Archive for the ‘Friedman’ Category

Friedman, solo

April 12, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question:  “Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?”  He says a strategy built on territory won’t ultimately eliminate the terrorist group.  Well, I’m sure that Mein Fubar and his merry band will figure it all out in 1 or 2 Friedman Units…  Here’s TMOW:

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

Challenge No. 1: Not only will virtual ISIS, which has nodes all over the world, not go away even if territorial ISIS is defeated, I believe virtual ISIS will become yet more virulent to disguise the fact that it has lost the territorial caliphate to its archenemies: Shiite Iran, Hezbollah, pro-Shiite militias in Iraq, the pro-Shiite Assad regime in Damascus and Russia, not to mention America.

Challenge No. 2: America’s goal in Syria is to create enough pressure on Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate a power-sharing accord with moderate Sunni Muslims that would also ease Assad out of power. One way to do that would be for NATO to create a no-fly safe zone around Idlib Province, where many of the anti-Assad rebels have gathered and where Assad recently dropped his poison gas on civilians. But Congress and the U.S. public are clearly wary of that.

So what else could we do? We could dramatically increase our military aid to anti-Assad rebels, giving them sufficient anti-tank and antiaircraft missiles to threaten Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian helicopters and fighter jets and make them bleed, maybe enough to want to open negotiations. Fine with me.

What else? We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad. After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war — the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other. If we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria now, we will only reduce the pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah and enable them to devote all their resources to crushing the last moderate rebels in Idlib, not sharing power with them.

I don’t get it. President Trump is offering to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and then pivot to strengthening the moderate anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the last time Trump did anything for free? When was the last real estate deal Trump did where he volunteered to clean up a toxic waste dump — for free — before he negotiated with the owner on the price of the golf course next door?

This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia.

Trump should want to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But in Syria? Not for free, not now. In Syria, Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan.

Yes, in the long run we want to crush ISIS everywhere, but the only way to crush ISIS and keep it crushed on the ground is if we have moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq able and willing to replace it. And those will only emerge if there are real power-sharing deals in Syria and Iraq — and that will only happen if Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah feel pressured to share power.

And while I am at it, where is Trump’s Twitter feed when we need it? He should be tweeting every day this message: “Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have become the protectors of a Syrian regime that uses poison gas on babies! Babies! Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — poison gas enablers. Sad.”

Do not let them off the hook! We need to make them own what they’ve become — enablers of a Syria that uses poison gas on children. Believe it or not, they won’t like being labeled that way. Trump needs to use his global Twitter feed strategically. Barack Obama never played this card. Trump needs to slam it down every day. It creates leverage.

Syria is not a knitting circle. Everyone there plays dirty, deviously and without mercy. Where’s that Trump when we need him?

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

April 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuperJared has taken flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s ridiculous.

Friedman and Bruni

March 29, 2017

In “Trump Is a Chinese Agent” The Moustache of Wisdom says ignoring climate change and the benefits of clean energy only helps a rival.  Mr. Bruni says “Devin Nunes is Dangerous” because he’s so deep in the tank for Donald Trump that he needs scuba gear.  Here’s TMOW:

The big story everyone is chasing is whether President Trump is a Russian stooge. Wrong. That’s all a smoke screen. Trump is actually a Chinese agent. He is clearly out to make China great again. Just look at the facts.

Trump took office promising to fix our trade imbalance with China, and what’s the first thing he did? He threw away a U.S.-designed free-trade deal with 11 other Pacific nations — a pact whose members make up 40 percent of global G.D.P.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership was based largely on U.S. economic interests, benefiting our fastest-growing technologies and agribusinesses, and had more labor, environmental and human rights standards than any trade agreement ever. And it excluded China. It was our baby, shaping the future of trade in Asia.

Imagine if Trump were negotiating with China now as not only the U.S. president but also as head of a 12-nation trading bloc based on our values and interests. That’s called l-e-v-e-r-a-g-e, and Trump just threw it away … because he promised to in the campaign — without, I’d bet, ever reading TPP. What a chump! I can still hear the clinking of champagne glasses in Beijing.

Now more Asian nations are falling in line with China’s regional trading association — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — which has no serious environmental, intellectual property, human trafficking or labor standards like TPP. A Peterson Institute study said TPP would “increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion” by 2030, without changing total U.S. employment levels. Goodbye to that.

But Trump took his Make China Great campaign to a new level on Tuesday by rejecting the science on climate change and tossing out all Obama-era plans to shrink our dependence on coal-fired power. Trump also wants to weaken existing mileage requirements for U.S.-made vehicles. Stupid.

O.K., Mr. President, let’s assume for a second that climate change is a hoax. Do you believe in math? There are now 7.5 billion people on the planet, and there will be 8.5 billion by 2030, according to the United Nations population bureau — and most will want to drive like us, eat protein like us and live in houses like us. And if they do, we’ll eat up, burn up, smoke up and choke up the planet — and devour our fisheries, coral reefs, rivers and forests — at a pace we’ve never seen before. Major cities in India and China already can’t breathe; wait for when there are another billion people.

That means that clean power, clean water, clean air, clean transportation and energy-efficient buildings will have to be the next great global industry, whether or not there is climate change. The demand will be huge.

So what is China doing? Its new five-year plan is a rush to electric cars, batteries, nuclear, wind, solar and energy efficiency — and a cap-and-trade system for carbon. Trump’s plan? More coal and oil. Hello? How can America be great if we don’t dominate the next great global industry — clean power?

The U.S. state leading in clean energy innovations is California, which also has the highest vehicle emissions standards and the strictest building efficiency codes. Result: California alone has far more advanced energy jobs than there are coal miners in America, and the pay is better and the work is healthier. In January 2016, CNNMoney reported that nationally the U.S. “solar industry work force is bigger than that of oil and gas construction, and nearly three times the size of the entire coal mining work force.”

“More than half the electric vehicles sold in the U.S. are sold in California,” said Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “If there are two jurisdictions hellbent on transformation, it is China and California. There have been 200 million E.V.s sold in China already. They’re called electric bicycles, which cost about $400 — quiet, not contributing to congestion or pollution, and affordable.”

China is loving this: It’s doubling down on clean energy — because it has to and it wants to leapfrog us on technology — and we’re doubling down on coal, squandering our lead in technology.

It was bitterly ironic that on the same day that President Trump took America on a great leap backward to coal, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Tencent Holdings Ltd. bought a 5% stake in Tesla Inc., giving the backing of China’s most valuable company to the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker as it prepares to launch its first car aimed at the mass market. … Having a powerful friend in China could help Tesla as it eyes further global expansion. Big Chinese tech companies have backed a wave of green-car start-ups in the country recently.”

If you liked buying your oil from Saudi Arabia, you’ll love buying your electric cars, solar panels, efficiency software and batteries from China.

Finally, Trump wants to slash the State Department and foreign aid budgets and make it harder for people to immigrate to America, particularly Muslims. This opens the way for China to expand its influence across the developing world and signals the smartest math and science students in the world to start their start-ups overseas and not in America.

NBC News reported last week that applications from foreign students, notably from China, India and the Middle East, “are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.”

So you tell me that Trump is not a Chinese agent. The only other explanation is that he’s ignorant and unread — that he’s never studied the issues or connected the dots between them — so Big Coal and Big Oil easily manipulated him into being their chump, who just tweeted out their talking points to win votes here and there — without any thought to grand strategy. Surely that couldn’t be true?

Oh, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  You can bet your fat butt that it IS true.  And worse.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Representative Devin Nunes obviously fancies himself Jason Bourne. To sneak onto the White House grounds for that rendezvous with an unnamed source last week, he switched cars and ditched aides, vanishing into the night.

But Senator Lindsey Graham looks at him and sees a different character. Graham said on the “Today” show on Tuesday that Nunes was bumbling his way though something of an “Inspector Clouseau investigation,” a reference to the fantastically inept protagonist of the “Pink Panther” comedies.

I salute Graham’s movie vocabulary. I quibble with his metaphor. While Clouseau was a benign fool, there’s nothing benign about Nunes’s foolishness.

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes, a California Republican, is a principal sleuth in the paramount inquiry into whether members of the Trump campaign were in cahoots with Russia, and from all appearances, he either doesn’t want to know the answer or has determined it already — in President Trump’s favor.

Democrats are rightly calling on him to recuse himself. They’ve been joined in their alarm by Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. As Graham summoned the specter of Clouseau, McCain said on “CBS This Morning” that “something’s got to change.”

“Otherwise,” he continued, “the whole effort in the House of Representatives will lose credibility.”

But Nunes was defiant when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday whether he would continue to guide that effort, saying, “Why would I not?”

Oh, many reasons.

Let’s start here: The Intelligence Committee isn’t supposed to be a partisan arm of the majority party (though it has behaved that way in the past). And any collusion with the White House is a betrayal of its special oversight role.

But Nunes is so deep in the tank for Trump that he needs scuba gear. With his words and deeds, he has labored mightily to redirect attention from Trump’s alleged wrongdoing to his claims of persecution, recasting villain as victim. It’s Trump’s gratitude that he’s after, not the truth.

When politicians on both sides of the aisle upbraided Trump for his baseless accusations about the wiretapping of Trump Tower, Nunes swooped in to say, “I don’t think we should attack the president for tweeting.” But Twitter was hardly the issue. The president’s paranoid hallucinations were.

When James Comey, the F.B.I. director, appeared before Nunes’s committee to confirm his own agency’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties, Nunes changed the subject to the media’s acquisition of classified information, going on about leaks, leaks, leaks. He sounded more like a plumber than a politician.

And when Nunes gathered reporters around him two days later, it was to say that he’d seen secret documents suggesting that people around Trump may indeed have been subject to surveillance by our government.

This was Nunes at his most irresponsible. To the casual listener, he was insinuating that Trump’s wiretapping charges weren’t so very far from the mark. But they were, and Nunes had to acknowledge that as he clarified his remarks. He was talking about the surveillance of Americans who happened to be in contact with foreign players whose communications were the real subjects of concern. He had no evidence — zilch — of any eavesdropping that targeted Trump.

This week we learned that Nunes got that information during that rendezvous, details of which he has not provided to his fellow committee members, just as he failed to share the information itself with Democrats on the committee before he went public with it.

All of this is irregular enough to peg him as a puppet of the Trump administration or a complete boob. Either way, he has surrendered his investigation’s integrity — and his own.

A Republican insider who once worked closely with him described him to me as an “overeager goofball” who can’t see “the line between ingratiating and stupid.” The insider said that Nunes crossed that line with John Boehner, the former House speaker, who gave him the committee chairmanship but grew weary of Nunes’s indiscriminate pep and constant bumming of his cigarettes.

My source wondered why Paul Ryan hadn’t kept a closer watch on Nunes, given his shortcomings. “No one is asking him to bring the potato salad to the Mensa picnic,” my source said.

Salad and more salad: Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, complained to reporters on Tuesday afternoon that “if the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection.”

Spicer is right that we’re obsessed with Russia, wrong that it’s as random as condiments. We’re obsessed because every signal from the administration and its allies is that they don’t want us looking any further or any closer, and Nunes’s Bourne identity is the most glaring signal of all.

If Trump and his associates have nothing to hide, why all the cloak and dagger? And why such clumsiness?

Because they’re all such ghastly buffoons.

Friedman and Bruni

March 22, 2017

In “Calling On a Few Good Men” TMOW pens an open letter to the adults in the Trump administration with the most integrity.  Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…  What on earth has led you to believe that there are any adults with any integrity at all in the Mein Fubar administration?  One of your shining examples, SOS Tillerson, decided to snub NATO and swan off to Russia instead…  Mr. Bruni has a question in “Tweeting Toward Oblivion:”  Can Donald Trump ditch his imagined grievances and save his presidency?  No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.  Here’s TMOW:

Memo To: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point and served as a cavalry officer. Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies.

I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last “few good men” who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.

The last time our country faced such a cancer on the presidency, the Republican Party’s leadership stood up and put country before party to get to the truth. But today’s G.O.P. is a pale imitation of that party. With a few exceptions, it has declared moral bankruptcy and abdicated its responsibility to draw any red lines for President Trump.

To begin, I ask those of you who honored our country as military officers how you would have reacted if your commanding officer had charged his predecessor with a high crime that violated his constitutional oath — and then a few weeks later this charge was exposed as false by the top military judge advocate?

And Secretary Tillerson, how would your former corporate board have reacted if a top executive at Exxon Mobil had accused a predecessor of a major act of malfeasance and the F.B.I. then told the board the claims were false?

Would you military men have simply said, “Sorry, I just do artillery” or “I’m just staying in my lane”? And Secretary Tillerson, would you only have said, “I just do diplomacy”?

Knowing some of you, I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that you would have taken so seriously your oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, or abide by the highest corporate standards, that you’d have felt impelled to say or do something.

Well, your boss has engaged in such a smear against his predecessor. But Trump’s party, his daughter, his sons, his son-in-law, his chief strategist, his spokespeople all want us to just move on, to give him a pass, and his attorney general is already so tainted that he’s had to recuse himself.

And that is why I’m coming to you few good men.

I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act — to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing and apologizes to President Obama, and unless he releases his tax returns to eliminate any questions regarding what we now know is already an eight-month-old F.B.I. investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign to hack our last election.

Surely none of you believes it’s O.K. for a president to smear his predecessor and then stand by the charge even when it is exposed as a lie.

I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.

I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”

There is a profound sense of loss in the world today that the optimistic, inclusive, generous, rule-of-law America that so many foreigners grew up admiring is disappearing. A poll by Germany’s ARD media group found that the percentage of Germans who think the U.S. is a “trustworthy ally” dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent last month.

Trump inherited a “daunting inbox” in foreign policy, but unfortunately “he is making it much worse,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a valuable new book, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” Trump’s embrace of “protectionism and hostility to immigrants — when the real culprit is new technologies that are eliminating existing jobs and an educational system that is not preparing Americans for new ones — and his rhetoric and policies are increasing doubts overseas about American dependability.” Without an urgent course correction, added Haass, we could end up “not with America first, but with America alone.”

Preventing that is the job of you five good men. I’m certain that none of you would let your children behave with the kind of dishonesty Trump showed in his tweets about Obama — and then just walk away. If you did that you’d consider yourself a failure as a parent. The same is now at stake for you as public servants.

If you say and do nothing when the nation’s leader smears his predecessor — and then maintains his fantasy as fact — not only will he never have the credibility to call on any other country to uphold the highest standards for rule of law, democracy and human rights, but neither will all of you. We will become a lesser country and the world a more dangerous place.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump faces a stark choice. He can tweet, or he can govern.

He can indulge his persecution complex, firing off missives that compare Barack Obama to Joseph McCarthy and American intelligence officers to Nazis, or he can recognize it as a gateway to disgrace and irrelevance.

He can make his presidency about his own viscera, or he can make it about the country’s welfare. He can do what feels cathartic in the moment, or he can do what’s constructive in the long run. He can dabble in bright colors and shiny objects, or he can deal in durable truths.

I’m focusing on Twitter because it teases out his worst traits. It’s the theater for vainglorious, vindictive, impulsive Trump, and it was the realm in which he made the wild accusations that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. On Monday, James Comey debunked those charges, certifying them as the gaseous fulminations we more or less knew they were.

And through much of Tuesday, Trump’s personal Twitter account essentially went dark. There was nothing from the hours around dawn, which is when he typically visits with his darkest vapors. There was only anodyne stuff later on: a shout-out to the scientists at NASA, a salute to American farmers.

Either someone in his orbit convinced him, at least briefly, of the damage he was doing and the miserable situation he’s in, or Trump himself summoned some wisdom and restraint. He must be capable of that. Can he continue it?

It could be argued that every presidency is a tug of war between private demons and the public interest, between the commander in chief’s indulgence of his own psychological needs and his attentiveness to the hard work of America. With Trump it’s a furiously pitched battle, and the demons are way out ahead.

One of them hasn’t received the attention it warrants. With all our condemnations of Trump the bully, we’ve overlooked Trump the bullied, which is the version more likely to bring him down. I mean the Trump who’s hellbent on believing that he’s up against ruthless enemies; the Trump who must amplify every stride by casting it as a triumph over formidable odds; the Trump who’s throwing a pity party for himself the likes of which few of his predecessors ever attempted.

His election somehow brought this Trump to the fore. In a paradox as strange as everything else about him, victory played handmaiden to a feeling of victimization: his own and the country’s.

It’s precisely that feeling — “a sense of persecution bordering on faith,” as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman wrote in The Times on Monday — that brought about the wiretapping tweets.

But it has also brought about many other ill-advised tweets and ill-considered public statements, enveloping Trump in a foul air of grievance. If it’s not the Mexicans taking advantage of him and of us, it’s the Australians or the Germans or the Chinese. Take your pick.

The “deep state” is out to get him. The leaks are a plot against him.

Sometimes his mewling has an obvious prompt. When your approval ratings have sunk as low as his — a recent Gallup tracking poll showed that only 37 percent of Americans were pleased with his performance — you have an obvious investment in calling such surveys rigged and wrong, as Trump is still doing.

But other whimpering is absurdly conceived and needlessly divisive. During Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington last week, he ranted about an unjust trade imbalance between Germany and the United States, crediting Germany with smarter negotiators. But there are no such negotiators. We trade not specifically with Germany but with the European Union as a whole.

It’s possible that he doesn’t know that. It’s also possible that he chose to disregard a detail that would have complicated and maybe nullified his complaint. Why let the facts get in the way of a tantrum that he then transferred to Twitter, where he bellowed that Germany owed money for its defense to the United States and NATO?

It’s funny: Comey’s testimony on Monday made clear that someone does have a right to feel put upon. That someone is Hillary Clinton. He stressed how “hated” she was by Vladimir Putin. He also confirmed that before Election Day, intelligence officers were looking into whether Putin and the Russians were meddling in the election because of that hatred. At the time Comey said nothing about that, even as he announced that the F.B.I. was taking a fresh look at newly discovered Clinton emails.

Trump is no victim. He’s the luckiest man alive — or has been, until now.

But his allies “have begun to wonder if his need for self-expression, often on social media, will exceed his instinct for self-preservation,” Thrush and Haberman wrote. He can vent his emotions or exercise his responsibilities. The decision belongs to him, the consequences to all of us.

Friedman and Bruni

March 8, 2017

In “Peanut Butter on the Trump Team’s Chins” The Moustache of Wisdom says the president’s apologists are embarrassing.  Mr. Bruni, in “Ben Carson’s Gray Matter,” says the good doctor’s precision with words isn’t exactly surgical.  Here’s TMOW:

For many years the famous Crystal Palace dinner theater in Aspen featured a cabaret song that every audience loved: “The Peanut Butter Affair.”

It told the story of a C.E.O. who had gone to work one day, without properly washing his face, and still had a lump of peanut butter on his chin. But none of his employees dared to tell him.

When he got home, though, his wife told him it was there and he was appalled. But he was even more appalled when he showed up for work over the next few days and eventually “every jerk from the chairman to the clerk had a lump of peanut butter on his chin.”

That spoof of underlings who witlessly mimic their bosses came to mind as I listened to Trump aides and allies justifying the president’s Saturday morning Twitter rant alleging — without any evidence — that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower phones be tapped during the 2016 campaign. It seemed like the whole Trump team was putting peanut butter on their chins. The only question was who had the biggest lump.

My vote goes to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told ABC’s “This Week” that President Trump “is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.” Unspecified information that he’s seen? U.F.O.s that he’s seen? How is that a standard for accusing his predecessor of a vile crime? Give that woman a four-year supply of Peter Pan.

But Sanders is just a flack. More troubling was watching an honorable soldier, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, dab on some Skippy and defend Trump’s claim on CNN, saying that “the president must have his reasons.”

Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the President has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.

Trump ran for office promising to protect Americans from terrorists, immigrants and free trade agreements. But who will protect us from him? If our president is willing to casually throw under a bus our most elemental principles of presidential conduct — such as, you don’t accuse your predecessor of a high crime without evidence, just to divert attention away from your latest mess — we have a real problem.

We have so many big, hard things we need to do, but big hard things can only be done together. And that takes a leader who can bring us together to do things worthy of our energies and dedication — like proper health care reform, immigration reform, tax reform and infrastructure investment, or properly working with China and Russia where we can and drawing red lines where we must.

But it also requires trust in the integrity of that leader — that when things get tough, the leader won’t bail and shoot his aides and followers in the back. There is not a G.O.P. congressman or U.S. ally abroad who today is not asking: Can I trust this guy when the going gets tough, or will Trump lay a fact-free Twitter rant on me? Can I even trust sharing information with him?

Government moves “at the speed of trust,” observes Stephen M. R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust.” “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. … That one thing is trust.”

Despite a bizarre number of meetings with Russians, no proof has surfaced that Trump’s team colluded with Russia. What our top three intelligence services have declared, though, is that Russia did hack our election on Trump’s behalf. And as more of our lives move to cyberspace, understanding exactly how that was done, how it is probably being done in European elections right now and how to deter this new weapon from undermining the West, which is Russia’s goal, is a vital security issue. Without an electoral process we can trust, we’re sunk.

Sadly, most of the Republican Party today is morally AWOL, preferring to sweep the Russian hacking under the carpet rather than have a credible, independent investigation. That will lead people to question any collaboration Trump tries with Moscow.

Moreover, one day soon something will happen — in North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran — that will require him to make a judgment call. Trump will have to look the American people in the eye and say: “Trust me — I decided this based on the best information and advice of the intelligence community.” Or, “Trust me, we needed to work with Russia on this.”

And who will believe him? There is nothing more dangerous than a U.S. president who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us through a crisis. But that’s what happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries. Or as the “Peanut Butter” song warns, “Strange to think what a guy can do just because everybody thinks he’s right.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I need Ben Carson in my head.

In my hippocampus, to be exact.

According to Carson, the human brain stores a perfect, indelible record of everything that it has seen, heard and done, and if he just drilled a hole through my skull and planted electrodes in the right region, bingo! I’d have access to the whole wondrous trove.

Drill, baby, drill. I need the access. As things stand now, I lose 45 minutes every week to the retrieval of forgotten passwords, and I recently got three-quarters of the way through a mystery before realizing that I knew whodunit, how he dun it and why he dun it. I’d already read the book.

Carson, our brand-new housing secretary, made an introductory, supposedly inspirational speech to federal employees this week, and while this kind of thing normally doesn’t wind up in the news, there’s nothing normal about Carson.

During the speech, he went on the tangent about the brain that I just described, and while, granted, he’s a renowned neurosurgeon and I’m an expert on little more than semicolons, I do question his assertion that with proper cerebral stimulation, someone can “recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago.” Maybe “Green Eggs and Ham.” But “The Mill on the Floss”?

Several of Carson’s fellow brain experts scoffed at this claim, though there was much louder scoffing at a subsequent stretch of his remarks that described America as a magnet for dreamers who arrived with “all of their earthly belongings in their two hands, not knowing what this country held for them.”

He continued:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Sometimes Twitter goes berserk because it’s Twitter, other times because it should. “Their dream?” tweeted the movie director Ava DuVernay. “Not be kidnapped, tortured, raped.”

I was transfixed by “even longer, even harder, for less.” Not to be a stickler, but that doesn’t quite cover the distance between the sweatshop and the plantation.

On ABC’s talk show “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg recalled previous odd statements by Carson, noting that “the man who thought the pyramids were built for grain silos” and who “called the Big Bang theory ridiculous” was back with “a brand-new epic.”

“Were the slaves really thinking about the American dream?” she asked. “No, because they were thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ” It’s a thought I myself have had after listening to Carson.

Carson is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet, and he’s a great lesson — for the left as well as the right — that sensitivity is a function of sensibility, not merely of complexion or membership in a given identity group.

A black person can bumble into racially hurtful comments. A female executive can turn a blind eye to sexism in the ranks below her. A gay person can ignore or indulge homophobia. Diversity increases the odds that an organization sees the world more acutely, accurately and empathetically. But it’s not the end of the effort, and it’s no guarantee.

Carson rose from hardship to acclaim and riches. He performed awe-inspiring surgeries. He also suggested that prison causes homosexuality, which he separately likened to bestiality, and that Planned Parenthood aimed, through abortions, to limit the black population. He compared Obamacare to slavery.

He’s a riveting jumble and an important reminder that brilliance and competence along one axis hardly ensures brilliance or even coherence along another. Although we like to tag people as geniuses or fools — it’s a stark, easy taxonomy — they’re more complicated and compartmentalized than that.

Carson is enraptured by what people can be made to remember. I’m fascinated by what they choose to forget. Just before Trump nominated Carson to be housing secretary, one of Carson’s principal campaign advisers said that the good doctor knew far too little about the federal government to work in it. Trump decided to pay that no heed.

During the campaign, Trump said that incidents of aggression in Carson’s youth revealed a “pathological temper” and lumped him together with pedophiles, explaining: “You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological — there’s no cure for that.”

But Carson shrugged that off when Trump came around with a glitzy job offer. It was all water under the hippocampus.

In his speech on Monday, Carson said, “There is nothing in this universe that even begins to compare with the human brain and what it is capable of.” He got that much right, and how.

Friedman and Bruni

March 1, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Tony Blair’s Lesson for President Trump,” says the parallels between Brexit and Trumpism are profound.  In “Donald Trump’s Military Preening” Mr. Bruni says his call on Tuesday night for a rebuilt military is about vanity, not safety.  Here’s TMOW:

It’s too bad Democrats wouldn’t enlist a foreigner to deliver their rebuttal to President Trump’s address to Congress. They could have just replayed the speech given 11 days earlier by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

It was a passionate appeal to his country to reject its version of Trumpism. Blair said the U.K. must reconsider Brexit, the narrowly won 2016 vote to withdraw from the European Union.

It is a speech worth reading because the parallels between Brexit and Trumpism are profound. At their core, both seek to undermine the big systems that have stabilized the globe and spread prosperity, security, rule of law, democracy and openness after two world wars: the European Union, the global trading system, Nafta, NATO, the United Nations and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Brexit and Trumpism argue for abandoning or diminishing all of these in favor of an economic nationalism that will — supposedly painlessly — make Britain and America better off.

Playing with these big systems is dangerous, not because they don’t need improving — they do — but because many of the prescriptions — let’s just put up a wall or exit — will make things so much worse for so many more people. The critics are great at pointing out the flaws of these systems, but they always forget to mention the hundreds of millions of people they lifted from poverty to prosperity and the extraordinary 70 years of peace they maintained since the end of World War II.

In their place, the Brexiters and Trumpsters want to return us to a globe of everyone-for-themselves nationalisms that helped to foster two world wars. They speak of leading grand “movements.” Their vow is “rip it, don’t fix it.” As Blair noted, “The one incontrovertible characteristic of politics today is its propensity for revolt.”

It’s dangerous nonsense. In the Cold War era the world was glued together by these global institutions and by the fear and the discipline of two superpowers. In the post-Cold War era the world was glued together by these big global systems and a U.S. hegemon. We’re now in the post-post Cold War world, when U.S. leadership and the glue of these big global systems are needed more than ever — because the simultaneous accelerations in technology, globalization and climate change are weakening states everywhere, spawning super-empowered angry people and creating vast zones of disorder.

If we choose at this time to diminish America’s global leadership and these big stabilizing systems — and just put America first, thereby prompting every other country to put its own economic nationalism first — we will be making the gravest mistake we possibly could make.

That was a big part of Blair’s speech. Blair is unpopular in the U.K. — but that’s precisely what liberated him to say what many in British politics know to be true but won’t say: Brexit was a stupid idea, based on an old political fantasy of a minority of conservatives; it was sold with bogus data; and following through on it will make Britain poorer, weaker and more isolated — and Europe more unstable.

“The British pound is down around 12 percent against the euro and 20 percent against the dollar since the Brexit referendum,” he noted. “This is the international financial market’s assessment of our future prosperity: We will be poorer. The price of imported goods in supermarkets is up, and thus so is the cost of living.”

The way Blair described Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to executing Brexit — no matter what — sounded just like G.O.P. leaders’ support for Trump’s ideas after they had denounced them as utterly crackpot during the presidential campaign. “Nine months ago,” Blair said of May, “she was telling us that leaving would be bad for the country, its economy, its security, and its place in the world. Today, it is apparently a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ for greatness.”

Blair added: “May says that she wants Britain to be a great, open trading nation. Our first step in this endeavor? To leave the largest free-trade bloc in the world. She wants Britain to be a bridge between the E.U. and the U.S. Is having no foothold in Europe really the way to do that?

“We are told that it is high time that our capitalism became fairer. How do we start laying the foundation for such a noble cause? By threatening Europe with a move to a low-tax, lightly regulated economy, which is the very antithesis of that cause.”

And what will future historians say about all those immigrants who came to the U.K. and were a key reason for the pro-Brexit vote, Blair asked? “That the migrants were terrible people who threatened the country’s stability? No, they will find that, on the whole, the migrants were well behaved, worked hard, paid their taxes and were a net economic benefit to the country.”

Blair recalled other bogus arguments that were used by Brexit advocates and that have already evaporated — like the notions that leaving the E.U. would save Britain some $440 million a week for its national health care service and that there was a danger — most effectively exploited in a fear-inducing poster — that Syrian refugees would overwhelm the U.K., but there was no Syrian refugee flood.

“None of this,” concluded Blair, “ignores the challenges that stoked the anger fueling the Brexit vote: those left behind by globalization; the aftermath of the financial crisis; stagnant incomes for some families; and the pressures posed by big increases in migration, which make perfectly reasonable people anxious and then feel unheard in their anxiety.”

That is true in America, too. Donald Trump is not wrong about everything. We do need to fix our trading relationship with China, which has taken advantage of some of our openness. NATO members should pay their fair share for the alliance. We can’t let in every immigrant who wants to come to America. We do need to rebuild our infrastructure and enact sensible deregulation.

It’s what Trump believes — but is provably wrong — that scares me.

Like that imports from Mexico and China — not robots, software and automation — are the big culprit in taking middle-class jobs; that we are being swamped by immigrants from Mexico, when immigration from Mexico today is really net zero (most migrants are coming from failed states in Central America, which Mexico, the second-largest source of paying tourists to our country, plays a key role in preventing); that climate change is a hoax and we should lower emission rules on coal-fired power plants to restore coal jobs and ignore the long-term health implications and the impact on better-paying clean-power jobs; that the key to restoring middle-class jobs is not by investing in people, health care, infrastructure and lifelong learning, but rather by imposing a border tax. And that the E.U., NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Nafta are just outdated pillars of a global, oppressive “administrative state” that needs deconstructing — rather than pillars of a liberal democratic order that have globalized our values and our rules and our standards to our great benefit.

As Blair said of the E.U.: “In the long term, this is essentially an alliance of values: liberty, democracy and the rule of law. As the world changes and opens up across boundaries of nation and culture, which values will govern the 21st century? Today, for the first time in my adult life, it is not clear that the resolution of this question will be benign. Britain, because of its history, alliances and character, has a unique role to play in ensuring that it is.”

So does America. But the spread of those values doesn’t animate Trump. The world is a win-lose real estate market for him. In the short term, he may rack up some discreet wins. But America became as prosperous and secure as it is today by building a world in our image — not just a world where we’re the only winners.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Why do I get the sense that fighter jets are Donald Trump’s biceps, warships are his pectorals and what he’s doing with his proposed $54 billion increase for the Pentagon is flexing?

Maybe because that’s a strongman’s way. Maybe because so much with him is preening. Or maybe because so little of his military talk adds up.

In a sweeping speech to Congress on Tuesday night that largely diverged from his splenetic norm, he laid out his vision for a better America, and a key part of it, he said, was “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

But he also lamented what he deemed our country’s military follies of recent decades, sowing confusion in a careful listener. If we were winding down, why were we building up? If caution was the order of the day, why did it require such lavish investment?

Trump’s address was an opportunity to change the narrative of his presidency from one of an administration in disarray to one of a man on a methodical mission, and to accomplish that, he donned a new kind of tie and a new kind of tone: less truculent, more inspirational. He began with a mention of Black History Month and a condemnation of hate crimes.

But his remarks didn’t have sufficient details or offers of compromise to turn the page or to erase all the nonsense to date. Just a day earlier, at a meeting with the nation’s governors, he maintained that when he was young, America was the proud victor in all of its wars.

Really? World War II wrapped up before Trump came along, and the Korean War, which ended when he was 7, was no unfettered American triumph.

Then came Vietnam, which found Trump in college and unable to serve because of a podiatric ailment so debilitating that he couldn’t recall which foot was affected when he was asked about it in 2015. Surely, though, he remembers that Vietnam didn’t continue some glorious winning streak.

In Trump’s telling, everything about the America of yore was superior, everything about the America of today is wretched, and somehow, magically, he has solutions that even the most practiced hands don’t.

That was a theme of his military musings during his campaign, when he touted a secret plan for defeating ISIS that he conveniently couldn’t divulge, lest he trample on its secret-ness.

He subsequently ordered his top military advisers to come up with their own strategy, which makes a skeptical voter wonder what happened to his. Are the generals and he going to compare plans — I’ll show you mine if you show me yours — to determine whose is mightiest? For now that’s still a secret.

Details aren’t his thing. He’s all over the place. One moment, his chosen generals are sages for the ages. The next, he fingers them for any flaws in the Yemen raid during which a Navy SEAL, William Owens, who was called Ryan, died. “They lost Ryan,” he said on Tuesday morning.

But on Tuesday night, before Congress, they were geniuses anew, architects of a brilliantly successful operation. I was moved to see the effect of Trump’s words on the SEAL’s widow, Carryn, who stood in the audience, tears streaming down her face. I was also floored by the opportunistic shifts in Trump’s take on those events.

He used his speech to complain once again that America was paying too much of the defense bill for our allies. He said that he was finally getting them to pony up.

If so, why do we need to pump tens of billions of additional dollars into the military, especially when we already spend more on it than the seven countries that spend the next most combined?

We can’t afford the increase, not if Social Security and Medicare are off limits, not if he follows through with the tax cuts he promised, not if he’s going to embark on the infrastructure projects that he’s (rightly) calling for, not unless he’s willing to gag Paul Ryan and shove him into some Capitol broom closet while the debt balloons.

And that increase doesn’t square with all that Trump has said about being more reluctant to embroil us in military conflicts than some of his predecessors were.

I suppose he could argue that maximum military readiness is a deterrent, but does America’s count of aircraft carriers really give jihadists pause? The wars that we’re fighting aren’t traditional ones, and they hinge on the kind of diplomacy and foreign aid that Trump is giving short shrift. But then soft power doesn’t gleam or puff up the ego the way that new fighting equipment does.

His approach is provocative, antagonistic. He berates and bad-mouths allies in a fashion that threatens to push them away while promising a barrier along America’s southern border and an upgrade of our nuclear arsenal.

He’s saying that we can and will go it alone, and while that attitude may be emotionally satisfying to many Americans, it’s not at all certain to keep us safe.

I suspect that it’s emotionally satisfying to Trump most of all. He’s determined to cast himself as a figure of epic proportions and has to size everything around him accordingly.

Hence his (latest) grandiose description of his election in Tuesday night’s address. “In 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet,” he said, going on to mix metaphors as they’ve seldom been mixed before. “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake.”

And hence his desire to upsize our armed forces. The military is one of his many mirrors. If it’s more muscular, so is he.

Friedman and Bruni

February 22, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom would like us to “Meet the 5 Trump Administrations,” and says we should add them up and see if they work together.  Mr. Bruni says “Milo Is the Mini-Donald,” and that Yiannopoulos’s true cause is himself. Sound familiar?  Here’s TMOW:

It should be clear by now that there are five different Trump administrations swirling before our eyes — Trump Entertainment, Trump Cleanup, Trump Crazy, Trump G.O.P. and the Essential Trump — and no one can predict which will define this presidency, let alone make a success of it.

Trump Entertainment shows up every day now in the form of an outrageous “alternative fact,” a pugnacious press conference, a tweet denouncing the news media as “the enemy of the American people” — or as a pep rally in Florida, unconnected to any particular legislative agenda and organized entirely for the purpose of giving the president an ego sugar high.

The country, though, is getting addicted to Trump Entertainment. It is hard to avert your gaze from a president who will say anything about anything. It’s so unusual, like a flying elephant or a horse that can talk, that you can’t help but stare. But it’s such a waste of energy. I wonder if the Chinese are spending their days this way. I suspect they’ve added another high-speed rail line just since Trump’s election.

Trump Cleanup comprises the adults on his team who follow in the wake of Trump Entertainment and “clarify” what the president meant. It’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis assuring the South Koreans that — despite what Trump said — we’ll honor our security commitments to them, or assuring the Iraqis that we’re actually not going to steal their oil. It’s the U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, clarifying that — despite what Trump said — we’re still committed to two states for Israelis and Palestinians.

The undisputed boss of Trump Crazy is chief strategist Steve Bannon, who rushed the president’s initial mess of an executive order on immigration. Bannon is dedicated to shrinking the global clout of China, the European Union and Iran, and to making America a country less open to immigration and trade, a country that is whiter and more nationalistic and a country that is as free of Muslim influence and immigrants as possible. He surely encouraged Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community and the media as a way to undermine all independent sources of truth, so that Trump can inject his own reality, through Twitter, directly into the U.S. body politic.

Trump G.O.P. is led by Reince Priebus and represents the old Republican agenda. It knows that Trump is an invasive species who took over the G.O.P. garden, and Trump G.O.P. is just trying to get the best out of him — to kill Obamacare, cut taxes, deregulate Wall Street, promote fossil fuels and appoint conservative judges — while curbing his worst ideas, like his vow to restrict free trade.

So much of the daily reporting about Trump has had to focus on his serial fabrications that it’s distracted us from the Essential Trump, which can be summed up by the most truthful thing he’s said since he started his campaign: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

That’s the Essential Trump — a man who values loyalty above all else and who thinks his followers are so stupidly loyal that they wouldn’t convict him for a murder they saw him commit; a man who thinks only he can get the little people more jobs by single-handedly putting the arm on big companies; and a man who has shown no interest in earning the trust of Americans who did not vote for him. He appointed no Democrats to his cabinet and, as his Florida rally underscored, he is only interested in being president of the Trump fan club.

When I add up all these Trumps I do not get a good team feeling; I get the feeling of a pickup basketball team. It doesn’t start with a shared vision of what world we’re living in and what are the biggest forces shaping this world. It starts with the conclusions on which Trump bases his facts.

But the fact is we’re living in a world being shaped by vast accelerations in technology, globalization, climate change and population growth, and government’s job is to enable more citizens to thrive in such a world and cushion its worst impacts. These are the facts on which I base my conclusions.

In this age, leaders have to challenge citizens to understand that more is required of them if they want to remain in the middle class — that they have to be lifelong learners.

It’s an age when the governments that thrive the most will be those that are as open to the world as possible — to get the change signals first and attract the most high-I.Q. risk-takers — and at the same time encourage radical entrepreneurship, provide stronger safety nets like health care, and foster life-learning opportunities for every citizen. They have to go left and right at the same time. They are the governments that are focused not on erecting walls but on preparing citizens to live without them.

It’s an age where the best leaders build trust at the top, and between themselves and their people, because trust is what enables teams to move fast and experiment more. It’s an age when to make America great requires doing big hard things, and big hard things can only be done together. And it’s an age when, because of the speed of change, small errors in navigation by a leader can send us hurtling far off track.

But maybe Trump’s many administrations will surprise us. Maybe elephants can fly. And maybe not.

Surprise us?  Continue to horrify us is more like it, Tommy.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you halved Donald Trump’s age, changed his sexual orientation, gave him a British accent and fussed with his hair only a little, you’d end up with a creature much like Milo Yiannopoulos.

He could be Trump’s lost gay child. In fact, Yiannopoulos, 33, has a habit of referring to Trump, 70, as “Daddy.”

Trump the father and Yiannopoulos the son are both provocateurs who realize that in this day and age especially, the currency of celebrity isn’t demeaned by the outrageousness and offensiveness through which a person achieves it.

Both are con men, wrapping themselves in higher causes, though their primary agendas are the advancement of themselves.

Both believe that audience size equals value — and that having people listen to you is the same as having something worthwhile to say.

I heard nothing worthwhile during Yiannopoulos’s news conference Tuesday afternoon, though I heard a whole lot of Trump in him, and I wondered — no, shuddered — at a kind of worldview that may well be in ascendance, thanks to its validation by our president.

That worldview was distilled in Yiannopoulos’s response when a journalist mentioned Ann Coulter, to whom he is often likened. “I don’t take comparisons to Ann Coulter to be insulting,” he said. “She sells a hell of a lot of books.”

The point of the news conference, ostensibly, was to contain the damage from resurfaced recordings in which he jokes raunchily about having been sexually abused by a priest and makes light of pederasty, trafficking in the revolting, ridiculous myth that it’s no big deal in the gay world.

He framed his appearance before journalists as an apologia. But it was just as much an attack — on those journalists, who, he said, had deliberately misheard and conspiratorially mischaracterized his remarks about sexual activity before the age of consent.

“[Expletive] you for that,” he muttered.

The real Yiannopoulos kept bubbling up through the fake-sorry Yiannapoulos, who didn’t even pretend all that hard. Presenting himself as some kind of martyr and refashioning himself as some kind of hero, he couldn’t have had more of Trump’s DNA in him if he were Trump’s clone.

He described a speech that he gave in drag to 1,200 college students in Louisiana as something that “simply hasn’t happened in the history of this country before.”

He speculated that with similar events on other campuses, he had “probably done more for the image of gays in the flyover states” than all gay magazines and all gay advocacy groups combined.

Also, this: “I’m proud to be a warrior for free speech.” Behold his armor. Beware his spear.

He’s right that in America of late, there’s too much policing of indelicate and injurious language and too little recognition that the wages of fully open debate are ugly words and hurt feelings.

But he invokes free speech to exalt cruel behavior and lewd testimonials whose purpose is headlines and booking fees. When he goes on his racist and sexist tears or muses about his appetite for black men, he’s just a brat begging for attention, a showboat looking to fill seats.

And he may beg as he pleases. That is his right, one that I treasure. He just shouldn’t expect the rest of us to salute him for it — even though he briefly got the Conservative Political Action Conference to do precisely that. The group invited him to give an address at its conference this week, then rescinded the offer after the pederasty business.

Together he and Trump have exposed what a cynical, corruptible vessel modern conservatism is.

To hop aboard the triumphant Trump train, no small number of conservatives have mortgaged their belief in free markets, re-evaluated their attachment to free trade, muffled their professed concern for “family values” and basic decency, and put their wariness toward Russia on a shelf.

And in inviting Yiannopoulos, CPAC’s stewards set aside a homophobia that had long curtailed the role of gay Republican groups at the event. I’d praise that as a positive step toward a bigger tent except that the gay man who was being beckoned into it gleefully promotes destructive stereotypes about gays and other minorities.

CPAC wasn’t interested in inclusion. It was after the “ratings” that Trump always crows about, and ratings have overtaken principles in this mad, morally vacuous world.

“Will next year’s invite include Julian Assange?” asked the conservative columnist Matt Lewis in The Daily Beast. “Alex Jones?”

“They may not be conservative,” he added, “but it’ll make for a hell of a show.” That’s what Yiannopoulos was poised to give CPAC. And that’s what Trump will provide on Friday, when he’s scheduled to perform.

Friedman and Bruni

February 15, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question:  “Mr. Trump, Will You Save the Jews?”  He seems to believe that Mr. Trump may be the last person who can preserve the hope of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   As if…  Mr. Bruni says “Flynn Is Exactly What Trump Deserves,” and that our cavalier president chose top administration officials for their bluster.  Here’s TMOW:

Dear President Trump:

These are the moments that make or break a presidency.

First you were tested by a rival — Russia — and utterly failed to appreciate the corrosive impact on our democracy of your indulgence of Russia’s hacking our election. And on Wednesday you’re going to be tested by a friend — Israel — and its prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu. Can you appreciate the corrosive impact on Israel’s democracy of what it’s now doing in the West Bank? I ask because you may be the last man standing between Israel and a complete, self-inflicted disaster for the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

Let me explain it in terms you’ll appreciate: golf.

Did you happen to follow the story involving Barack Obama and Woodmont Country Club? Woodmont is the mostly Jewish golf club in Maryland, just outside D.C., where Obama played as a guest several times during his presidency. Near the end of his term it was rumored that Obama would seek membership there.

Then he clashed with Netanyahu over Obama’s refusal to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post reported that a Woodmont member, Faith Goldstein, had sent a private email to the club’s president declaring that Obama “is not welcome at Woodmont” because of his U.N. vote.

It was appalling to think that Jews, who for so many years were themselves excluded from joining certain country clubs, would consider excluding our first black president, especially for his acting on the basis of what half of Israel believes — that continued expansion of Jewish settlements into Palestinian-populated zones of the West Bank will eventually make the separation of Israelis and Palestinians in a two-state solution impossible, and thereby threaten Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.

Fortunately, in the end, the decent members of Woodmont prevailed. As The Washington Post reported, the club’s president, Barry Forman, invited the Obamas to join, declaring that “it is all the more important that Woodmont be a place where people of varying views and beliefs can enjoy fellowship.”

Why am I telling you this story? Because Israel is getting closer every day to wiping out any possibility of a two-state solution. Just last week, Netanyahu’s government pushed through the Knesset a shameful new law declaring that wildcat Jewish settlers who had illegally set up caravans on private West Bank Palestinian land, and erected their own settlement there, will have their settlements legalized, although the Palestinian landowners have to be compensated.

Hopefully Israel’s Supreme Court will strike down the law, but, in the meantime, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, did not mince words. He reportedly warned at a private meeting that Israel can’t just “apply and enforce its laws on territories that are not under its sovereignty. If it does so, it is a legal cacophony. It will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state, which it is not.” Seen as an apartheid state!

And that is why Jewish history has its eyes on you, Mr. Trump.

As long as the two-state solution was on the table, the debate among Jews on Israel was “right versus left” and “more security versus less security.” Some thought the border should be here; others thought it should be there. But we could mostly all agree that for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state, it had to securely separate from most of the 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians. That debate could and did go on in every synagogue, Jewish institution and Jewish country club, without tearing them apart.

But if Netanyahu’s weak leadership and the overreach of the settlers in his party end up erasing the two-state solution, the debate within the Jewish community will move from “left versus right” to “right versus wrong.” That debate will not be about which are the best borders to defend the state of Israel, said the Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal, “but whether the state is worth defending in moral terms.”

I don’t expect Israel to just up and leave the West Bank without a Palestinian partner for a secure peace, which Israel doesn’t now have. But legalizing this land grab by settlers deep in Palestinian areas is not an act of security — it will actually create security problems. It is an act of moral turpitude that will make it even harder to ever find that Palestinian partner and will undermine the moral foundations of the state. This is about right versus wrong.

And if that is where the debate goes, what happened at Woodmont golf club will happen everywhere. That debate will tear apart virtually every synagogue, Jewish organization and Jewish group on every campus in America, and around the world. Israel will divide world Jewry.

There is only one person who can now stop this disaster — you. Bibi & Co. used the G.O.P. to outflank Obama. But if you, with your party, make clear that there must be absolutely no Jewish settlements beyond the blocks already designated for a two-state solution, you could make a huge difference. This is on your watch.

President Trump, you may not be interested in Jewish history, but Jewish history is now interested in you.

Friedman and Bruni

February 1, 2017

Mr. Friedman gives us “A Concerned Citizen’s Plea to America’s Business Leaders” and moans that only the likes of Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon and Elon Musk may be able to save the country from President Trump.  I wonder if Tommy has called his Senators and his Congressman to make his thoughts known…  Somehow I doubt it.  Mr. Bruni asks “Where is Jared Kushner?” and whines that Donald Trump’s son-in-law was supposed to be a positive influence, but Steve Bannon has taken charge.  Well, Frank, have you noticed that the most egregious crap that spews from the Dark House happens late Friday?  Jared and his wife (whose name shall not be mentioned here) are Jewish and observe Shabbat.  And why on earth either of them would feel comfortable around a gang of Nazis befuddles me…  Here’s TMOW:

Dear America’s Business Leaders:

I am writing you today because it will soon become clear that you’re going to need to do a job that you’ve never thought of doing before: saving the country from a leader with a truly distorted view of how the world works and the role America should play in it.

There is no Republican Party today to restrain President Trump’s worst instincts. Save for a few courageous senators, the G.O.P. has melted into spinelessness. The mainstream media can expose misbehavior, but can’t veto legislation. The Democrats control no levers of power. And Jared Kushner couldn’t even stop the Steve Bannon-led White House from issuing a Holocaust Remembrance Day decree that deliberately omitted any reference to Jews.

The only group whom Trump has some respect for, who can get access to him and who can maybe counter the malign ideological instincts of Bannon & Company are the likes of Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Jeff Immelt, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Jamie Dimon, Mike Bloomberg, Elon Musk, Indra Nooyi, Ginni Rometty, Dennis Muilenburg and Doug McMillon.

Sure, if Trump executes on his promises for deregulation, infrastructure and tax reform, your companies will enjoy a quick sugar high. But if you listen to what Trump and Bannon are saying, their vision of America and the world is unlike anything you business leaders have encountered before.

They are playing with, and happy to dispense with, big systems — like Nafta, the World Trade Organization and the European Union — that drive so much of the global economy. They believe things that are provably wrong — that the majority of job loss in America is from Mexicans and Chinese, when in fact it’s from microchips and computers, i.e., improved productivity.

Yes, some things are true even if Trump believes them: Islam does have problems with gender and religious pluralism, and integration in Western societies. Ignoring that is reckless.

But some things are true even if liberals believe them: that America has integrated Muslims better than any European country, because we are a melting pot. And making Muslims part of our community at home and our alliances abroad — rather than treating them as permanent aliens — has made us safer since 9/11. Ignoring that is dangerous.

And while we’re talking dangerous, why are there record numbers of migrants flooding out of sub-Saharan Africa, the Mideast and Central America, trying to get into Europe and America? Two big reasons are droughts and population explosions. And what do Trump and Bannon propose? Ignoring climate change and halting U.S. government help with family planning in the developing world.

Nothing is connected in their world. Everything is just a box to check or wall to build.

The Washington Post on Monday quoted Bannon as saying that he and Jeff Sessions were at the center of Trump’s “pro-America movement” that was “poorly understood by cosmopolitan elites in the media. … What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order, and the more frantic a handful of media elites become, the more powerful that new political order becomes itself.”

When someone tells you he is giving birth to a “new political order” in America, be afraid. Yes, the acceleration in technology and globalization has particularly benefited higher-skilled knowledge workers in the West and lower-skilled rising middle classes in Asia. And, yes, it did squeeze middle-skilled workers in the West, who were more vulnerable to outsourcing, algorithms and automation. More needs to be done to help them.

If Trump is simply out to negotiate better trade deals for America and get our allies to share the burdens of defending the free world more equitably, God bless him. That can be a win for our workers.

But I fear that Bannon is manipulating Trump into a more messianic mission — that his “new political order” is not just about jobs, but culture, an attempt to recreate an America of the 1950s: a country dominated by white Christians, not “cosmopolitans”; where no one spoke Spanish at the grocery store; where America’s biggest C.E.O.s weren’t named Satya or Sundar; where every worker could have a high-wage middle-skilled job; and where trade walls and the slow pace of automation meant you didn’t have to be a lifelong learner.

If that’s where Trump is going, it will take us to a dark place. The way we lift American workers is not by building higher walls, but rather stronger communities — where business, philanthropies, the local school system and local government forge adaptive coalitions to enable every worker to engage in lifelong learning and every company to access global markets and every town to attract the smart risk-takers who start companies.

That is exactly what is happening in America’s best communities, and the job of government is to scale it, and the job of big business is to defend it. So don’t be fooled by a Trump sugar high; your businesses will thrive only if America is the country that prepares itself and its workers to live in a world without walls, not one that goes around erecting them.

This is the “new political order” we need and that you must defend. You ignore this mission at your — and our — peril.

Correction: February 1, 2017 An earlier version of this column misstated, in two instances, the surname of the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. He is Jamie Dimon, not Diamond.

Oh, dear, sweet baby Jesus…  Either TMOW is a world-class moron or whatever software they have checking spelling (I doubt the Times bothers with actual copy editors any more) is being managed by a world-class moron.  Cripes…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Remember the good old days — by which I mean just a few weeks ago — when there was hope and talk that Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law would play the angel to Steve Bannon’s devil, tempering the president’s policies and keeping his crudest and most belligerent tendencies in check?

Well, the devil is running rampant in the Trump administration so far. The angel looks ever paler and frailer, with a halo that’s hard to find.

Jared Kushner, where are you?

I ask that specifically, in terms of Trump’s inner circle and Bannon’s obviously greater sway. But I ask it in a broader sense as well. Where among Trump’s sanest advisers and the most reasonable Republicans in Congress is the degree of pushback that’s called for? Where are the sufficiently loud voices of dissent? Right now Trump has too many mum collaborators too content to hope for the best. I put Kushner in that pack.

Bannon certainly knows how to manipulate the president and get what he wants. He’s Trump’s unabashed Iago, whispering sweet fictions about the magnitude of the “movement” that the president is leading and specifying how to feed it. He has a seat on the National Security Council. Kushner has his hand on Ivanka Trump’s seat.

If you haven’t seen that photo of the couple, do find it, and bear in mind when Ivanka posted it on her social media accounts: around midnight on Saturday. Her father’s hastily, sloppily composed immigration ban was just being implemented. Many confused, frightened travelers languished in detention or limbo. Protests had erupted at American airports. But she and her husband were on the town! They beamed, resplendent in formal wear and peerless in tone deafness.

A clever observer tweeted an image of Ivanka in her metallic gown next to one of a Syrian girl in a metallic emergency blanket, asking: “Who wore it better?”

If Kushner has sturdy principles or half the say that Bannon does, then explain the wording of the statement that the president put out on Friday in remembrance of the Holocaust. It failed to mention Jews, an omission so glaring that it incited a furor among Jewish Republican groups. And rather than apologize to them, the administration dug in, reprimanding them for being too touchy.

This had all the markings of Bannon, who deplores what he deems the politically correct coddling of minority groups. But it seemed to go against what Kushner holds dearest. He’s the descendant of Holocaust survivors, including a grandmother who helped to found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and once complained of America’s reluctance to take in Jewish refugees who were trying to avoid extermination.

His family is famous for its Jewish philanthropy. He and Ivanka, who converted to Judaism for their marriage, observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. And yet his father-in-law fell short of the presidents before him in recognizing the horrors inflicted on Jews.

Some observers point to the Sabbath as proof that Kushner does indeed exert a taming force in Trump World. They say that the president is most reckless during these periods, because Ivanka and her husband aren’t around to babysit.

It was during the Sabbath that Trump pressed the National Park Service for more-flattering inauguration photos and gave that cockamamie, vainglorious speech to the C.I.A. It was the next day that he calmed down and tweeted a tribute to the Women’s March, calling peaceful protests “a hallmark of our democracy.”

Both before Trump’s candidacy and at its start, Kushner was pegged as someone with mild political views. He and Ivanka ran in socially liberal crowds, and their presence beside Trump provided at least an iota of reassurance for some of the many people aghast at his racially incendiary tactics.

But for Kushner, the campaign was less a political journey than an emotional one. His family had felt the lash of disdain after his father was sent to prison years earlier, and he was intent on redemption, revenge or something along those lines. Trump represented a road to a summit from which his son-in-law could lord it over the elitists who had looked down on him.

Maybe he didn’t register all the ugly swerves along the way. Maybe he convinced himself that they weren’t so ugly. Maybe he believed that he’d be able to grab the wheel and correct the course. Maybe he still tells himself that, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Sometimes I study him and see someone drained of color, even thinner than before, haunted. More often I see an emblem of our morally compromised capital, full of people willing to let the Trump juggernaut flatten essential American values just as long as they get to go along for the ride.

The entire pack of them are beneath contempt and should be shunned like pariahs by decent people.

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

January 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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