Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Kristof and Bruni

March 25, 2017

In “Trump’s Triumph of Incompetence” Mr. Kristof says he has crafted an administration in his own image: vain, narcissistic and dangerous.  Mr. Bruni, in “Trump and Ryan Lose Big,” says the Republican answer to Obamacare is a legislative trainwreck.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

One of President Trump’s rare strengths has been his ability to project competence. The Dow Jones stock index is up an astonishing 2,200 points since his election in part because investors believed Trump could deliver tax reform and infrastructure spending.

Think again!

The Trump administration is increasingly showing itself to be breathtakingly incompetent, and that’s the real lesson of the collapse of the G.O.P. health care bill. The administration proved unable to organize its way out of a paper bag: After seven years of Republicans’ publicly loathing Obamacare, their repeal-replace bill failed after 18 days.

Politics sometimes rewards braggarts, and Trump is a world-class boaster. He promised a health care plan that would be “unbelievable,” “beautiful,” “terrific,” “less expensive and much better,” “insurance for everybody.” But he’s abysmal at delivering — because the basic truth is that he’s an effective politician who’s utterly incompetent at governing.

It’s sometimes said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Trump campaigns in braggadocio and governs in bombast.

Whatever one thinks of Trump’s merits, this competence gap raises profound questions about our national direction. If the administration can’t repeal Obamacare — or manage friendly relations with allies like Mexico or Australia — how will it possibly accomplish something complicated like tax reform?

Failure and weakness also build on themselves, and the health care debacle will make it more difficult for Trump to get his way with Congress on other issues. As people recognize that the emperor is wearing no clothes, that perception of weakness will spiral.

One of the underlying problems is Trump’s penchant for personnel choices that are bafflingly bad or ethically challenged or both. Mike Flynn was perhaps the best-known example.

But consider Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism adviser to the president. Gorka, who is of Hungarian origin, founded an extremist right-wing party in Hungary in 2007, and The Forward has published articles claiming that Gorka had ties to the anti-Semitic Hungarian right and is a sworn member of a Nazi-allied group in Hungary called Vitezi Rend.

Members of the organization use a lowercase v as a middle initial, and The Forward noted that Gorka has presented his name as Sebastian L.v. Gorka.

Gorka’s background might have become a problem when he immigrated to the U.S., for the State Department manual says that Vitezi Rend members “are presumed to be inadmissible.” Karl Pfeifer, an Austrian journalist who has long specialized in Hungarian affairs, told me that Gorka unquestionably had worked with racists and anti-Semites in Hungary.

Gorka and the White House did not respond to my inquiries. But Gorka told The Tablet website that he had never been a member of Vitezi Rend and used the v initial only to honor his father. He has robust defenders, who say he has never shown a hint of racism or anti-Semitism.

As Ana Navarro, a G.O.P. strategist, tweeted: “Donald Trump attracts some of the shadiest, darkest, weirdest people around him.”

In fairness, Trump has also appointed plenty of solid Republicans: Jim Mattis, Elaine Chao, H. R. McMaster, Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin and more. And Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is a first-rate lawyer.

Yet Trump’s record of appointments over all suggests a lack of interest in expertise. I’m not sure that this is “the worst cabinet in American history,” as a Washington Post opinion writer put it, but it might be a contender. The last two energy secretaries were renowned nuclear scientists, one with a Nobel prize, while Trump appointed Rick Perry — who once couldn’t remember the department’s name.

Trump appointed his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel. He chose Jason Greenblatt, another of his lawyers, to negotiate Mideast peace. He picked Omarosa Manigault, who starred with him on “The Apprentice” and has a record of inflating her résumé, to be assistant to the president.

The director of Oval Office operations is Keith Schiller, a former Trump bodyguard best known for whacking a protester. And the Trump team installed as a minder in the Labor Department a former campaign worker who graduated from high school in 2015, according to ProPublica.

So see the failure of the Republican health care bill through a larger prism: The measure collapsed not just because it was a dreadful bill (a tax cut for the wealthy financed by dropping health coverage for the needy). It also failed as a prime example of the Trump administration’s competence gap.

Democrats may feel reassured, because ineptitude may impede some of Trump’s worst initiatives. But even if Trump is unable to build, he may be able to destroy: I fear that his health care “plan” now is to suffocate Obamacare by failing to enforce the insurance mandate, and then claim that its spasms are inevitable.

Of all the national politicians I’ve met over the decades, Trump may be the one least interested in government or policy; he’s absorbed simply with himself. And what we’re seeing more clearly now is that he has crafted an administration in his own image: vain, narcissistic and dangerous.

And we’re only 60 days in…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

For seven years — seven years — Republicans thundered about the evils of Obamacare, yearned for the day when they could bury it and vowed to do precisely that once the ball was in their hands.

Last week proved that this had all been an emotional and theatrical exercise, not a substantive one. The ball was in their hands, and they had no coherent playbook. No real play. They scurried around the Capitol with their chests deflated and their tails between their legs.

For the entirety of his campaign, Donald Trump crowed about his peerless ability to make deals, one of which, he assured us, was going to be a replacement for Obamacare that would cut costs without leaving any Americans in the lurch.

Last week proved that there was no such swap, that he hadn’t done an iota of work to devise one and that he was spectacularly unprepared to shepherd such legislation through Congress. As his promise lay in tatters at his feet, he gave a delusional interview to Time magazine about what an infallible soothsayer he is, then tried to shift the blame to Democrats.

He’s not delivering Americans from cynicism about government. He’s validating that dark assessment, with a huge assist from Paul Ryan and a cast of House Republicans who had consistently portrayed themselves as sober-minded, mature alternatives to those indulgent, prodigal Dems, if only they had a president from their party who would let them work their magic.

They have that president. Behold their magic.

Their exact complaints about the birth of Obamacare became the actual details of the stillbirth of Trumpcare or Ryancare or whatever we’re supposed to call the botch that they came up with.

It was a bill of far-reaching consequence stitched together behind closed doors, with a flurry of last-minute deals struck only to placate holdouts. It was pushed on lawmakers not as essential policy but as essential politics: The president needed a win, and the party had to make good on an incessantly repeated pledge.

“Because we said we would” became the motivating force for the legislation. If that’s the way self-proclaimed grown-ups govern, give me toddlers.

Trump is indeed prophetic. Washington under him doesn’t resemble the same old swamp. It looks like a sandbox. There’s commotion aplenty, noise galore and not much evidence of adult supervision.

What happened last week wasn’t governance. It was petulance. Republicans floundered in their attempts to come up with a replacement for Obamacare because the truth, which they know but refuse to say out loud, is that many of their constituents have benefited from, and have come to depend on, the changes wrought by Obamacare.

That’s not some rose-colored endorsement of what always was a messy, imperfect response to this country’s health care woes. But that’s the fact of the matter, and it’s a principal reason for the confusion and delays of last week. Ryan, Trump and others who had devoted so much oratorical energy to demonizing Obamacare felt that they needed a symbolic victory — any symbolic victory — but discovered that they couldn’t ignore the price.

Some Republican governors, many Republican moderates and voters far and wide were balking. In one Quinnipiac poll, only 17 percent of them said that they favored the emerging Republican alternative to Obamacare, while 56 percent opposed it.

Dazed by developments, the president who had recently opined that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated” just wanted an end to things. Late Thursday he issued an ultimatum, decreeing that on Friday, the House had to vote on the bill — which had been revised to remove maternity care and mammograms as benefits that insurers had to provide — or forevermore forfeit its chance to do away with Obamacare. The art of the deal devolved into the spectacle of the tantrum.

Then, late Friday, the bill was withdrawn, because it seemed to be a lost cause — barring some miracle. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” Ryan admitted.

That Trump isn’t good at details and follow-through comes as no surprise. Ryan’s miscalculations are the greater revelation. He knows Congress, purports to know policy and yet produced a wretched bill that smelled as bad to the more centrist members of his caucus as it did to the most conservative ones.

And he moved it to the front of the line, ahead of other initiatives, so that the public’s first glimpse of negotiations between the president and Congress in a government under a single party’s control was an ugly sight indeed.

For the two terms of the Obama presidency, Republicans in Congress perfected their posture as the party of no, becoming so comfortable in that role that they still seem somewhat baffled to find themselves in a new one.

And no isn’t enough, especially not when it comes to Obamacare, which has been around long enough to plant deep roots in American life. There’s no repealing without some replacing, and Republicans were so fixated on the first part of the equation that they never grappled adequately with the second.

Their limited preparation and lack of agreement would matter less if they had strong leadership in the White House. Instead they have Trump, who lashed out at Democrats and pretended that the collapse of the health care bill was some sort of perverse or eventual triumph. There has also been murmuring from his administration about how Ryan led them all astray, and it bodes ill for the Trump-Ryan relationship going forward.

“Convenient how Trump flips from an all-powerful master negotiator to well-intentioned simpleton duped by Snidely Ryan at the drop of a hat,” tweeted the conservative columnist Ben Shapiro.

So very convenient and so very Trump, who manages to strut regardless of circumstances. There’s an inverse relationship between his adoration of himself and the prospects for his presidency. As the latter wanes, the former waxes.

“I assume this is going to be a cover,” he said to Michael Scherer of Time, referring to the interview. “Have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers — nobody’s had more covers.”

Scherer responded that, to the best of his knowledge, “Richard Nixon still has you beat. But he was in office for longer, so give yourself time.”

“O.K., good,” Trump said. “I’m sure I’ll win.”

Just spell his name right, folks. Just put him on the cover. That’s all that matters, and if Nixon is the yardstick, that’s fine, so long as Trump measures bigger.

He assured Scherer that all was swell, telling him, “I’m president and you’re not.”

That’s a rare Trump statement that will survive fact-checking. And that clinches it: If ever we name a poet laureate of the sandbox, the title will be Trump’s.

Blow and Kristof

March 23, 2017

In “Birth of the Biggest Lie” Mr. Blow says we are now experiencing the very thing Team Trump warned about: a compromised presidency and a possible constitutional crisis.  Mr. Kristof, in “‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air,'” has a question:  Did a traitor work with Russia to help Trump?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

A few things are clear after the congressional testimony of James Comey, the F.B.I. director, this week:

First, Donald Trump owes Barack Obama and the American people an apology for his vituperative lie that Obama committed a felony by wiretapping Trump Tower. It was specious, libelous and reckless, regardless of the weak revelations of “incidental collection” that the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Trump transition team member Devin Nunes outrageously made public, briefing the president without first briefing his fellow committee members. Nunes’s announcement was a bombshell with no bomb, just enough mud in the water to obscure the blood in the water for those too willfully blind to discern the difference.

Second, Donald Trump will never apologize. Trump’s strategy for dealing with being caught in a lie is often to tell a bigger lie. He seems constitutionally incapable of registering what others would: shame, embarrassment, contrition. Something is broken in the man — definitely morally and possibly psychologically.

Third, and to me this is the biggest, Comey confirmed that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians who tampered with our election is not “fake news” manufactured by Democrats stewing over a bitter loss but a legitimate investigation that has been underway for months and has no end in sight.

Individuals who were associated with the president of the United States’ winning campaign are under criminal investigation. That is an extraordinary sentence and one that no American can allow to be swallowed up by other news or dismissed by ideologues.

Depending on the outcome of this investigation, we could be facing a constitutional crisis. Oddly, it is likely that the reason Trump is even in the Oval Office is Comey’s original, extraordinarily inappropriate and unprecedented action. The Trump machinery then used that action to scare Americans about Clinton, in one of the most astonishing acts of deflection and hypocrisy in American history.

The timeline of how the lie of Clinton’s constitutional crisis was born and grew is full of Machiavellian-level misdirections.

On Friday, Oct. 28, a little over a week before Election Day, Comey sent his now infamous letter to Congress saying that “the F.B.I. has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent” to the Clinton email server investigation and that “the F.B.I. should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

Soon after the media reported the letter, Trump said at a crowded rally in New Hampshire:

“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office. I have great respect for the fact that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made.”

That day, Fox News tweeted a quote from the Trump campaign manager Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway, with an image of her appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” and text that read: “@KellyannePolls on HRC: “If you’re under your 2nd FBI investigation in the same year then you do have a … corruption & an ethics problem.”

About an hour later, Conway retweeted the Fox News tweet, adding, “Most honest people I know are not under FBI investigation, let alone two.”

That night, as reported by The Des Moines Register, Trump said at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, rally:

“The investigation is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s hope that justice at last can be delivered.” He went on, “The F.B.I. would never have reopened this case at this time unless it were a most egregious criminal offense.”

Two days later, on Oct. 30, Doug Schoen, a pollster for former President Bill Clinton, said on Fox News that having a president under criminal investigation would pose a constitutional crisis, and the next day he wrote about that it in The Hill, saying:

“I am now convinced that we will be facing the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis with many dimensions and deleterious consequences should Secretary Clinton win the election.”

He continued:

“In the best case scenario, there will be at the very least a criminal investigation of President-elect Clinton. And there will be a criminal investigation of Huma Abedin, which is apparently ongoing. Furthermore, there will be potential investigations into the actions of the Justice Department and most of all the F.B.I. and its director, James Comey.

“After the past eight years wherein America has become progressively more and more divided and a campaign season that has magnified these divisions, I fear for that we will not be able to withstand this kind of continued scandal.”

The Monday that Schoen’s “constitutional crisis” column appeared in The Hill, Trump quoted it at a rally in Michigan. Trump added:

“She would be under protracted criminal investigation and probably a criminal trial, I would say. So we’d have a criminal trial of a sitting president.”

Then that night the Fox News host and Trump flunky Sean Hannity repeated the warning on his own show:

“Think about the magnitude of all of this for a second. Hillary Clinton could be sworn into office while still being under investigation from the F.B.I., which would then put this country into a major constitutional crisis.”

Hannity continued:

“Now Clinton says Donald Trump, oh, he’s not fit to serve in the Oval Office. But she, and she alone, has created a situation that could do severe damage to this country and the office of the presidency and prevent this country from solving problems.”

Three days later, on Nov. 3, the Trump campaign released a television ad called “Unfit” that said in part: “Hillary cannot lead a nation while crippled by a criminal investigation.”

On Sunday, Nov. 6, just two days before the election, Comey sent another letter to Congress saying that based on the bureau’s review, “we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.” In other words, oops, false alarm, nothing there.

But the damage was done. The Trump campaign had already honed its “constitutional crisis, unfit for office” message, and it had sunk in with many Americans. What those Americans didn’t know — what we learned from Comey’s testimony this week — was that although there was no reason to continue investigating Clinton about her emails, the Trump campaign had been under investigation since July about possible contacts and collusion with Russia in its efforts to influence our election.

Now the very thing that Team Trump and its Fox News media arm warned about, Trump himself has delivered: A compromised presidency and a possible constitutional crisis.

As The New York Times reported after Comey’s testimony:

“Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it ‘no matter how long that takes.’ ”

The lie these people promoted about Clinton and shielded about Trump are two of the biggest lies ever told in this country in service of electoral advantage.

No act of this presidency — good or bad, beneficial or detrimental — can ever be considered without first contextualizing that this presidency itself was conceived in deception and is being incubated under an extraordinary lie.

The Trump presidency is a corruption that flows from corruption. It is damned by its own damned lies.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

The greatest political scandal in American history was not Aaron Burr’s shooting of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps wasn’t even Watergate. Rather it may have been Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to sabotage a U.S. diplomatic effort to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year. After Nixon won, the war dragged on and cost thousands of additional American and Vietnamese lives; it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but treason.

Now the F.B.I. confirms that we have had an investigation underway for eight months into whether another presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power so as to win an election. To me, that, too, would amount to treason.

I’ve been speaking to intelligence experts, Americans and foreigners alike, and they mostly (but not entirely) believe there was Trump-Russia cooperation of some kind. But this is uncertain; it’s prudent to note that James Clapper, the intelligence director under Barack Obama, said that as of January he had seen no evidence of collusion but that he favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

I’m also told (not by a Democrat!) that there’s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn’t yet public.

The most likely scenario for collusion seems fuzzier and less transactional than many Democrats anticipate. A bit of conjecture:

The Russians for years had influence over Donald Trump because of their investments with him, and he was by nature inclined to admire Vladimir Putin as a strongman ruler. Meanwhile, Trump had in his orbit a number of people with Moscow ties, including Paul Manafort, who practically bleeds borscht.

The Associated Press reports that Manafort had secretly worked for a Russian billionaire close to Putin, signing a $10-million-a-year contract in 2006 to promote the interests of the Putin government. The arrangement lasted at least until 2009.

As The A.P. puts it, Manafort offered to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” (Manafort told The A.P. that his work was being falsely portrayed as nefarious.)

This is guesswork, but it might have seemed natural for Trump aides to try to milk Russian contacts for useful information about the Clinton campaign. Likewise, the Russians despised Hillary Clinton and would have been interested in milking American contacts for information about how best to damage her chances.

At some point, I suspect, members of the Trump team gained knowledge of Russian hacking into Clinton emails, which would explain why Trump friend Roger Stone tweeted things like “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

This kind of soft collusion, evolving over the course of the campaign without a clear quid pro quo, might also explain why there weren’t greater efforts to hide the Trump team’s ties to Russia, or to camouflage its softening of the Republican Party platform position toward Moscow.

One crucial unknown: Did Russia try to funnel money into Trump’s campaign coffers? In European elections, Russia has regularly tried to influence results by providing secret funds. I’m sure the F.B.I. is looking into whether there were suspicious financial transfers.

The contacts with Russia are by Trump’s aides, and the challenge will be to connect any collusion to the president himself. The White House is already distancing itself from Manafort, claiming that he played only a “very limited role” in the campaign — even though he was Trump’s campaign chairman!

Many Democrats are, I think, too focused on Jeff Sessions and have too transactional a view of what may have unfolded. Treason isn’t necessarily spelled out as a quid pro quo, and it wasn’t when Nixon tried to sink the Vietnam peace initiative in 1968.

In the past, as when foreign funds made their way into Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, Republicans showed intense interest in foreign interference in the political process. So it’s sad to see some Republicans (I mean you, Devin Nunes!) trying to hijack today’s House investigation to make it about leaks.

Really? Our country was attacked by Russia, and you’re obsessed with leaks? Do you honestly think that the culprit in Watergate wasn’t Nixon but the famed leaker Deep Throat? Republicans should replace Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee; he can’t simultaneously be Trump’s advocate and his investigator.

The fundamental question now isn’t about Trump’s lies, or intelligence leaks, or inadvertent collection of Trump communications. Rather, the crucial question is as monumental as it is simple: Was there treason?

We don’t know yet what unfolded, and raw intelligence is often wrong. But the issue cries out for a careful, public and bipartisan investigation by an independent commission.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” Douglas Brinkley, the historian, told The Washington Post. He’s right, and we must dispel that stench.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 9, 2017

In “A Ticket to Hell” Mr. Blow says that as he’s done all his life, Donald Trump sold those around him a bill of goods.  Mr. Kristof, in “Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia,” says coincidences happen, but there are reasons to suspect collusion.  In “Getting Freedom From Health” Ms. Collins says Janis Joplin had President Trump’s number.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has spent his whole life overselling an overinflated vision of himself and his success.

He was the outer-borough boy whose father’s “boxlike office” was on Avenue Z in Brooklyn; he always dreamed of making it to Manhattan and breaking into the big league.

With a hustler’s spirit and some sleight of hand, he made it, but not in total.

He made the move, made the money and made his mark on New York’s skyline, but he never quite made it into the inner sanctum of New York high society.

I’m convinced that this is part of his obsession with former President Barack Obama. Obama was quickly granted the thing Trump never had: upper-class acceptance and adulation.

For Trump’s part, his sin was even worse than being new-money: He was tacky rich.

No amount of money or success could completely rid him of the odiousness of being coarse and crass.

He upset social conventions.

For him, things had to be gilded to be glamorous. All modesty — either real or contrived to guard against exposure — was absent from the man. He was a glutton for attention and adoration. He chased the spotlight and pimped celebrity for profit. He valued flaunting over philanthropy.

In New York City’s elite social circles, Trump was persona non grata.

As many others have pointed out, he became the idiot’s image of an intellectual, the coward’s image of a courageous man and the pauper’s image of a prosperous man.

But rather than being crimped by his ostracism, he wore it as a badge of honor.

He became the Everyman of rich men. He was the outsider, too authentic and even acerbic to be tamed by the convention of the elites. He was the populist billionaire, still engaged in the rough and tumble, at home on reality television just as he was in overpriced real estate.

He was impolitic in the way that many average Joes would be if they came into wealth and not from it.

He swept into politics at just the time that message had its greatest resonance, when there were enough people leery of institutions and weary of the establishment; the wealthy, social, cultural and intellectual elites were on the outs, and there was an opening for an outsider who knew how to work his way in.

The elites who had rejected Trump were now the rejected class. They were the 1 percent, the Wall Street barons, the manifestation of the evils of income inequality. This was the time for a populist, or at least someone who could pretend to be one.

It was in that environment that Trump swept into the presidential election, with the same bluster and bravado, aggression and subversion that had worked well for him in business.

He was not book smart or well mannered. He was all gut and elbow and verbal barbs. For too many, he was refreshingly anti-polish and anti-convention.

And, as is Trump’s wont and calling card, he oversold his voters a bill of goods that he would never be able to deliver. The Pied Piper of pipe dreams did in politics what he had done in business: He got people to buy into a success mythology in which he was a wizard. In this mythology, ethics, honor and truth are casualties.

Everything is going to be the greatest and the best and the most successful simply because he deems it so.

But now, the legend of Trump, the one most rigid in his own mind, is rubbing up against the harsh reality of presidential politics, where cooperation is needed and accountability is demanded. In this new world, Trumpism appears brittle, hollow and impotent.

No matter your politics, Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster, as his rush to action, lack of focus and absence of acuity have led him to calamitous missteps and conspiratorial misstatements.

And now his oversold promises are being exposed for the lies they were — draining the swamp in Washington, forcing Mexico to pay for his ridiculous southern border wall, the incredibly defective Obamacare repeal and replacement proposal.

In January, Trump oversold again in an interview with The Washington Post about what he would deliver. The Post reported Trump’s comments this way:

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People covered under the law “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

But the plan just announced and endorsed by Trump doesn’t even come close to delivering on this promise. Not only would prices most likely rise for many Trump voters, but millions of Americans would be at risk of losing coverage under the plan.

Not only that, but as NBC reported last month:

“Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are likely to be hit the hardest if he makes good on his promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and embark on trade wars with China and Mexico.”

The report continued:

“An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 6.3 million of the 11.5 million Americans who used the A.C.A. marketplace to buy their insurance last year live in Republican congressional districts. Policy analysts say that a rollback of the A.C.A. would hurt older and rural Americans — two populations that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.”

As he has done his whole life, Trump has sold those who follow him as some sort of money-drenched messiah a bill of goods, but this time the lie is likely to manifest in loss of life, as sick people lose coverage.

Donald Trump has sold his supporters — and by extension, this country — a ticket to hell.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

I enjoyed the show “House of Cards” but always felt that it went a bit too far, that its plot wasn’t plausible. After seven weeks of President Trump, I owe “House of Cards” an apology. Nothing seems impossible any more.

That includes the most towering suspicion of all: that Trump’s team colluded in some way with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election. This is the central issue that we must remain focused on.

There are a lot of dots here, and the challenge is how to connect them. Be careful: Democrats should avoid descending into the kind of conspiratorial mind-set that led some Republicans to assume Hillary Clinton was a criminal about to be indicted or to conjure sex slaves belonging to her in a Washington pizza restaurant. Coincidences happen, and I think there has been too much focus on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, not enough on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager. Here are 10 crucial dots:

1. President Trump and his aides have repeatedly and falsely denied ties to Russia. USA Today counted at least 20 denials. In fact, we now know that there were contacts by at least a half-dozen people in the Trump circle with senior Russian officials.

2. There’s no obvious reason for all these contacts. When Vice President Mike Pence was asked on Jan. 15 if there had been contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin officials, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be?” We don’t know either, Mr. Vice President.

3. There were unexplained communications between a Trump Organization computer server and Russia’s Alfa Bank, which has ties to President Vladimir Putin. These included 2,700 “look-up” messages to initiate communications, and some investigators found all this deeply suspicious. Others thought there might be an innocent explanation, such as spam. We still don’t know.

4. “Repeated” and “constant” contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, as reported by The New York Times and CNN, are underscored by intercepts of communications involving Russian officials, and by the British and Dutch governments monitoring meetings in Europe between Russians and members of the Trump team.

5. A well-regarded Russia expert formerly with MI6, Christopher Steele, produced a now-famous dossier alleging that Russia made compromising videos of Trump in 2013, and that members of the Trump team colluded with the Kremlin to interfere with the U.S. election.

The dossier quoted a Russian as saying that a deal had been arranged “with the full knowledge and support of Trump” and that in exchange for Russian help, “the Trump team agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue.” James Clapper, the American former national intelligence director, says he saw no evidence of such collusion but favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

6. Trump has expressed a bewilderingly benign view of Russia and appointed officials also friendly to Moscow. He did not make an issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the campaign.

Kristof and Collins

March 2, 2017

In “However Much Trump Spends on Arms, We Can’t Bomb Ebola” Mr. Kristof says a bigger military isn’t a substitute for diplomacy, foreign aid and good will.  Ms. Collins, in “The Three Donald Trumps Speak,” says the key to understanding our president is to realize there are several versions.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Before he became defense secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis once pleaded with Congress to invest more in State Department diplomacy.

“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition,” he explained. Alas, President Trump took him literally, but not seriously.

The administration plans a $54 billion increase in military spending, financed in part by a 37 percent cut in the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

That reflects a misunderstanding about the world — that security is assured only when we’re blowing things up. It’s sometimes true that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, as Chairman Mao said, but it also emerges from diplomacy, foreign aid and carefully cultivated good will.

Military power is especially limited when threats come from new directions. More than four times as many Americans now die each year from opioids as have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars combined, but warships can’t defeat drug traffickers. To beat traffickers, we need diplomacy and the good will of countries like Mexico and Afghanistan.

And we certainly can’t bomb Ebola or climate change.

Even before Trump’s election, we underfunded diplomacy and aid. Consider that the New York City police alone employ more than twice as many uniformed officers as the State Department has Foreign Service officers.

The military is one of the strongest advocates for nonmilitary investments — because generals know that they need diplomacy and aid to buttress their hard power. That’s why 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter pleading with Congress to fund the State Department and foreign aid.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates used to lament that the military had more musicians in its marching bands than the State Department had diplomats. As I do the numbers, that statement is no longer true, but it does reflect the continuing reality that Congress feeds the Pentagon while starving the State Department.

“Two brigades in the armed forces equal our entire diplomatic corps,” noted Nicholas Burns, a former senior diplomat who now teaches at Harvard. Burns said that he agrees with Trump that the military should get more funding but emphasized that slashing diplomacy and foreign aid will make it more difficult to address crucial transnational challenges, from drugs to crime to immigration.

“If you so dramatically underfund the State Department, you defeat the Trump agenda,” he said.

One of the biggest security threats the world faced in recent years was Ebola — and the next pandemic may be much worse — and the only effective response was to work with other countries to tackle the problems collectively.

That’s also true of terrorism. The RAND Corporation examined how 648 terrorist groups ended between 1968 and 2006. Most were absorbed by the political process or defeated by police work; only 7 percent were crushed by military force.

On balance, terrorists are probably less threatened by drones overhead than by girls with books. That’s why extremists shot Malala, threw acid in the faces of Afghan schoolgirls and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Terrorists understand what most threatens them, but I’m not sure we do.

The U.S. just lost a Navy SEAL in Yemen, and it’s useful to compare Yemen with its neighbor Oman. Until 1970, Oman was more backward than Yemen, for Oman banned radio as the work of the devil, locked the gates to the capital at night and offered no education for girls and almost none for boys. Then a new sultan took over and focused on education, of girls as well as boys, and Oman is now a boring, peaceful place, while Yemen floundered — and is torn apart by terrorism and civil war.

One can’t help wondering: If U.S. aid programs had invested in education in Yemen, might we have reduced today’s terrorism and violence? One study found that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country halves the risk of civil war.

Education is no panacea, but it is a bargain: For the cost of deploying one soldier abroad for a year, we can start about 40 schools.

I’m focusing on security interests here, but let’s also note that humanitarian aid is a matter of our values as well as of our interests. Do we really want to cut humanitarian aid just as hunger crises are spreading in Africa and the Middle East, threatening 20 million people with starvation?

Our security is advanced not just by being scary, but also by winning friends. President Trump will face a crisis — maybe with North Korea, maybe with China, maybe with some new pandemic — and he will need not just a robust military but also the cooperation of friendly nations.

Tanks can’t help when our president antagonizes Mexico, or hangs up on the Australian prime minister. Or when immigration officials detain and humiliate to tears a beloved 70-year-old Australian children’s author on her 117th visit to America.

“In that moment, I loathed America,” Mem Fox, the author, wrote. That’s one way nations lose their soft power and undermine their own national security.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Dear Advice Lady: Everybody is saying how reasonable President Trump sounded in his big speech to Congress, but it made me crazy! I was yelling at the TV the whole time. If he bothers me this much when he’s trying to be statesmanlike, how am I going to make it through four years?

— Sincerely, Can’t Stand Trump

Dear Can’t Stand Trump: Prioritize. If everything he says makes you start howling, your loved ones are going to stop paying attention to you. Or lock you in the attic.

— Advice Lady

C.S.T.: The stock market is booming after that speech! Just because they didn’t have to haul him off in a straitjacket! There’s such a thing as setting the bar too low.

A.L.: The key to understanding our president is to realize there are three versions. Unscripted Trump is the one who obsesses about crowd size and expresses complete astonishment that constructing a national health care plan is hard. That’s the one we worry will start a nuclear war.

C.S.T.: So the Dow went up 300 points because Unscripted didn’t show up to address Congress?

A.L.: Yep. The second version is Reasonable Chatting Trump. R.C.T. is the one who had pre-speech gatherings with journalists in which he mused about passing immigration law reform and making the Dreamers legal. Everyone was very excited until it became clear this had no relation to anything he was actually planning to say in public.

If you ever have an opportunity to sit down with the president for a private conversation, let me warn you: He’s going to be totally open to all your suggestions, nod frequently and leave you with the impression that you’ve scored a huge breakthrough. But he will not remember a thing that you discussed. In fact, he’ll have forgotten everything the minute you said it.

C.S.T.: Then he walked in front of Congress and became Version 3?

A.L.: Yes, the guy with the teleprompter. We will call him Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, or SNORT.

C.S.T.: When he started off with a call for unity against anti-Semitism, I threw my sock at the screen. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked him about attacks on Jewish institutions and he just quoted his Electoral College numbers.

A.L.: True, we don’t normally expect to have to educate our new presidents in how to express disapproval of anti-Semitism. But just be glad he seems to have absorbed the lesson.

C.S.T.: Only when he has a teleprompter.

A.L.: If you want to find something to throw your footwear at, take a closer look at those brief remarks condemning “hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” Trump began with a nod to Black History Month, then decried threats against Jewish community centers and vandalism against Jewish cemeteries “as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City.”

You’d think there’d be a little more attention to the “shooting,” which was in fact the murder of a tech worker from India that is being investigated as a hate crime.

C.S.T.: It wasn’t even in Kansas City! It was in Olathe, Kan.!

A.L.: O.K., that’s a tad over-obsessive.

The shooting involved two young men who had come to the United States as college students, liked it here and stayed legally. The gunman apparently thought they were Iranian and demanded to know what they were doing in this country. One was left dead and the other injured. A bystander who tried to intervene was wounded. The president never personally commented on it before the speech, where it got nine words.

If you suspect Donald Trump doesn’t want to call attention to the violent emotions he may be stirring up with his rants against immigrants and people from certain Muslim-majority nations, feel free.

C.S.T.: And what about his rants about the inner cities? I hate it when he acts as if every place with black people is a death zone. But you can’t just say, “Stop picking on Chicago’s murder rate.”

A.L.: Try yelling: “Yes! Crack down on gun sales to gangs!” He finds it upsetting when anybody suggests the problem with gun violence is guns.

C.S.T.: I think I could definitely do that.

A.L.: You could also try giving Trump a thumbs-up whenever he says something you agree with. It’ll make you feel fair-minded, and if he ever found out, it would confuse the heck out of him.

C.S.T.: There is nothing I agree with.

A.L.: What about lots of infrastructure spending?

C.S.T.: He’ll spend it on the wrong things.

A.L.: You really are tough.

C.S.T.: In an hourlong speech, the only thing he said about the environment was that he wanted to “invest in women’s health and to promote clean air and clean water.”

A.L.: Well, that was SNORT reading. Reasonable Chatting Trump is crazy about the environment. He’s even worried about climate change. Just ask him, before he forgets. And Donald the Unscripted thinks environmentalism is an evil plot by the same people who bussed millions of unregistered noncitizens to the polls to dilute his election triumph.

Take your pick. They’ll all be around for the next four years.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 23, 2017

In “The Death of Compassion” Mr. Blow says the Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise.  Mr. Kristof tells us that “Even if Trump Is the Enemy, His Voters Aren’t,” and then he tells us not to adopt Trump’s trick of “otherizing” people, even Trump supporters.  It’s unusual that I feel compelled to put in a comment to Mr. Kristof this time “Sheri” from New Mexico has something to say.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Is Bad For Water and Puppies,” and that maybe the president keeps talking crazy to divert attention from the fact that he doesn’t have anything else to report.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Folks, we have been here before.

After Ronald Reagan, a celebrity-turned-politician, carried 49 states in his devastating defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984, Democrats were whining and moaning, shuffling their feet and scratching their heads.

Reagan had done particularly well with those who would come to be known as Reagan Democrats — white, working-class voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, whom a New York Times contributor would later describe as “blue-collar, ethnic voters,” who were drawn to Reagan’s messages of economic growth and nationalistic pride.

But just like Donald Trump’s path to victory, Reagan’s was strewn with racial hostilities and prejudicial lies.

While Trump’s tropes involved Mexicans and Muslims and that tired euphemism of disastrous inner cities, Reagan used the “welfare queen” scare, as far back as his unsuccessful bid for president in 1976.

As I have written before, Reagan explained at nearly every stop that there was a woman in Chicago who “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

But it was not as it seemed.

As my colleague Paul Krugman wrote in 2007: “Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman’s race, but he didn’t have to.”

As Gene Demby perfectly summed up on NPR in 2013: “In the popular imagination, the stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ is thoroughly raced — she’s an indolent black woman, living off the largess of taxpayers. The term is seen by many as a dog whistle, a way to play on racial anxieties without summoning them directly.”

So, then as now, economic anxiety and throbbing xenophobia were convenient shields behind which brewing racial animus could hide.

Indeed, Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again” was first used by Reagan.

And yet, Democrats in 1984 were quick to look for the lessons they could learn on how to reach out to the Reagan coalition, instead of condemning it.

In the days following Reagan’s win that year, The New York Times reported:

“Democratic Party leaders began yesterday what they foresee as a long and agonizing appraisal of how they can renew their appeal to the white majority in presidential elections and still hold the allegiance of minorities, the poor and others who seek federal assistance.”

In a telephone interview with The Times for the article, then-Representative James R. Jones of Oklahoma, a fiscal conservative, said, “I think we should adopt the slogan of compassionate conservatism.” He continued, “We can be fiscally conservative without losing our commitment to the needy and we must redirect our policy in that direction.”

But in truth, there was no compassion to be had in that conservatism then — and definitely not now.

In 1981, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who was then president of the National Urban League, stung the Reagan administration:

“I do not challenge the conservatism of this administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.”

But while Reagan at least operated under the veneer of positivity and hopefulness with the language of a “shining city on a hill,” Trump has pursued a blatant appeal to anger and hostility with his talk of a nation in decline.

Over the years, compassionate conservatism has had its moments, including being espoused by Jack Kemp and President George W. Bush. That all feels like quaint, retrospective ephemera now.

Compassionate conservatism is dead; Trump and his band of backward-thinking devotees killed it.

Trump is rushing headlong into Muslim bans and mass deportations, wall building and Obamacare dismantling. Indeed, it feels like the campaign promises Trump is keeping have to do with cruelty and those he’s flip-flopping on have to do with character.

For instance, it is now abundantly clear that Trump had no intention whatsoever of draining the swamp in Washington. He is simply restocking it to his liking.

This is why I have no patience for liberal talk of reaching out to Trump voters. There is no more a compromise point with those who accept, promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia than there is a designation of “almost pregnant.”

Trump is a cancer on this country and resistance is the remedy. The Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise.

No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute. This is a culture war in which truth is the weapon, righteousness the flag and passion the fuel.

Fight, fight, fight. And when you are finished, fight some more. Victory is the only acceptable outcome when freedom, equality and inclusion are at stake.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A few days ago, I blithely tweeted a warning that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking of Trump voters. That provoked a vehement reaction.

[the text of his tweet, which will not embed for me, is “Yes! Democrats still too often sound patronizing when they speak of Trump voters, and it’s hard to recruit people you’re patronizing.”]

“Sorry,” Jason tweeted back, “but if someone is supporting a racist ignoramus who wants to round up brown ppl and steal my money, I’m gonna patronize.”

“This is normalization of a hateful ideology and it’s shameful,” protested another.

“My tone isn’t patronizing,” one person responded. “It’s hostile. Intentionally. I won’t coddle those who refuse to recognize my humanity.”

“What a great idea!” another offered. “Let’s recruit a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains because we could possibly ‘WIN!’”

And so the comments went, registering legitimate anxieties about President Trump — but also the troubling condescension that worried me in the first place. I fear that the (richly deserved) animus toward Trump is spilling over onto all his supporters.

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let’s be careful about blanket judgments.

My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but don’t always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn’t because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they didn’t know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people don’t actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they don’t know any.

There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

Tolerance is a liberal value; name-calling isn’t. This raises knotty questions about tolerating intolerance, but is it really necessary to start with a blanket judgment writing off 46 percent of voters?

When Trump demonizes journalists as “the enemy of the American people,” that is an outrageous overstep. But suggesting that Trump voters are enemies of the people is also inappropriate.

The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races — including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.

Clinton’s calling half of Trump voters “deplorables” achieved nothing and probably cost her critical votes. Why would Democrats repeat that mistake?

Yes, the Trump camp includes some racists and other bigots. But it’s a big camp, and let’s not be so quick to affix labels on every member of a vast group.

This column may offend everyone, from Trump enthusiasts to liberals who decry them. But my message is simple:

Go ahead and denounce Trump’s lies and bigotry. Stand firm against his disastrous policies. But please don’t practice his trick of “otherizing” people into stick-figure caricatures, slurring vast groups as hopeless bigots. We’re all complicated, and stereotypes are not helpful — including when they’re of Trump supporters.

So apparently it’s just fine when Bobo Brooks stereotypes liberals, but we have to suck it up…  Gotcha, Nick.  Here’s what “Sheri” in New Mexico had to say to him:

“OK — 63 million aren’t deplorable…just 62 million are…Really, Mr. Kristof. I almost always enjoy reading your columns and think you are a man of conscience, but you are going too far with this one. In WHAT way did Hillary Clinton indicate that she didn’t care about the economic conditions around the country? She cared, but they refused to hear her. That makes them at least stupid if not deplorable.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

And now, things that are Really Happening in the world of Donald Trump.

We bring you this list as a public service. It’s easy to be distracted by all the strange/contradictory/awful things the president says. For instance, a lot of people were stunned when he responded to a question about anti-Semitic attacks in the United States by citing his winning numbers in the Electoral College. Then, when the question came up again and he yelled at the reporter who asked it.

Much, much later, Trump did read a statement denouncing racism and anti-Semitism. But even that seemed … worrisome. It’s not just that an elected official should know how to answer that question without a lot of prep work. Everybody should know how to answer that question. Your 3-year-old nephew. Your Uber driver. Uncle Fred who gets drunk at Thanksgiving. Nobody gets to ask for a script.

Maybe he keeps talking crazy to divert attention from the fact that he doesn’t have anything else to report. In Washington, outside of the ongoing disaster that is immigration policy, actual changes have been sparse. A lot of the departments don’t have new staffs yet — and some never will if Trump keeps insisting on only hiring people who never said anything negative about him during the campaign.

However, some little gremlins have been busy on the government websites, clearing out unpleasant information on issues like climate change. The Department of Agriculture has taken down its list of violators of the Animal Welfare Act, including “puppy mills” rife with dangerous and unsanitary conditions.

The justification for that one seemed to involve concern that the list violated the privacy of people who are terrible to little dogs. It’s hard to say for sure, since no one is picking up the phone at the headless Department of Agriculture. But if you’ve got a Republican member of Congress, be sure to go to the next town meeting and yell, “What about the puppies?”

Trump, who likes to be thought of as a decider, showed his stuff this week, resolving a dispute between two of his top appointees. It was a surprising development — who knew there were enough cabinet members in place for a fight? The battle featured Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in an argument over transgender rights.

Sessions, in one of his very first moves on the job, had decided to reverse a federal guideline that public schools should let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. DeVos — who knew she had it in her? — objected. Trump sided with Sessions, taking what appeared to be the opposite position from the one he espoused during the campaign.

The president, it turns out, is more conservative on social issues than the guy who was running in all those primaries against Ted Cruz. Now, with virtually nothing to lose, he’s gotten worse. Wow.

This gets depressing really fast. No wonder we’re looking for distractions. Everything weird going on in the world seems to have a Trump connection. For instance, there’s that assassination story involving the North Korean dictator — the guy who has, um, a really strange hairdo. His estranged half brother was mysteriously murdered in a bizarre assault. One of the women arrested claimed she believed the whole thing was a segment of a TV reality show. Just saying.

Congress, meanwhile, has just been sort of wandering around, trying to avoid thinking about health care or schedule any town meetings. Repealing Obama-era regulations is just about the only thing getting accomplished:

Guns: Last week our lawmakers took a very strong stance protecting the right of Americans to purchase guns despite severe mental impairment. Thanks, Congress!

The House and Senate voted to repeal a background check rule that screened out people who are receiving special Social Security benefits because mental problems made it impossible for them to work or even manage their own money. The National Rifle Association calls this “Obama’s unconstitutional gun grab.” Because, obviously, just because you can’t handle a Social Security check doesn’t mean you can’t handle an assault weapon.

Clean Water: Another repealed regulation prohibited coal companies from dumping their waste into streams. When he signed the bill, Trump claimed the change would save “many thousands of American jobs,” which is of course completely nuts, unless polluting the water is going to eliminate competition from natural gas. The federal estimate of lost jobs is around 260 per year.

Free the oil and gas companies: Trump also signed a bill repealing a rule that publicly traded oil, gas and mining companies had to disclose payments they make to foreign governments.

Talk about keeping your campaign promises. The president vowed to get rid of useless regulations, and already he’s opened the road for dirty Appalachian water and oil companies bribing other governments. With mentally deranged gunmen waiting on his desk.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 16, 2017

In “Drip, Drip, Drip” Mr. Blow says what we know about Russia only makes what we don’t know more ominous.  Mr. Kristof has a question:  “What Did Trump Know, and When Did He Know It?”  He says dots involving Russia are begging to be connected.  Ms. Collins says “Well, Trump Watchers, Things Could Be Worse,” and that on the plus side, we’re not in Pyongyang.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Every day there is a fresh outrage emerging from the murky bog of the Donald Trump administration.

Every day there is a new round of questions and a new set of concerns that raise anxieties and lower trust.

Every day it becomes ever more clear that it is right and just to doubt the legitimacy of this regime and all that flows from it.

The latest round involves the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who this week was forced to resign following disclosures about his communications with the Russian ambassador on the same day that then-President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its interference in our election to help Trump and damage Hillary Clinton.

The official reason given for requesting Flynn’s resignation was, according to the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer: “The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”

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

Spicer further stated, “The White House counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

If you are thinking, “Something about this just doesn’t smell right,” you’re right; it stinks. This doesn’t add up and it leads to a multiplying number of questions to which we don’t yet have answers.

The president was made aware of Flynn’s communications weeks ago, and apparently didn’t think it prudent to alert the vice president or to correct the record when the vice president said that Flynn had not discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador, when indicators pointed to the fact that he did.

Flynn lied. Trump knew Flynn lied. But Trump kept Flynn in his circle of confidence and apparently left the vice president out of the circle of knowledge. Why?

In tweets the president has posted since Flynn’s resignation (or firing — you choose how you want to cast it), Trump has seemed more upset by the fact that Flynn’s lies were leaked and reported than by the original transgression.

Furthermore, the president’s tweets and limited public pronouncements on the matter would lead reasonable readers and listeners to conclude that Flynn would still be on the job if his dealings had not become public.

This is an office culture issue. If the boss — in this case Trump — is a pathological liar who forces underlings to repeat and bolster his lies, what signal does that send to everyone else who works in that environment? That lying is not only accepted but also valued, that lying is simply a rhetorical device, a propaganda tool that is inexcusable only when not exercised with skill.

Trump knew exactly who he was getting when he hired Flynn, who had been fired by the Obama administration. Flynn is a habitual liar who lied so much when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency that, according to The New York Times, “subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: ‘Flynn facts.’ ”

Trump doesn’t mind a lie if it serves him; he does apparently mind if the liar is intentionally, maleficently trying to deceive him.

But even here, there are questions. It’s not clear whether Trump was aware of Flynn’s conversation with the Russians when it happened, or that he didn’t in some way direct it or receive a report of the call from Flynn himself after it happened.

Furthermore, Flynn’s communications with the Russians are not the only calls of concern. The New York Times reported Tuesday:

“Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”

What was the nature of these calls? Why were they made? Was anyone in the Trump orbit aware of Russian plans to hack the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign? Were they made aware in any way of when emails would be leaked?

Two things bear repeating ad infinitum:

In July, at a televised campaign event, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Then in October, an hour after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, WikiLeaks began to dump the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails on the internet.

Coincidence? Maybe. But that would be one hell of a coincidence, considering all the other reinforcing “coincidences”: Trump’s inexplicable, inexhaustible praise of Russia and Vladimir Putin; Putin’s failure to respond to Obama’s sanctions; an explosive report last week from CNN that read: “For the first time, U.S. investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent.”

What we know only makes what we don’t know feel all the more ominous. But I believe that facts are forthcoming. Reporters are digging like a crew of coal miners hopped up on a case of Red Bull, and sources in Washington are leaking to anyone with a press credential.

Drip, drip, drip it goes until the dam breaks and the truth spills.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

During the Watergate scandal, until now the most outrageous political scandal in American history, the crucial question was drawled by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Today the question is the same.

This is not about Mike Flynn. It is about the president who appointed him, who earlier considered Flynn for vice president. The latest revelation of frequent contacts between the Trump team and Russian intelligence should be a wake-up call to Republicans as well as Democrats.

When Vice President Mike Pence was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News on Jan. 15 if there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?”

Great question, Mr. Vice President.

Look, there’s a great deal we don’t know, but Russian interference in our election is potentially a bigger scandal than Watergate ever was. Watergate didn’t change an election’s result — President Richard Nixon would have won anyway in 1972 — while the 2016 election was close enough that Russian interference might have tipped the balance.

We don’t know whether the Russians had domestic help in their effort to steal the U.S. election, but here are a few dots that are begging to be connected:

First, the American intelligence community agrees that the Kremlin interfered during the campaign in an attempt to help Donald Trump. This isn’t a single agency’s conclusion, but reportedly a “strong consensus” among the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence.

Second, the dossier prepared by a former MI6 Russia expert outlines collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. CNN reports that American intelligence has communications intercepts corroborating elements of the dossier, and the latest revelation of repeated and constant contacts between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign give additional weight to the dossier’s allegations — although it’s also important to note that officials told The Times that they had seen no evidence of such cooperation in election manipulation.

Third, President Trump has been mystifyingly friendly toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin. As Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel to the C.I.A., puts it: “The bigger issue here is why Trump and people around him take such a radically different view of Russia than has been the case for decades. We don’t know the answer to that.”

Fourth, Flynn, before taking office, discussed Obama administration sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador. Flynn has now resigned, but he was steeped in the principle of a chain of command; I doubt he made these calls completely on his own. Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department who has known Flynn for years, says it would have been out of character for Flynn to do so. So who told Flynn to make these calls? Steve Bannon? Trump himself?

We’re back to our question: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

The White House hasn’t responded to my inquiries, and Trump lashes out wildly at “the fake news media” without answering questions. He reminds me of Nixon, who in 1974 said Watergate “would have been a blip” if it weren’t for journalists “who hate my guts.” Soon afterward, Nixon resigned.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 9, 2017

In “Trump’s Leading Rivals Wear Robes” Mr. Blow says the president doesn’t have respect for separation of powers.  More likely, Charles, is that he doesn’t have any idea of what that means.  In “To Reject Trump the Perverse, Poets Wage a Battle in Verse” Mr. Kristof invites us to read the winners from among about 2,000 entries in my Donald Trump Poetry Contest.  Ms. Collins says “Elizabeth Warren Persists,” and that wow, there’s nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

President Obama was no fan of the dreadful 2010 Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of corporate personhood. In that case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court asserted that political spending, including by corporations, was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited money on ads and other tools to get candidates elected.

The president was not alone. As The Washington Post reported the month after the ruling:

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The Post continued:

“Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent ‘strongly’ opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits. The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).”

An overwhelming majority of America was aghast. So Obama reflected that frustration in his public statements.

The president addressed the debacle in his 2010 State of the Union address, in the presence of the Supreme Court justices who decided the case. He began his comments with a phrase that had not appeared in the prepared text, “With all due deference to separation of powers.” Then he let loose:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

Obama had previously criticized the ruling in one of his weekly radio addresses, stating:

“I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.”

He continued later:

“We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans, and we don’t intend to.”

That was his personal opinion — and the opinion of millions of Americans, many of whom were his supporters — and he had every right to voice it. Furthermore, he did so by confining his displeasure to the ruling itself and not impugning in any way the character or qualifications of the justices who rendered it.

And yet, condemnation of Obama was swift and brutal from some quarters.

You could argue that the venue of the State of the Union was not the appropriate one for Obama to repeat his criticism. But it is impossible to argue that his judicial rebuke, which looks quaint in retrospect, comes anywhere close to the venom Donald Trump is spewing at the judicial branch.

You could argue that Obama’s criticism carried more weight because it was aimed at the highest court. But Trump’s treatment of federal judges is worse. He’s punching down. He’s using the awesome power of the presidency to lob highly injurious and personal accusations at public servants below his station. The Supreme Court is on parity with the presidency; federal judges aren’t. This is the behavior of a bully.

As a candidate, Trump claimed that the federal judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn’t be able to preside over his Trump University fraud case because, as Trump put it:

“I’m building the wall, I’m building the wall. I have a Mexican judge. He’s of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things.”

This of course was a lie. Curiel is an American citizen born in East Chicago, Ind.

Last week, when a federal judge ruled against his Muslim ban, Trump lashed out on Twitter (where else?):

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

The next day, Trump again took to Twitter:

“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

On Wednesday, while speaking to a gathering of police chiefs, Trump again lashed out at the court and the appeals process, reading a section of law and sniping, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

Trump should know. As a child, he got into so much trouble and became such an embarrassment to his parents that they sent him up the river, quite literally, to a military academy in the Hudson Valley for high school.

This constant, lowbrow attack on the courts is not an insignificant thing and not without consequence. And it is a major break from the way modern presidents have related to and dissented from the opinions of the judicial branch.

The New York Times’s Adam Liptak spoke with Peter G. Verniero, a former justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, after Obama’s 2010 State of the Union, and Liptak reported the exchange this way:

“The court’s legitimacy is derived from the persuasiveness of its opinions and the expectation that those opinions are rendered free of partisan, political influences,” Mr. Verniero said. “The more that individual justices are drawn into public debates, the more the court as an institution will be seen in political terms, which was not the intent of the founders.”

Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s own nominee for the Supreme Court, condemned the president’s attacks on the judges as demoralizing and disheartening.”

In the same way and for the same reason Trump is attacking the press, he is attacking the courts: They are the only real checks on his power and raging ego, while most congressional Republicans sit on their hands and swallow their pride.

The only courts or press that Trump sees as legitimate are those that bow to his will. All others are fake, very, very dishonest, unfair or some such. Trump’s intent here is to besmirch the means and motives of his opponents, to drag them down from their perches of principle, to make them more vulnerable to grievous political injury.

He always wants to grind the opposition underfoot. This is how democracy slips away, not always by a singular eruption, but sometimes by slow, constant erosion, the way the river carves itself into the rock.

This is not the behavior of a man who respects the independence of the judiciary or who grants any “deference to separation of powers,” as Obama improvised in 2010. This is a tyrant who sees power as a zero-sum game: The exercise of it by another branch means diminution of his own.

He doesn’t want to be president, but emperor.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Some people stand up to President Trump in the courts, others in street protests. And the poets among us, they battle President Trump with an arsenal of verse.

The Republican man of the hour
Is a wellspring of bluster and glower.
Trump is rich and he’s white,
How’s he leading the fight
Against entrenched Establishment power?

That’s by Bill McGloughlin, a librarian in Charlotte, N.C., who was one of the winners of my Donald Trump Poetry Contest. We had about 2,000 entries, and today I’m publishing the winners.

Some relied on humor — while complaining that almost nothing rhymes with “orange”! — and that’s the tack taken by Stephen Benko, a retired businessman in Fairfield, Conn. Benko has published an entire book of poems about Trump, but this one is new:

If God made man in his image
Please explain our new President’s visage
That pucker and scowl
Look like murder most foul
What in heaven, Lord, earned us this priv’lege?

Dan Letwin, a history professor at Penn State, wrote a timely “ode to alternative facts”:

Well now, Kellyanne Conway has lately conceived
Of a new understanding of what to believe
When the truth gives you heartburn, don’t worry, relax
You can always resort to alternative facts!

Oh it works for the Donald and all of his hacks
As they go ’bout promoting their retrograde acts
Don’t fret if your documentation is lax
You can always get by with alternative facts!

Don’t fear all those women with signs on their backs
The straight and the queer, the whites and blacks
You can trivialize them with snide little cracks
And wash them away with alternative facts!

Just as loggers might swing an alternative ax
And fell a great tree with alternative whacks
When the truth won’t cooperate, try some new tacks
We live in an age of alternative facts!

I sought out pro-Trump poems, but poets seem to be disproportionately aghast at his presidency. One of the most personal poems came from Amit Majmudar, the poet laureate of Ohio, who submitted a moving poem about his mother becoming a U.S. citizen. It’s a long poem, but it ends:

In the year of our liar 2016
My mom became the citizen
Of a strange America.
Improbability, too, is a force of nature.
We couldn’t not watch.
Unnatural untruths become natural lies.

In 2016, my mom became a naturalized

Citizen just in time to watch
America denature.

Najma Menai of West Lafayette, Ind., a student at Purdue, says that writing poetry is “one of the chief ways I’m keeping myself sane these days.” She submitted this poem warning against Trump’s antics distracting us from critical issues:

He will say something awful
And cause quite the fuss
Until that one thing
Is all we discuss.…

So when Trump says
The wall will now be a fence
Worry more about
Bannon and Priebus and Pence….

And when he acts like a child
On the global stage
Worry more about
How you, yes you, must engage

Richard Kenney, a poet who teaches at the University of Washington, offered a lovely poem about our “commander in tweet.” Two excerpts:

We mustn’t slander our Twitter Commander,
he’ll burble our bird and snatch our bander
and fire off a tweet with his hot little hand, or
maybe report us, so stay discreet—
Commander in Tweet! Commander in Tweet!
Muster the army, commission the fleet!
He’s a patsy for Putin, buffoon complete—
(And that old Constitution? Hit Delete—)

I held this contest partly because we’ve all heard so much commentary about Trump, and I figured that verse might offer a new lens through which to see our president. It also struck me that there are fears that Trump will slash budgets for the humanities and the arts, including the National Endowment for the Arts. So it seemed appropriate to applaud the artists fighting the perverse with verse — and in that spirit, I’ll give the last word to Susan McLean, a poet and English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University:

Trump seethes at what the writers say.
He’ll pull the plug on the N.E.A.
The joke’s on him. Art doesn’t pay.
We write our satires anyway.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a dark and dismal time for American liberals. Except for the part where the opposition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

We will now pause to contemplate the fact that this week the Senate Republicans attempted to forward their agenda by silencing Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow.

In explanation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell basically called Warren a pushy girl.

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Never has a political party reached such a pinnacle of success, and then instantly begun using it to inspire the opposition.

We’re less than three weeks into the Trump administration, and almost every day the people in power stop delivering the message of the day and veer off into a Strange Tale.

Which do you think the Democrats found most empowering — Trump’s first full day in the White House, when he marched off to the C.I.A. to deliver a rambling tirade about the inauguration crowd size? The Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation that eliminated any reference to the Jews? Or the new Supreme Court nominee saying the president who named him was being “demoralizing” and “disheartening”?

Or this Senate-silencing moment? The subject at hand was the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The debate was going to be endless. It was evening and nobody was listening. Warren was taking her turn and reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions in 1986.

That was when Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship on the basis of an impressive record of racial insensitivity as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. The charges included referring to a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy,” joking about the Ku Klux Klan and referring to the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American.”

His supporters say he’s changed. Indeed, Sessions has evolved into a senator who is well liked by his peers and obsessed with illegal immigrants. Totally different person.

Mrs. King’s letter was not flattering. (“…has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”) Neither were the quotes Warren read from the late Senator Edward Kennedy (“a disgrace”). But none of it was exactly a surprise, and all of Washington knew the nomination was eventually going to pass. Yet McConnell decided to shut down Warren, claiming she had “impugned the motives and conduct” of a fellow senator.

McConnell cited Rule 19, which is more than a century old. It comes up about once a generation, when somebody calls a colleague an idiot or a liar. But this was totally different. The other senators were startled — or would have been if most of them had not been napping or back in their offices, dialing up donors.

“She was warned,” McConnell said later. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Wow, nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.

“They were waiting to Rule 19 someone and they specifically targeted Elizabeth,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I think because she’s effective.”

The social media exploded. You have to admit we live in wondrous times, people. There was a day when people only took to Facebook to post pictures of their vacation. On Wednesday they were pouring in to watch Elizabeth Warren read her forbidden letter.

Dark and extremely conspiratorial minds suggested the whole thing was a Republican plot to promote Warren as a presidential candidate, since they believe Trump could defeat her in 2020. This presumes that McConnell is suffering from a pathological case of advance planning.

More likely he’s simply exhausted from dealing with a White House occupant who’s managed, just this week, to accuse the media of not covering terrorism, to suggest that George W. Bush was more of a killer than Vladimir Putin, and to use the official presidential account to tweet an attack on Nordstrom’s for discontinuing his daughter’s fashion line.

And the Republicans in Congress can’t figure out how to work around him. The other day the House majority refused to approve a Democratic resolution affirming “that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetuation of the Holocaust.” It obviously was an attempt to remind people of that Holocaust Memorial Week debacle. But still.

“They’re definitely squirming,” said Representative Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, in a phone interview. Crowley was on his way to Baltimore for a party strategy conference. I believe I speak for a great many Americans when I say a strategy would be a very good thing.

The Democrats are immersed in an ongoing battle between centrists and progressives and a long way from coming up with a united message. “There’s still anger and a bit of depression, but … they’re giving us incredible fodder to use against them,” Crowley said.

It’s true. Always look for a silver lining. Or at least a little fodder. Keep talking, Elizabeth.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 2, 2017

In “Fruit of a Poison Tree” Mr. Blow says Democrats must oppose Neil Gorsuch on principle.  Mr. Kristof offers “An Apology to Muslims for President Trump” and says we Americans should condemn our extremist.  A majority of us do, Nick, and voted against him.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Pence’s Presidential Pet:” Whose hand is busy behind the curtain?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

So the “president,” who was “elected” under the fog of Russian interference (now under investigation by both houses of Congress) and with a boost from the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general), has just made a nomination to the Supreme Court: Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver.

Pundits have been applauding like a pod of trained seals in the hours since the announcement, gushing about how brilliant Donald Trump’s rollout of Gorsuch was, how immensely qualified he is and how difficult it would be for Democrats to block his nomination if they chose to do so.

Let’s tackle each of these individually, but let’s do so under the umbrella of this ultimatum that I believe the liberal base is sending to the Democratic Party: Fight this, tooth and nail. Never give up and never give in.

This seat on the Supreme Court was stolen from Barack Obama when Republicans refused to even hold hearings for his nominee, and the election was stolen from the American public by maleficent figures, foul of motive and moving in shadows.

This nominee is the fruit of a poison tree and no amount of educational pedigree or persuasive elocution can cleanse him of that contamination.

If Trump can impose a Muslim ban until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with national security threats, we can withhold approval of his Supreme Court nominee until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with threats to our national elections.

As for the “brilliant” rollout, let’s be clear: It was a solid rollout, but the bar for Trump has been set so low that merely behaving like an adult, deferring to counsel, not stepping on your own message with idiocy and building support makes a blathering half-wit look like he’s had a stroke of genius.

As for Gorsuch himself, he’s a rather standard right-of-center, religiously deferential judge. He seems to be a smart man with a long and solid résumé, but all of the justices are smart, whether you agree with the way they interpret the law or not. That’s not the question.

Democrats must oppose Gorsuch on principle. Democrats have grown too soft. They are still trying to fight a gentleman’s war in the middle of a guerrilla war. Their efforts to reach across the aisle keep being met by hands wielding machetes; their overwhelming impulse to take the high road ignores the fact that Republicans have already blown up the bridge on the high road.

Democrats want to point to the civility and decorum with which government is supposed to work, but this ignores the fact that government is broken and completely overtaken by the people who broke it.

Some people worry that if the Democrats filibuster this nomination in the Senate, it will only force the Republicans’ hand to employ the “nuclear option” — change the rules so that the nominee would need only a simple majority to be confirmed. The logic goes that this would mean Trump would have an easy route to confirmation should another vacancy arise on the court during his tenure, a vacancy that could shift the balance of the court, unlike this one.

I say let them. In fact, make them. They are likely to confirm this nominee anyway. What liberals don’t want is to have Democratic fingerprints on this political crime scene. Make the asterisk president’s nominee become an asterisk jurist, the only one confirmed under an altered set of rules.

Even if Republicans change the rules now, there is no guarantee — with the incredible amount of public oppositional energy and engagement we now see against this president — that the Republicans will even be able to maintain control of the Senate beyond the midterms.

Furthermore, and this is just a wild theory of mine, it is not clear to me that Trump will hang around for a full term, not so much because he might do something to spark an impeachment proceeding, but because it’s not clear to me that he wants to serve out the term.

Trump is simply not behaving like a president with an eye trained on longevity. He is a singularly unpopular new president who is doing absolutely nothing to increase his popularity and everything to constrict it.

His furious, prodigious pace of edicts also bespeaks a man who feels like he’s on a clock and his time is running out. He seems like a man about to burn out or be kicked out — but of course that could just be my wishful thinking.

At any rate, Democrats should look at Gorsuch as an instrument of the enemy. Some say that Democrats should not have acquiesced to voting for Trump’s cabinet appointees. While I agree, at least they’ll leave when this administration comes to an end. But we would be stuck with Gorsuch, who is just 49, for generations, probably long after Trump is dead.

Senate Democrats, grow a spine. Buck up! Fight like your lives depend on it, because in the end, the lives of your children, and ours, just might.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Whenever an extremist in the Muslim world does something crazy, people demand that moderate Muslims step forward to condemn the extremism. So let’s take our own advice: We Americans should now condemn our own extremist.

In that spirit, I hereby apologize to Muslims. The mindlessness and heartlessness of the travel ban should humiliate us, not you. Understand this: President Trump is not America!

I apologize to Nadia Murad, the brave young Yazidi woman from Iraq who was made a sex slave — but since escaping, has campaigned around the world against ISIS and sexual slavery. She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, yet is now barred from the United States.

I apologize to Edna Adan, a heroic Somali woman who has battled for decades for women’s health and led the fight against female genital mutilation. Edna speaks at American universities, champions girls’ education and defies extremists — and she’s one of those inspiring me to do the same.

I don’t want to take Trump-as-an-extremist too far: He’s not beheading anyone, and the security challenge is real. Nobody has a problem with improving safety, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both oversaw improvements in vetting. Yet Trump tackled the issue in a way that bolsters the ISIS narrative and thus makes us less safe.

In effect, Trump took a real problem, inflated it with hysteria, handled it with incompetence and created an unjust policy that targets seven mostly impoverished Muslim countries that haven’t produced a single person involved in a lethal terrorist attack in America since before 9/11. Islamophobia swirls through the order, and Rudy Giuliani has helpfully explained that Trump asked him to devise a way to create a Muslim ban and “do it legally.”

There’s a certain symmetry here.

I’ve sat down in mosques in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen and heard jihadists justify intolerance. Those men (always men!) “otherize” infidels as fundamentally different, as threats who must be confronted; Trump “otherizes” Muslims in a similar way.

Trump’s national security adviser, Mike Flynn, has referred to Islam as a “cancer” and has shared a video asserting that Islam “wants 80 percent of humanity enslaved or exterminated.” That’s the mirror image of the bigotry I hear from jihadists who tell me that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks.

The real chasm is not between Muslims and others, but between the moderates and the extremists of whatever religion.

A Reuters poll found that many Americans approve of Trump’s travel ban, but that’s not surprising. The same was true of barring Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and of interning Japanese-Americans in 1942. When we’re fearful, we’re vulnerable to politicians who play on our fears and scapegoat immigrants; in the fullness of time, we come to regret our xenophobic behavior and to appreciate the immigrants.

So I apologize to Muslims. I have seen the worst of Islam, but also the best.

The newly chosen Rhodes scholars include a Somali refugee, Ahmed Ahmed, who was born in a Kenya refugee camp and was admitted to the U.S. as a 1-year-old. Raised by a struggling single mom, sometimes showing up at high school at 5:30 a.m. to study, he attended Cornell and won the university’s outstanding student award. Such people don’t threaten us, but enrich us.

If we need an inspiring example of how moderates can successfully challenge extremists, consider an extraordinary Somali gynecologist, Dr. Hawa Abdi, who ran a displaced persons camp in Somalia, including a 400-bed hospital (and a jail for men who beat their wives). Islamic militants, enraged that a woman was running such an important enterprise, ordered her to hand it over. When she refused, 750 armed militants from the Party of Islam attacked the camp and ordered Dr. Abdi to run it under their direction. She refused.

Yet Dr. Abdi’s camp, serving 90,000 people, was just about the only thing working properly in Somalia, and Somalis at home and around the world united to denounce the militants and speak up for her. The pressure on the gunmen grew. Finally, they slunk off.

If Somalis can stand up to extremists, we can, too.

Indeed, that is happening. When Japanese-Americans were rounded up, other Americans were silent. Today, it is heartwarming to see Americans of all creeds standing up against similar bigotry. In Victoria, Tex., after a mysterious fire destroyed the only mosque just hours after Trump announced his travel ban, local Jewish leaders gave Muslims a key to their synagogue. Four churches also offered their space for as long as needed, and in just a few days, people of all faiths contributed $1 million to build a new mosque.

At an airport protest, one much-shared photo showed a Jewish man and a Muslim man protesting side by side, each with a child on his shoulders.

My dream is of the day when Jews protest Islamophobia, Muslims denounce the persecution of Christians and Christians stand against anti-Semitism. That’s why I apologize to Muslims, and it’s why ALL of us, not just Muslims, should stand up to condemn extremism in our midst.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

The world was a-swoon over Donald Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court. And the way Trump announced it.

“How normal!” enthused a CNN commentator.

Yes! Trump managed to introduce Judge Neil Gorsuch to an audience of supporters without bragging about the size of the crowd. However, he did suggest he’s “studied” Gorsuch’s work. Since the judge does not have a history of either tweeting or writing about Donald Trump, serious presidential perusal seems highly unlikely.

Gorsuch is what they call an originalist, a judicial breed that cynics define as people who believe that if the founding fathers were around today, they would be best friends and agree on everything. He’s extremely conservative.

Colleagues say he’s pleasant and thoughtful, which will do you no good whatsoever if you’re worried about reproductive rights or federal regulation to reduce climate change. But it had the Republicans in Congress doing happy dances all over the Capitol. Really, they were afraid Trump was going to nominate Don King.

Democrats, meanwhile, were bitterly remembering that last year Barack Obama had nominated an intelligent, well-spoken moderate moderate in the form of Judge Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even hold a hearing. Now Trump was expecting them to roll out the welcome mat for his guy.

What to do? The Democrats could filibuster, but then McConnell might try to change the rules so it would only take a simple majority to push a Supreme Court nominee through. This is known as the “nuclear option,” a colorful but rather unnerving nickname now that we’ve got President Trump speaking so enthusiastically about going nuclear.

The Gorsuch nomination is important, but there could be an even more critical one later if either Justice Anthony Kennedy or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves the court. Kennedy is 80 and Ginsburg turns 84 next month. She once told me that she does the Canadian Air Force stretching and warming exercises almost every day at home, along with a more strenuous workout with a trainer twice a week. Close your eye and say a prayer for the Canadian Air Force.

Meanwhile, about Gorsuch. Do you think the Democrats should:

A) Fight! Fight! Fight!

B) Save their ammunition. Things are just going to get worse.

C) I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to crawl back under the bed.

I’m sorry, you cannot pick C. We’ve had the discussion about not crawling under the bed many times already. A lot of people are probably going to go for A, given the Trump administration’s genius for generating fear and loathing. The other day I attempted to blot out the world by playing an online game called Two Dots, which is exactly as profound as it sounds. But instead of the dots, I got an announcement asking me to support the American Civil Liberties Union.

“In 48 hours we sent 500,000 people to the A.C.L.U.’s donation page,” said Paul Murphy, the C.E.O. of Dots. “It’s pretty awesome.”

On Wednesday Judge Gorsuch was starting his visiting-the-senators rounds in the company of Vice President Mike Pence. Do you think this is all Pence’s work, people? The judge seems way more Pence-like than Trumpian. And there are other signs — like all this anti-abortion fervor — that Trump might be in his veep’s thrall.

Query: If Trump is really the vice president’s lap dog, do you think we should call him:

A) Pence’s Poodle.

B) Pence’s Pomeranian.

C) Pence’s Pekingese.

Feel free to go any way you want on this. Just be sure to consider the matter of elaborately combed blond hair.

The best thing about referring to the president as Pence’s, um, pet is that it would drive Trump nuts. But feel free to make other suggestions.

Some wise minds have wondered if the guy pulling the strings is Steve Bannon, the president’s alt-right, sharp-elbowed chief strategist. There have been a lot of Bannon-ish moves coming out of the White House — the anti-immigrant anti-Muslim shutdown, the decision not to mention Jews in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The fact that the president of the United States calls people “dudes.”

Others think it’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, or son-in-law Jared Kushner. But nobody sees the hand of Donald Trump behind the screen. For sure not on judicial nominations. Trump, you’ll remember, once said he thought a great Supreme Court justice would be one who would put on the robe, sit down and begin investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices.

There are, admittedly, some things the president does that are definitely his own. On Wednesday he was promoting Black History Month by praising the great 19th-century abolition leader, writer and activist Frederick Douglass. Trump called him “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Take that, dudes.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 26, 2017

In “A Lie By Any Other Name” Mr. Blow restates the obvious, that our president is a pathological liar.  Mr. Kristof says “President Trump’s War on Women Begins” and that a “pro-life” order will mean more abortions and women dying.  Ms. Collins tells us “Mike Pence Pulls President Trump’s Strings” and that the president can’t stand up to his vice.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This is not a presentation of “alternative facts,” whatever that may mean, as Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s mistress of misdirection, posited over the weekend.

These are lies; good old-fashioned lies, baldfaced and flat-out lies.

Some have suggested that we in the media should focus a bit less on these lies — some of them issued in tweets and some in interviews or news conferences — and focus more on policies, particularly the ineptitude of the gathering cabinet and the raft of executive orders that Trump himself is signing.

But I take the position that this is all worthy of coverage, that there are simply different kinds of news being unearthed about this administration that exist on different strata.

To take it even further, it may be these seemingly smaller infractions that produce the greater injury because the implications are more profound. Trump does not simply have “a running war with the media,” as he so indecorously and disrespectfully spouted off while standing on the hallowed ground before the C.I.A. Memorial Wall. He is in fact having a running war with the truth itself.

Donald Trump is a proven liar. He lies often and effortlessly. He lies about the profound and the trivial. He lies to avoid guilt and invite glory. He lies when his pride is injured and when his pomposity is challenged.

Indeed, one of the greatest threats Trump poses is that he corrupts and corrodes the absoluteness of truth, facts and science.

It is no coincidence that the rise of Trump is concurrent with the rise of “fake news.” It is no coincidence that his rise comes during an age of severely damaged faith in institutions.

And now that he has been elected, Trump wants absolute control over the flow of information, to dictate his own version of facts rather than live with the reality of accepted facts. Trump is in a battle to bend the truth to his benefit.

He hates members of the press because, when properly performing, they are truth seekers rather than ego-strokers. The press may sometimes get things wrong, but it most often gets them right. A truly independent press is not stocked with political acolytes but political adversaries.

This doesn’t sit well with an administration that wants to be perpetually patted on the back and never rapped on the knuckles.

After Trump and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, got called out by the press for lying about Trump’s inauguration crowd size and viewership, Spicer limped back to the mic and whined of Trump’s press coverage: “The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing.”

No, sir, the default is to call a lie a lie; lies are negative because they are the opposite of the truth; and Trump continuously lies. Also, he who is devoid of morality is immune to demoralization. You can’t wring water from a rock.

The bone you have to pick is not with the press but with the “president.”

Trump’s team seems to need to control narratives and to staunch what they view as negative, even if it’s true. This compulsion may in fact be spilling over into the Trump administration’s approach to government agencies, particularly those with a more scientific leaning.

As The Hill reported Tuesday, “The Trump administration is clamping down on public communications by agencies as it seeks to assert control over the federal bureaucracy.”

The site continued:

New restrictions on social media use and interaction with press and lawmakers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and the Interior have sparked concerns of a President Trump-backed effort to silence dissenting views.

Although The Hill granted, “it’s not unusual for incoming administrations to seek control over agency communications,” it cited “experts on the federal work force” who said “they have never seen a White House take the type of steps Trump’s administration has to curb public communications.”

And Trump for his part continues to rage about three to five million illegal votes causing him to lose the popular vote in November. This, too, is a lie. A lie. Not the euphemisms you hear on television, like “unsubstantiated,” or “unproven,” or “baseless.” It is a lie, pure and simple.

But Trump won’t let it go. His pride is hurt, his vanity tarnished. The man who prides himself on winning lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes, the biggest popular vote loss by a winning candidate in American history. That stings.

So, even after his lie is reported and rejected, he continues to perpetuate it. This is what makes Trump qualitatively different from our leaders who came before him: He believes that truth is what he says it is, and the only reason it has yet to be accepted is that it has yet to be sufficiently repeated.

Unbowed, Trump published two tweets on Wednesday morning that read together:

“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”

This is just like Trump, whose inclination is never to admit a mistake, and instead to redouble his self-righteousness even in the midst of his wrong. This statement weakens our democracy and strengthens voter suppression efforts.

We all have to adjust to this unprecedented assault on the truth and stand ready to vigilantly defend against it, because without truth, what’s left? Our president is a pathological liar. Say it. Write it. Never become inured to it. And dispense with the terms of art to describe it. A lie by any other name portends the same.

I think I’m going to take up Charlie Pierce’s usage — referring to Mein Fubar as President* Trump, or the president*.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Should we journalists use the word “lie” to describe President Trump’s most manifest falsehoods?

That debate has roiled the news world. The Times this week used the word “lie” in a front-page headline, and I agreed with that decision, but there’s a counterargument that lying requires an intention to deceive — and that Trump may actually believe his absurd falsehoods.

So in 2017 we reach a mortifying moment for a great democracy: We must decide whether our 45th president is a liar or a crackpot.

Yet the costliest presidential falsehoods and delusions are not the ones that people are talking about, such as those concerning the inauguration crowd or electoral fraud. The most horrific chicanery involves Trump’s new actions on women’s health that will cause deaths around the globe.

It followed the weekend’s stunning women’s marches: At least 3.2 million people apparently participated in all 50 states, amounting to 1 percent of the U.S. population. In a slap at all who marched, Trump this week signed an order that will cut off access to contraception to vast numbers of women, particularly in Africa.

It will also curb access to cancer screenings and maybe even undermine vaccination campaigns and efforts against H.I.V. and the Zika virus. The upshot: Thousands of impoverished, vulnerable women will die.

Americans have focused on the executive actions about building a wall, or expediting oil pipelines, but nothing is more devastating than the edict on women’s health (signed in front of a group composed almost entirely of smiling men in suits).

In fairness, Trump probably thought he was doing a good thing; that’s a measure of his delusion. He reinstated what’s called the Mexico City policy, which stipulates that family planning funds cannot go to foreign aid groups that ever discuss abortion. (Federal funds already don’t go for abortions.)

Presumably Trump thought this policy would reduce abortions, and was thus “pro-life.” In fact, this is a “pro-death” approach that actually increases abortions, as well as deaths among women.

How can that be? Many groups, like Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood International, lose funding in poor countries from this policy. In 2001, when President George W. Bush imposed a more limited version, 16 developing countries lost shipments of contraceptives from the U.S.

Stanford University researchers found that the Bush version of the policy reduced contraceptive use in Africa — and increased abortion rates.

This all sounds wonkish and antiseptic, but in poor countries, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is become pregnant. I’ve seen too many women dying or suffering in filth on stained cots in remote villages because of childbirth.

I wish Trump could see them: a mother of three in Cameroon dying after her birth attendant sat on her stomach to hasten delivery; a woman in Niger collapsing from a common complication called eclampsia; a 15-year-old girl in Chad whose family dealt with her labor complications by taking her to a healer who diagnosed sorcery and burned her arm as she lay in a coma.

With this new order, Trump will inadvertently cause more of these horrific scenes. Maybe “war on women” sounds hyperbolic, but not if gasping, dying women are seared in your memory.

Worse, Trump expanded this “global gag rule” — as critics call it, because it bars groups from mentioning abortion — so that it apparently will cover all kinds of health services, including efforts to tackle polio or Zika or H.I.V., even programs to help women who have been trafficked into brothels. (The White House didn’t respond to my inquiries.)

I hope all of the marchers call the White House, 202-456-1111, or their members of Congress, 202-224-3121, to protest.

Marie Stopes alone estimated that if it cannot find replacement funding, the new policy will result in 6.5 million unintentional pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions and 21,700 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

The victims invariably are among the most voiceless, powerless people in the world. When Bush imposed his version of the policy, it meant that no contraceptives reached a village in northern Ghana. As a result, a young woman named Kolgu Inusah became pregnant.

She tried to abort the pregnancy herself using herbs, but something went wrong and she suffered terrible abdominal pains. She was rushed to a clinic, but doctors couldn’t save her. Her two children now have no mom.

President Trump, you may think you are “pro-life” and preventing abortions, but that’s a lie or a delusion. In fact, you are increasing the number of abortions and of dying women.

And to those women and men who marched last weekend, remember that this isn’t about symbols, speeches or pussy hats. It’s about the lives of women and girls.

Please, please, keep on marching, keep on calling.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Do you think Donald Trump is just Mike Pence’s puppet?

Interesting idea, right? Particularly since the very idea would make our new president totally nuts. Hehehehe.

And it’s possible. Trump is not a man who concentrates on policy issues. So far, the parts of the job that have obsessed him most are crowd size and vote size. And yeah, the wall. But there has to be somebody behind the scenes deciding the non-ego questions. Pass the word that it’s Pence.

The best early evidence is reproductive rights. Not an issue Trump seemed all that interested in during the campaign — you generally had to sort of poke him to bring it up. Yet one of the first things he did as president was to sign an order that will eliminate American aid to international health programs that provide information on abortion.

Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has issued the order, which is often referred to as the global gag rule. But Trump’s seems much worse. The Reagan-Bush-Bush version covered family planning programs. Trump’s targets global health in general.

So when it comes to combating the Zika virus in South America, we’ll only be helping organizations that are willing to order their staffs never to bring up the fact that abortion exists. We’re talking about a potential loss of billions of dollars in American aid.

I know some of you are having trouble giving the president credit for anything right now. But this doesn’t sound like him.

If a woman Trump knew was pregnant and learned she had a virus that could cause terrible brain damage to the fetus, his immediate reaction would not be barring everybody from mentioning the word abortion. The only politician who would behave like that would be someone who had spent his entire career trying to impose his deeply held conservative religious values on people who had different beliefs.

That would be Mike Pence. This is the guy who, as a member of Congress, co-sponsored a bill that would allow hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women who would die without the procedure. Whose war against Planned Parenthood when he was governor of Indiana led to the closing of five clinics. (None of them did abortions. They did, however, provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and one of the counties where a clinic was closed suffered a big H.I.V. outbreak.)

Pence, by the way, also voted against the Lilly Ledbetter act for equal pay for women. He once argued that having two working parents would lead to “stunted emotional growth” in children. In 2006, he said same-sex couples were a sign of “societal collapse.” I am just mentioning this for you to remember the next time you hear people say they hope President Trump is impeached.

Trump was once very vocally pro-choice. When he became politically ambitious, his attitude went through a dramatic change — in terms of evolution, it was as if a little amoeba floating in the ocean suddenly turned into a killer whale. In 2016 he went all the way over the deep end and told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that he thought once abortion was illegal, women who got them should be punished.

He backtracked on that one. “I’ve been told by some people that was an older line answer and that was an answer that was given on a, you know, basis of an older line from years ago on a very conservative basis,” he explained.

Obviously that doesn’t make any sense, but you do get the general idea that Trump was getting his talking points from someplace other than his deepest heart.

The early Trump administration, however, looks as if it’s being run by somebody who can’t wait to jump into the abortion fray. Republicans in Congress are working away on defunding Planned Parenthood — an organization Trump once said he admired. And the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees women’s right to get birth control coverage in their health insurance, is of course target one.

“Women who are economically stressed and counting on those benefits are so frightened,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. Richards said Planned Parenthood clinics are fielding desperate calls from women who want to get birth control while they can — many of them opting for IUDs under the theory that they’ll need something that could last four years.

They also ask what they can do to fight back. She’s telling them to call their senators, or member of Congress, and show up if their legislator holds a town hall — possibly wearing one of those pink hats.

All that makes perfect sense. But given the kind of guy Donald Trump is, I propose you also spread the word that the president has only gone on this anti-reproductive rights bender because he’s under Mike Pence’s thumb.

How do you think he’d feel about being referred to as Lap Dog Trump? Let’s go for it.

Kristof and Bruni

January 22, 2017

In “Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever” Mr. Kristof says that for much of humanity, things keep getting better.  Mr. Bruni, in “The President Who Buried Humility,” says Donald Trump’s inauguration heralds a new age of arrogance and says something sad and scary.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

There’s a broad consensus that the world is falling apart, with every headline reminding us that life is getting worse.

Except that it isn’t. In fact, by some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity. And 2017 will probably be better still.

How can this be? I’m as appalled as anyone by the election of Donald Trump, the bloodshed in Syria, and so on. But while I fear what Trump will do to America and the world, and I applaud those standing up to him, the Trump administration isn’t the most important thing going on. Here, take my quiz:

On any given day, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty:

A.) Rises by 5,000, because of climate change, food shortages and endemic corruption.

B.) Stays about the same.

C.) Drops by 250,000.

Polls show that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact, the correct answer is C. Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.

When I began writing about global poverty in the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all humans were living in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 10 percent are. By 2030 it looks as if just 3 or 4 percent will be. (Extreme poverty is defined as less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for inflation.)

For nearly all of human history, extreme poverty has been the default condition of our species, and now, on our watch, we are pretty much wiping it out. That’s a stunning transformation that I believe is the most important thing happening in the world today — whatever the news from Washington.

There will, of course, be continued poverty of a less extreme kind, smaller numbers of children will continue to die unnecessarily, and inequality remains immense. Oxfam calculated this month that just eight rich men own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.

Yet global income inequality is actually declining. While income inequality has increased within the U.S., it has declined on a global level because China and India have lifted hundreds of millions from poverty.

All this may seem distant or irrelevant at a time when many Americans are traumatized by Trump’s inauguration. But let me try to reassure you, along with myself.

On a recent trip to Madagascar to report on climate change, I was struck that several mothers I interviewed had never heard of Trump, or of Barack Obama, or even of the United States. Their obsession was more desperate: keeping their children alive. And the astonishing thing was that those children, despite severe malnutrition, were all alive, because of improvements in aid and health care — reflecting trends that are grander than any one man.

Some of the most remarkable progress has been over diseases that — thank God! — Americans very rarely encounter. Elephantiasis is a horrible, disfiguring, humiliating disease usually caused by a parasite, leading a person’s legs to expand hugely until they resemble an elephant’s. In men, the disease can make the scrotum swell to grotesque proportions, so that when they walk they must carry their scrotum on a homemade wheelbarrow.

Yet some 40 countries are now on track to eliminate elephantiasis. When you’ve seen the anguish caused by elephantiasis — or leprosy, or Guinea worm, or polio, or river blindness, or blinding trachoma — it’s impossible not to feel giddy at the gains registered against all of them.

There’s similar progress in empowering women and in reducing illiteracy. Until the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate; now, 85 percent of adults are literate. And almost nothing makes more difference in a society than being able to read and write.

Michael Elliott, who died last year after leading the One Campaign, which battles poverty, used to say that we are living in an “age of miracles.” He was right, yet the progress is still too slow, and a basic question is whether President Trump will continue bipartisan U.S. efforts to fight global poverty. A four-page questionnaire from the Trump team to the State Department seems to suggest doubts about the value of humanitarian aid.

One reason for the Trump team’s skepticism may be the belief that global poverty is hopeless, that nothing makes a difference. So let’s keep perspective. Yes, Trump may cause enormous damage to America and the world in the coming years, and by all means we should challenge him at every turn. But when the headlines make me sick, I soothe myself with the reflection that there are forces in the world that are larger than Trump, and that in the long history of humanity, this still will likely be the very best year yet.

Remember: The most important thing happening is not a Trump tweet. What’s infinitely more important is that today some 18,000 children who in the past would have died of simple diseases will survive, about 300,000 people will gain electricity and a cool 250,000 will graduate from extreme poverty.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The word popped up in the opening sentence of Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address and in the opening paragraphs of George W. Bush’s.

“Humbled,” each man said of himself, and while it was pure cliché, it was also what we wanted and needed: a sign, no matter how rote, that even someone self-assured enough to pursue the presidency was taking the measure of that responsibility and asking if he was worthy of it.

Does that question cross Donald Trump’s mind?

I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t get that sense from his inaugural remarks, and not just because “humbled” went missing. As he stood just feet from four of the last six presidents, he trashed them, talking about a Washington establishment blind and deaf to the struggles of less fortunate Americans.

He characterized his election as part of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Forget about his loss of the popular vote. Or his 40 percent favorability rating. Or the puny crowd at his inauguration in comparison with the throngs at Obama’s eight years ago. Trump remained a singular man on a singular mission — a legend in his own mind.

We’ve already become so accustomed to his egomania that we sometimes forget how remarkable it is. He’s a braggart beyond his predecessors in the Oval Office, and that says something sad and scary about the country that elected him and the kind of leader he’s likely to be. With Trump we enter a new age of arrogance. He’s the cock crowing at its dawn.

His first stop after arriving here on Thursday afternoon for the inaugural festivities was his recently opened hotel, a transformation of the Old Post Office. He pronounced its principal ballroom “gorgeous” and declared that “a total genius must have built this place.” He was referring to himself.

Then, talking about his nominees for top administration jobs, he said: “We have, by far, the highest I.Q. of any cabinet ever assembled.” That’s obviously unknowable. But it’s entirely in keeping with his nonstop insistence that everything about him is magical, epochal, amazing.

As he went through the traditional inaugural paces, he toggled between the dignified bearing expected of a man in his role and the coarse bravado that he prefers.

His remarks to his supporters at the Lincoln Memorial early Thursday evening included the assertion that his victory was really theirs. “You had much more to do with it than I did,” he told them. “I’m just the messenger.”

But then he recited, for perhaps the thousandth time, how emphatically he defied so many pundits’ predictions and how huge his rallies were. He has indulged this tangent so repeatedly that Politico recently published a story with the headline “Trump Can’t Stop Talking About How He Won.”

And while he kept his remarks at the inauguration brief and said “you” and “we” much more often than “I,” that’s exactly why they were so flaccid. To find his full voice, he must be singing his own praises.

It was a dark speech, bemoaning “this American carnage” of gangs and drugs. It was a mean speech, insulting every one of his new colleagues by describing politicians as “all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”

But mostly it was a flat speech, bereft of the poetry that this tense juncture called for. He used pared-down language, simple sentences and a sluggish delivery, as if he were reading to children. Call it the “Goodnight Moon” of Inaugural Addresses.

He does as he pleases, expectations be damned, and indeed the most striking aspect of Trump’s transition was an absence of humility. Although he owed his Electoral College win to just 77,000 votes in three states, and it was clouded by questions about James Comey and the Russians, he didn’t bother much with outreach to adversaries or appeals for unity.

He put together that high-I.Q. team of his with few of the usual courtesies and considerations. None of his cabinet nominees are Democrats. None is Latino. Only one, Ben Carson, his choice for housing secretary, is black.

Many are billionaires or bigmouths whose outsize vanity mirrors Trump’s. Rick Perry came to his assignment as energy secretary from a stint on “Dancing With the Stars.” Carson’s palatial Maryland home has been described as a gaudy shrine to … Ben Carson, with plaques that honor him and photographs that glamorize him on prominent display.

Every president in my lifetime has been conceited. It’s more or less a job requirement. Bush had a bloated faith in his gut and his charm, while Obama fancied himself the smartest, most soulful person in almost any room.

But they were nothing like Trump, who’s a preening cartoon. He brags like he breathes. It’s autonomic. And he gloats the way our parents and teachers always told us not to.

But that admonition predated Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Social media have blurred the line between sharing and showing off, and they’ve turned self-promotion into a tic. In our private and our professional lives, we’re prodded to burnish our images, to advertise our assets, to sell, sell, sell. Is it any wonder, then, that we looked up on Friday to see, in front of the Capitol, taking the oath of office, a gaudy confidence man who’s all about the sale? Is it any accident?

His campaign was an unprecedented orgy of self-congratulation. At the start of almost every rally, he trumpeted his poll numbers, and I don’t mean a few quick bleats — I mean a vulgar music that could go on for minutes. At the conclusion of almost every debate, he announced how brilliantly he’d done.

When he stepped up to a microphone to introduce Mike Pence as his running mate, he seemed to forget all about him, and instead paid tribute to himself in a rambling soliloquy more than 20 minutes long. He didn’t stick around onstage for Pence’s remarks.

At the Republican National Convention, warning of national decline, he thundered, “I alone can fix it.” And in the months before and after, he complimented himself out loud and lavishly on everything from the magnitude of his wealth to the majesty of his phallus. That might have disqualified him in another era, but Americans stomached it. More than that, they rewarded it, proving that ours is a different moment, with different mores.

Trump took credit for a drop in the television viewership for pro football: He was providing a superior spectacle. When the ratings for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger were revealed, he tweeted that they paled next to those for the original “Apprentice,” which starred “the ratings machine, DJT.”

Presidential? Hah! But neither was the tweet that wished a “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

It’s staggering, and it’s endless. During his only real news conference as president-elect, he mused that he could master the management of the country and of his business simultaneously, noting that while the law bars other government officials from such double duty, there’s no such formal restriction on the president.

“I would be the only one that would be able to do that,” he said. “I could run the Trump Organization — great, great company — and I could run the country. I’d do a very good job.” It was like a Russian nesting doll of self-infatuation: boast within boast within boast.

If Trump and his tribe were humble or humbled, they wouldn’t have been caught trying to monetize his political currency, as when one of his sons peddled coffee with Ivanka or when her company hawked copies of the dress she wore at the convention and the jewelry she flashed on “60 Minutes.”

The Trumps are extreme, but they’re also emblematic of a creeping crassness and lack of restraint in public life. I think of the North Carolina Republicans who gallingly moved to dilute the governorship’s power before it could change hands from someone in their party to a Democrat.

I think of an interview that Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader, recently gave to New York magazine’s Jason Zengerle as he prepared to retire from the Senate. “I’ve done stuff no one else will do,” Reid volunteered, and then recalled — proudly, it seemed — the time during the 2012 presidential campaign when he falsely accused Mitt Romney of not having paid taxes. There was no modesty in that lie, and there’s no modesty in his apparent peace with it.

Still, he’s no Trump. Who is? Maybe Howard Roark, the protagonist of “The Fountainhead,” by Ayn Rand. Roark must defend his creative genius against the meddling of lesser mortals. Trump once described the novel as profound.

He has other Rand fans around him. Last month, The Washington Post’s James Hohmann identified a batch of cabinet nominees, including Rex Tillerson, who are taken with her philosophy and work.

What does that bode for the coming months? We’ve seen hints in the past ones. Under fire, Trump rages, rails and frequently doubles down on his convictions and even his fictions. He rearranges reality to suit his self-regard, flinging accusations of “rigged” surveys and “fake news.”

A humbler man would doubt himself, extend an olive branch to his enemies, contemplate a middle ground. But then a humbler man wouldn’t have come down that escalator at Trump Tower and proceed to say what Trump said and do what he did. As I watched him flourish, I watched humility die. On Friday, our 45th president said its last rites.