Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow and Collins

June 15, 2017

Sorry I’m late, but here we go…  In “Rhetoric and Bullets” Mr. Blow says our talk should never promote violence, but it needn’t be timid.  Ms. Collins, in “Play Ball, and Then Gunfire,” says the shooting at the congressional baseball practice was awful, but every week we hear bloodier stories.  Well, Gail, this time white Republicans were victims.  But it’s never About Race or About Politics, because nothing is EVER About Race or About Politics.  (Well, unless it’s about the Democrats doing something reprehensible…)  Or rational gun laws…   Here’s Mr. Blow:

In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona was gravely injured and six others were killed by a shooter in Tucson, I was moved to commit an entire column to condemning the left for linking the shooting so closely to political rhetoric.

Yes, Republican personalities and officials in the wake of Barack Obama’s election had spoken openly about “Second Amendment remedies” and being “armed and dangerous” and “revolution,” but it was not possible to connect the dots between that irresponsible talk and the Tucson shooter.

Now, here I am again, only this time extending the same condemnation to the right for doing the same after four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, were shot at an Alexandria, Va., baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing in advance of a charity game.

The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, appears to have had strong liberal, anti-Trump, anti-Republican views — among other things, he was a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign — but at the time of this writing, authorities had not announced a motive for the shooting.

The very real possibility that the shooting was politically motivated was clearly on the minds of many, including Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, who was at the baseball field during the shooting: “This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack, and that has to stop.”

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with viewing these incidents through a political lens. Not to do so is naïve and ridiculously self-blinding in a way that avoids reality.

As Katy Waldman wrote for Slate last June:

“Things that happen for political reasons, and have political consequences, demand that we scrutinize them through a political lens. Crying ‘politicization’ is itself politicization — a way to advance whatever slate of politics favors the status quo. Often people invoke policy goals in order to get things done; what’s at stake is whether these tragedies should be regarded as irreducible lightning strikes or problems with potential solutions.”

What I abhor is ideological exploitation that reduces these acts to a political sport and uses them as weapons to silence political opponents and their “rhetoric,” rather than viewing them as American tragedies that we can work together to prevent through honest appraisal and courageous action. Every shooting in this country is a tragedy, and they happen with disturbing frequency here.

As The Washington Post reported, Wednesday’s shooting was the 154th mass shooting so far this year in America. That’s 154 mass shootings in just 165 days. Violence, particularly gun violence, is the American fact, the American shame.

This country has a violent culture, is full of guns, and our federal lawmakers — mostly Republicans, it must be said, because there isn’t any real equivalency — are loath to even moderately regulate gun access.

Pretending that America’s gun violence is a function of collective political rhetoric rather than the nexus of personal mental defect and easy access to weapons is a way of dodging, well, the bullet.

So, here I must take a stand in defense of rhetoric. While rhetoric should never promote violence, it needn’t be timid.

I was impressed by the official responses from Washington. Even Trump’s response was sober and direct, not marred by his typical lack of tact, not like the way he tried to exploit the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a stately speech from the House floor, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed his sentiments in a noble act of bipartisanship.

At the top, the responses were pitch perfect, but the political debate isn’t confined to the top. It trickles down into the cesspool of social media, which has grown exponentially since Giffords was shot. At that time, Facebook had only about a third of its current number of users, Twitter had about a fifth of its current users, Instagram was just three months old, and Snapchat didn’t exist.

On social media, where anonymity provides cover for vitriol, violent threats are a regular feature.

When Gabby Giffords wrote on Twitter, “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police – public servants and heroes today and every day,” she was met with a sickening number of hateful responses, including one that said, “To bad it was not her.” (Yes, it should have been “too,” but grammar isn’t a major concern in a statement that grotesque.)

It is true that political rhetoric can set a tone that greases the skids for a small number of people who are prone to violence to act on those impulses. We have just gone through a political cycle where that was on full display.

But some rhetoric is necessary and real. I believe Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are attempting to do very serious harm to the country and its most vulnerable citizens, and I will never stop saying so in the strongest terms I can summon. For many people, this isn’t an abstract policy debate between partisans. For them, these debates — about repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example — are about life and death. But that has nothing to do with the promotion of physical violence; it has everything to do with protecting this country from administrative and legislative violence.

We have to object stridently to proposals that will hurt people, and not be chilled by a deranged man with a gun. Violence is abhorrent and self-defeating, but vociferous resistance to national damage has nothing to do with that violence and must continue unabated.

You can, as I do, have sympathy for the victims of yesterday’s shooting and condemn the shooter, while at the same time raging, nonviolently of course, against an agenda that places other Americans in very real danger.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, everyone in Washington looked for a positive message. There had to be a point to something so awful. The consensus was for Coming Together.

“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul Ryan told the House.

“You’re going to hear me say something you never heard me say before,” rejoined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.”

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said Donald Trump.

This was regarded as one of Trump’s better presidential moments. He didn’t insult anyone, the way he did after the London terrorist attack. He didn’t suggest that in the future, all baseball players should be armed. And let’s hope it lasts. Since the gunman, James Hodgkinson, was known back home in Illinois as a vehement Trump critic, the president could definitely regress back into making the tragedy all about Donald.

But truthfully, American politics has been mean and verbally violent for a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been in the White House. Pelosi — who’s often depicted as the archvillain in Republican campaign ads — has been getting death threats for years. Back in 2010 a San Francisco man admitted to making more than 30 phone calls to Pelosi and her family, threatening to kill her or blow up her house if she voted for health care reform.

Ironically, the practice Hodgkinson’s bullets interrupted was for a ballgame that’s a lonely throwback to the good old days of political congeniality, when people from both parties would debate during the day and then go off to drink together after work. The drinking thing is pretty much over. But the representatives and senators do still get together every year to yell good-natured insults at each other and play ball, Democrats against Republicans.

Even better, there’s a bipartisan women’s softball team that has its own game every year: lawmakers versus reporters from the D.C. press corps.

“It’s really one of the best things we do,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the veteran players.

Gillibrand has a keen memory of the day all the team’s players signed a ball for her good friend Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a shopping center.

“I’m not shocked or surprised this happened. I lived through this once before,” Gillibrand said. “We’re in a violent time. We’ve seen Sandy Hook, we’ve seen such horrible gun violence in our communities for a very long time.”

The women’s game is next week. “We’ll play,” the senator said. “We’re meant to carry on our lives.”

Creating more comity in Washington is a good goal. (So, by the way, is getting more women in Congress.) But if we’re looking to the congressional shooting for lessons, we also have to talk about guns.

The baseball story was awful — Representative Steve Scalise and three other people were hit by gunfire. But every week in America we hear stories that are bloodier. There were 27 incidents of multiple fatal shootings in the week before Hodgkinson took out a rifle and handgun and started firing. A couple of hours after, an aggrieved UPS employee in San Francisco shot and killed three people and wounded two others before turning the gun on himself.

We’ll be spending the next few days trying to work through Hodgkinson’s history. How did this happen? Were there any warning signs separating him from the hordes of other people who post angry diatribes about politicians? What kind of guns did he use? Where did he buy them?

“I hope this doesn’t devolve into the usual situation where you expect that any one tragedy is going to change the conversation,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He’s been through too much of that already, and it’s true — if 20 little children can be shot in their Connecticut school without triggering national gun law reform, it’s not likely that the wounding of several adults in Virginia will do the trick.

But we’ll keep trying. To start, we need to come together on a consensus that there’s something wrong with a country in which an average of 93 people are killed with guns every day, in which gun homicides are so common that news reports frequently don’t bother to mention how the murderer obtained his weapon, and in which even multiple shootings often don’t make the national news unless there’s some suggestion the crime might be related to terrorism.

Write a letter. Call your representative. Hold a meeting. You can demand laws to keep criminals from buying guns, or laws to keep greedy gun sellers from ignoring background checks, or laws to ban rifles that allow one person to take down several dozen victims without reloading. Even if your hopes aren’t high, keep fighting. This is a righteous cause.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 8, 2017

In “James Comey Cometh” Mr. Blow says Comey’s statement makes Trump sound more like a mob boss than like the president of a democracy.  Mr. Kristof, in “James Comey and Our Own Tin-Pot Despot, Donald Trump,” says Trump’s contempt for the legal system is clear.  In “Guess What Week It Is?” Ms. Collins says it’s time to take a highway out to lunch.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It is hard to calculate the grievousness of the wounds that James Comey’s testimony will inflict on Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, representatives of Comey, the consummate showman whose own flair for the dramatic rivals Trump’s, requested the release of his incredibly detailed opening statement in advance of his Thursday Senate testimony.

If you believe the Comey statement, you must take away from it that Trump is a liar, a bully and a criminal. You must take away from it that Trump has a consuming need to be surrounded not only by loyalists but also by lackeys. You must take away that Trump is brand obsessed — his own brand — and that anything that besmirches that brand must be blunted. You must take away that Trump knows nothing of decorum and propriety and boundaries. You must take away that this is the most comprehensive and compelling case thus far that Trump did indeed engage in obstruction of justice.

Trump’s comments as alleged in the Comey statement make Trump sound more like a mob boss than the president of a democracy.

Comey recounts that at a Jan. 27 dinner alone with Trump in the Green Room of the White House, Trump demanded, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” This was after Trump seemed to implicitly threaten Comey’s job:

“The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.”

Trump was also insistent that Comey publicly state that Trump — not necessarily members of his campaign — was not at that time under investigation, because “the cloud” the suspicion created was impeding his progress as president. As Comey recalls, Trump said he would do as Comey advised and have the White House counsel contact the leadership of the Department of Justice to make the request for a public statement, but then Trump added:

“‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’”

Comey writes that he didn’t want to issue a statement that Trump was not under investigation at that time because it by no means meant that Trump would not be under investigation later, after more was known. As Comey wrote about Trump following another phone call:

“He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’ (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)”

Trump was obsessed with the salacious dossier of unsubstantiated claims compiled by a former British spy, including the explosive claim that Russian authorities believed they could successfully exploit Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.”

The document continued:

“According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs. OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

According to Comey’s statement, Trump was so upset by the details in the dossier that at a dinner in the Green Room of the White House, “he said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”

It demonstrates Trump’s inexplicable and incessant pleading on behalf of his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn; Trump implored Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. At one point, Comey quotes Trump as saying: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”

Comey wrote of the exchange:

“I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.”

The supreme irony here is that Trump was apparently not under investigation at the time, but his reactions to the investigation itself and his raging narcissism may have put him at the center of an even more ominous investigation.

I don’t know if the president will ever be charged with a crime. I don’t know whether he will eventually be impeached. Prosecution and impeachment are both birds in the bush, ones that may never manifest.

But I am absolutely sure that the picture emerging of Trump’s predilections and peccadilloes reaffirms and strengthens my view of him: He is thoroughly unfit for the office and a stain on this nation and the world. Trump should not be in a mansion with white columns, but in a cell with black bars.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In his prepared testimony before Congress, James Comey says he spoke alone with President Barack Obama on just two occasions — once simply for Obama to say a brief goodbye. In contrast, he adds, “I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months.”

These were profoundly uncomfortable and in some cases “very concerning” and highly irregular, recounts Comey, who was fired as F.B.I. director last month. After one conversation, he says, “I took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me.

Trump sought a pledge of personal loyalty so as to turn the head of the F.B.I. into a political lackey. “I need loyalty,” Comey quotes Trump as telling him. “I expect loyalty.”

“I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey adds. “We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Trump’s behavior is reminiscent of what tin-pot despots do. I know, for I’ve covered the overthrow of more than I can count.

So let’s not get mired in legal technicalities. Whether or not it was illegal for Trump to urge Comey to back off his investigation into Russia ties to Mike Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser, it was utterly inappropriate. What comes through is a persistent effort by Trump to interfere with the legal system. There’s a consistent pattern: Trump’s contempt for the system of laws that, incredibly, he now presides over.

All this is of course tied to Russia and its equally extraordinary attack on the American political system last year. The latest revelation is that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one supplier of American voting software and tried to compromise the computers of more than 100 local voting officials.

Comey specifies in his testimony, to be presented Thursday, that he told Trump that there was no personal investigation of him, but that this might change. Comey seems to have an open mind — a good lesson for all of us.

To frame the Comey testimony, consider the staggering comments this week of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until early this year.

“Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” said Clapper, a former lieutenant general with a long career in intelligence under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. He added: “I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source — read Russia — and an internal source — the president himself.”

As Clapper suggested, Trump has been undermining the institutions and mores that undergird our political process; whether or not his conduct was felonious, it has been profoundly subversive.

Apart from Comey and the Russia investigation, Trump has systematically attacked the institutions of American life that he sees as impediments. He denounced judges and the courts. He has attacked journalists as “the enemy of the people,” and urged that some be jailed for publishing classified information. He has publicly savaged Democrats and Republicans who stand up to him.

More broadly, Trump has ignored longstanding democratic norms, such as that a presidential candidate release tax returns and obey certain ethics rules. He flouts conventions against nepotism. And perhaps most fundamentally, he simply lies at every turn: Politicians often spin and exaggerate, they even lie in extremis to escape scandal. But Trump is different. He lies on autopilot, on something as banal as the size of inauguration crowds.

Obama was meticulous about ethics rules. He consulted lawyers before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; aides were forced to give up Twitter accounts when they left office, to ensure they had not benefited improperly by gaining followers.

In contrast, the Trump family seems indifferent to optics — and determined to monetize the presidency. The latest ugliness is in a devastating exposé by Forbes about charity work by Eric Trump to raise money for children with cancer.

Eric raised some $16 million, which is wonderful. The Trump family had claimed to donate the use of its golf courses for these charity events, so that virtually all of the money raised was flowing to the sick children. Instead, Forbes says, the Trumps charged huge sums to hold the events — misleading the public, and profiting from donations intended for sick children.

Skimming money meant for kids with cancer? This is cartoonlike. (The family hasn’t responded in detail, although Eric did say that, to him, the critics are “not even people.” He lamented that “morality’s just gone.”)

President Trump sought office as a law-and-order campaigner, and he is overseeing a crackdown on refugees, immigrants, drug offenders and other vulnerable people. But he is also systematically undermining the rule of law as “those wise restraints that make men free,” in the words of the late law professor John Maguire.

So as we watch Comey testify, remember that the fundamental question is not just whether the president broke a particular law regarding obstruction of justice, but also whether he is systematically assaulting the rule of law that makes us free.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy Infrastructure Week!

O.K., I know some of you are distracted by competing current events. But the Trump administration would prefer that we all concentrate on the president’s plans for improving the nation’s roads and bridges.

Trump promised he’d be discussing infrastructure with all the major players “in great depth next week.” This was right before he went into a meeting with legislative leaders on Tuesday. You may be wondering why he didn’t discuss it with them in great depth right at that moment. Since this is, you know, Infrastructure Week.

One possible answer is that the president likes promising to discuss important policy matters in the future much more than he likes working on them in the present. But to be fair, one of the Republican leaders did report later that Trump had mentioned the wall along the Mexican border, which would definitely be a structure. The president revealed he wants to pay for it by putting solar panels along the top.

Wait a minute, I thought he hated renewable energy!

Where did you come from? No, he doesn’t hate renewable energy. Just wind power, and that’s just because the Scottish government put some turbines near one of his golf courses.

But let me tell you a little more about Infrastructure Week. While the whole world was talking about James Comey, Trump launched it with a plug for privatization of part of the Federal Aviation Administration. He sat down in front of the cameras and signed what might have looked, to the uninitiated, like a law, or a program, or at least a calendar of events. But it was really just a letter to Congress encouraging everyone to take up the F.A.A. idea. Which they have already made pretty clear they probably won’t.

Why would we want to privatize the F.A.A.? It’s not going to make flying safer. If they wanted to make it better, they could tell the airlines to put in more leg room.

I could use a little less interruption. But, yeah.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges and waterways. It was a super popular idea, and once he was elected, one of the very few bright spots congressional Democrats saw on the horizon. They figured Republican fiscal conservatives would balk, but they could make a deal to deliver the needed extra votes.

“I told him — you know you’ll need our support,” a prominent Democrat happily told me last year. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”

This is what conversation sounds like in Washington these days. Still, by Trumpian standards, that’s the Gettysburg Address.

But Trump’s people never reached out to the Democrats, who had reasonable reservations about the original plan, which made some very iffy presumptions about using tax credits to get private investment in the roads and bridges. Under the very best of circumstances, it would mean a lot of tolls. It would also require a lot of smart government oversight, and we are talking here about a White House that has yet to figure out how to nominate an ambassador to Great Britain.

Plus, the president’s budget actually cut $206 billion the government had already committed to infrastructure projects. So on Wednesday, when Trump was in Cincinnati standing by the mighty Ohio and extolling the glories of river transport, cynics gloomily recalled that he wants to slice a billion dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers, which fixes the dams and locks.

Did he brag about winning the election? He always does that in his speeches.

Yeah, there was a little mention of how Ohio “was supposed to be close. It wasn’t.” He spent much more time praising himself for approving the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which required him to courageously stand up to environmental groups that had not supported him in the election. (“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. I just closed my eyes and I said: ‘Do it.’”)

What’s wrong with investing government money on roads? President Eisenhower did the biggest highway construction program ever, and he was a Republican.

If you’re going to try to imagine Donald Trump and Dwight Eisenhower in the same party, we can’t continue talking.

But Trump did bring up Eisenhower’s grand achievement in Cincinnati. “The Interstate Highway System — we don’t do that anymore. We don’t even fix them,” he complained. There was no explanation of how the fixing was going to be accomplished through private investors, who want new tolls, not less potholes.

He didn’t say anything at all about how his infrastructure plan would work, possibly because it doesn’t appear to exist at this point in time. The Democrats do have one, but Trump certainly hasn’t read it.

Because he can’t read, right?

Don’t be mean. He just doesn’t like to read at great length. But the president made it sound as if, at the first mention of the word “infrastructure,” the Democrats had thrown themselves upon the barricades. “I just don’t see them coming together. They’re obstructionist,” he claimed.

The emperor has no clothes.

Yeah, this one has been buck naked since the day he took office.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 1, 2017

Mr. Blow has a question in “The Complexities of James Comey:”  Is it fair to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?  Oh, hell yes, Charles, hell yes.  In “On a Portland Train, the Battlefield of American Values” Mr. Kristof says the best of our nation materialized against the worst on a fateful commute in Oregon.  Ms. Collins says “Oh Dear.  The Trumps Keep Multiplying.”  She tells us the family is so busy, their government and personal interests are a blur.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no other way to put it: Former F.B.I. Director James Comey tragically botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton, no doubt playing a part in her losing and Donald Trump’s being elected.

But it is also true that Comey may be a linchpin in undoing the mistake he made.

Trump was completely out of bounds when he fired Comey — the man who was leading an investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign — and then bragged to the Russians about the firing.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey “to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

“ ‘I hope you can let this go,’ the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.”

The question of whether Trump’s ask, Comey’s continuance and Trump’s subsequent firing of Comey constitutes obstruction of justice looms large.

Now CNN is reporting that “Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.”

This is shaping up to be a high-drama media event.

But the clarity of good vs. evil isn’t as clear-cut here as I would like it to be. To me it registers more as a matter of degrees: A good man exposed for colossal mismanagement versus a wretched man craning toward monstrosity.

You see, Comey is simultaneously hero and villain, and presumably right where he likes to be: in the spotlight.

In an extensive report on Comey in April, The Times painted a picture of a man who sought desperately not to appear political but who was not immune to the lure of self-promotion and publicity.

As The Times put it:

“For Mr. Comey, keeping the F.B.I. out of politics is such a preoccupation that he once said he would never play basketball with President Barack Obama because of the appearance of being chummy with the man who appointed him. But in the final months of the presidential campaign, the leader of the nation’s pre-eminent law enforcement agency shaped the contours, if not the outcome, of the presidential race by his handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations.”

The Times also added that Comey made his decision to treat the handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations during the campaign in such vastly different ways “with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.”

A Vanity Fair profile of Comey went further:

“One observer cites Comey’s willingness to say, ‘I know what’s right,’ even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, ‘There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work.’ ”

I don’t doubt the integrity and intent of this modern-day Achilles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a heel.

It is hard to know exactly how to consider Comey. Are the beans he may spill about Trump to be considered absolution for the sins he committed concerning Clinton’s email? Must we simply choose the lesser of two evils in an epic battle: a man of integrity who made a huge error in judgment over a man who lacks integrity and whose judgments are near absolute in their erroneousness?

Is it fair to believe sincerely that Comey should indeed have been fired, just not at this time, in this way, for this reason? Is it fair and right to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?

No matter which way I think about it, I’m torn.

And yet, I wait with the greatest of anticipation for Comey’s testimony. Will he confirm the existence of contemporaneously produced memos by him that reportedly document his unease with his interactions with a newly elected Trump? If so, how many memos are there and what do they say?

Will he directly contradict the story that the White House, including Trump, has told?

Will this be a clash of the titans or an arm wrestle of egos?

Whether or not there is a case against Trump for obstruction of justice is likely to hinge in large part on what Comey says and what, if any, proof he can produce.

Comey is one of the people who damned us to the reign of Trump, and Comey may be one of the only people who can save us from it.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

America may seem leaderless, with nastiness and bullying ascendant, but the best of our nation materialized during a moral crisis on a commuter train in Portland, Ore.

A white man riding on that train on Friday began screaming anti-Muslim insults at a black 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old Muslim friend wearing a hijab. One can imagine people pretending not to hear and staring fiercely down at their phones; instead, three brave passengers stepped forward to protect the girls.

The three were as different as could be. One was a 23-year-old recent Reed College graduate who had a mane of long hair and was working as a consultant. Another was a 53-year-old Army veteran with the trimmest of haircuts and a record of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third was a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student on his way to a job at a pizzeria. What united the three was decency.

When they intervened, the man harassing the girls pulled a knife and slashed the three men before fleeing. Rick Best, the veteran, died at the scene. Taliesin Namkai-Meche, the recent Reed graduate, was conscious as he waited for an ambulance. A good Samaritan took off her shirt to cover him; she recounted that some of his last words were: “I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.” He died soon after arriving at the hospital.

Another passer-by stanched the bleeding of the student poet, Micah Fletcher, and called his mother to tell her to go to the hospital — but played down the injuries to avoid terrifying her. Fletcher underwent two hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat and is recovering.

Police arrested Jeremy Christian, 35, a white supremacist, and charged him with the murders. The train attack doesn’t fit America’s internal narrative of terrorism, but it’s a reminder that terrorism takes many forms. Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by a Muslim terrorist (odds of one in six million) than for being Muslim (odds of one in one million), according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina.

In tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration. In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive — if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.

I’d been dispirited by recent events. President Trump’s overseas trip marked an abdication of American leadership, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluding that Europe can no longer rely on the United States. The Trump budget was intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant, with cuts in global AIDS funding alone that may cost one million lives.

Today’s White House seems to stand for nothing loftier than crony capitalism and the scapegoating of refugees, Muslims and immigrants. To me, Trump “values” are primarily narcissism, nepotism and nihilism.

And this is infectious: Cass Sunstein of Harvard cites psychology research indicating that Trump has made it more acceptable for Americans to embrace xenophobia. I wrote last year that “Donald Trump is making America meaner,” prompting bigotry in rural Oregon where I grew up, and around the country.

We don’t know whether the murderer on the Portland train felt empowered to scream at a Muslim girl because of Trump’s own previous Islamophobic rants, any more than we can be sure that Trump’s denunciation of reporters led a Montana candidate to body slam a journalist. But when a president incites hatred, civilization winces.

If all that is one thread of America, another is represented by those three men who stepped forward on that train. It’s also represented by the good Samaritans who helped them when they were stabbed, by the countless people who joined vigils to honor the victims and who donated more than $1 million in a few days for the families of those killed and for the survivor.

It’s terrific that the White House eventually acknowledged these heroes in a tweet. But it would have been more convincing if the tweet came sooner and from Trump’s own @realDonaldTrump account rather than the @Potus account mostly managed by his staff.

What the three men in Oregon understood, but the White House doesn’t, is that in a healthy society, Islamophobia doesn’t disparage just Muslims, racism doesn’t demean blacks alone, misogyny hurts more than women, xenophobia insults more than immigrants. Rather, we are all diminished, so we all have a stake in confronting bigotry.

Best, the veteran, had three teenage children and a 12-year-old daughter, and I hope his kids understand that their dad died challenging a venomous intolerance that threatens our social fabric. He fell on the battlefield of American values. He deserves the chance to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

One thing I’ve learned in my reporting career is that side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best. The test for all of us is whether we can similarly respond to hatred and nihilism with courage and, in the dying words of Namkai-Meche, with “love.”

After coming out of surgery, weak but indomitable, Fletcher wrote a poem that offers us guidance. According to the Oregonian, it read in part:

“I, am alive.

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another.”

And last but not least we get to Ms. Collins:

The kids are not alright.

Let’s see now. Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is under investigation for weird cloak-and-daggerish meetings with the Russians. Ivanka just took a bunch of money from the Saudis for her favorite charity. Eric and Don Jr. are traveling the world to promote Trump hotels and golf courses while being looked after by the Secret Service on our dime.

Tiffany is going to law school. If only the others were in law school.

Pop question: Who’s your favorite mini-Trump? I’m sort of attached to Eric, the one who compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing.

In theory, Eric and Don Jr. are supposed to be totally unconnected to the government, running the family business in a manner so separate from the president that they might easily be working in a totally different dimension.

Hahaha.

“I do not talk about the government with him and he does not talk about the business with us. That’s kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it’s something we honor,” Eric told Forbes earlier this year.

Then, Forbes reported, about “two minutes later” Eric volunteered that he’d still be making “profitability reports and stuff like that” to the president. He and Dad are, Eric added, “pretty inseparable.”

Darned tootin’. Besides traveling the world to publicize Trump golf courses and hang out with potential investors, Eric and Donald Jr. are also working the political side of the street. The boys recently met with Republican leaders to discuss 2018 election plans. (Don Jr., by the way, is the one who was recently off shooting prairie dogs during their breeding season.)

Eric’s wife, Lara, was at the meeting, too. More relatives! When she’s not talking with Republican leaders, Lara is active in an animal rights group called the Beagle Freedom Project. It helps find homes for dogs that were used in scientific studies, which is commendable. On the other hand, one of its leaders spent six years in jail for harassing research workers.

Her father-in-law isn’t really into pets, which is now looking like a good thing. Given the way he operates, if Trump had, say, a cocker spaniel it would probably now be deputy secretary of agriculture.

Lately, the Trump relatives we’ve been hearing most about are Ivanka, an official presidential adviser, and her husband, Jared, whose portfolio includes modernizing government and bringing peace to the Middle East. They recently accompanied the president on his overseas trip — the one that began in Saudi Arabia with fun festivities and the glowing orb.

While the Trumps were there, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates announced they were honoring Ivanka by donating $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs.

Perhaps you remember a presidential debate last fall in which Trump denounced the Clinton Foundation for accepting money from conservative Arab nations like, um, Saudi Arabia. (“You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people who push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.”) Ah, well.

Jared’s current issue is the mysterious back channel he attempted to set up with the Russians. Like so very many things involving this administration, it’s a controversy in which the most positive interpretation is that he had no idea what the hell he was doing.

In December Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russia bank, to talk about setting up a special communication system, apparently so he could talk without American intelligence overhearing.

It had to be disastrous in some way, since Mike Flynn was involved. Among the possible explanations:

A) The incoming administration had directed a 36-year-old real estate developer with no government experience to solve the Syrian crisis while keeping the whole thing secret from everybody except Vladimir Putin.

B) Jared was trying to do a favor for his sister-in-law Lara by setting up a channel to smuggle abused beagles out of Russia.

C) This is something about Russian money backing Trump businesses.

I am of course going for the beagles. But feel free to be cynical.

“We know Kushner’s business operations are in constant need of loans and investors. It’s highly suspicious,” said Fred Wertheimer of the good-government group Democracy 21. He used to specialize in campaign finance reform, but now Wertheimer lives in a world where a president’s daughter joins Dad at a dinner with the Chinese president the very same day she receives trademark rights for selling Ivanka Trump glitz in China.

And speaking of sleazy contacts with foreign investors, last week Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley called for an investigation into “potentially fraudulent statements and misrepresentations” made by a Chinese company promoting deals that seemed to involve U.S. visas for financiers who made big investments in a luxury condo project in New Jersey.

The condos are being developed by Kushner Companies and were being marketed by Jared’s sister. Yes! There’s no end to them.

Stay the course, Tiffany.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 25, 2017

In “The Flynn Affair” Mr. Blow has a question:  Why has President Trump remained so loyal to Michael Flynn?  Mr. Kristof is flexing his satire muscles in “The Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame” when he says thank God for our truth-seeking patriots in the G.O.P.!  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Can’t Add Things Up,” says the president is a man with a budget plan that nobody understands.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the greatest political mysteries of our time is why President Trump has clung — and continues to cling — so steadfastly to the perfidious Michael Flynn.

Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, is at the nexus of Trump’s problems. There was Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey and his contacts with Russia. There was Trump’s dismissal of all warnings to steer clear of Flynn; his refusal to fire Flynn as soon as he was alerted to the fact that Flynn posed a security risk; his efforts to impede or even terminate the investigations of Flynn.

Not only has Trump staunchly defended Flynn — even after firing him — he is apparently still in contact with him, sending him encouraging messages. As Michael Isikoff reported last week for Yahoo News about a dinner Flynn convened with “a small group of loyalists”:

Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

This level of extreme fealty is puzzling. It extends beyond basic loyalty to an early supporter. It seems to me that there is something else at play here, something as yet unknown. Trump’s attachment to Flynn strikes me less as an act of fidelity and more as an exercise in fear. What does Flynn know that Trump doesn’t want the world to know?

What are the dirty details of what could only be called The Flynn Affair?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who served as head of the Trump transition team before being brushed aside for Vice President Mike Pence, said he warned Trump about Flynn. As Christie said earlier this week: “I didn’t think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration, and I made that very clear to candidate Trump, and I made it very clear to President-elect Trump.”

Christie continued: “If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job.”

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn. As The New York Times reported earlier this month:

Mr. Obama, who had fired Mr. Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Mr. Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide, said the administration officials, who were briefed on the Oval Office conversation. Mr. Trump later ignored the advice, naming Mr. Flynn to be his national security adviser.

Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, warned Trump about Flynn. As The Times reported earlier this month, when she delivered mesmerizing testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Yates informed the White House, less than a week into the Trump administration, that Flynn had lied to Pence about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

As Yates put it, “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Trump again ignored the warning.

Eighteen days passed. Then, on Monday, Feb. 13, The Washington Post reported that Yates had warned Trump about Flynn, a warning the White House had kept secret.

That night, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump requested Flynn’s resignation, with Spicer saying the following day:

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

Spicer quickly pointed out that the firing was not caused by a “legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

As White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on television that Tuesday morning, “It was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.”

In fact, it appeared that it was Trump being embarrassed by press reports that he had been warned of Flynn’s treachery and had done nothing with the information that led to Flynn’s ultimate resignation.

In Trump’s mind, this was all the fault of the press, not Flynn’s double-dealing or the president’s own faulty vetting and subsequent inaction. In a news conference the day after Spicer described Flynn’s departure, Trump said of Flynn, “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases.” Trump continued, “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”

The day after Flynn was forced out his job, Trump told the former F.B.I. director, James Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to contemporaneous notes written by Comey, referring to a meeting in which Trump asked Comey to lay off the federal investigation of Flynn.

Comey wouldn’t let it go, and Trump would later fire him and reportedly brag about it to Russians in the Oval Office a day later: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” Trump continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Now, all the hoops Trump has jumped through to hire, keep and protect Flynn may lead to Trump’s undoing. The question of whether Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice is very real. The White House Counsel’s Office is researching impeachment. This week Trump retained Marc Kasowitz as outside counsel for his impending legal problems. This is going to get ugly.

So the question not only remains, but is amplified in this light: What about Flynn is worth all this? Why continue to stick by someone who seems to have so clearly been in the wrong and is causing you such woes?

Does Flynn have knowledge of something so damaging that it keeps Trump crouched in his defense? This is the question that ongoing investigations must answer, particularly the investigation now led by the Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller.

It’s time to lay bare this fishy bromance and come to know the full breadth of Flynn’s furtive activities and whether Trump was aware or complicit, before, during or after. Kick back America; it’s Mueller time.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We certainly don’t want leading Republicans to tumble into hypocrisy, so let’s refresh their memories.

Patriots like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have eloquently warned of the importance of ferreting out the truth and holding politicians accountable, including for leaking classified information. Thank God for their insistence on truth-seeking!

As McConnell warned, for example: “The president did not value the sacred oath. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. I submit to my colleagues that if we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws. No public official, no president, no man or no woman is important enough to sacrifice the founding principles of our legal system.”

Such passion for justice and accountability (expressed in 1999, during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton) inspires us all. And at this historic moment when timid or myopic politicians balk at congressional oversight and resist an independent commission to investigate President Trump and possible collusion with the Kremlin, it behooves us to cherish the wisdom of such honest souls.

They’re busy, but no problem! I’ve helpfully dug out their brilliant insights:

“Extreme carelessness with classified material … is still totally disqualifying.”

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

“It’s simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it.”

— House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweet, July 7, 2016

“The security clearance of any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information shall be revoked.” — Senate Bill 3135, co-sponsored last year (to shame Hillary Clinton) by 16 Republican senators: Cory Gardner, John Cornyn, Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson, Thom Tillis, John Thune, David Vitter, Mike Rounds and James Inhofe

“Those who mishandled classified info have had their sec clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, & even been sent to prison.”

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

“What do I say to the tens of thousands of people that live and work in my district who work for the federal government, including more than 47,000 Marines? What do I say [to them] when saying something that isn’t true and handling classified information in an extremely careless way has no criminal ramifications?”

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

“In my opinion, quite frankly, it’s treason.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Nov. 3, 2016, on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server

“Presidents are not ordinary citizens. They are extraordinary, in that they are vested with so much more authority and power than the rest of us. We have a right; indeed, we have an obligation, to hold them strictly accountable to the rule of law. … It is self-evident to us all, I hope, that we cannot overlook, dismiss or diminish the obstruction of justice by the very person we charge with taking care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

— Senator John McCain, Feb. 12, 1999, in voting to convict President Clinton in his impeachment trial

“By his words and deeds, he had done great harm to the notions of honesty and integrity that form the underpinnings of this great republic. … If we do not sustain the moral and legal foundation on which our system of government and our prosperity is based, both will surely and steadily diminish.”

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Feb. 12, 1999, as a senator

“The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority. … There was no better reason than that for the resignation of this president.”

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

“Our freedom is assured by the rule of law. … Even the most powerful among us must be subject to those laws. Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie.”

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

Such Ciceros! At a time when so many Americans have a narrow, partisan vision, I am grateful that we are blessed with patriots of such vision.

In all seriousness, let’s adhere to the spirit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator during the 1999 Clinton trial declared:

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law. … Under our Constitution, such acts are high crimes, and equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. … It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth.”

And they’ll do anything about Trump when pigs fly.  Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

We’re now getting a feel for what it was like to work in a business run by Donald Trump.

His budget is out, and it predicts we will have super-duper, excellent, great — no, huge — economic growth based on monster tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending that will leave the poor with no money to buy anything.

It was produced in concert with that great health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office now estimates would cost 23 million Americans their insurance coverage over the next 10 years.

On the plus side, in 10 years Trump will definitely not be president. Unless there’s a coup.

We’re being run like a bad Atlantic City casino. It’s only a matter of time before the government will be trying to make ends meet by selling its name to golf course developers and marketing USA Steaks.

The budget came out while Trump was overseas, talking about peace with Pope Francis, who occasionally looked as cheerful as if he was watching his car being towed away.

Meanwhile at home, the detailed presidential spending plan was being unveiled, like the magic show at a mismanaged gambling house tottering toward bankruptcy court. There were a few, um, flaws. For one thing, the budget appeared to count the same $2 trillion twice. We hate when a government does that.

It also presumes that a country with an aging population is going to spur economic growth by battling immigration. And the big tax-cutting plan that is the basis of said explosive growth is still just that one-page summary the administration handed out to catcalls last month.

And it has two names. “Well, it’s called the New Foundation for American Greatness, but I wanted to call it the Taxpayer First Budget,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney at the rollout.

Which do you prefer, people? I am imagining a salesman urging his customer to buy extra supplies “so you’ll be ready for the New Foundation for American Greatness.” Maybe we could just call it by the nickname it has already acquired in the outside world, Thing that Won’t Add Up (TWAUP). I sort of like TWAUP. It sounds like a dyspeptic frog.

Congress could not have been less enthusiastic about the president’s plan if the members had been with the pope at that picture-taking session. Perhaps they were remembering that one of Trump’s casinos went on to a career that involved ultimately being sold for 4 cents on the dollar.

“Probably dead on arrival,” said Senator John McCain when the budget emerged.

You have to believe that McCain is having a good time these days. He made his name as the tough-talking, truth-telling presidential candidate before he actually won a nomination and became the cranky guy who looked as if he was yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Then he was the bored loyal Republican during the Obama administration. And now, it’s back to anything goes.

The spending cuts were so ridiculous that nobody was taking them very seriously. (Good luck with squashing the National Institutes of Health.) But in this administration, just because something is stupid and universally derided doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention. These days, that’s life as we know it, and Trump’s plan could serve as a potential justification for whatever less-nutty cuts the Republican majority is going to try to make. So let’s treat them seriously for a minute.

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Mulvaney used to be a leader in a House caucus so conservative that even the rest of the Republican majority thought they were sort of bananas. Now he’s definitely in the running for most awful cabinet member, even in a competition that includes Jeff Sessions.

The goal of dismantling the social safety net, Mulvaney said, was to make recipients of federal aid “take charge of their own lives.” You could certainly do some of this by identifying, say, disabled Social Security recipients who might be capable of working and giving them the right training. But that presumes your goal is actually to make the programs better. “There are a number of things that could be done. But they’re very labor-intensive,” said Cristina Martin Firvida of the AARP.

And the effort would probably have to be led by an administration that has made more than 54 nominations for the 500-plus top positions requiring Senate confirmation.

The Trump budget — just one more carp, please — is apparently going to try to limit food stamp benefits to poor families with a lot of young children. Yes! The Department of Agriculture says it’s going to cap food stamps at six people per household. If another kid comes along, they’re out of luck.

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

Stephens, Kristof, and Collins

May 18, 2017

In “‘The Flight 93 Election’ Crashes Again” Mr. Stephens says to a certain kind of conservative, last fall’s was “the Flight 93 election.” Perhaps it was, but not as they intended.  Mr. Kristof says these are “Dangerous Times for Trump and the Nation” and he has a question:  What if an unstable president reaches for the nuclear button?  Thanks, Nick, I just crawled out from under the bed…  Ms. Collins ponders “Trump’s Version of Keeping Us Safe,” and we pause while the president feels sorry for himself.  Here’s Mr. Stephens:

In case you’ve had the pleasure of forgetting, “The Flight 93 Election” was the title of a portentous essay, published last September under a Roman pseudonym in The Claremont Review of Books, that declared the stakes for the United States in 2016 thus: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”

In the lurid imagination of the author — it turned out to be Michael Anton, who now holds a senior job in the White House — the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist “Davoisie.” As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried “Let’s Roll” in a desperate bid for salvation.

“You may die anyway,” Anton warned. “You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: If you don’t try, death is certain.”

And here we are, not four months into the collapsing Trump presidency, living Anton’s dreams.

In recent days, the radio host Michael Savage has acknowledged “the administration is in trouble.” John Podhoretz in the New York Post and later The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page each compared Trump to Jimmy Carter — the most damning of all conservative indictments.

Then there’s Ann Coulter. In an interview with The Daily Caller, the author of “In Trump We Trust” said of the presidency that “it has been such a disaster so far,” and that it was possible that “the Trump-haters were right.” She even dropped the f-bomb — “fascist” — to describe Trump’s hiring of his relatives to senior White House posts.

“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said (perhaps it’s apocryphal) after the CBS anchorman said in 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Just so for Trump: If he’s lost Coulter, he’s lost angry America. That’s not his entire base, but — let’s face it — it’s a critical fraction of it.

Now the hope of the president’s dismayed supporters is that this moment of near-political bankruptcy will lead to a reinvention and a turnaround. Perhaps Trump can delegate his executive authorities in the same way as he used to license his name, pretending to be president just as he once pretended to be a real-estate tycoon.

That would suit Trump’s sole talent for playing a successful character on TV. But the reality of the presidency is that it tends to reflect and magnify the inner truth of the officeholder. The job requires — and exposes — that most conservative of concepts: character. And if we’ve learned anything about Trump, it’s that his character isn’t just bad. It’s irrepressible.

Hence the past 10 days of our national life. Firing Jim Comey. Threatening Comey. Lying about the reasons for firing Comey. Admitting to the reasons for firing Comey. Blabbing secrets to Sergey Lavrov. Denying that secrets were blabbed. Then blabbing about blabbing to Lavrov.

No staff shake-up would have prevented any of this from happening. It would have descended on a hapless White House staff like a superheated pyroclastic flow from a presidential Pinatubo. And it will continue to descend, week after grim week, until Trump leaves or is forced from office.

That is the Trump reality. A man with a deformed personality and a defective intellect runs a dysfunctional administration — a fact finally visible even to its most ardent admirers. Who could have seen that one coming? Who knew that character might be destiny?

To reread “The Flight 93 Election” today is to understand what has gone wrong not only with the Trump presidency, but also with so much of the conservative movement writ large. In a word, it’s become unhinged.

To imply, as Anton did, that Barack Obama, for all his shortcomings, was Ziad Jarrah, Flight 93’s lead hijacker, is vile. To suppose that we’d all be dead if Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, had been elected is hallucinatory. To argue that the United States, for all its problems, was the equivalent of a doomed aircraft is absurd. To suggest that Donald Trump, a man who has sacrificed nothing in his life for anyone or anything, is the worthy moral heir to the Flight 93 passengers is a travesty.

It is the mark of every millenarian fanatic to assume that the world stands on the verge of a precipice, and that only radical or violent action can save it. That’s the premise of Anton’s essay. It’s also the kind of thinking that has inspired extremists from time immemorial, including the people who grabbed the planes on 9/11.

Maybe 2016 was the Flight 93 election, or something like it. Maybe the pilots are dead. Maybe the passengers failed to storm the cockpit. Maybe the hijackers reached their target by landing on the White House after all.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The Trump presidency may now be disintegrating, tumbling toward entropy.

By firing James Comey as F.B.I. director, President Trump set in motion the appointment Wednesday evening of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Mueller is a Trump nightmare: a pro who ran the F.B.I. for 12 years and is broadly respected by both parties in Washington for his competence and integrity. If Trump thought he was removing a thorn by firing Comey, he now faces a grove of thistles.

One crucial lesson here: Pressure matters. It was public opinion that stalled the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, and it is public opinion in part that will ensure the integrity of this investigation.

While the Justice Department didn’t precisely cave to polls, it truly does matter that a majority of Americans want this cloud over our presidency investigated and removed; legal decisions unfold in a political context. Keep up that pressure, for the coming months may be particularly dangerous.

We don’t, of course, know what Mueller will find, and Trump has reiterated his denial of collusion with the Kremlin. Some Democrats seem to assume an investigation will prove a secret deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin, but many smart people I speak to wonder if it will end up more gray. They foresee evidence of collusion by Trump’s aides, and of financial pathways linking Moscow to Trump and his campaign, but perhaps no proof of a quid pro quo involving Trump himself.

The aides most at risk may be Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn, and NBC is reporting that multiple subpoenas have been issued for records involving them.

In addition, The Washington Post reported Wednesday on a remarkable recording in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared last June that he believed that Putin finances Trump. Talking with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders, McCarthy said, “I think Putin pays” Trump. When people laughed, McCarthy quickly added, “Swear to God!”

Ryan swore those present to secrecy. “No leaks,” Ryan said. “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

When The Post asked Ryan and McCarthy about the statements, their offices flatly denied them. Informed that The Post had a recording, they backtracked and suggested it was a joke.

If it’s not humor, this is extraordinary: The Republican House leadership suggested that Putin was keeping Trump on his payroll and that this must be kept secret — even as they thundered about Hillary Clinton’s emails!

(An aside: Thank God for the battle unfolding between The Washington Post and The New York Times. This is the best kind of newspaper war, keeping America straight. I’ve been very critical of media coverage of the presidential campaign, but the rigorous coverage of Trump since he took office has made me proud to be a journalist. And thanks to all those citizens who have subscribed to news outlets in recent months, recognizing that subscriptions are the price for a democracy.)

Yet there are dangers ahead. One is that America will be incapacitated and paralyzed by Mueller’s investigation and the suspicions — this partly explains the stock market’s big fall on Wednesday — and foreign powers may take advantage of this to undertake their own mischief. I would worry about Russia in both Ukraine and the Baltic countries, and we must make clear that we will work with allies to respond in kind.

Another danger is the risk of an erratic, embattled, paranoid leader at home who feels that he may be going down the tubes anyway. In domestic policy, presidents are constrained by Congress and the courts about what damage they can cause, but in foreign policy a president has a largely free hand — and the ability to launch nuclear strikes that would pretty much destroy the world.

In 1974, as Richard Nixon’s presidency was collapsing, he was drinking heavily and aides worried that he was becoming unstable. Fearing what might go wrong, Nixon’s defense secretary, James Schlesinger, secretly instructed the military not to carry out any White House order to use nuclear weapons unless confirmed by him or Henry Kissinger.

This was unconstitutional. And wise.

Schlesinger also prepared secret plans to deploy troops in Washington in the event of problems with the presidential succession.

We don’t know how Trump will respond in the coming months, and let’s all hope for smooth sailing. But as with Schlesinger’s steps, it’s wise to be prepared.

There have been calls for Trump aides to resign rather than ruin their reputations, but I hope the grown-ups — H. R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Dina Powell, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson — grit their teeth and stick it out. The White House has never needed more adult supervision.

The cabinet has the constitutional power to remove a president by majority vote under the 25th Amendment (if the president protests, this must be confirmed by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress). Such a vote is unlikely, but in the event of a crisis like the one Schlesinger envisioned, it would be essential.

I hope that cabinet members are keeping one another’s cellphone numbers handy in case an emergency meeting becomes necessary for our nation.

If we’re to rely on the ship of fools that is the current cabinet we are well and truly screwed.  And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Wow, Donald Trump can’t even give a commencement speech to the military without making it all about him.

“Now I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve,” the president warned as he was addressing the Coast Guard Academy graduating class Wednesday.

How many of you think Trump was envisioning an unjustly embattled seaman?

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” he went on. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

We will pause now to recall that Abraham Lincoln was accused of everything from drunkenness to treason to being a “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” before being assassinated. You’d think Trump would remember that, since he seems to regard himself as an expert on Lincoln. (“Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,” he informed a fund-raising dinner recently.)

But no, nobody has been persecuted as much as Donald Trump, despite all he’s done for us.

The president also took time out from extolling the Coast Guard’s service to run through the “tremendous amount” his administration has already accomplished. “We’ve saved the Second Amendment,” he bragged. This was presumably his successful fight to make sure that people who are so mentally disturbed they can’t handle their own Social Security benefits still are guaranteed the right to purchase lethal weapons.

But the topic of the day at the Coast Guard Academy was protecting America. And since nobody — particularly Trump — can talk about anything except Trump, let’s look at what the president has done recently to assure our security.

Right now we have no head of the F.B.I. Most of the U.S. attorney offices — the nerve center of America’s war on terrorism and corruption — are without leaders. In March Trump demanded the Obama-era federal prosecutors leave immediately, and he has not nominated a single replacement.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, says she was assured by White House officials that “the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity.”

“Clearly, this is not the case,” Feinstein understated.

Meanwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn turned out to be a mess on many fronts, and was fired for lying. His successor, H. R. McMaster, came into the job with a stellar military background and then quickly became an embarrassment. He’s just another spokesman trying to cover up the president’s messes with carefully worded statements, only to be contradicted by a Trumpian tweet.

Americans keep asking themselves why there isn’t anyone in the administration trying to guide the president away from his endless verbal errors, but as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman reported in The Times, McMaster has indeed tried. The president, in gratitude, refers to him as “a pain.”

Anyway, Trump misses getting national security advice from Mike Flynn. Who was secretly taking large payments for representing the interests of Turkey while he was a part of Trump’s campaign, and also had a very questionable and profitable relationship with Russia.

“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump told now-departed F.B.I. director James Comey. Have you ever seen a greater judge of character? People, do not take a job in the Trump administration, even if he offers you secretary of vacations. The very fact that he likes you will make everybody else distrust you.

Also on the top of the Trump food chain when it comes to protecting our security: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a right-wing former senator whose greatest achievement so far has been to return the federal criminal justice system to a brain-dead policy of imposing long mandatory sentences on people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

Since Sessions recused himself from any investigations relating to Russia and the Trump campaign — a topic that currently covers virtually everything — a lot of the burden was falling on his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who has been on the job for three weeks. Rosenstein, the ultimate example of that Trump employment rule, was quickly telling people he didn’t really care about his personal reputation.

On the plus side, Rosenstein has appointed a special counsel to look into … the stuff. That’s Robert Mueller, a very serious choice, who was in fact the last F.B.I. director not to be fired by Donald Trump.

And today we’ve got a new crew of Coast Guard ensigns, ready to serve. If only we had a president half as useful.

Stephens and Collins

May 13, 2017

Well, the Times has a new op-ed dude, Bret Stephens.  In “How Trump May Save the Republic” he tries to convince us that we are protected, for the time being, by the president’s stupidity.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Is Terrible at Firing!” and adds watch out, Your Holiness, here comes Donald.  Here’s Mr. Stephens:

The question in the title of Timothy Egan’s latest column for The Times is “Who Will Save the Republic?” My answer is Donald Trump, of course.

I mean this in the Anna Sebastian sense — Madame Sebastian being the shrewd, sinister and very Teutonic mother played by Leopoldine Konstantin in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 classic, “Notorious.”

Anna’s adult son, Alexander (Claude Rains), is part of a group of well-heeled Nazis living and scheming revenge in Brazil when he marries Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful young woman he deems trustworthy because her father was a convicted German spy.

Too late, Alexander realizes that Alicia is really an American agent, and that exposure of the fact will mean certain death for him at the hands of his fellow Nazis. When he confesses the problem to mother, she responds with the most reproachful reassurance in movie history:

“We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity — for a time.”

Just so with our 45th president. His views are often malevolent, and his conduct might ultimately prove criminal. But we, too, are protected, for a time, by the enormity of his stupidity.

So much was clear back in January, when Trump dropped his refugee ban on the public, like a dunce trying to squash a snail by dropping a brick on it, only to have it land on his own foot.

There were constitutional ways by which the administration might have made good on some of its obnoxious immigration promises. Trump managed to alight on the unconstitutional ones. His loud embrace as a political candidate of a comprehensive Muslim ban sealed its fate in court once he was president.

Tuesday’s dismissal of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director fits the pattern. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that a man whose signature line in showbiz was “You’re fired” turns out to be spectacularly incompetent even in this respect.

The president’s letter dismissing Comey revealed more about the president’s legal anxieties than it did about the director’s job performance. It was announced before it was delivered. Its supposed rationale — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case — could not withstand a cursory examination of Trump’s motives. It had the effect of rehabilitating Comey’s once-tarnished reputation, while tarnishing Rosenstein’s once-sound one.

What was meant to quash an investigation into the obscure tangle of Trump’s possible Russia connections is now certain to revive it. The Senate will be hard-pressed to confirm an F.B.I. director who is an obvious political lackey. And anyone who takes the job will feel honor bound to pursue the investigation with maximum legal and bureaucratic muscle.

This is how we save the Republic — one self-inflicted Trumpian political wound after another.

All the more so since Trump seems to be digging in. The president is now threatening to cancel all live White House press briefings while issuing ill-concealed threats against the former director. On Friday, he tweeted that “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Hang on: There could be tapes? Can someone please ask Bill Safire in heaven to drop in on Richard Nixon in purgatory so they can walk us through this one together?

In corporate life, the usual practice when firing someone is either to say nothing or to say something nice, on the theory that the unlucky person is likelier to respond in kind. Trump has now given his former director the opportunity and incentive to do the opposite. Congressional hearings, should they happen, will be fun.

What makes all this so much more astonishing is how unnecessary it is, at least from Trump’s point of view.

If the president has nothing to fear from a Russia investigation, then why not let it run its course toward exoneration or irrelevance? If he does have something to fear, then Comey — distrusted by Republicans and Democrats alike — would have been his ideal foil. Trump’s critics can now take heart that, no, we won’t soon be moving on from l’affaire russe.

On Friday, I asked an astute source with long experience in the intelligence community if he suspects a smoking gun.

“I would guess there is something on paper or derived through witness questioning that has given the bureau an opening, assuming that Trump’s actions are in response to growing concern about the Russian probe,” he replied, while adding the caveat, “Since we’re talking about Trump, a rampantly insecure ego, such an assumption isn’t mandatory.”

I’d add another caveat: Incompetence may protect us — but as Madame Sebastian knew, only for a while. The blunders may often be self-defeating, but not always. Trump is our president. The enormity of his stupidity, inescapably, is also our own.

Speak for yourself, Bret.  It wasn’t the American people (2+ million fewer of whom voted for Mein Fubar) that hacked the election and obsessed over emails.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump is going to meet soon with the pope. How do you think that will go? Maybe when Trump emerges, he’ll announce that Francis promised him canonization. Then the Vatican will deny it. Then Sean Spicer will hold a press conference in which he will explain that the president was simply working off a memo written by the deputy secretary of state.

Then a reporter will point out that the State Department doesn’t have any deputy secretaries yet. Then we will hear another complaint about “gotcha journalism.”

Look, it wouldn’t be any weirder than what we’ve been through this week.

The president managed to fire F.B.I. chief James Comey in the most unseemly, strange and borderline ridiculous manner humanly possible. A third of Trump’s letter of dismissal was an expression of gratitude for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” That sounded sort of fishy, since Comey did not have a reputation for running around town assuring people they were not currently suspected of any crimes.

On the night the message was delivered, Spicer starred in what we will call the White House Shrubbery Incident, briefing the press corps in the dark, near a cluster of bushes by the West Wing.

He was not hiding in the foliage! Stop passing around that story! Although he did make it clear he was prepared to bolt if anybody tried to get a picture. (“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off.”)

During the conference in deep shadows, Spicer informed the media that the decision to fire Comey was based entirely on a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “It was all him. … No one from the White House. That was a Department of Justice decision.”

We will now pause to identify Rod Rosenstein. He had been deputy attorney general for two weeks. Before that he was U.S. attorney in Maryland, a very well-regarded public servant. Let that be an important lesson, people. Whatever you do, do not take a job in the Trump administration. Before you’ve got your desk organized, you’ll be involved in a national scandal. Or in a bush.

“At the very minimum he was being used — they were using his reputation to try and wipe up their mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a phone interview. Rosenstein has agreed to meet with the full Senate next week. Let’s hope he says something very useful and interesting. Otherwise he’ll be known for the rest of his life as The Memo Guy.

Since nothing ever happens in this White House that is not instantly followed by a contradicting story, by the end of the week the president was claiming it was all his idea to fire Comey. That version did seem way more believable than the idea that Trump was reacting to something he had read. The memo was only three pages long, but still.

Then he went Watergate. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump twittered.

“You would think they’d have learned a lesson,” mused Nixon aide John Dean. “But Trump doesn’t seem to have much of an institutional memory. If any.”

Hmm. In an NBC interview, in which Trump was eager to make it clear that he had fired Comey without considering any supporting documents, the president said his decision was all about “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” We will now take a moment to recall what previous chief executive had the peculiar habit of referring to himself in the third person. Hint: He liked to, um, record stuff.

The whole world, of course, wanted to know whether there was indeed some kind of taping system in the Oval Office. The White House had no comment on Trump’s comment.

“The president has nothing further to add on that,” said Spicer. Three times, in fact. Spicer also said that “the tweet speaks for itself.” As do they all.

What happens next? Should we be talking impeachment? (Remember the magic warning: Mike Pence.)

And by the way, who would you rather have as press secretary, Sean Spicer or his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Spicer vanished for a while after that late-night press conference, but he was on Navy Reserve duty, not crouching under the hydrangeas. While he was gone we had Sanders, who previously starred as manager of her father Mike Huckabee’s 2016 presidential campaign. She contradicted herself about a billion times, but with a lot of spunk.

Or neither? Trump suggested that perhaps “the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

Do you think the written responses would have lots of unnecessary punctuation, and quotation marks in strange places like Trump’s tweets do? Or would they just be transcriptions of those ‘tapes’?

And most important of all, do you think he’ll be wired when he meets with the pope?

Collins, solo

May 6, 2017

Ms. Collins has a question:  “Where’s Ivanka When We Need Her?”  She says reproductive rights go all wrong in Washington.  As if Ivanka gives a crap…  It’s unusual to post a reply to her, but “gemli” from Boston had a word or two.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Ivanka’s got a new female empowerment book, and Dad’s going to war against women. Great week, gang.

In just the last few days, the Trump administration has taken steps to restrict health insurance coverage for contraceptives, while bullying the House into passing legislation that could send insurance rates for maternal health care soaring. Meanwhile, the president picked a new official to disseminate the administration’s thoughts about public health, and it’s a woman who believes that abortions cause breast cancer.

Triple score for the extreme right. I believe in hockey they call that a hat trick.

And wait, there’s more: Trump’s reported choice to run the government’s programs on family planning is someone who doesn’t believe contraception works. And of course that House-passed health care bill is going to defund Planned Parenthood. The measure now goes to the Senate, where Republicans have put together a special 13-man committee to draft their version.

It was, at minimum, deeply ironic that while all this was happening, Ivanka Trump released a new book that calls on readers to fight against “barriers that disproportionately affect women” at work. Everybody who thinks unwanted pregnancies are a barrier, please raise your hands.

Under normal circumstances, we’d give Ivanka’s slim tome, “Women Who Work,” a pass. Or link you to Jennifer Senior’s review in The Times, which calls it “not really offensive so much as witlessly derivative.” It’s stuffed with obvious tips and multitudinous inspirational quotes on leadership, one of which comes from John Quincy Adams, an unsuccessful president who nobody liked. His wife was so empowered she wrote a White House memoir titled “Adventures of a Nobody.” One of his sons called him “the Iron Mask.” Do you think Ivanka’s a John Quincy Adams fan? Or has another Trump ghostwriter been over-Googling?

Ivanka’s a major power in the administration, and she ought to be mobilizing support for things like easy access to contraceptives. “Women Who Work” isn’t exactly aimed at the people who have problems paying for their prescriptions — its target readers need tips on massage priorities and getting the nanny to send Mom pictures of how the kids are spending their day. But she’s not witless and she obviously knows that birth control plays an important role in working women’s lives. You think she’d put in a word.

No sign. The president has directed departments like health and human services to consider whether the government should allow employers who cite religious objections to cut contraceptives out of their health care plans. What do you think said agencies will decide? Here’s a hint: The new head of H.H.S., Tom Price, is a guy who once claimed there was “not one” woman who had ever had a problem paying for birth control on her own. (Getting an intrauterine device implanted can cost $1,000 in some parts of the country.)

The reproductive rights war is always promoted publicly as a battle against abortion. But many religious conservatives hate birth control in general. Some just want to stop sex outside of marriage. Some don’t believe even married couples should use artificial methods like pills or condoms. Some believe that all fertilized eggs are humans and that many forms of contraception, from IUDs to morning-after pills, cause the equivalent of murder. It’s a theological principle that most Americans don’t accept. “Personhood” amendments giving the eggs constitutional rights have been defeated even in very conservative states.

Yet the president has just named, as one of the top officials in H.H.S., a woman who believes IUDs kill. Charmaine Yoest described intrauterine devices to Emily Bazelon in a Times interview as having “life-ending properties.” Yoest, who’s going to be assistant secretary for public affairs, also refuses to consider whether increased access to contraception will actually help reduce abortion rates. It would, she told PBS, “be, frankly, carrying water for the other side to allow them to redefine the issue in that way.”

Teresa Manning, a former official at National Right to Life, is said to be Trump’s pick for another high post at H.H.S., deputy assistant secretary for — are you ready? — population affairs. Manning, who, like Yoest, has argued that abortions cause breast cancer, is going to be in charge of all federal family planning programs. She’s the one who once claimed in a radio interview that “contraception doesn’t work.” The idea that “contraception would always prevent the conception” was, she said, “preposterous.”

Nobody thinks these appointees reflect Trump’s own personal convictions, and the president doesn’t need to go this far to satisfy his voter base. It’s just that he doesn’t care, and figures he can concede to the ultraright on women’s reproductive issues in return for stuff he really wants. So he’s working toward a world where low-income women won’t be able to afford contraceptives. And aren’t allowed to have an abortion if they get pregnant. Where there’s no Planned Parenthood to go to for help, or insurance to cover prenatal care or delivery.

Other than that, no problem.

And here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“There ought to be one more high-level appointment to complete the president’s plan for American women. We’ll need someone to lobby against women’s shoes. That way the little ladies can be kept both barefoot and pregnant.

The latest science from the fourteenth century has shown that shoes are not necessary, and that maintaining full-foot contact with the ground makes women happier and more docile. Properly unshod, women are less likely to knit pink pussycat hats and march in the streets.

Ever since the s_xual revolution of the 1960s, women have gotten some very unhealthy ideas about s_x, which was never supposed to be fun, except, of course, for men. So women thought they could control their God-given bodies and subvert the natural process of having more children than anyone could ever support, much less take care of properly.

The female body was the original Easy-Bake Oven, designed to pop out a child every ten months. No planning was necessary. The only kind of Planned Parenthood women need is to plan to become parents. Fortunately a conservative Supreme Court will remove the temptation of legal abortion, and those firebrand women who shame their husbands by working outside of the home will be denied coverage for contraceptives.

You’d have thought that lower salaries for women would have encouraged the little ladies to stay home and rear a brood, but we keep forgetting that they’re not as smart as men. Bless their hearts.”

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 4, 2017

In “Senators Save the Empire” Mr. Blow says the Senate may be our rampart against Trump.  Mr. Kristof, in “From Prisoner to Modern-Day Harriet Tubman,” tells us about how a woman who was once trapped in a cycle of drugs, crime and incarceration now helps others start healthy lives on the outside.  Ms. Collins says there are “Way Too Many Trumps,” and that out of the blue, the president suddenly showed new sides of himself.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the movie “Gladiator,” the Roman emperor Commodus storms back to his palace after paying a visit to the senate. In the senate, he bemoaned his father’s time spent at study and was quickly chided about his inexperience as other senators laughed. He angrily laments to his sister:

“Who would deign to lecture me?”

His sister tries to impress upon him the importance of the senate, but Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is not moved. He continues:

“I will give the people a vision of Rome, and they will love me for it, and they’ll soon forget the tedious sermonizing of a few dry old men.”

Commodus realizes that the one thing standing between him and his authoritarian impulses is the senate, its rules and its traditions, and he is furious about its constraints on his power.

I have thought of this movie often since Donald Trump was elected, and this scene seems particularly relevant this week. The film is a work of fiction based on some historical figures, but it has some incredibly compelling parallels to what’s happening today in America.

First, Commodus was indeed a real person — cruel and slipping into insanity, self-indulgent and despised, impetuous and thinking he was greater than he was.

As historian Cassius Dio wrote, “This man was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.”

Sound like someone we know?

There has been no shortage of pieces written that use lessons from the ancient world to explain our current predicament.

In May, Andrew Sullivan summoned the teachings of Plato in a fascinating piece for New York magazine about how tyrants rise in “late-stage democracy”:

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by ‘taking over a particularly obedient mob’ and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess — ‘too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery’ — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

Sound like someone we know?

My colleague Paul Krugman wrote in December about the fall of the Roman Empire under the headline “How Republics End,” explaining: “Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.”

But it is the film and not actual history that sprang to mind this week. In the same way that Commodus tussled with the senate in the film, Trump tussled with the U.S. Senate.

This week the filibuster rule in the Senate allowed the minority Democrats to truly flex their muscle, and the Senate approved a bipartisan budget deal that was a stunning rebuke of Trump’s agenda.

He was not pleased. As Carl Hulse wrote in The New York Times:

“Members of the House and Senate now have clear evidence they can successfully work together in certain cases and deliver a product they support even if it does not do all that the White House wants.”

Trump was unhappy. He began complaining about the filibuster rule, calling for its elimination or else threatening “a good ‘shutdown’” in September.

The Senate didn’t take this threat lightly. Hulse, again reporting for The Times, pointed out that Trump “single-handedly saved the Senate filibuster” by threatening it, as “Senators in both parties rushed on Tuesday to categorically embrace the filibuster and profess that it would remain untouched.”

And even if Republicans in the House of Representatives are able to squeak through their horrendous repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it is likely to die in the Senate.

The Senate may well be our rampart, as it is an institution that recognizes the severe threat Trump poses. It could be the Senate that saves America from this tyrant and his throngs of cheering supporters who have set this whole nightmare in motion.

One of the best lines in the film is delivered by one senator to another as he laments Commodus’s manipulation of the people:

“I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death — and they will love him for it.”

Sound like someone’s supporters we know?

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, writing from Los Angeles:

She was 4 years old when her aunt’s boyfriend began to abuse her sexually. Then at 14, she had a baby girl, the result of a gang rape.

Soon she fell under the control of a violent pimp and began cycling through jails, prisons, addiction and crime for more than 20 years.

Yet today, Susan Burton is a national treasure. She leads a nonprofit helping people escape poverty and start over after prison, she’s a powerful advocate for providing drug treatment and ending mass incarceration — and her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery.

America’s greatest failure in the 21st century may be that far too many children grow up in a twilight zone of poverty, chaos, violence, drugs and failing schools. We can’t afford to help them, we say, and then we spend billions of dollars building prisons to house them.

Burton, now 65, has co-written a stunning memoir that will be published next week, detailing how after overcoming narcotics she eventually founded a nonprofit, called A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, to help women leaving prison. In a preface of the book, Michelle Alexander, a civil rights advocate, describes Burton as a 21st-century Harriet Tubman, and there’s something to that.

The memoir is called “Becoming Ms. Burton,” and that’s the journey it describes. As a black girl growing up in a dysfunctional family in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Burton was repeatedly raped, and then her child was run over and killed by a policeman. She self-medicated with alcohol, cocaine and crack.

“After six prison commitments, at the end of those, I was more broken than when I went into the system,” she told me. “Each time I was released, I would say I’m going to get it together, but each time it was more daunting.”

Her cycles in prison ended only after she chanced into a drug treatment program in Santa Monica that mostly served a more affluent clientele. A 100-day stint there helped her turn her life around — a reminder that America would be far better off if we treated addiction as less a criminal justice issue than a public health crisis. That’s particularly true now that some 52,000 Americans die annually from drug overdoses, more than 10 times the number who died in the entire Iraq war.

Starting in 1998, Burton began to help other women leaving prison, providing them with shelter and coaching them on staying sober and finding jobs. The effort was an immediate success, and philanthropists took note.

When Theodore Forstmann asked her to make a list of what she needed, Burton initially wrote down “toilet paper.” A friend explained that Forstmann was a billionaire, and Burton upped the ante to request a van, and Forstmann came through.

Burton now has 28 staff members, including six lawyers. She runs five homes for 32 women who have left prison, and has been recognized as a CNN Hero — and she burns with a passion to help other women find an exit ramp as well.

“We keep a woman in prison for decade after decade at a cost of $60,000 a year, and then give them $200 when they hit the gates for release,” she said, shaking her head. “And, adios. People have to get their IDs, Social Security cards. They have to get clothing, housing, apply for benefits and services, and it’s impossible to do with 200 bucks.”

The upshot, she said, is that people re-offend — and then get locked up once more, at a huge expense.

Burton showed me the homes she has set up, and the women in them are a reminder of how difficult it can be to start over after years in prison. One woman, Unique, confided that she hears voices in her head shouting at her, and Burton asked her why she didn’t keep a doctor’s appointment. “I’m afraid to go out,” Unique explained, so Burton worked out an escort so that Unique could see the doctor and get her medicines.

“If we don’t help her with those voices, she’ll be right back in prison,” Burton said when we were outside. Another former prisoner proudly gave her full name: Mary Mitchell. Now 53, she had been behind bars for her entire adult life and has never had an official ID card. With Burton’s help she is getting one and looking for a job. But Mitchell has forgotten how to walk in a city.

“I was so scared,” she said. “I didn’t know how to cross a crosswalk.”

Burton told me that a trigger in her own downward spiral was the gang rape that resulted in her pregnancy; if she had received counseling, she thinks, she might have avoided unraveling.

Too often, we miss these chances to help wounded young people, and we invest only in jailing them.

So I’m celebrating Burton’s new book and amazing second career — but with a bittersweet feeling that there are so many other Susan Burtons out there who never get the help or drug treatment they need, and are still incarcerated in ways that diminish them and all of America.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Oh gosh, we’ve got another Trump.

This has been very difficult, people. Every day concerned citizens put together their critique of the president’s policies, and before nighttime he’s a completely different dude.

You remember the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who answers to both SNORE and SNORT, depending on his energy level at the moment. He mainly likes to repeal federal regulations — free mentally ill people to buy guns; don’t let a little clean water stand between coal owners and their yen to dump trash. Last week SNORT issued a tax reform plan that was classic G.O.P. in its extreme vagueness on how to pay for its multitude of cuts. (“Eliminate tax breaks for special interests.”)

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came Weirdly Liberal Trump (WELT). He mused about breaking up the big banks; special aide Ivanka plugged helping Syrian refugees. Liberal Trump even expressed interest in a gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure repairs.

“It’s something that I would certainly consider,” he told Bloomberg News. The idea of a Republican administration, bound at the hip to the energy industry, championing a gas tax hike is a little stunning. It would, of course, pay for a ton of construction jobs, repair crumbling roads and bridges and be great for the environment. But I guarantee you Mike Pence would never bring it up.

Perhaps we should rethink all that impeachment talk.

Lately Congress has been in an uproar over health care, and House Speaker Paul (My Life Is Ruined) Ryan is going crazy trying to placate both sides on the matter of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. WELT wants to be the progressive hero. “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be,’” Trump told CBS’s John Dickerson.

That was shortly before Trump went off the handle when Dickerson asked about his claims of being wiretapped by Barack Obama. “I don’t stand by anything,” Trump said, unnecessarily, before he tossed Dickerson out of the Oval Office for pressing him on the matter.

Viewers got to witness a transformation from the new liberal presidential version to the very familiar Nearly Unhinged Trump (NUT). Actually, this one often seems more along the line of Totally Unhinged, but then we’d have to call him TUT.

It’s generally pretty easy to tell which president is talking. NUT was the one who thought Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War. So, for sure, was the Trump who expressed astonishment that being president was harder work than his previous jobs. (“I thought it would be easier.”)

NUT tends to reside in the world of Twitter. And sometimes he fights with his other versions. Weirdly Liberal Trump was very happy when Congress came up with a spending deal that guarantees the government will continue operating through the summer. (“This is what winning looks like!”) Nearly Unhinged hated hated hated it.

“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” twittered NUT. He had promised us he’d make history, but even his critics didn’t expect he’d do it by becoming the first American president to express a yearning for the government to come to a screeching halt.

The quick shift between Trumps is always a challenge to the minions in charge of interpreting him to the world. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is getting to be one of our very favorite explainers, said that the president was calling for a shutdown because he became “frustrated” when Democrats expressed pleasure at the resolution of the spending standoff. (“They went out to try and spike the football and make him look bad.”) In reality, Mulvaney insisted, the Democrats were hoping for a collapse in negotiations because they wanted “to make this president look like he did not know what he was doing.”

And the whole world mused: not a hard lift.

Neither the liberal nor the normal-Republican Trump is very good at interesting new ideas that might actually, in the real world, happen. Unhinged Trump is obviously the attention-getter, and a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that his proposals are often exactly the opposite of whatever he was championing last week.

He’s also unfettered by the restrictions in imagination that would come from previous knowledge of how government operates. It appears, for instance, that NUT was surprised by the discovery that it took 60 votes to pass most legislation in the Senate. This came out in a tweet expressing shock, shock, shock that 41 senators could force the majority into compromise. “Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rule now to 51 percent,” he recommended.

Senate Republicans dismissed the idea instantly. “We are not going to do that,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Most of them had spent much of the Obama administration happily thwarting a Democratic president’s agenda with that very rule. Perhaps some of them were already anticipating that by 2021, it would come in handy again.

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.