to mock awards.

Raqib recommended pragmatic efforts seeking a particular outcome, not just a vague yearning for the end of Trump. When pushed, she said that calls for a general strike in February were insufficiently organized, and that the Women’s March on Washington, which had its first protest the day after Inauguration Day, will ideally become anchored in a larger strategy for change. But she thinks the “Day Without Immigrants” protest was well crafted, and the same for the bodega strike by Yemeni immigrants.

Sam Daley-Harris, another maestro of effective protest, agrees on a focus on results, not just symbolic protest. He has overseen groups like Results and the Citizens Climate Lobby that have had outsize influence on policy, so I asked him what citizens upset at Trump should do.

“The overarching answer is to work with your member of Congress,” Daley-Harris told me. He suggested focusing on a particular issue that you can become deeply knowledgeable about. Then work with others to push for a meeting with a member of Congress, a state lawmaker or even a legislative staff member.

He recommended speaking courteously — anyone too hostile is dismissed and loses influence — and being very specific about which bill you want the person to support or oppose.

I’m encouraged by the increasing savvy of the resistance efforts, with excellent online resources cropping up and grass-roots groups like EmergeAmerica.org and RunforSomething.net developing to train people who want to run for political office. Students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have organized “Resistance School,” a kind of online teach-in to sharpen the tools activists need. The first 90-minute webcast had more than 50,000 streams.

“We wanted to move away from a defensive response to an offensive response, not just marching but also thinking of longterm strategy,” one of the organizers, Shanoor Seervai, told me.

To students of resistance — patriotic resistance! — let me offer three lessons from my own experience reporting on pro-democracy movements over decades, from China to Egypt, Mongolia to Taiwan.

First, advocates are often university-educated elites who can come across as patronizing. So skip the lofty rhetoric and emphasize issues of pocketbooks and corruption. Centrist voters may not care whether Trump is riding roughshod over institutions, but they’ll care if he rips them off or costs them jobs.

Second, movements must always choose between purity and breadth — and usually they overdo the purity. It’s often possible to achieve more with a broader coalition, cooperating with people one partially disagrees with. I think it was a mistake, for example, for the Women’s March to disdain “pro-life” feminists.

Third, nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule. When Serbian youths challenged the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, they put his picture on a barrel and rolled it down the street, allowing passers-by to whack it with a bat.

In recruiting for the Trump resistance, Stephen Colbert may be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic senators. Trump can survive denunciations, but I’m less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Our question for today is: How does Donald Trump compare to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, the now-famous “Love Gov”?

Bentley resigned this week after a long-running sex scandal. Trump, who used to be a king of sex scandals, doesn’t have any presidential ones. When the day is done and the moon is high, our chief executive now appears to be moved mainly by the siren song of Fox and Twitter.

But nobody’s forgotten those girl-grabbing tapes from the campaign. There’s also currently a grope-related lawsuit. And recently, his sympathetic take on Bill O’Reilly’s multiple sexual harassment problems. Plus, face it: These days we cannot possibly talk about anything without bringing up Donald Trump: chocolate cake, funny dog videos, Easter, professional wrestling, Millard Fillmore.…

But first, Governor Bentley. Our story begins in 2014, when he was re-elected by a whopping margin, wearing the image of a kindly family man. However, during the march to victory, his wife recorded her husband having a conversation with campaign aide Rebekah Mason that centered heavily around feeling up Mason’s breasts. And his staff couldn’t help noticing that the governor started calling Mason “baby” during staff meetings.

Lots and lots of incidents later, Mrs. Bentley filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage. She also gave investigators a ton of love texts — thanks to what appeared to be a certain technological ineptitude on the part of her husband. (They included the immortal “Bless our hearts. And other parts.”)

The State Legislature began to investigate. After the release of a 131-page report, 3,000 pages of documents, threats of felony charges and a thumbs down from the State Ethics Commission, Bentley finally agreed to quit, plead guilty to two misdemeanors and promise never to run for office again — the last not appearing to be a likely problem.

Now Bentley is obviously a very, very different guy from Donald Trump, who is never going to be married to anybody for 50 years. Trump’s children are in his employ, while Bentley’s show up in the report trying to get their father checked for dementia. However, there are some commonalities: Both men are in their 70s and have a thing for messaging via cellphone.

One of the most useful lessons of the Bentley scandal, in fact, was that when your wife’s name is Dianne, it’s a very bad idea to send her a text saying “I love you, Rebekah.”

Both guys have a history of bragging about their special privileges. In Trump’s case there was all that talk about his right to go into the Miss Universe dressing room and stare at naked ladies, and, of course, the famous recorded boast about how “when you’re a star” you get to grab women by their private parts, whether they like it or not. Bentley told an unhappy staffer that as governor, people had to “bow to his throne.”

Differences: Mason, a former TV anchor, first entered Bentley’s employ as his press secretary. Trump’s press secretary is Sean Spicer, and that is never, ever going to be a compromising relationship. On the other hand, Rebekah Mason never claimed that Hitler didn’t use poison gas on any Germans.

Bentley went crazy trying to shut down gossip that he was committing adultery, and it’s hard to imagine Trump reacting the same way. Back in the day, when New York papers were full of stories about him cheating on his wife, Ivana, with an aspiring actress named Marla Maples, he had a squad of publicists on the case. But none of them seemed to be trying to discourage the coverage. “We got absolutely no pushback,” agreed Matt Storin, who was then an editor at The Daily News.

In the end, Bentley may have been undone less by his affair than by the financial flimflammery on the side. (His lover’s husband, a former weatherman, got a $91,000-a-year job as director of the state’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.)

So far, we haven’t heard reports about Trump spending public money to please a former mistress. As opposed to spending public money taking heads of state to his resort or providing security for the kids when they go abroad to make business deals.

On occasion we are reminded that the worst things that happen in this world are generally not about consensual sex.

Morning Consult, a nonpartisan polling company, recently queried registered voters across America on their attitudes toward their governors, and Alabama’s got a 44 percent job approval rating, with 48 percent disapproving. That’s bad, but there were nine other governors who ranked lower.

Pop Quiz: Guess who ranked on the very bottom of the chart?

A) Chris Christie

B) Chris Christie

C) Chris Christie

On the list of things the voters dislike, it appears, sex takes a back seat to running around the country behaving like Donald Trump’s spaniel. And now we’ll wait to see how long it is before people start shaking their heads and saying President Trump is acting crazier than that governor in Alabama.

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.

Kristof and Collins

March 30, 2017

In “President Trump vs. Big Bird” Mr. Kristof says that to value the humanities and the arts isn’t wimpish or elitist. It’s civilized.  Which is what Mein Fubar and his cronies aren’t.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Remembers the Ladies” and considers a celebration for Women’s History Month in an administration where women are rare.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

So what if President Trump wants to deport Big Bird?

We’re struggling with terrorism, refugees, addiction, and grizzlies besieging schools. Isn’t it snobbish to fuss over Trump’s plans to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Let me argue the reverse: Perhaps Trump’s election is actually a reminder that we need the humanities more than ever to counter nationalism and demagoguery.

Civilization is built not just on microchips, but also on arts, ideas and the humanities. And the arts are a bargain: The N.E.A. budget is $148 million a year, or less than 0.004 percent of the federal budget. The per-capita cost for Americans is roughly the cost of a postage stamp.

The humanities may seem squishy and irrelevant. We have a new president who doesn’t read books and who celebrates raw power. It would be easy to interpret Trump as proof of the irrelevance of the humanities.

Yet the humanities are far more powerful than most people believe. The world has been transformed over the last 250 years by what might be called a revolution of empathy driven by the humanities. Previously, almost everyone (except Quakers) accepted slavery and even genocide. Thomas Jefferson justified the “extermination” of Native Americans; whippings continued in American prisons in the 20th century; and at least 15,000 people turned up to watch the last public hanging in the United States, in 1936.

What tamed us was, in part, books. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” famously contributed to the abolitionist movement, and “Black Beauty” helped change the way we treat animals. Steven Pinker of Harvard argues that a surge of literacy and an explosion of reading — novels in particular — “contributed to the humanitarian revolution,” by helping people see other viewpoints. There is also modern experimental evidence that reading literary fiction promotes empathy.

The humanities have even reshaped our diet. In 1971, a few philosophy students, including an Australian named Peter Singer, gathered on a street in Oxford, England, to protest the sale of eggs from hens raised in small cages. This was an unknown issue back then, and passers-by smiled at the students’ idealism but told them they’d never change the food industry.

Looking back, who was naïve? Today, keeping hens in small cages is illegal in Britain, in the rest of the European Union and in parts of the United States. McDonald’s, Burger King, General Mills and Walmart are all moving toward exclusively cage-free eggs, because consumers demanded it.

Singer, now a Princeton University professor, is a wisp of a man who defeated an agribusiness army with the power of his ideas and the muscle of the humanities. (Singer has a terrific recent book, “Ethics in the Real World,” that wrestles with how much we should donate to charity, and whether wearing a $10,000 watch is a sign of good taste, or of shallow narcissism.)

In short, the humanities encourage us to reflect on what is important, to set priorities. For example, do we get more value as taxpayers from Big Bird and art or music programs, or from the roughly $30 million Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort will cost us when he’s tallied nine visits in office (he’s already more than halfway there)? That’s also more than the cost of salaries and expenses to run the National Endowment for the Humanities, not including the grants it hands out.

Do we get more value from billions of dollars spent on deportations? Or from tiny sums to support art therapy for wounded veterans?

Then there’s our favorite bird. The Onion humor website reported: “Gaunt, Hollow-Eyed Big Bird Enters Sixth Day Of Hunger Strike Against Proposed Trump Budget.” In fact, Big Bird will survive, but some local public television stations will close without federal support — meaning that children in some parts of the country may not be able to see “Sesame Street” on their local channel.

In 2017, with the world a mess, I’d say we need not only drones but also Big Bird, and poetry and philosophy. Indeed, our new defense secretary, Jim Mattis, apparently shares that view: He carried Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” to Iraq with him.

It’d be nice to see Mattis drop off “Meditations” for the new commander in chief. And maybe present the first lady a copy of “Lysistrata.”

Look, I know it sounds elitist to hail the humanities. But I’ve seen people die for ideas. At Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, I watched protesters sacrifice their lives for democracy. In Congo, I saw a tiny Polish nun stand up to a warlord because of her faith and values.

The humanities do not immunize a society from cruelty and overreaction; early-20th-century Germany proves that. But on balance, the arts humanize us and promote empathy. We need that now more than ever.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Women’s History Month is coming to an end. Donald Trump must be absolutely exhausted.

“… the White House has been hosting events all throughout March,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, launching into a list of activities that culminated Wednesday in a visit by the president to a special Women’s Empowerment Panel. The administration regarded this gathering as so important that it featured every single female cabinet member.

Yes! All four!

Actually, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao couldn’t come, so they substituted Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “My cabinet is full of really incredible women leaders,” the president said, looking at the quartet.

There are 24 people in the cabinet. This is one of the reasons that pictures of White House decision-making resemble a meeting of the Freemasons.

Besides Chao, the cabinet women include Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations, and Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration. While everybody wants to encourage small business and at least some of us want to encourage the U.N., neither of those would be regarded as exactly superpower positions.

The final slot, secretary of education, belongs to Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation hearing was highlighted by the discovery that she didn’t know about the rights of disabled students.

“I’m so proud,” the president beamed. He then set off on a quick march through women’s history, with shout-outs to Susan B. Anthony (“Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?”), Harriet Tubman and “the legendary Abigail Adams.”

Trump referred to Abigail’s famous letter asking John Adams to “remember the ladies” when writing the new country’s laws. He did not mention her husband’s response, which was, “I cannot but laugh.”

The theme for the White House women’s celebrations appears to be Failure to Appreciate Irony. On the one hand, multiple panels on women in business and families. Meanwhile, over on the nonsymbolic side, a passionate push for a bill that would have sent women’s health care costs through the roof.

“Really? Take away maternity care? … Who do these people talk to?” Hillary Clinton asked, somewhat rhetorically. This was during a speech to California businesswomen that marked the return of the feisty, political Clinton who spent a year warning people what would happen if they made Donald Trump president. Welcome back, Hillary.

Given the shortage of cabinet members, female Trumps have been called into play for the administration’s version of March Madness. Melania Trump gave a talk honoring the State Department’s International Women of Courage award winners, two of them from countries the president wants to include in his immigration ban. She also showed up for the four-women-in-the-cabinet panel. “Melania said, ‘This is something I just have to be at.’ She feels so strongly about it,” said her husband.

We are leaving the first lady alone. Presidential relatives who don’t mess in politics are off bounds.

Relatives with a West Wing office and security clearance are, however, fair game. Whenever the White House is trying to manufacture feminist credentials, Ivanka gets hauled out as Exhibit 1.

She’s certainly all over the place. Hosting a round table of women business owners. Sitting next to Angela Merkel to discuss vocational training. Sitting at Dad’s desk for a photo op during a visit by the Canadian prime minister.

“A great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table!” she tweeted. “That’s not a woman in power,” retorted comedian Trevor Noah. “It’s Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”

To be fair, Ivanka has been pushing Congress for a big child care tax deduction. It’s a laudable concept, except for the part about being unlikely to pass and giving most of the benefit to families that need it the least.

But she’s dropped all pretense of trying to get her father to support reproductive rights. After his health care defeat the president sneered at the right-wing House Freedom Caucus for having “saved Planned Parenthood.”

This was a guy, you’ll remember, who used to praise Planned Parenthood for its work promoting women’s health. Now he’s got no problem driving it into the ground. And in lieu of abortion rights, there’s been no attempt to expand women’s access to contraception.

Meanwhile, the White House was promoting its women’s history celebrations as being all about empowerment. It was, Spicer claimed, a longstanding presidential obsession — Trump had “made women’s empowerment a priority throughout the campaign.”

Well, there were those apologies for having bragged about being able to grab women by their private parts.

“Nice try, Sean,” retorted Emily’s List, recalling stories from that campaign of yore, including estimates that Trump paid men on his campaign staff one-third more than women.

Whoops, back to irony. Susan B. Anthony would be appalled. Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? If they were around today, you know who they’d be picketing.

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.