Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Kristof and Collins

September 21, 2017

In “Meet the World’s Leaders, in Hypocrisy” Mr. Kristof says the United Nations rings with bombast and braggadocio.  Ms. Collins asks “Are We Down to President Pence?”  She thinks the least we deserve is a less exciting finger on the trigger.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Leaders from around the world have descended on New York for United Nations meetings, fancy parties, ringing speeches about helping the poor — and a big dose of hypocrisy.

And — finally! — this is one area where President Trump has shown global leadership.

If there were an award for United Nations chutzpah, the competition would be tough, but the medal might go to Trump for warning that if necessary, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” There were gasps in the hall: A forum for peace was used to threaten to annihilate a nation of 25 million people.

There also was Trump’s praise for American humanitarian aid to Yemen. Patting oneself on the back is often oafish, but in this case it was also offensive. Yemen needs aid because the U.S. is helping Saudi Arabia starve and bomb Yemeni civilians, creating what the U.N. says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. In other words, we are helping to create the very disaster that we’re boasting about alleviating.

It was also sad to see Trump repeatedly plug “sovereignty,” which tends to be the favored word of governments like Russia (even as it invades Ukraine and interferes in the U.S. election) and China (as it supports corrupt autocrats from Zimbabwe to Myanmar).

Speaking of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi skipped the U.N. meeting, after being feted last year, because it’s awkward to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner who defends a brutal campaign of murder, rape and pillage. Many Muslim leaders in attendance, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, did highlight the plight of the Rohingya suffering an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. If only they were as interested in their own political prisoners!

Meanwhile, world leaders usually ignore places that don’t fit their narratives. Everybody pretty much shrugged at South Sudan and Burundi, both teetering on the edge of genocide; at Congo, where we’re headed for civil strife as the president attempts to cling to power; and at the “four famines”: in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan. To Trump’s credit, he expressed concern Wednesday about South Sudan and Congo and said he would dispatch U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to the region to see what can be done; let’s hope his administration provides desperately needed leadership.

In fairness, there are broader reasons for hope, including astonishing progress against global poverty — more than 100 million children’s lives saved since 1990. Every day, another 300,000 people worldwide get their first access to electricity, and 285,000 to clean water. Global poverty is a huge opportunity, for we now have a much better understanding of how to defeat it: resolve conflicts, invest in girls’ education, empower women, fight malnutrition, support family planning, and so on.

For the first time in human history, less than 10 percent of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty, and we probably could virtually eliminate it over the next 15 years if it were a top global priority. Trump rightly hailed Pepfar, the AIDS program President George W. Bush devised, but he also has proposed sharp cuts in its funding).

The progress on stopping human trafficking is also inspiring. I moderated a U.N. session on the topic, and it was heartening to see an overflow crowd engaging in a historically obscure subject, even as a new report calculated that there are 40 million people who may be called modern slaves. Prime Minister Theresa May convened perhaps the largest meeting of foreign ministers ever on human trafficking.

We now have the tools to achieve enormous progress against these common enemies of humanity — poverty, disease, slavery — but it’s not clear we have the will. What’s striking about this moment is that we have perhaps the worst refugee crisis in 70 years, overlapping with the worst food crisis in 70 years, overlapping with risks of genocide in several countries — and anemic global leadership.

“There is a vacuum of leadership — moral and political — when it comes to the world’s trouble spots, from Syria to Yemen to Myanmar and beyond,” notes David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee. Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, agrees: “I think there’s a leadership vacuum.”

There are exceptions: Wallstrom, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and more.

But many countries are divided at home, distracted by political combat and looking increasingly inward, and in any case, the U.S. remains the indispensable superpower, and it is AWOL. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has achieved a degree of irrelevance that no one thought possible, and Trump is slashing the number of refugees accepted, cutting funds for the U.N. Population Fund and proposing huge cuts for diplomacy, peacekeeping and foreign aid (fortunately, Congress is resisting).

The number that I always find most daunting is this: About one child in four on this planet is physically stunted from malnutrition. And while it is the physical stunting that we can measure, a side effect is a stunting of brain development, holding these children back, holding nations back, holding humanity back.

So it’s maddening to see world leaders posturing in the spotlight and patting themselves on the back while doing so little to tackle humanitarian crises that they themselves have helped create.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump’s visit to the United Nations has resurrected the question of whether we’d be better off with Mike Pence.

We haven’t mulled that one for a while. Lately, Trump’s stupendous instability has actually been looking like a plus. There he was, telling Democrats that he didn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Trying to find a way to save the Dreamers, having apparently forgotten that he was the one who put them all in jeopardy of deportation.

If Pence were president we wouldn’t be able to live in hopes of the next flip-flop. The Republican Congress would be marching through its agenda behind a committed conservative who, you may remember, forced so many Planned Parenthood clinics to close when he was governor of Indiana that it triggered an H.I.V. epidemic. Better insane than sorry.

Then came the U.N. speech, and the reminder that the one big plus on Pence’s scorecard is that he seems less likely to get the planet blown up.

You’ve heard about the big moment, when the president threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” adding, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Trump, who has a history of giving opponents insulting nicknames, loves calling Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, “Rocket Man.” Nikki Haley, our U.N. ambassador, argued that the president’s speech was a diplomatic win because “every other international community” has now started calling Kim “Rocket Man,” too.

Does this sound like a triumph to you, people? It’s perfectly possible Kim takes it for a compliment since he does like rockets. And I’ll bet he likes Elton John songs, too.

But about the “totally destroy North Korea” part: I believe I am not alone in feeling that the best plan for dealing with a deranged dictator holding nuclear weapons is not threatening to blow him up.

We tell ourselves that the president is surrounded by men who are too stable to let him plunge us into a war that will annihilate the planet. But Trump’s U.N. speech was a read-from-the-teleprompter performance, not a case of his just blurting out something awful. People in the White House read it and talked about it in advance.

It would have been so easy to avoid the crisis with a rewrite. “As the president said yesterday, the United States has great strength and patience, but all options are on the table,” Pence told the Security Council later. No, that’s not what the president said. But it is how you expect the head of the most powerful country in the world to deliver a message without scaring the pants off the public.

Maybe that’s what this country needs — a president who can make diplomacy boring again. We’re back to the dream of impeachment, or the sudden news that Trump is retiring to spend more quality time with his defense attorneys.

The most positive interpretation of the U.N. performance is that it was just a show for the base back home and had nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the real world. That seems possible, since the bulk of it was just sort of … undiplomatic. Urging his audience to do something about North Korea, Trump said: “That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.” Truly, when you’re addressing an international organization of which your country is a founding member, it’s a little weird to refer to it as “they.”

The president also kept saying he was always going to “put America first,” which is of course true. But at a U.N. venue, it was a little like going to the first meeting of the PTA and repeatedly pointing out that you only care about your own kid.

While Trump spent a lot of time denigrating the U.N. during his campaign, the White House clearly put a big premium on his debut. The whole Trump team was making the rounds. Poor Melania gave a speech about protecting children from cyberbullying while the audience silently contemplated the fact that her husband recently retweeted a meme of him slamming Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball.

The president was much more affable in smaller venues, but he still sounded … wrong. He tried to be super-nice at a luncheon with African leaders, assuring them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” At a gathering for the secretary general, he offered a toast to “the potential, the great, great potential, of the United Nations.” He kept talking about “potential,” like a relative attempting to say something positive about a teenager who had just gotten kicked out of junior high.

The big takeaway, however, was that the president of the United States had threatened to destroy a country with 25 million people.

Maybe we would be better off with Pence in the White House. Even though he won’t drink in mixed company unless his wife is present, or dine alone with a woman he’s not married to.

Really, there are some choices we just shouldn’t be required to make.

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Kristof and Collins

August 24, 2017

Mr. Kristof says “We’re Journalists, Mr. Trump, Not the Enemy,” and that the president inexplicably finds it easier to condemn reporters than neo-Nazis and white supremacists.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Talks and Talks and Talks and …,” asks guess who his favorite subject was in Phoenix?  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Sigh. If only President Trump denounced neo-Nazis as passionately and sincerely as he castigates journalists.

What could be an easier task than distancing oneself from Nazis or violent white supremacists? Yet Trump manages to make it infinitely complicated — and then get distracted by self-pity and excoriate reporters for committing journalism. The key strain of his sulfurous speech in Phoenix on Tuesday was an extended attack on “dishonest” reporters (including at “the failing New York Times”).

Look, we in journalism deserve to have our feet held to the fire. We make mistakes all the time, and too often we are superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects. Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.

Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable — courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media — and that’s the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have separately tallied Trump’s lies, with The Post calculating that he has now made more than 1,000 misleading statements since assuming the presidency. That’s a grueling pace of almost five a day, and it is accelerating (at the six-month mark, it was 4.6 a day). This prevarication proliferation is an indication that John F. Kelly is unable to rein in Trump, and that the problem was not Steve Bannon but the president himself.

Trump’s caricature of journalists as dishonest is hypocritical, and it insults the courage and professionalism of my colleagues who sometimes risk their lives trying to get a story.

I’ve lost reporter and photographer friends in war zones all over the world, and have had other friends kidnapped and tortured. When Trump galvanizes crowds against reporters in the room, I worry that we may lose journalists in the line of duty not only in places like Syria but also right here at home. Trump will get people hurt.

I also worry that Trump is buoying the repressive instincts of dictators around the world. Since Trump’s election, I’ve been denied entry by Venezuela, Congo, South Sudan and Yemen, an unusual number of countries — and I wonder if foreign leaders believe that it is now easier to deny access to troublesome American journalists now that they are reviled by their own president.

Aside from Trump’s desire to reduce scrutiny and accountability, there are other theories for why Trump finds it so difficult to denounce Nazis and other racists without getting diverted into rants about journalists.

One is that he has always had a soft spot for racists, ever since as a young real estate developer he was sued by a Republican Department of Justice for systematically discriminating against blacks. Over the years he has also been quoted as saying that “laziness is a trait in blacks,” declined to distance himself from the Ku Klux Klan and periodically retweeted posts by neo-Nazis (including one from an account called @WhiteGenocideTM with a photo of the founder of the American Nazi Party).

Another theory (these are not mutually exclusive) is that Trump is simply a thin-skinned narcissist who shares the white supremacists’ sense of victimization. It was striking that in Tuesday’s speech in Phoenix, he seemed to believe that the biggest victim in Charlottesville was not Heather Heyer, who was murdered, but himself.

Yet another possibility, which previously was mostly whispered but is increasingly openly discussed even by members of Congress, is that our president is mentally unstable.

The causes of Trump’s bizarre behavior may be difficult to disentangle. But I hope that you, as members of the public, will understand what is at stake in his assault on the media. This is not about reporters and the mistakes we make, but about institutional checks on the presidency.

We appreciate, not always gracefully enough, the public’s efforts to keep us honest. We also are grateful for the outpouring of subscriptions to news organizations, and the support for organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists. The irony has been that the more Trump vilifies the media, the more the public has rallied around us — and, finally, this is helping us gain a better business model. Since Trump was elected, the stock price of the Times Company has risen by almost two-thirds. Thank you for your assistance, Mr. President!

This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history, for we are enduring an epic struggle over the principles on which our country was founded. These include the idea that a flawed free press is an essential institutional check on flawed leaders.

So may I humbly suggest that when a megalomaniacal leader howls and shrieks at critics, that is when institutional checks on that leader become a bulwark of democracy.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

A great day of triumph for Donald Trump! The president went to an American Legion convention Wednesday and read a speech off a teleprompter. Nothing weird happened. Total victory.

We now divide the president’s public addresses into two categories. There are the unremarkable and predictable ones written by someone else and the ones in which he ignores the script and just says what’s on his mind, terrifying and confusing all Americans who are not in his base.

(About the base. Polls make it very clear that 30 to 40 percent of voters are going to approve of what Trump does, no matter what. Many of them don’t mind if he comes on stage and starts talking like Uncle Fred Who Gets Drunk at Family Dinners. They enjoy Uncle Fred. Some of them are Uncle Fred.)

Any other president who went to a convention of veterans and called for Americans to “work together” would have gotten no notice whatsoever. But Trump was coming off his spontaneous appearance in Phoenix when he frightened the whole country with his rants about the media and his wild riffs of self-congratulations.

“Now you know, I was a good student,” Trump ad-libbed at his Arizona rally. “I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They’re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were. I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment and I live in the White House, too, which is really great.”

Three points about this comment, only one of which is: “Wow, the president of the United States is so insecure he finds it necessary to brag about his grades in school.” The second is that we know about as much about his actual grades in school as we do about his tax returns.

Third, at the end Trump did seem to realize that if he was going to boast about his deeply overdecorated penthouse, he should mention that the White House is nice, too. Particularly since that unfortunate story about him calling it “a real dump.”

It would be calming to the national psyche if the president refrained from ever again speaking to the American people about his true thoughts and feelings. It wouldn’t do anything to improve his performance in office, but at least we might feel less nervous, moment to moment.

Right now, every day Americans have to wonder whether the president will be sane or spontaneous. He staged an impromptu press conference on Charlottesville and defended the neo-Nazis. His ramblings in Phoenix unnerved former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who pointed out that this is the guy with the nuclear football, and called Trump’s performance “downright scary and disturbing.”

The unfair part, of course, is that when Trump just reads words he’s been given, people are so relieved he gets way too much credit. Look at the speech on Afghanistan. The plan Trump unveiled is clearly never going to improve anything. And he delivered it in a strange way, staring at teleprompters to the left and right but almost never looking directly at the TV audience. But still, it had complete sentences! He did not once mention his own personal wealth or make up facts about his election victory. The White House basked in glory.

Then came the rally in Phoenix, an excellent example of how the president wanders off the written plan and just sort of runs amok.

He blathered for 77 minutes, dissing the two local Republican senators, one of whom is suffering from brain cancer. He threatened to shut down the government if he didn’t get money for his wall. He revealed that “Washington is full of people who are only looking out for themselves” and then raced into another paean to you-know-who.

“But I don’t come to Washington for me. You know, I’ve had a great life. I’ve had great success,” he confided to the viewing world. “I’ve enjoyed my life. Most people think I’m crazy to have done this. And I think they’re right. But I enjoy it because we’ve made so much — I don’t believe that any president — I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months. I really don’t believe it.”

We are not going to go into the list of presidents who accomplished more, since it requires naming everyone who’s held the office since Warren Harding.

This is a man who can’t refrain from congratulating himself even when he’s talking about the weather. “I was over at the Yuma sector,” he told the folks in Phoenix, describing his trip to meet members of the Border Patrol. “It was hot. It was like 115 degrees. I’m out signing autographs for an hour. I was there. That was a hot day. You learn if you’re in shape if you can do that, believe me.”

Now the auditorium was full of people from Arizona. They spend their lives in ridiculous heat. It did not seem like a group who you wanted to entertain with a story about how much you suffered signing autographs when it was “like 115 degrees.”

It was actually 107. But that’s the least of our problems.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

July 27, 2017

In ” ‘First They Came For…’ ” Mr. Blow says all the targets of Trump’s ire must push back with a united front before it is too late.  In “No Insurance, But For 3 Days, Health Care Is Within Reach” Mr. Kristof says aid group set up to help in poor nations now focuses on U.S. needs.  Ms. Collins says “Wow, Trump Can’t Terminate,” and that coming soon we’ll have American Irony Week.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It is no longer sufficient to brand Donald Trump as abnormal, a designation that is surely applicable but that falls significantly short in registering the magnitude of the menace.

The standard nomenclature of normal politics must be abandoned. What we are witnessing is nothing less than an assault on the fundamentals of the country itself: on our legacy institutions and our sense of protocol, decency and honesty.

In any other circumstance, we might likely write this off as the trite protestations of a man trapped in a toddler’s temperament, full of meltdowns, magical thinking and make believe. But this man’s vindictiveness and mendacity are undergirded by the unequaled power of the American president, and as such he has graduated on the scale of power from toddler to budding tyrant.

This threat Trump poses — to our morals, ethics, norms and collective sense of propriety — may be without equal from a domestic source.

Everything he is doing is an assault and matters on some level.

His desecration of the Boy Scouts’ national jamboree matters. Not only did he turn his appearance before the boys into a political rally in which they booed both former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he seemed to be appealing to their basest instincts.

What exactly did Trump mean when he regaled the boys with the story of the real-estate developer William Levitt, who, as Trump put it:

“Sold his company for a tremendous amount of money. And he went out and bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life. I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”

As the boys start to make noise, Trump responds, “Should I tell you? Should I tell you?” and then proceeds to say:

“You’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life.”

Is this a version of Trump’s “locker room talk,” that phrase he used to excuse his genital-grabbing comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape? This may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme, but it matters. The fact that its shelf life felt like only a few hours before the next outrage underscores the degree to which our national consciousness is being barraged by the man’s violations.

But yes, it matters too, just as Trump’s obsession with Obama and Clinton matters.

Also, his public trolling of Attorney General Jeff Sessions matters. The fact that he’s enraged at Sessions for taking the appropriate ethical step and recusing himself from the Russia investigation matters. The fact that Trump essentially told The New York Times on the record that he would not have chosen Sessions if he’d known Sessions wouldn’t have stood firm in protection of him, matters.

Trump’s continuous attacks on the media matter.

His pushing of the Republicans’ callous Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan — a plan that would strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, and a plan that Trump has demonstrated no particular policy knowledge of — matters.

Trump’s tweet yesterday — on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman desegregating the armed forces, no less — that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” matters. There are thousands of trans people already serving in the military. The idea that a man with five draft deferments would dictate that people who volunteer to serve should not be allowed to is beyond outrageous — and it matters.

Trump’s pushing us closer to international military conflict matters.

And yes, the plodding Russia investigation, which to Trump is an agitation and threat, like an irremovable thorn in his flesh, matters.

This has come as a great shock and demoralizer to many Americans, not necessarily because they didn’t think Trump was capable of such depravity, but because they simply were unprepared for the daily reality of living a nightmare.

There is an enduring expectation, particularly among American liberals, that progress in this society should move inexorably toward more openness, honesty and equality. But even the historical record doesn’t support that expectation.

In reality, America regularly experiences bouts of regression, but fortunately, it is in those regressive periods that some of our greatest movements and greatest voices had found their footing.

President Andrew Jackson’s atrocious American Indian removal program gave us the powerful Cherokee memorial letters. The standoff at Standing Rock gave us what the BBC called “the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years.”

Crackdowns on gay bars gave us the Stonewall uprising. America’s inept response to the AIDS epidemic gave us Act Up and Larry Kramer. California’s Proposition 8 breathed new life into the fight for marriage equality and led to a victory in the Supreme Court.

The racial terror that followed the Emancipation Proclamation gave us the anti-lynching movement, the N.A.A.C.P., W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and James Weldon Johnson.

Jim Crow gave us the civil rights movement, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Congressman John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and James Baldwin.

The latest rash of extrajudicial killing of black people gave us Black Lives Matter.

The financial crisis and the government’s completely inadequate response to it gave us Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent.

A renewed assault on women’s rights, particularly a woman’s right to choose, gave us, at least in part, the Women’s March, likely the largest march in American history.

This is not an exhaustive list, but just some notable examples.

It is a way of illustrating that the fiery crucible is where the weapons of resistance are forged; it is where the mettle of those crusading for justice, equality and progress are tested.

Unlike the examples listed above, Trump’s assault is intersectional and nearly universal. Multiple populations are being assaulted at once, across race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual identity.

So, in this moment of regression, all the targets of Trump’s ire must push back with a united front, before it is too late.

As Martin Niemöller so famously put it:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Wise, VA:

For a man who needed 18 teeth pulled, Daniel Smith was looking chipper.

Anxious, too, for he was facing a pair of forceps. But Smith, 30, a contractor with no health or dental insurance, who hadn’t seen a dentist in more than 20 years, was looking forward to an imminent end to the pain and rot in his mouth.

“I’ve always worked, since I was 14, but I’ve never had dental insurance,” Smith told me. After his teeth are out, he has a lead on low-cost dentures.

“I’d like to have a straight smile,” he said. “I’ve never had one in my life.”

All around Smith were uninsured patients receiving free dental or medical care, including dozens of men and women in side-by-side dental chairs in the open air. Organizers mercifully arranged the long line of people waiting to have teeth pulled so that they were facing away from those currently enduring extractions.

The patients swamped the county fairground here for a three-day health extravaganza of free care organized by Remote Area Medical, an aid group that holds these events across the country. This one involved about 1,400 volunteers serving 2,300 men and women who needed care of every kind.

Some patients camped out for three days at the fairground gate before the clinic opened to make sure they would be treated.

The health fair reminded me of scenes I’ve witnessed in refugee camps in South Sudan. But here in America?

The sight is a wrenching reminder of how many Americans slip through the cracks. No other advanced country permits this level of suffering — and if the G.O.P. health care plan goes through, millions more will lose their health coverage.

“Walking around, listening to people, it breaks your heart,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, whom I encountered on the fairground. “We need a healthy work force, and this is a disgrace.”

“Shame on us as a nation,” McAuliffe added. “This is an embarrassment to our country.”

That’s what I feel, too: humiliation that Americans need to be rescued by a group originally intended to help people in the world’s poorest countries (mixed with pride at the altruistic spirit that attracted so many volunteers, paying their own expenses to come here). To me, the fundamental lesson is that even under Obamacare, too many people don’t have coverage, and we urgently need a single-payer universal health care system along the lines of Medicare for all.

Remote Area Medical is the brainchild of Stan Brock, 81, a onetime British cowboy who in the 1950s managed one of the world’s biggest ranches, overseeing 50,000 cattle in Guyana in South America.

When he was badly injured by a wild horse, Brock was told it would be a 26-day hike to the nearest doctor. So he recovered on his own — but began to think about supplying health care to deprived areas.

Brock ended up founding Remote Area Medical to work in places like the Amazon, Haiti and Uganda. But then one day he had a call from Sneedville, Tenn., where the hospital had just closed and the dentist moved out. “Can you come here?” the caller asked.

Brock loaded a dental chair on the back of a pickup truck and brought in a dentist as well — and 150 people lined up, desperate for oral care. The result is that while it continues some international work, Remote Area Medical also treats people in the world’s superpower.

Brock is a character: He discovered a species of bat that is named for him, and today he has no home but unrolls a pad each evening and sleeps on the floor of Remote Area Medical’s permanent offices in Tennessee. At 5 a.m. on the first day here, Brock opened the gate and began admitting people eager for care.

As they surged past, many stopped to thank him; one man had tears in his eyes as he did so.

“I wish Mr. Trump would come,” Brock told me. “The health of these people is appalling.”

Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid have helped, but this health fair underscores glaring gaps in American coverage, especially for dental and vision care, in ways that affect us all.

In the vision tent, a patient couldn’t see even the biggest letter at the top of the eye chart. As he waited for glasses, a volunteer asked, “And how did you get here?”

“Oh, I drove.”

Jennifer Jolliffee, a volunteer, told of a 6-year-old boy who had behavioral problems, couldn’t read and struggled at school. Then he had his first vision screening, and his parents learned that he could barely see. Soon he was looking around in wonderment through glasses.

In another area of the fairground, doctors saw patients in private “rooms” created by sheets dangled from strings with clothespins. In one such room, Dr. Ross Isaacs saw William Powers, a former bulldozer operator with severe kidney problems, and outlined how Powers could maximize his chances of a kidney transplant. “I’ve got hope again,” Powers told me as he left.

As for Dr. Isaacs, he put it this way: “The success of this event is an indictment of our health care system.”

And I wonder how many of the people treated there voted for Trump, because of “economic anxiety.”  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Pick your favorite irony:

1) Donald Trump turns out to be terrible at firing people.

2) The White House celebrates its “American Heroes Week” by banning transgender volunteers from serving in the military.

3) Thanks to the president’s harangues, we are actually starting to feel sympathy for Jeff Sessions.

I can definitely understand if you want to pick No. 2, especially since Trump just finished observing “Made in America Week” with an application to hire 70 foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago.

But let’s talk for a minute about the way our president gets rid of unwanted members of his administration. It’s a monument to passive-aggressive ineptitude. With Sessions, Trump has been broadcasting his displeasure to the world for more than a week without making the obvious follow-through.

And this was the guy who made “You’re fired!” his calling card. Clearly, he brought a lot of fiction to reality TV. Clay Aiken, a onetime contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” recently told an interviewer that Trump actually “didn’t decide who got fired on ‘Apprentice,’” and had to be fed his lines by producers.

Not exactly a shock, but watching the president in action over recent weeks, you have to wonder how he’d have functioned if he ran that show without prompting.

On Sunday, “Celebrity Apprentice” promises “fireworks” when Donald Trump tells other people he has no confidence in Rhoda, the beleaguered fashion model and ferret breeder. It will be the seventh week in which the real estate superstar has said unpleasant things about Rhoda to her friends, family and American viewers. Tension rises as contestants wait to see if their mentor will continue his strategy or send a bodyguard to deliver the bad news to Rhoda in person.

Trump’s attempts to drive Sessions out of office without actually confronting him began last week with his famous New York Times interview and then escalated through press conferences and the social media (“VERY weak”). In one tweet Trump referred to Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.” Now “beleaguered” means under attack, and this was sort of like taking a jackhammer to the street in front of your house and then complaining to the city about potholes.

On another occasion Trump said he was “disappointed” in Sessions. This was during a press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in which the president took a few questions after praising Hariri for being “on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.” Carping minds noted that Hariri actually has a power-sharing arrangement with Hezbollah, which controls most of the people in his cabinet. But if you wanted a president who was going to split hairs, you should have voted for somebody else.

O.K., I know, I know.

Trump appears completely unaware that he’s beginning to look like the worst terminator in history. Introducing Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, at an event this week, the president jovially said that Price had better get the health care bill passed through Congress, “otherwise, I’ll say: ‘Tom, you’re fired.’ I’ll get somebody.”

This was at that Boy Scouts jamboree when Trump did such a great job of impersonating your Uncle Fred Who Gets Drunk at Family Dinners. How many of you think the Boy Scouts have been yearning for the day when the president would come to their big event, tell the teens that their federal government is a “sewer,” recount a long and incoherent story about a real estate developer who went off to make whoopee on his yacht, and brag incessantly about having won the election? On the plus side, Trump did not misrepresent the Scout position on Hezbollah.

Trump has been complaining a lot about Sessions’s lack of loyalty, which might have confused people who remembered that Sessions was the first senator to endorse his presidential campaign, back in February of 2016. You’d think that standing up to fellow Republicans who regarded Trump as a dangerous lunatic should have merited a little bit of long-run gratitude.

Trump cleared all that up, however, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal where he explained that Sessions’s endorsement was “not like a great loyal thing,” but merely an insignificant politician trying to feed off his star power and crowd-drawing charisma. (“He was a senator from Alabama. … He looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me.”)

Now Trump wants Sessions gone so he can replace him with an attorney general who will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions can’t do it because he recused himself from all things Russia-related.

Mueller’s probe into the Trump camp’s relationship with Russia terrifies the president, especially if it involves an investigation of Trump family finances. So obviously, we are rooting for Sessions to stay right where he is … and, um, keep persecuting immigrants, ratchet up imprisonments for nonviolent crimes and maybe go back to his old dream of imposing the death penalty on marijuana dealers.

Well, I told you this was about irony.

Kristof and Bruni

July 23, 2017

In “Jared Kushner’s Got Too Many Secrets to Keep Ours” Mr. Kristof says the president’s son-in-law is a security risk and shouldn’t be a senior White House adviser.  Mr. Bruni also discusses Kusher in “Jared Kushner, the Prince of Having it Both Ways.”  He says Kushner throws his weight around. Then floats above it all. But gravity has a way of catching up.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For all that we don’t know about President Trump’s dealings with Russia, one thing should now be clear: Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House, and he should not have a security clearance.

True, no proof has been presented that Kushner broke the law or plotted with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. But he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

Here’s the bottom line: Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

Until the situation is clarified, such a person simply should not work in the White House and have access to America’s most important secrets.

Kushner is set to be interviewed Monday in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first meeting with congressional investigators. I hope they grill him in particular about the attempt to set up a secret communications channel and whether it involved mobile Russian scrambling devices.

Similar issues arise with Ivanka Trump. The SF-86 form to get a national security clearance requires inclusion of a spouse’s foreign contacts, so the question arises: Did Ivanka Trump list the Russians whom Kushner spoke with? If they were intentionally omitted, then that, too, is a felony.

Look, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may well be innocent of wrongdoing, and in general I agree with them much more than I do with, say, Steve Bannon. I suspect that the couple are a moderating influence on the administration, and I believe that some of the derision toward Ivanka has a sexist taint that would arouse more outrage if a liberal were the target.

All that acknowledged, it’s still untenable for someone to remain as a senior White House official with continued access to secrets while under federal investigation for possible ties to the Kremlin.

The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner is a focus of a federal inquiry, and McClatchy has reported that investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation, which Kushner oversaw, colluded with Russians on Moscow’s efforts to spread fake news about Hillary Clinton. The cloud is so great that even some Republicans are calling for Kushner to be ousted from the White House.

“It would be in the president’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House, not only Donald Trump but also Ivanka and Jared Kushner,” Representative Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, told a television interviewer.

Increasingly, the national security world fears that there is something substantive to the suspicions about the president and Russia. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.

Why has Trump persistently stood with Vladimir Putin rather than with allies like Germany or Britain? Why did Trump make a beeline for Putin at the G-20 dinner, without an aide, as opposed to chat with Angela Merkel or Theresa May? Why do so many Trump team members have ties to Russia? Why did Trump choose a campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had been as much as $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests and was vulnerable to Moscow pressure?

Why the unending pattern of secrecy and duplicity about Russia contacts?

Trump’s defensiveness on Russian ties is creepy. Why did he take the political risk of firing Jim Comey? Why is he so furious at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself? Why does he apparently contemplate the extreme step of firing Bob Mueller during his investigation into the Russia ties?

If the Trump team is innocent and expects exoneration, why would it work so hard on a secret effort aimed at discrediting Mueller, as The Times reported? Why would Trump be exploring pardons for aides, family members and himself, as The Washington Post reported?

One thing you learn as a journalist is that when an official makes increasingly vehement protestations of innocence, you’re probably getting warm. So, listening to the protests from Trump, I’d say that Mueller is on to something.

What’s particularly debilitating is the way the news and scandals keep dribbling out, making a mockery of White House denials and the president’s credibility. If Trump has nothing to hide, he should stop trying to hide stuff.

No one should find any satisfaction in Trump’s difficulties, for this credibility crisis diminishes not just his own influence but also American soft power around the world. This isn’t a soap opera but a calamity for our country, affecting how others see us.

At least one leader of an American ally tells me that his government suspects that there was collusion with Moscow. I sympathize with our counterintelligence officials, who chase low-level leakers and spies even as they undoubtedly worry that their commander in chief may be subject to Kremlin leverage or blackmail.

There’s no good way to manage a president who is a potential security risk (other than the standard protocol that he not meet Russians without another U.S. official present, and Trump escaped that constraint in Hamburg, Germany). But at least we can keep his son-in-law, while under investigation for possible felonies and collusion with Russia, from serving as a top White House official.

It’s time for Jared Kushner to find another job.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

On Monday, Jared Kushner is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but not so that we can listen. Not so that we can watch. It’s a closed-door affair, meaning that unlike Jeff Sessions, Kushner gets to dance in the dark.

How fitting. We always see his fingerprints but never hear his voice. He throws his weight around, then floats above it all. No wonder the president’s lawyers and various White House aides and advisers are fed up with him. He’s there but not there: a meddlesome ghost. A puff of smoke.

He got the emails about emissaries of a foreign adversary bearing dirt, but — what do you know? — read right over the subject line that said “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” No flashing lights in those proper nouns. No blaring sirens in those particular adjectives.

He attended the Trump Tower meeting, but stayed for only 10 minutes, a grace period that apparently doesn’t count. I guess it’s like canceling the on-demand movie rental shortly after the opening credits roll. No fee. No foul.

He failed to inform the F.B.I. about dozens of meetings with foreign officials during the campaign and the transition, but that was ostensibly a harmless oops. Someone prematurely hit “send.” Happens with Amazon orders. Can happen just as easily with an application for the highest level of security clearance.

And so what if he had to update that form multiple times? He’s new to all of this government gobbledygook. Not so new that he can’t reinvent the government, broker peace in the Middle East, spearhead our negotiations with countries elsewhere in the world, make headway against the opioid epidemic, reform the criminal justice system and still carve out time to tackle the slopes of Aspen with Ivanka and the kids. But paperwork? Be reasonable. He’s Superman. He’s not Ant-Man, the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, too.

Too bad, because he’s in way over his faintly tousled hair, and that becomes clearer and clearer as the probes into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia intensify.

His actions are under scrutiny. Why was he trying to set up a private back channel for communications with Russia? Did he furnish Russian players with the fruits of the campaign data operation that he supervised? Have his business interests profited from his proximity to the president? CNN reported on Friday that Chinese-language promotions for a New Jersey real estate development by Kushner Companies specifically mention that “the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect’ Jared Kushner.”

Mr. Perfect indeed. Perfectly opportunistic. Perfectly armored in the rosiest self-regard. And perfectly reflective of his father-in-law in those ways and a few others.

He and the president once ran family businesses and now run the White House like one, with a narrowly drawn circle of trust and a suspiciousness of — and chilliness toward — those outside it. Note that Sean Spicer’s resignation came little more than a week after reports that Kushner was in a lather about press aides not devising more forceful and creative ways to answer negative coverage of the Russian meeting. And rest assured that Spicer’s departure won’t be the last.

Kushner and the president blithely straddle irreconcilable contradictions to get what they want. But in Kushner’s case — in Ivanka Trump’s, too — that has been an especially perverse spectacle. He and she are the prince and princess of having it both ways.

They expect our gratitude for their supposed (and only occasionally successful) efforts to tame Trump. But they’re also the ones who worked so mightily to put him in a position where, untamed, he can do such damage. It’s as if they deliberately shattered a glass, grabbed a broom and then solicited applause for their sweeping.

They cover for the president still. Smack in the middle of his cockamamie interview with The Times last week, Ivanka dropped by the Oval Office so that her daughter, Arabella, could give Grandpa a kiss. How precious. How humanizing. How entirely choreographed.

Grandpa spent the duration of his campaign mocking the establishment swells who migrate to enclaves like Davos, Switzerland, and Sun Valley, Idaho, for high-altitude, highfalutin conferences on the conundrums of modern life. That didn’t stop Kushner and Ivanka from joining those very swells in Sun Valley a week and a half ago for precisely such a symposium-on-the-slopes.

I’m told that their presence had a dampening effect on formal panels and informal conversations — how do you take issue with Trump when there’s family listening in? — and that a few glares came their way. I wonder if they even noticed.

They’re outsiders when that’s politically advantageous, insiders as soon as the canapés come around. Not long before Sun Valley they swanned up to the Hamptons for a party at the home of the Washington Post pooh-bah Lally Weymouth. There, in one of the global elite’s premier beachheads, they chatted radiantly with Democrats, whom Trump demonizes, and members of the news media, which Trump has cast as an enemy of the American people.

It’s an elaborate moral jujitsu they perform. There’s one constant — their self-advancement and self-preservation — but Kushner may be overplaying his hand.

His counsel to Trump has been flawed, to say the least. He reportedlylobbied for the firing of James Comey, which didn’t turn out so well. Maybe the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director — a move blessed by Kushner, over the objections of Reince Priebus, the chief of staff — will prove wiser. I have my doubts.

Cast as one of the president’s most dependable assets, Kushner could in fact be a significant liability, someone whose escapades — by turns grabby and cavalier — give investigators and detractors a whole extra sandbox of improprieties to rummage through.

I hear that he feels persecuted. Wronged. In that regard, too, he’s like his father-in-law, though Trump wears his self-pity, fury and ruthlessness right out front, for the whole world to see. Kushner puts a pale mask of calm and courteousness over his.

Maybe the senators who question him on Monday will pry it off. Maybe they’ll actually bring some color to his face. We won’t be able to witness what happens. But we’ll find out.

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.