Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Blow and Kristof

July 20, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy,” and there is a profound but predictable obstacle blocking Trump’s legislative agenda: His own incompetence.  In “If Dr. Trump Were Your Surgeon…” Mr. Kristof has come up with a nightmare scenario:  Imagine Republican leaders were in charge of your medical care.  Well, Nick, if you’re a woman they’re already meddling…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have finally found something about Donald Trump’s arrogation of the presidency in which to take comfort: his absolute ineptitude at legislative advancement.

The country may well be saved from some of Trump’s most draconian impulses by some of Trump’s most pronounced flaws: his lack of seriousness, his aversion to tedium and his gnat-like attention span.

The embarrassing faltering of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act might be both history lesson and harbinger. Republicans in Congress weren’t prepared with a workable plan, and Trump never had any plan. He campaigned on applause-line policies: Anything that roused a response from his rabid adherents, he repeated and amplified. He never gave details because the details didn’t exist, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand and articulate them if they did.

Trump was simply a megaphone for the primal screams of Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton haters flipping out over the cultural anxiety accompanying the ascension of women and minorities.

He helped people find the language and the platform to disguise racial worry as economic worry. He helped people who inherently, in many cases maybe even subconsciously, loathe women, at least when they aspire to equality or power, to loathe Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to more power.

Trump has a habit of keeping company and confidence with the racially offensive. The fact that Steve Bannon is his chief strategist and has an office in the White House should be proof enough.

But there are other examples. Notably, last summer Trump claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a racial slur to refer to Barack Obama, but just seconds later Trump was hoping that Putin would like him. Trump said:

“I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? … He has a total lack of respect for President Obama. No. 1, he doesn’t like him and No. 2, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected and I hope he likes me.”

Now of course this could all be a lie. Our president lies the way other people breathe — with a complete absence of effort. But true or false, it is a curious story to relay. The president claimed that he was “shocked” at the racial epithet, but not too shocked to abandon a desire for Putin’s favor. If you don’t unequivocally reject intolerance, you are passively — and in some cases, actively — encouraging it.

(Also, I thought Trump said he never met Putin. Oh, well …)

Anyway, this kind of base, dog-whistle anger-aggregation was the Trump campaign specialty, and it — in addition to Russia’s assistance, voter suppression and some folks’ heritage panic — propelled Trump to victory.

But now that Trump is in office, the real work of governing begins — not just the flash of rallies, the ovations of the obsequious, the thrilling one-liners. He now has to both focus on the big picture and fuss over the fine detail.

This is simply beyond him. For simpletons, things must be made simple. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green, author of the new book “Devil’s Bargain,” told Anderson Cooper that building a border wall was just a framing device used by his advisers to get him to remember to discuss immigration.

According to Green:

“It’s one of Trump’s greatest hits but it wasn’t Trump’s idea. Two of his staffers, Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, came up with it as a device to keep Trump, whose attention famously wanders, focused on the issue of immigration reform because they thought that was so important. So, Trump tried it out at a speech in Iowa, the crowd responded.”

Imagine that: We now have a “president” so incapable of linear thought that his own advisers had to give him a four-letter word to remind him of one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

It is possible that part of the reason Trump never developed many of his policies was because neither he nor anyone else thought in a million years that he would win. But another explanation is that Trump simply lacks the capacity for complex thought.

He is an instinctual creature, living on a steady diet of TV, Twitter and turpitude. There is no appetite for the intellectual. There is no desire for depth. There is no tolerance for truth.

Trump’s defect may be America’s defense.

Sure, there is much damage that Trump can do both domestically and abroad to diminish this country and its people. He has already said that he is willing to let Obamacare collapse because his policy impotence failed to score political victory. Yes, folks, we have traded “the buck stops here” leadership for Trump’s “I’m not going to own it” cowardice. (On Wednesday, at a lunch with Republican senators, Trump boomeranged back to his original insistence that lawmakers must pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Go figure.)

Trump is a cold shadow of the president Obama was.

Comforts are hard to come by in the age of Trump, but I believe that we can take some small solace in the fact that the man is simply too intellectually deficient, in both practice and policy, to impose all of the heartless directives his campaign rhetoric threatened.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

It’s a dark and stormy night, and the hospital corridor is eerily illuminated by lightning flashes as Dr. Trump and Dr. McConnell enter a patient’s room and approach the bed of a young woman, Janet.

“We have the best health care plan ever for you!” Dr. Trump says exultantly, to a thunderclap outside. “Tremendous! I’m the best! I take care of everybody.” He uses his stethoscope to listen to Janet’s heart, and frowns slightly.

“Er, doctor?” Janet says. “I think my heart is on my left side, not the right.”

“Let me double-check,” Dr. Trump replies, and he hurriedly moves the stethoscope over. “Who knew health could be so complicated?”

He looks into Janet’s eyes, holds her hand in his own, and says in a silky voice, “Beautiful Janet, you’re in such great shape.”

Janet, creeped out by the doctor’s inappropriate bedside manner, pulls back her hand and tightens her gown around her neck. Dr. Trump doesn’t notice and continues: “Your heart is a disaster. You need a new one, and that’s why we suggest a transplant. We don’t happen to have a replacement ready for you, but never mind.

“Normally we do ‘remove and replace,’” Dr. Trump adds. “But in this case, if we can’t settle on a replacement, we’ll just do a flat removal. Nothing to worry about. Huge benefits. Huge!”

Dr. McConnell tries to smile reassuringly, but succeeds only in looking constipated. “Once your heart is out,” he explains, “there’ll be new urgency to solve the problem.”

Janet’s eyes have grown wide, so Dr. McConnell attempts reassurance: “Anyway, I’ve never found a heart necessary.”

Janet bites her lip. “You know, you’re the only doctors who ever said my heart had to come out,” she says. “My previous cardiologist, Dr. Obama, tweaked my diet and medications, and it was ticking along fine.”

“NO, it’s a disaster!” Dr. Trump bellows. “That Obama — it’s all his fault. Don’t listen to any other doctors!”

“I just want to be informed,” she says softly.

“Horrible idea!” Dr. Trump says, and then he pats his pockets down. “What did I do with my phone? I have a thought for a great tweet: ‘A closed mind is a terrible thing to waste.’ I know I had my phone during my last surgery, because I tweeted, and then I set the phone down — oh, no! I bet I left it ——”

“In the operating room?” Janet asks.

“In the patient.”

Janet gulps, and her anxiety increases as a peal of thunder is followed by a shrill alarm sounding from a patient’s room somewhere down the corridor. Very politely, she explains that maybe she doesn’t want surgery after all.

“Fine!” replies Dr. Trump. “Go ahead and die. Your heart is failing. It’s a disaster. And it’s all their fault.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s the Democrats,” Dr. Trump says, and a flash of lightning captures his eyes rolling crazily. “We may be running the hospital, but they’re to blame.”

“Don’t you have any other patients you need to see?” she asks. “And maybe you should put that scalpel down?”

“Don’t you see?” Dr. Trump says, as a thunderclap shakes the hospital. “You’re going to die anyway. All Obama’s patients are dying. I’ve always said, let the patient fail.”

“But I’m not failing,” Janet replies firmly. “I’m fine. Just a little nervous watching you with that scalpel.”

Dr. Trump shakes his head. “No, you’re imploding,” he insists. “I can see it. You’re self-destructing.”

“Help!” Janet calls out. “I can’t breathe.”

Dr. McConnell looks sadly at Dr. Trump. “I knew this would happen. But maybe it’s time to move on so we can work on our hospital tax plan? You know, if we just make the medical assistants and custodians pay a surcharge, we can give a break to surgeons. The result will be a leap in innovation that will benefit everybody.”

“Help!” Janet cries weakly.

Dr. Trump looks down at her and shakes his head as she lies gasping. “So sad but inevitable,” he says. “She was bound to implode. Always going to fail. That’s what happens when you get a Kenyan-born doctor. The patient dies on her own.”

“But, but,” Janet tries to speak, “the problem is that you’re stepping on my oxygen hose. You’re the problem.”

Dr. Trump steps more firmly on the hose. “Poor Janet is imploding right in front of us. Democrats created the mess. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it.” He checks for a pulse, finds none, and doesn’t realize he’s checking in the wrong spot. “O.K., Dr. McConnell, I’m just going to FaceTime my buddy Vladimir, and then on to the tax plan?”

“Take my heart,” Janet moans in her last breath, and a thunderclap drowns out her death rattle. “You need it.”

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

July 13, 2017

In “Scions and Scoundrels” Mr. Blow says Donald Trump’s corruption is a family affair.  Mr. Kristof says “All Roads Now Lead to Kushner” and that the president’s son-in-law has lots of explaining to do.  Ms. Collins has created “A Donald, Jr. Cheat Sheet” for us, and has questions: Who is Worst Trump Child? Will the family stick together? Is Emin a good singer?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

What befalls a country riven by a dynasty of deception and disrepute? What comes of a country being forced by its puerile “president” to retreat from its world leadership, set to a soundtrack of world mockery? What to make of an enterprise of corruption that Trump calls a family when they abandon any semblance of propriety and all things we once found appropriate?

The America that I know and love is hanging by a thread, and Trump’s scandalous camarilla is playing with the shears.

The latest shoe to drop is that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort (campaign chairman at the time) met last summer in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer because, according to emails released by Trump Jr., he was told that he would receive dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father.

Trump Jr.’s response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is clear evidence of collusion and pushing disturbingly close to the possibility of other crimes including treason, although not quite there yet, from what is publicly known at this point.

This may well be the clearest link so far between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but it is far from the first act of misconduct. The entire Trump political era has been an extended exercise in misconduct.

Trump is president by a combination of the most despicable factors: a Russian cyberattack, voter suppression, racial anxiety and rampant sexism. People will struggle to explain it in other terms, and some will do so with dazzling language that apes the tone and tenor of intellectualism, but at its base an explanation that ignores those factors is a lie. It is a lie that covers a cyst. It is a lie that shields a sickness. It is a lie that excuses the inexcusable.

Donald Trump is president because a multiethnic, forward-thinking coalition twice elected a black man president and in so doing sent pulsing waves of fear down the spine of the traditional power structure in America. Barack Obama represented a fast-approaching future in which whiteness is not synonymous with power, in which power is more widely shared.

Therein lies an inherent insecurity, if you held a legacy claim to security simply by accident of birth and a systematic oppression of people who would compete with you for that security.

Donald Trump is president because American sexism, misogyny and patriarchy know no bounds. All politicians have flaws; Clinton had flaws. I could fill this column enumerating them. But as Bernie Sanders was fond of saying during the campaign, “On her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

On Trump’s best day, he was worse than the other Republican candidates. And yet, he won the nomination, and that man — the worst of the worst — beat a woman who had more qualifications on the first page of her résumé than he could ever have achieved in his whole pathetic life.

And now that man and his spawn — born into nefariousness and groomed by nepotism — are waging an all-out war on the country he is supposed to lead.

Trump has attacked every traditional institution in this country, from the judiciary to the press. But possibly the most dangerous and destructive has been his assault on the truth itself.

After Trump Jr. hid the meeting with the Russian lawyer, then acknowledged it, then had a rolling list of lies about the purpose of it, then was forced to release emails about the meeting that proved not only him but the entire Trump camp to be liars, he gave an interview to the Trumps’ favorite state propaganda machine, Fox News. His father chimed in on Twitter:

“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

Everything in that tweet is not only a lie, but it is in diametrical opposition to the truth. But that is Trump’s tactic: Don’t shade the truth with a little lie; destroy the truth with an enormous lie. Consider the truth and then say the exact opposite is true. It is so disconcerting that it must be entertained and investigated because it is so foreign to honest people.

Trump Jr. wasn’t “open, transparent and innocent.” He is devious, knavish and guilty as sin.

I say that we must learn to discard as dishonest everything emanating from this White House. If it’s not a lie (and it often is), it’s a diversion.

Yes, listen to his speeches and read his tweets. Being an informed, engaged citizen demands that you remain aware of what the country’s so-called leader is thinking and doing.

But then shunt it aside. It’s all garbage and a waste of mental bandwidth. You only have to remember this: These people are not to be trusted. Their greatest interest is in their own enrichment. They believe that they exist in a space above the law and outside the rules.

Run everything that you hear from the White House through this filter: The “presidency” is a blasphemy and Trump is not only a disgrace but also an assault on the culture and the country.

And take comfort in this eternal truth: For all things, there comes an end.

Not soon enough, not soon enough…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For a year, the refrain from the Trump camp has been a defiant mix of “Lock her up,” “but the emails” and “fake news.”

Now it turns out that what was fake wasn’t the news but the Trump denials, that the truly scandalous emails were in the Trumps’ own servers and that the person who may have committed a felony is actually Donald J. Trump Jr.

The writer Stephen King put it this way: “The news is real. The president is fake.”

The question is where this goes next. I suggest two directions.

First, look beyond Donald Trump Jr. to Jared Kushner and to President Trump himself.

Second, explore how Trump Jr.’s attempt at collusion with Russians may relate to the bizarre effort by Kushner to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin.

To back up, just in case you’ve been stuck on a desert island, here’s what you missed this week. Donald J. Trump Jr. received an email in June 2016, eight days after his father clinched the Republican nomination for president, that said the Kremlin had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. … This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.

Trump Jr. didn’t call the F.B.I.; instead, he responded, “I love it.” He apparently arranged a phone call to discuss the material (we don’t know that the call happened or, if it did, its content), and then set up a meeting for him, Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a person described in the emails as a “Russian government attorney.”

In other words, informed of a secret Kremlin effort to use highly sensitive information about a former secretary of state (presumably obtained by espionage, for how else?) to manipulate an American election, Trump Jr. signaled, “We’re in!”

“This was an attempt at collusion,” noted Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It may or may not have amounted to a felony, for soliciting a foreigner to contribute something “of value” in connection with an American election. The Predict-It betting website now lists gambling odds about whether Trump Jr. will be indicted.

The Trumps’ defense is that the meeting was a “nothingburger” with no follow-up. That would be more compelling if the Trumps hadn’t previously denied at least 20 timesthat such a meeting had ever taken place. Their credibility is in tatters.

Crucially, this is bigger than Donald Trump Jr.

The Trumps insist that the president himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.

Then there’s Kushner. Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Kushner, whose response was to attend the meeting, although he apparently left within 10 minutes. Kushner later neglected to report the meeting and others with Russians on his SF-86 forms to receive national security clearance (intentional omission is a felony).

The meeting gave the Kremlin potential blackmail material against the Trumps, and thus possibly leverage over them.

In addition, McClatchy reports that investigators in Congress and the Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.

Then there was the extraordinary initiative by Kushner in the transition period to set up the secret communications channel. There’s no indication that the channel was actually established, and the assumption has been that the communications would have required visits to Russian consulates — which would be bizarre.

But Barton Gellman, a careful national security writer, has another theory. He notes that James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.

Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.

One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.

Not gonna happen.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Nobody can talk about anything but Donald Trump Jr. and his Kremlin connections. You probably have some questions. Fire away.

If Donald Jr. got convicted of a crime, do you think his father would pardon him?

When the latest story about adventures with the Russians first appeared, the president did seem uncharacteristically reserved. He announced, through a spokeswoman, that his son “is a high-quality person,” which sounded as though Junior was a washer-dryer on sale at the mall.

It made you wonder if Dad was trying to distance himself a bit. However, Trump finally took to Twitter and announced: “This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” That sounded much more sympathetic, unless you want to note that the finale of most witch hunts is not executive clemency.

Who do you think is Worst Trump Child?

Junior has certainly rocketed into the lead. Although frankly, if the president is playing Godfather in this particular drama, all the grown sons are Fredo.

That includes son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was in on the meeting with that Russian attorney who was supposed to be bearing dirt on Hillary Clinton. Which Kushner neglected to mention on disclosure forms he filled out when he went to work at the White House. As senior adviser on Middle East peace, reorganizing government, combating drug abuse, China and Mexico.

Eric gets credit for keeping a low profile. Really, he hasn’t said anything very strange since he compared waterboarding to a fraternity hazing. Except for the time he said nepotism was “a beautiful thing.”

So is the family going to stick together?

The Trumps are acquiring different lawyers now, and cynics might presume that eventually somebody’s going to turn on somebody. If so, my money’s on Jared.

What about Mike Pence?

The vice president, a spokesman said crisply, “is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.” If Trump originally sounded a bit cool, Pence was Antarctica, pre-global warming.

Who really set up the meeting between Junior and that Kremlin-connected lawyer — the pop singer from Russia or the British P.R. guy who keeps posting pictures of himself in funny hats?

We do like that P.R. guy, Rob Goldstone, who also announced on Facebook when he checked into Trump Tower for the secret meeting. But Emin Agalarov, the singer, seems to be the central figure. His father, Aras, is a billionaire oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. He met the Trumps when the Agalarovs paid almost $20 million to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.

Emin is also the executive vice president of his dad’s business, allegedly in charge of the malls and restaurants. You can see how he and Junior would bond.

Is Emin a good singer?

His website says that his “rock star good looks” have made him “a household name in Russia.” It also brags that he was “the first person ever to persuade Donald Trump to appear in a music video.” That was during the Miss Universe pageant, which seems slated to become the most politically important entertainment event since Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

“EMIN was WOW!” Trump tweeted after the singer performed at the pageant. The woman who was Miss Australia told The Financial Times recently that he was terrible. (“Us girls all knew he had zero talent.”)

So somewhere in between those two things.

Junior certainly appears to have agreed to accept political help from a close connection of the Russian government. Is there any possible explanation that doesn’t involve collusion?

Well, the Trump family apparently had a deal with the Agalarov family to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow. It was put on hold when Donald ran for president. But it’s possible that Junior was trying to keep Emin happy because he was hoping to eventually get the plan back on track.

So you could certainly argue that the president’s son was only pretending he was working with a foreign power trying to manipulate the results of the American election. When his real motives were just making a profit off the presidency. Be fair.

What ever happened to the other Russian all the Trump people were talking to during the campaign — the jolly ambassador?

Ah, Sergey Kislyak. Great guy for a party. So much fun that national security adviser Michael Flynn couldn’t stop chatting him up. So easy to be with that Jeff Sessions didn’t even remember they’d met.

He’s going home. The Russians are reportedly replacing him with a guy who helped plan an invasion of Ukraine.

How are we supposed to feel about the way the Don Jr. crisis has brought the administration to a standstill?

If the question comes up at a party, feel free to choose one of the following responses:

A) Fine by me.

B) Is this going to require a discussion of that health care bill?

C) Damn, we’re never going to get an ambassador to Norway.

Kristof and Bruni

July 12, 2017

In “The Trumps Embraced a Russian Plot” Mr. Kristof says the email exchange with Donald Trump Jr. should have led him to call the F.B.I. and report a foreign effort to interfere in the U.S. election. Instead, he embraced the plot.  Mr. Bruni, in “Mini-Donald’s Major Fail,” says the president’s dim namesake just made things exponentially worse.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The astonishing email just released by Donald Trump Jr., setting up the meeting last year with a Russian lawyer, is devastating for the White House. Above all, it underscores that the Trump family knew of a secret Russian campaign to interfere in the American election — and embraced it.

Read the whole email exchange, but here’s the key paragraph: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

This passage undermines the Trump and White House position in three crucial ways — not attributed to vague “sources” but in black and white documentary form. Here’s what the email does:

1. It shows that the Russian government was behind the effort. This is the Kremlin, not random Russians.

2. The Russian government is offering “sensitive” information and “official documents” that would incriminate Hillary Clinton. The clear implication is that this material is stolen by spies, probably hacked, for how else would the Russian government have it?

3. The offer is part of a pattern of the Russian “government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Put these three points together, and it’s clear from the email that the Russian government has picked sides and is trying to secretly affect the outcome of the American presidential race by providing stolen information about a former secretary of state. For months, the Trumps have been publicly doubting that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election, when Donald Trump Jr. had email evidence of this effort in June 2016!

The moment he got this email, Donald Trump Jr. should have called the F.B.I. That’s what the Al Gore campaign did in 2000 when it received a Bush campaign briefing booklet. It’s one thing to do opposition research; everybody does that. It’s another thing to use stolen information secretly provided by a rival nation where journalists and dissidents end up dead.

Instead of calling the F.B.I., Donald Trump Jr. responded “I love it.”

He then summoned Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort to join the meeting. In other words, informed of a covert Russian effort to use espionage to interfere with the U.S. election, he embraced it.
I don’t know whether this is criminal. I do know that it’s disgraceful.

This is also arguably “soft collusion,” acceptance of a foreign power’s interference in an election for one’s own benefit. Whether there was a quid pro quo and “hard collusion,” we’ll have to see. We do have the outlines of a quid pro quo, in which each side was signalling what it wanted: The Trump campaign wanted dirt on the Clintons, and Russia wanted an easing of sanctions if Trump was elected.

After this meeting, the Trumps or the White House denied at least eight times that such a meeting had taken place. That is duplicity on top of collusion.

Nobody should be heartened by this. It’s a sad day for the country.

Aww, Nick — what’s a little light treason between friends?  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sometimes the apple is also considerably dimmer than the tree. And sometimes the apple must be thrown under the bus so that the tree and a few of its most crucial limbs don’t tumble to the forest floor, where they’ll be chopped up and used as firewood by Democrats.

Is that the fruity fate of Donald Trump Jr.?

On Tuesday morning, he released a chain of emails from June of last year that prove that he was eager to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a representative of Russia, that the information was indeed characterized as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father’s presidential bid and that he held a meeting in the hopes of learning more.

It was, for my money, the most jaw-dropping development yet in an already-surreal presidency, and making sense of it requires some conjecture.

But evaluating the damage doesn’t. This erodes whatever credibility President Trump and those in his inner circle had left (which wasn’t much). Adamantly and incessantly, they have characterized questions about the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with Russia as ludicrous — a “witch hunt,” in their preferred parlance.

And yet here is a document showing that the notion of such a concerted effort was dangled before the eyes of Trump’s eldest son, who responded with glee — “I love it,” he wrote — and hauled his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, who was then the campaign’s chairman, into a meeting about it.

With the walls now closing in around Donald Jr., I wouldn’t be surprised if he says that he didn’t really believe the written claim that this was “very high level and sensitive information” from the Russian government itself.

But evaluate any and all spin from him through the lens of his evasions and empty grandstanding to date. When The New York Times first disclosed the meeting in an article on Saturday, he released a statement implying that the meeting’s purpose was to discuss Russian adoptions.

A day later, he significantly changed his story, admitting in a new statement that he had been led to expect material “helpful to the campaign” and that he cut the meeting off when the Russian lawyer who came to Trump Tower diverted the discussion toward adoptions. Read the statement: Bizarrely and hilariously, it’s so focused on the lawyer’s bait-and-switch and Donald Jr.’s disappointment that it boldly confirms how badly he’d craved dirt and how misleading his initial response to The Times was. Like I said: dim.

The emails released on Tuesday make clear how incomplete both of those versions were, and they appear to contradict his insistence in the second statement that Kushner and Manafort knew nothing about the meeting’s intent.

The release of the emails, at least, is no head scratcher: Donald Jr. apparently believed that The Times was about to publish them anyway and figured that if he beat us to the punch, he’d make it look as if he had nothing to hide. He tweeted that he wanted “to be totally transparent.”

Right. “Transparent” has as much to do with his last four days as “modest” does with his father’s entire 71 years.

And flash back to July 24 of last summer, which was just a month and a half after the meeting with the Russian lawyer, and Donald Jr.’s response when the CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked him about the Clinton campaign’s assertion that Russians could be engaged in “a plot to help Donald Trump.”

“It just goes to show you their exact moral compass,” Donald Jr. said, in what will go down as one of the most priceless instances ever of the psychological phenomenon of projection.

He railed to Tapper about “lie after lie” from the Clinton camp, said they’d “do anything to win,” and — my favorite part — claimed that if a Republican were making the kinds of wild allegations of Russian meddling that they were, there’d be a call “to bring out the electric chair” for that person. The electric chair, no less!

Well, he’s on the hot seat now, and the days — by which I mean 48 hours ago — when we were all worked up about Ivanka Trump’s presumptuous place at the G-20 table suddenly seem quaint. That actually is a nothingburger in the context of this whopper.

Of course Papa pooh-poohed it, releasing a statement Tuesday afternoon that vouched, “My son is a high-quality person.” I can buy that Donald Jr. is too low-wattage a political operative to have understood that his Russia hugging was extraordinary and possibly treasonous, but not that he considered it virtuous.

I wonder whether Ivanka actually factors into this. Among the Trump children, she always sopped up the most lavish praise from Dad and drew the most media fascination. She was cast as his secret weapon. Such a designation eluded Donald Jr. When he met with the Russian lawyer, was he clumsily trying to maneuver his way to greater utility, favor and relevance?

Instead, in the grand tradition of ne’er-do-well namesakes, he brought his sire grief.

There’s no proof that Donald Trump Sr. knew of the meeting with the Russian lawyer, though there’s this: In the week between its scheduling and its occurrence back in June 2016, he made public remarks in which he said he’d be delivering a special speech about Clinton’s wrongdoing that was set — oh so interestingly, in retrospect — for a few days after the meeting. But that meeting, we’re now told, was a bust, with no great trove of Clinton-wounding revelations, and the speech didn’t happen as promised.

It will be interesting to watch the president’s next moves. Enamored of loyalty and deaf to charges of nepotism and conflict of interest, he has kept his kids in a tight circle around him. But to survive, he may have to push this bad apple away.

Kristof and Collins

July 8, 2017

Mr. Kristof has a question:  “Did Putin Have Trump for Lunch?”  He says President Trump praises Russia and assaults the press.  Ms. Collins says “Putin Meets Tons of Trumps” and that when the president goes abroad, and his personas multiply.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

In Hamburg, Germany, President Trump is thundering against the free press that covers him, while getting lovey-dovey with the leader of a country that attacked American and French elections, that invaded Ukraine, that helped slaughter civilians in Syria, that was involved in shooting down a civilian airliner over Ukraine, that murders critics, and that brutalizes gay people in Chechnya.

I can’t help thinking: If only Trump confronted Vladimir Putin with half the energy with which he denounces CNN and other news organizations!

A few takeaways from Trump’s European visit so far:

  1. I don’t begrudge Trump his warm handshake and pair of shoulder pats for President Putin. Nothing wrong with civility—but it has to be accompanied by a stern representation of American interests, and there’s no evidence that this is happening. “It’s an honor to be with you,” Trump said warmly, and there was a sharp contrast between the enthusiasm for Putin and the excoriation of American journalists (and it’s notable that at least 58 journalists have been murdered in Russia because of their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dutifully says that Trump pressed Putin on Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, but I flinched when I heard Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say that Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia had not in fact interfered with the election. Really? Trump accepts Putin’s assurances over those of the American intelligence community? I’m afraid that Putin had Trump for lunch.

It’s great that Trump and Putin reached an agreement that may help Syria, but let’s see whether it translates to advances on the ground. Russia has almost no credibility left when it speaks about Syria. And when Trump acquiesces in Russia’s interference in U.S. elections, as seems to have happened, Putin wins, and why would we wish to reward him for his intransigence? We should make him pay a price, not try to raise his poll numbers. Yet Trump’s behavior fits into a long and puzzling tendency of fawning over Putin or defending his actions—and it’s doubly peculiar when Trump insults allies like Australia’s prime minister and demeans Germany’s chancellor. That’s why I say that Trump has turned the world upside down.

  1. It’s particularly problematic that Trump is continuing his crusade against the news media while abroad. All presidents think that they are covered unfairly, but Trump is venturing into new territory with his campaign against journalists. There are reports that the White House may try to punish Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, for CNN’s coverage; I doubt this will happen, but even the fact that this seems to have been discussed is extraordinary and reminiscent of Nixon’s “enemies list.” Likewise, Trump’s tweets and statements may have the effect of encouraging violence against journalists; even the parents and wife of Andrew Kazcynski, the CNN reporter who has been most unfairly targeted, have received about 50 harassing phone calls each. Trump supporters are circulating more videos showing violence against people with CNN signs on them, and I fear someone is going to end up hurt. We journalists understand that warlords and gangsters may orchestrate violence against us, but we don’t expect it from the president of the United States. And, just to be clear, to reject videos of violence against journalists is not to be a snowflake; it is to be civilized.

Trump’s campaign against CNN and the media is particularly odious because the media represent a triumph of American soft power. Other countries, from China to Russia to Qatar, try to sponsor global television networks to gain global influence — but the U.S. has the advantage of being the world’s media capital. Our president is doing his best to undermine that. In doing so, he is weakening America’s soft power.

  1. President Trump does fine with a Teleprompter. His speech in Warsaw wasn’t bad, and of course the same has been true the other times he reads what his speech-writers have drafted. The problems come whenever he goes off script — and, sadly, international relations can’t be conducted from a script.
  1. While the Putin-Trump meeting is getting most of the attention in Hamburg, the really important issue is North Korea, and that may depend more on the Trump meeting with Xi Jinping. To his credit, Trump seems to get that North Korea is one of the most important issues on the international agenda, but he still doesn’t seem to have a strategy to deal with it. (Rex Tillerson sometimes offers hints that he favors the kind of deal-making that I’ve advocated, pursuing a North Korean freeze with the fig leaf that it’s only the first step toward denuclearization.)
  1. In a larger sense, the U.S. since 1945 has pursued global leadership and seen its interests advanced by nurturing global institutions to advance peace and trade. That’s why we cultivated Bretton-Woods, the United Nations, NATO, and so on. These didn’t always work as well as hoped, but they kept the peace and promoted prosperity and certainly benefited American interests. Yet at the broadest level, President Trump is undermining these institutions and abdicating American leadership on trade and security (and on climate, a new dimension of security and the economy). We saw in the period between the two world wars that a vacuum of global leadership is perilous and results in anarchy, trade wars and shooting wars. We may be headed for a similar vacuum. Other countries from Russia to China to the European Union are trying to fill some of the space, but as a global leader the United States is simply indispensable.
  1. These conflicts and tensions are, I think, likely to get worse. The world is at a lucky moment right now — a long growth period, no major shocks, markets rising — and the one thing we can expect is the unexpected. At some point in the next few years, markets will tank, the economy will stall, international crises will erupt. If Trump flubs relations with allies like Germany and Australia in good times, what will happen in a crisis?

Moreover, as the investigation into Trump and Russian collusion and obstruction of justice continues, I suspect it will erode his political capital and make him even more unstable. Even if the investigation doesn’t reach Trump himself, it may cause the departure from the White House of key aides or family members, and cause his poll ratings to sink further. That invites foreign countries like North Korea or Venezuela to overplay their hands, and it may lead a president to respond with a forcefulness that escalates a crisis.

  1. Traditionally, when such crises arrive, the best card the U.S. has to play is its credibility and its soft power. These have been eroded with the Iraq War and Guantanamo and so on, but they still are hugely important in a crisis. Yet President Trump has almost no credibility before the world, and not much at home. The upshot is that we will approach the next crisis with less soft power, less credibility, less consensus—and greater risk that it spins out of control.
  1. And that is why it would be so useful, not just for this presidential trip but for the long-term interests of the United States, if Trump listened to his national security aides, if he subscribed to the 70-year bipartisan foreign policy consensus, if he backed global institutions instead of trying to blow them up. And, of course, if he stopped denouncing CNN for committing journalism, if he confronted Putin for interfering in our election as robustly as he excoriates those reporters trying to cover him, if he stopped portraying the United States as another Belarus.

In short, if he attempted to turn our foreign policy right side up again.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Say what? Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin. American officials claim he pressed Putin on Russia’s messing in our presidential election. Putin’s people insist Trump accepted Russia’s assurances that nothing happened.

We will now explain how this outcome was inevitable.

Our president, as you know, has ever-changing personas, ranging from statesmanlike Reader-of-Speeches to Nearly Unhinged Trump, a version frequently seen on Twitter.

And Diplomacy Don, who seemed to fall head over heels for Putin.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks,” Trump said. This was before the meeting even began. What do you think he was referring to? A late night pajama party? The two had never met in person before, even though, as a candidate, Trump seemed to nurse memories of an imaginary encounter.

Then off they went, for a meeting that went on for more than two hours. Halfway through, Melania came in to remind Trump they had other things to do. Naturally, he ignored her.

The two presidents agreed to a prearranged limited Syrian cease-fire. And they did talk about Russian meddling in the American election. But which Trump do you think brought the subject up? The day before, a version who took a few questions from reporters in Poland seemed to regard the whole matter as the sort of moral equivalent of jaywalking. (“A lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time.”)

That was Ad Lib Trump, who is always … interesting. Then Nearly Unhinged emerged overnight and took to Twitter, blaming the election hacking scandal on the Democrats: “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!”

Several questions arose, the chief one being why the leaders of the most important nations in the world would be talking about Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager, whose current occupation was taking a cross-country drive with his wife.

Nearly Unhinged disappeared before the big sit-down and was replaced by a Trump version we’ll call Good At Meetings. GAM sits there nodding a lot, leading the other side to think he’s in agreement when in fact he’s just wondering what he’s going to have for dinner. Across from him was Putin, the guy who assumes that he’s won every debate unless the other side makes resistance so clear that they have to be arrested.

Perfect match! No wonder Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there was “a very clear positive chemistry between the two.”

Previously, Europe had gotten a look at a number of other variations of our president. Speechreading Trump, who usually makes a good impression, went on a Crusader kick in Poland, calling for a defense of Western civilization from “radical Islamic terrorism” and “the steady creep of government bureaucracy.”

At around the same time, Japan and the European Union announced a big trade deal, which will be great news for Japanese automakers and European farmers. People, would you rather have a big speech or a big trade deal? Or a tweet about John Podesta? The various Trumps have already given you two out of three. What are you complaining about?

In Poland, people also got quality time with Ad Lib Trump, who popped up at a gathering of Eastern European countries. After complimenting his hosts (“Beautiful nations, by the way”) the president then went on to brag about the American economy (“Our stock market just hit an all-time high …”), and to complain that he isn’t personally making any money off it. (“Everyone else is getting rich. That’s O.K. I’m very happy.”)

This is presumably because he has to spend all his time being president. But his business empire is being run by his sons. Did they manage to lose money in this stock market? If so, it’s time to have a very serious talk with Eric.

Then Trump bragged in general about the United States. (“We make the best technology and we make the best, best technology for fighter jets and ships and equipment, military weapons. There’s nobody even close.”) At this point, he had begun to resemble a dinner guest who does nothing but talk about his superior tennis skills, better car and more interesting vacations.

Later in the day, Trump took part in a very, very short press conference during which he bragged that Polish-Americans “came out in droves. They voted in the last election and I was very happy with that result.”

By Trumpian standards, this barely even counted as boasting. However, it’s getting embarrassing when the rest of the world watches him go on like that. Maybe on future foreign trips they could arrange for him to be introduced as “the president of the United States who won the election and got better ratings than Arnold Schwarzenegger on ‘The Apprentice.’ ” That would at least get it over with at the beginning.

So Europe, we sent you an entire fleet of Trumps. I hope you’re grateful. And feel free to keep a few.

Kristof and Collins

July 6, 2017

Mr. Kristof has been “In a Remote Village, Witnessing Miracles.”   He says being born with clubfoot in a poor country is no longer an automatic life sentence.  Ms. Collins, in “Women Move, World Improves,” says there’s progress on greater gender equality in politics. So everything’s going to get better.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Buchanan, Liberia:

Miracles are rare these days, but I’ve seen them.

In a village in rural Liberia, a long and muddy road from anywhere, I came across a grandma, a mom and a baby daughter all afflicted by clubfoot. This is a common birth defect in which one or both feet are grotesquely turned inward.

We don’t see it in the U.S. or Europe because doctors correct it soon after birth, and clubfoot alumni include athletic superstars like Mia Hamm and Kristi Yamaguchi. My mother (a tireless walker with perfectly normal feet) was born with a clubfoot.

Yet here, as in most of the world, kids with clubfoot weren’t treated and grew up as outcasts. About one child in 800 worldwide is born with clubfoot, and in poor countries they are left to hobble on the sides of their feet; unable to work, they may become beggars.

In this village, clubfoot used to be a life sentence: The grandma, Yahin-yee Korwee, never went to school, nor did her daughter, Hannah Cooper, 26. The grandfather abandoned the family when Hannah was born, ashamed that neighbors mocked her as a cripple.

Then Cooper had her own daughter 11 months ago, also with clubfoot (it’s partly hereditary), and her boyfriend left her as well. “You’ve got a crippled child,” she remembered him saying. “I don’t want it.”

Yet this baby had her feet fixed. This is possible with a simple nonsurgical treatment involving a series of plaster casts to guide the foot into the proper position.

This approach, called the Ponseti method, is routine in Western countries and is increasingly available in poor countries as well, through aid groups like MiracleFeet, based in North Carolina, and Cure, based in Pennsylvania.

I wish that skeptics of humanitarian aid could have seen the baby get care from MiracleFeet and emerge with feet as good as anyone else’s. Now she’ll be able to walk and run, go to school and hold a job, support herself and her country.

And the total cost? Less than $500 for transforming a life.

I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey with a university student, Aneri Pattani (who has been busily blogging at nytimes.com/ontheground — check out her posts!). I wanted us to report on clubfoot because it’s an antidote to skepticism about humanitarian aid.

The dirty little secret of foreign aid is that it’s hard. You can build a school, but it’s hard to ensure that teachers will show up. You can build a well, but what happens when the hand pump breaks? You can provide safe birthing kits, but what if a nurse sells them on the black market?

Look, helping people is complicated. But I’m a strong advocate of more aid because sometimes aid is transformative. When properly done, clubfoot treatment is straightforward, succeeds 95 percent of the time and inexpensively changes a life like that of this 11-month-old girl.

“Now she’ll go to school,” said Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, executive director of MiracleFeet. “She’s going to stand on her own two feet for the rest of her life.”

Yet most children in poor countries still don’t get clubfoot repaired. The Global Clubfoot Initiative estimates that only 15 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries get good treatment, and it aims to raise that to 70 percent by 2030. Aid groups like MiracleFeet train local health care workers to treat clubfoot, so that over time each country’s own health system can take over diagnosis and treatment. But for now, thousands of children slip through the cracks.

Cooper told us that there was another child in the village with clubfoot, and soon he was brought to us. His name was Henroy, and at age 9 he had never attended school because he has trouble even hobbling. MiracleFeet is now arranging to fix his feet, too.

In another town, Ganta, we saw the toll on families of clubfoot. A small boy, Aria, was being looked after by his grandmother, Nora Glay, because his mother fled rather than raise a child she expected to be permanently disabled. “She was embarrassed,” Glay said of the mother, “and that’s why she abandoned the child.”

But Glay heard on the radio that clubfoot could be repaired. So she borrowed money from friends and took Aria on a weeklong odyssey to get to the Ganta hospital, where Aria’s feet will be corrected over the coming months so that he will be able to walk and run.

A few feet away in the hospital waiting area, Saye Willie acknowledged that he was initially devastated when his son, Bigboy, was born with clubfoot. “I thought it was witchcraft,” the father said. “I accused my wife of taking a bath at night, and I thought somebody put drugs in the water.”

Bigboy, 7, seems a bit overcome at the prospect that his feet will soon be normal, allowing him to walk, run, play soccer. “I want to go to school,” he told me. “I want my feet to be good so I can run, too.”

My friend Michael Elliott, who ran the One Campaign’s fight against global poverty until shortly before his death last year, used to say that we live in an “age of miracles.” I thought of that while in the village with the family suffering from three generations of clubfoot, where the baby now has normal feet.

Oh, and the baby’s name?

Her mom named her Miracle.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Good news has been in such very short supply lately. Beyoncé did have twins. Joey Chestnut set a new record at the Coney Island hot-dog eating contest. Kentucky sold a billion dollars in lottery tickets for the first time …

O.K., here’s a real one: Women’s involvement in politics seems to be skyrocketing — they’re doing everything from petitioning Congress to planning their own campaigns. Groups that help prepare women to run for office are reporting an unprecedented number of website visits, training-school sign-ups and meeting attendance.

Everything is going to get better! There’ll be more bipartisanship in Congress, more rationality in foreign affairs and better government on the state and local levels. Corruption will drop, voter satisfaction will soar and never again will the governor of a major state spend a holiday sunbathing on a public beach that’s closed to the rest of the public due to a budget crisis.

All right, we’re only totally positive about the last one.

Still, more gender equality in politics is a great goal. While there have been some really terrible, truly awful women elected to public office over the years, as a group women seem to be better at working with others. For instance, female senators have regular bipartisan dinners in Washington. There was a time when this would not have been a big deal, but in the current climate it’s akin to Nixon in China.

Women also tend to bring a mood of reform, since they’re often coming from the outside. “It’s the women who in many ways feel — if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” said Debbie Walsh at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The center runs training programs for women candidates in perpetually scandal-prone New Jersey, and their success is proof of the theory that voters will turn to women when they feel the political status quo is horrible. “When we started, New Jersey was in the bottom 10 for women in the legislature,” said Walsh. “Now, it’s 14th from the top. Indictments have been very, very good to us.”

Progress on this front is not necessarily guaranteed to last. The center’s ranking of state legislatures puts Wyoming last in the percentage of women, which is extremely sad for a place that calls itself “the Equality State” because it was the first to give women the right to vote. Wyoming does have Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz in the House of Representatives, and you will have to decide for yourself whether you think that is a good plan.

Cathy Connolly, who’s a state representative and professor of women’s studies at the University of Wyoming, says the legislative schedule was set up to accommodate ranchers: “We work around the clock for 40 days one year and 20 the other in the dead of the winter. … It’s disproportionately retired men.”

But even Wyoming is looking for a leap forward. Connolly is co-chair of a women’s caucus that is — of course — bipartisan. (“Its only goal is to recruit more women and be supportive of each other when we serve.”) She feels that same surge of new interest, “and it is wonderful.”

Women have been setting record-breaking web traffic at Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women’s campaigns. Stephanie Schriock, the president, thinks the motives run from “fear of slipping backward” after Hillary Clinton’s loss to a sense of solidarity engendered by the marches after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Now the visitors are stoked, and looking for information on how to run for anything “from school board to the U.S. Senate.”

Kristof and Collins

June 22, 2017

In “Opioids, a Mass Killer We’re Meeting With a Shrug” Mr. Kristof says opioid deaths continue to climb yet G.O.P. plans would reduce help.  Nick, for them I’m sure it’s a feature, not a bug.  Ms. Collins says “You’ve Named Trump’s Worst!” and that all the cabinet members tried, but only one could triumph.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

About as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

For more than 100 years, death rates have been dropping for Americans — but now, because of opioids, death rates are rising again. We as a nation are going backward, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

“There’s no question that there’s an epidemic and that this is a national public health emergency,” Dr. Leana Wen, the health commissioner of Baltimore, told me. “The number of people overdosing is skyrocketing, and we have no indication that we’ve reached the peak.”

Yet our efforts to address this scourge are pathetic.

We responded to World War II with the storming of Normandy, and to Sputnik with our moon shot. Yet we answer this current national menace with … a Republican plan for health care that would deprive millions of insurance and lead to even more deaths!

More on President Trump’s fumbling of this problem in a moment. But it’s bizarre that Republicans should be complacent about opioids, because the toll is disproportionately in red states — and it affects everyone.

Mary Taylor, the Republican lieutenant governor of Ohio and now a candidate for governor, has acknowledged that both her sons, Joe and Michael, have struggled with opioid addiction, resulting in two overdoses at home, urgent calls for ambulances and failed drug rehab efforts. Good for her for speaking up.

It should be a national scandal that only 10 percent of Americans with opioid problems get treatment. This reflects our failed insistence on treating opioids as a criminal justice problem rather than as a public health crisis.

A Times investigation published this month estimated that more than 59,000 Americans died in 2016 of drug overdoses, in the largest annual jump in such deaths ever recorded in the U.S. One reason is the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is cheap and potent, leading to overdoses.

Another bad omen: As a nation, we’re still hooked on prescription painkillers. Last year, there were more than 236 million prescriptions written for opioids in the United States — that’s about one bottle of opioids for every American adult.

Even with all that’s at stake, there are three reasons to doubt that Trump will confront the problem.

First, Trump and Republicans in Congress seem determined to repeal Obamacare, which provides for addiction treatment, and slash Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the G.O.P. House plan would result in an additional 23 million Americans being uninsured in a decade — and thus less able to get drug treatment. Other, more technical elements of the G.O.P. plan would also result in less treatment.

Second, Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, last month seemed to belittle the medication treatments for opioid addiction that have the best record, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions still seems to think we can jail our way out of the problem.

Third, Trump’s main step has been to appoint Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to lead a task force to investigate opioid addiction. But we needn’t waste more time investigating, for we know what to do — and in any case Christie talks a good game but bungled the issue in his home state.

Among experts, there’s overwhelming evidence of what works best: medication in conjunction with counseling. This doesn’t succeed in every case, but it does reduce deaths and improve lives. It also saves public money, because a result is fewer emergency room visits and inpatient hospital stays. So the question isn’t whether we can afford treatment for all people fighting addiction, but whether we can afford not to provide it.

The bottom line is that we need a major national public health initiative to treat as many Americans abusing drugs as possible, with treatment based on science and evidence. We also need to understand that drug overdoses are symptoms of deeper malaise — “deaths of despair,” in the words of Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University, stemming from economic woes — and seek to address the underlying issues.

Above all, let’s show compassion. Addiction is a disease, like diabetes and high blood pressure. We would never tell diabetics to forget medication and watch their diets and exercise more — and we would be aghast if only 10 percent of diabetics were getting lifesaving treatment.

Innumerable people with addictions whom I’ve interviewed haunt me. One was a nurse who became dependent on prescription painkillers and was fired when she was caught stealing painkillers from a hospital. She became homeless and survived by providing sex to strangers in exchange for money or drugs.

She wept as she told me her story, for she was disgusted with what she had become — but we as a society should be disgusted by our own collective complacency, by our refusal to help hundreds of thousands of neighbors who are sick and desperate for help.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

It was a hard-fought race, people. But the results of our Worst Trump Cabinet Member reader poll are in.

And the winner is — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos!

With a near tie for second place between Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It’s hard to be worse than Sessions or Pruitt. But DeVos deals with … children,” wrote a Michigan reader.

DeVos really hates public schools — something you don’t find often in a secretary of education. Her goal seems to be replacing them with charter schools, none of which will need much oversight because, you know, the choice thing.

Many readers noted that our secretary of education does not seem to be … all that bright. (“DeVos is a solid choice based on irony alone.”)

But I can’t help thinking Sessions might have taken the prize if his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee had gone on just a little longer. He clearly wowed viewers with his alleged inability to remember things. (“Wins by a Pinocchio.”) Some were taken by his resemblance to a bad hobbit or gremlin (“malevolent pixie”). But others simply found Sessions … bad. (“He is detestable and should have little tiny horns on the back of his head.”)

Pruitt, the head of the E.P.A., is a former Oklahoma attorney general who prepared for his current job by suing the agency 14 times. His champions in the Worst competition contended that, in the words of a North Carolina correspondent, “he can do major damage which will take years to undo.”

When we last left our runner-up, he was celebrating the nation’s departure from the international climate accord and kicking scientists off the Board of Scientific Counselors. Once again, some voters did get a tad personal. (“I have to pick Scott Pruitt because, besides trying to poison our planet, he always has that damnable smirk.”)

Let’s be extremely clear that this was not a scientific survey. In fact, it was pretty hard to get any count at all since many readers couldn’t resist the temptation to take the easy route and pick all of the above. (“I’ve seen better cabinets at Ikea.”) Or to name five. Or to complain that selecting one Worst was too hard. (“Trying to pick a winner from this bunch is like trying to knit a sweater with wet spaghetti.”)

It’s not that everyone was negative — there were a few kind words for James Mattis, the secretary of defense, and some mixed reviews on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But a lot of folks still seem to be in a state of trauma over that big meeting President Trump called last week, in which the cabinet members tried to one-up each other in the fulsomeness of their praise for their commander in chief. (“That cabinet meeting looked like one of those cheap TV ads you see where people praise a tomato slicer. …”)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t count the Worst Cabinet Member votes that were given to somebody who wasn’t actually in the cabinet. Donald Trump cannot get the prize. Nor can Jared or Ivanka or Omarosa. Also we cannot name Eric Trump’s wedding planner, even though she has just been named to one of the top jobs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One reader was unnerved by rumors that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, after having finished wrecking his state’s economy, is now in line for a federal job and asked if he could be nominated Worst in advance.

Special tip of the hat to readers who chose Rick Perry. I have to admit I didn’t even mention him when I wrote the column proposing the Worst vote-off. But a number nominated him, generally pointing to the fact that when Perry took the job, he was unaware that the Department of Energy’s main responsibility was tending the nation’s nuclear arsenal, not traveling the world to boost the sale of American oil and gas.

Just as balloting came to a close, Perry gave an interview on CNBC in which he downplayed carbon dioxide’s role in global warming, explaining that “most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

This is a man who just keeps on campaigning. Plus, as one correspondent noted, if Perry ever won the Worst award “his acceptance speech would be epic.”

We saw a lot of votes for Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, for his heroic efforts to ruin national health care and the social safety net. And Ben Carson got a surprising amount of support, considering that we barely ever hear about him doing anything. One reader was apparently won over by the painting the secretary of housing and urban development has in his home, showing Jesus with his arm around Ben Carson.

But DeVos is definitely our Worst Cabinet winner. For now. Do you think we should do this every few months? And what should the award look like? Anything’s possible. After all, we’ve got another three and a half years.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The document continued:

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

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

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

Comey wrote of the exchange:

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy Infrastructure Week!

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

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

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

Wait a minute, I thought he hated renewable energy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because he can’t read, right?

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

The emperor has no clothes.

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

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

June 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As The Times put it:

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

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

A Vanity Fair profile of Comey went further:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I, am alive.

I spat in the eye of hate and lived.

This is what we must do for one another

We must live for one another.”

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

The kids are not alright.

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

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

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

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

Hahaha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay the course, Tiffany.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

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

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

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

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

Trump again ignored the warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

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

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

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

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

Stephens, Kristof, and Collins

May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was unconstitutional. And wise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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