Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

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

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

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

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

Trump again ignored the warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

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

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

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

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

Stephens, Kristof, and Collins

May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was unconstitutional. And wise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 4, 2017

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

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

“Who would deign to lecture me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound like someone we know?

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

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

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

Sound like someone we know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound like someone’s supporters we know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Oh gosh, we’ve got another Trump.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps we should rethink all that impeachment talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the whole world mused: not a hard lift.

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

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

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

Kristof and Collins

April 27, 2017

In “This Isn’t Tax Policy; It’s a Trump-Led Heist” Mr. Kristof says for all of the president’s talk of helping ordinary Americans, they’re not the big beneficiaries of his plan.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Trump’s Can’t-Do Record:”  Who expected 100 days of dull?  Well, maybe for different values of dull…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

I’m deeply skeptical that President Trump will manage to get a tax reform package passed into law, and that’s just as well. Trump’s new tax “plan” (more like an extremely vague plan for a plan) is an irresponsible, shameless, budget-busting gift to zillionaires like himself.

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans — and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

Trump’s tax “plan” is a betrayal of his voters. He talks of helping ordinary Americans even as he enriches tycoons like himself.

For example, it’s great that the tax plan promises help with child care costs, a huge burden for low-income families, especially single moms. But Trump doesn’t explain what form his help will take.

Maybe he will eventually provide details, but in his campaign tax plan (which over all seems similar to the latest), fewer than 10 percent of low-income households with children would get anything at all, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in February. It added that under the campaign plan, families earning between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would receive an average child care benefit of just $10.

In fairness, Trump’s proposal does include some sensible elements. Raising the standard deduction is smart and would simplify everything, reducing cheating and the need for record-keeping because millions of filers would no longer itemize deductions.

But the heart of Trump’s “plan” is to lower taxes for corporations and the affluent. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, without which Trump would have paid less than 4 percent in taxes for 2005; with it, he paid 25 percent.

Conservatives emphasize that the official top corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, and they have a point. The top rate for American corporations — almost 39 percent, including a 35 percent federal rate and a bit more for the average state rate — is among the highest in the world, according to the Tax Foundation.

Yet that’s deeply misleading, because most companies don’t pay that rate. The Government Accountability Office found that two-thirds of active corporations paid no federal tax. Even large, profitable corporations paid an average federal rate of only 14 percent — and Boeing, Verizon, General Electric and Priceline paid no federal income tax over a five-year period, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

There’ve been many studies showing that the U.S. effective marginal rate for corporations is in the same ballpark as in other industrialized countries (some say it’s a bit lower, others a bit higher).

So, sure, let’s lower the official corporate tax rate while reducing loopholes, but don’t pretend this will create a ton of new jobs.

Where the tax plan would have a big impact is in empowering some very wealthy people, because of another bit of chicanery in the proposal: Trump apparently would allow some business owners to dodge personal income tax by paying at the much lower corporate rate. In other words, tycoons would try to structure their incomes to pay not at a 39.6 percent top personal rate but at a 15 percent corporate rate.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.

Then there’s the elimination of the estate tax. The White House talks solemnly about protecting family farms and other businesses, but give us a break! The estate tax now affects only couples worth more than $11 million. About one-fifth of 1 percent of Americans are affected — but the estate tax does limit the rise of inequality and assures a hint of fairness, since much of the wealth in rich estates has never been taxed at all.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Trump’s tax “plan” would be paid for partly “with growth” — which means that he has no idea how to pay for it. The Tax Policy Center examined Trump’s campaign tax plan and found it would cause the federal debt to rise by at least $7 trillion in the first decade, and more than $20 trillion by 2036 — slowing growth, not raising it. To put the latter number in perspective, that’s additional borrowing of about $160,000 per American household.

Effectively, we’d borrow from China or other countries to finance huge tax breaks for Trump and his minions. And this is populism?

I can’t wait until Prof. Krugman takes this on…  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, heck, who said Donald Trump isn’t going to accomplish anything in his first 100 days? All of a sudden there’s a one-page tax plan and a raft of deal-making, while the Senate was bused over to the White House grounds for a briefing on North Korea.

Maybe the president believes that when you can make an entire chamber of Congress ride around like so many tour groups, the world will understand that you’re a can-do kind of guy.

Trump wasn’t actually in public for any of this. Outside of congratulating the National Teachers of the Year, the man himself was in sight only for events in which he announced that a cabinet member had been directed to look into something.

On Day 97, Trump first appeared before the cameras to tell us the secretary of the interior is going to review previous presidents’ habit of saving federal lands from development. Federal land, Trump reminded the audience, “belongs to all of us.” He then called for turning it over to the states.

His recent predecessors have tried to defend places like a gorgeous section of Utah called Grand Staircase-Escalante by declaring them national monuments. You can do that because of a law called the Antiquities Act that goes back to Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans love to brag about Theodore Roosevelt, except when he was protecting the wilderness.

People, I want a show of hands: How many of you would like to see coal mining at the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument? I thought so.

Trump, who took only one question, seemed extremely proud of himself when he announced this new study-the-issue initiative. Other politicians, he confided, were always telling him: “You’re doing the right thing. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things.”

Second show of hands: How many of you think politicians are actually telling the president that if they were in his shoes they’d be too chicken to favor the energy industry over environmental protection programs? I know they can be craven, but really.

Everybody knows that Trump wants a can-do record when he hits Day 100 on Saturday. To get there, he appeared to be adopting the garb of Somewhat Normal Republican (SNORE). The House leaders were working out an agreement with conservatives on health care, tossing people with pre-existing ailments over the rail. The administration seemed ready to make a deal with Democrats to keep the government running. And his new tax plan is almost identical to the approach his recent Republican predecessors have taken, which is basically to cut the heck out of revenue and to hell with the deficit.

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

The idea that huge tax cuts will gin up the economy so much that everything will balance out is a beloved fairy tale. It can be found in the same book as “The Beauty Starves the Beast,” which tells the saga of a handsome prince who cut down a thicket of taxes, and was saved from a witch’s curse when Congress arrived with matching cuts in spending.

The president was not around for the news conference in which his plan was revealed, in the form of a super-short press release. (The description of how the administration wants to help families with child care costs was, in total, “providing tax relief.”)

For a man who loves drama, Trump’s domestic role lately has been super undramatic. While the senators were getting off their buses, Trump went before the cameras to announce that he’s directed the secretary of education to investigate whether there are too many federal regulations of public schools.

We can already guess where this one is going, so there wasn’t a lot of suspense — the high point of the event was his introduction of the new governor of Alabama, who had arrived at her office through the time-honored method of waiting for her superior to get driven out of office in a sex scandal.

It’s a bit ironic that Trump makes such a show of directing his cabinet members to do things when the administration hasn’t gotten around to nominating their top staff. Do you think Mnuchin would have had a longer tax description to hand out if he had an assistant secretary for tax policy?

This is going on all over the government. But then who needs an ambassador in Afghanistan or South Korea?

The Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for battle on the tax cuts — once they figure out exactly what they are. The super-easy response is just to say that before Trump asks Congress to do anything, he should show us his taxes. This came up at the press conference, and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin’s response was approximately the same as if someone suggested his boss might want to disembowel puppies.

“The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else,” he said quickly and with deep inaccuracy.

SNORE.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 20, 2017

In “A Fake and a Fraud” Mr. Blow says Trump’s philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.  In “The North Korea-Trump Nightmare” Mr. Kristof says it’s scary to consider what a frustrated president could do.  Ms. Collins is “Paging the Trump Armada” and says it’s not easy to misplace a flotilla.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s mounting reversals, failures and betrayals make it increasingly clear that he is a fake and a fraud.

For many of us, this is affirmative reinforcement; for others, it is devastating revelation.

But it is those who believed — and cast supportive ballots — who should feel most cheated and also most contrite. You placed your faith in a phony. His promises are crashing to earth like a fleet of paper airplanes.

He oversold what he could deliver because he had no idea what would be required to deliver it, nor did he care. He told you what you wanted to hear so that he could get what he wanted to have. He played you for fools.

That wall will not be paid for by Mexico, if in fact it is ever built. If it is built, it will likely look nothing like what Trump said it would look like. His repeal and replace of Obamacare flopped. That failure endangers his ability to deliver on major tax reform and massive infrastructure spending. China is no longer in danger of being labeled a currency manipulator. The administration is now sending signals that ripping up the Iran nuclear deal isn’t a sure bet.

Trump has done a complete about-face on the Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, and when was the last time you heard him threaten to lock up Hillary Clinton?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the positions he took for in-the-moment advantage that have been quickly converted into in-reality abandonment.

He isn’t cunningly unpredictable; he’s tragically unprepared and dangerously unprincipled.

No wonder then that a Gallup poll released Monday found:

“President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent. The public is also less likely to see him as a ‘strong and decisive leader,’ as someone who ‘can bring about the changes this country needs’ or as ‘honest and trustworthy.’”

While the largest decline in the percentage of those who think Trump keeps his promises came among women, young people and Democrats, the number also dropped 11 percentage points among Republicans and nine percentage points among conservatives.

Even so, The Washington Post’s The Fix warned readers to beware “the myth of the disillusioned Trump voter,” citing a Pew Research Center poll released Monday “showing very little buyer’s remorse among Trump voters.”

As the newspaper pointed out: “The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better.”

This seems to me a fair point, but it requires us to have a better handle on the expectations for him in the first place. After all, the union has yet to crumble into ashes and his Twitter tirades have yet to push us into an impulse war.

Furthermore, the stubborn human resistance to admitting a mistake should never be underestimated. Admitting that Trump is failing, even when he is failing you and your family specifically, is an enormous pill to swallow. Acknowledging that your blindness, selfishness and fear compelled you to buy into a man who is selling you out may take more time.

But I think that time is coming, because Trump is an unabashed leech and an unrepentant liar.

Trump cares only about Trump, his brand and his image, his family and his fortune. Indeed, his personal philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.

Instead of being a grenade-throwing iconoclast bent on blowing up the D.C. establishment and the big-money power structures, he has stocked his inner circle with billionaires and bankers, and he has bent to the establishment.

Trump sold himself as a populist only to line his own pockets. Trump built his entire reputation not as the champion of the common man, but by curating his image as a crude effigy of the cultural elite.

He accrued his wealth by selling hollow dreams of high society to people who wanted to flaunt their money or pretend that they had some.

Put another way, Trump’s brand is built on exclusivity, not inclusivity. It is about the separate, vaulted position of luxury, above and beyond the ability for it to be accessed by the common. It is all about the bourgeois and has absolutely nothing to do with the blue collar.

And yet somehow, it was the blue collar that bought his bill of goods. People saw uncouth and thought unconventional; they saw raffish and thought rebel.

They projected principle and commitment onto a person anathema to both. Now, we all have to pay a hefty toll as Trump’s legions cling to thinning hope.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof;

President Trump is scary in many ways, but perhaps the most frightening nightmare is of him blundering into a new Korean war.

It would begin because the present approach of leaning on China to pressure North Korea will likely fail. Trump will grow angry at public snickering at the emptiness of his threats.

At some point, U.S. intelligence will see a North Korean missile prepared for a test launch — and it may then be very tempting for a deeply frustrated rogue president to show his muscle. Foreign Affairs describes just such a scenario in an excellent new essay by Philip Gordon imagining how Trump might drift into war by accident:

“He could do nothing, but that would mean losing face and emboldening North Korea. Or he could destroy the test missile on its launchpad with a barrage of cruise missiles, blocking Pyongyang’s path to a nuclear deterrent, enforcing his red line, and sending a clear message to the rest of the world.”

Alas, no one has ever made money betting on North Korean restraint, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul, a metropolitan area of 25 million people.

The upshot of a war would be that North Korea’s regime would be destroyed, but the country has the world’s fourth-largest army (soldiers are drafted for up to 12 years) with 21,000 artillery pieces, many of them aimed at Seoul. It also has thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and missiles that can reach Tokyo.

Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, estimates that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and now chairman of the Asia Group in Washington, warns, “I do not believe there is any plausible military action that does not bring with it a possibility of a catastrophic conflict.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knows all this, and he and other grown-ups in the Trump administration would resist any call for a pre-emptive strike. Concern about the North Korean response is what prevented Richard Nixon from a military strike in 1969 when the North shot down a U.S. plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. And it’s what has prevented presidents since from striking North Korea as it has crossed one red line after another, from counterfeiting U.S. hundred-dollar bills to expanding its nuclear program.

Yet I’m worried because the existing policy inherited from Barack Obama is running out of time, because all U.S. and South Korean policies toward North Korea have pretty much failed over the years, and because Trump seems temperamentally inclined to fire missiles.

When Vice President Mike Pence says of North Korea, “The era of strategic patience is over,” he has a point: Patience has failed. North Korea is the strangest place I’ve visited, but it has made progress as a military threat: When I started covering North Korea in the 1980s, it had zero nuclear weapons. It now has about 20 and is steadily churning out more.

Worse, North Korea is expected in the next few years to develop the capacity to attach a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental missile that could devastate Los Angeles. U.S. “left of launch” cyberwarfare may slow North Korean efforts, but the threat still looms.

If a military strike is unthinkable, and so is doing nothing, what about Trump’s plan of nudging China to apply pressure to North Korea?

It’s worth trying, but I don’t think it’ll work, either. China’s relations with North Korea aren’t nearly as close as Americans think. One North Korean once introduced me to another by saying, “The Chinese government doesn’t like Kristof,” and then beaming, making clear this was a high compliment.

President Xi Jinping of China will probably amp up the pressure somewhat, and that’s useful — North Korean missiles are built using some Chinese parts — but few expect Kim Jong-un to give up his nukes. In the 1990s, North Korea continued with its nuclear program even as a famine claimed the lives of perhaps 10 percent of the population, and it’s hard to see more modest sanctions succeeding now.

“North Korea will never, ever give up its nuclear weapons,” says Jieun Baek, author of a fascinating recent book, “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution.” Sanctions will squeeze the regime, she says, but not deter it. Instead, she urges greater measures to undermine the regime’s legitimacy at home by smuggling in information about it and the world (as some activists are already doing).

The only option left, I think, is to apply relentless pressure together with China, while pushing for a deal in which North Korea would verifiably freeze its nuclear and missile programs without actually giving up its nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief. This is a lousy option, possibly unattainable, and it isn’t a solution so much as a postponement of one. But all the alternatives are worse.

And if Trump tries to accelerate the process with a pre-emptive military strike? Then Heaven help us.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Let’s consider the case of the wrong-way warships.

Last week, North Korea was planning a big celebration in honor of its founder’s birthday. For North Koreans, holiday fun is short on barbecues and high on weaponry. The big parade in Pyongyang featured monster canisters that theoretically contained intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s possible they were actually empty and that right now, North Korea only has bragging rights in the big-container race.

But its intentions were definitely bad, and the United States was worried there might be a missile launch or an underground nuclear test.

What should Donald Trump do? “We’re sending an armada,” said the president. Possible confrontation? As a concerned citizen, you had to be very worried. North Korea is, in every way, a special and dangerous case. It has a leader who is narcissistic to the point of psychosis, with a celebrity fixation and a very strange haircut.

O.K., maybe not entirely unique.

Trump was talking about bringing in four warships, one of them an aircraft carrier. Was this going to mean real shooting? His critics back home had to decide whether to protest, wave the flag in support or simply stock the fallout shelter. (This would be the fallout shelter you repurposed a couple decades ago as a wine cellar, but lately you’ve been thinking it can work both ways.)

Everybody was talking about the dangers. If North Korea sent up a missile, would the U.S. retaliate? Then what would happen to South Korea and Japan? People debated all the variables. The only thing that did not come up was the possibility that the American flotilla was actually no place near the neighborhood.

Yet, as Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt reported in The Times, at the moment the president was announcing his armada, the warships in question were actually going in the opposite direction, en route to a destination 3,500 miles away, where they were to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Whoops. The official response was that the administration was sending an armada eventually.

“We said that it was heading there. And it was heading there, it is heading there,” said press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday. Under this theory, the president could have responded to North Korea’s latest saber-rattling by announcing that he was going to China, since chances are he’ll get there someday. Sooner or later. Especially if the Chinese can come up with a gold coach like the queen of England’s.

Poor Sean Spicer. Every day a new official fantasy to defend. Tonight the president will go to bed and dream that he’s actually the true heir to the principality of Liechtenstein. Tomorrow Spicer will come into the pressroom on skis and announce we’re declaring war on Switzerland.

But about the missing warships. It’s possible Trump was bluffing, which certainly sounds like a bad idea. After all, if this administration has a strong card in foreign policy, it’s that the rest of the world thinks he’s so crazy he might do anything. It seems more likely that the administration just screwed up, and some people thought the warships had been rerouted when they really weren’t.

We’re really not asking for a lot, but can’t the president at least be clear about the direction our ships are headed? Concerned citizenry has already adapted to the idea that half the things Trump said during the campaign have now been retracted. NATO is great, the Chinese don’t manipulate their currency. And the Export-Import bank is, well .…

Pop Quiz: Which best describes your feelings about the president’s attitude toward the Export-Import Bank?

A) Happy when he denounced it during the campaign.

B) Glad when he said it was a good thing after all.

C) Worried when he nominated an Export-Import Bank head who seems to hate it.

D) I don’t care about the Export-Import Bank! What about all those bombs?

O.K., O.K. In the end, the North Koreans did test a missile but it exploded right after launch. It is possible this was due to a long-running American cybersabotage program. If so, Trump couldn’t have mentioned it as a matter of security. Otherwise he’d certainly have been out there expressing his gratitude to the Obama administration for having done so much work on it. Hehehehe.

When it comes to Trump and foreign affairs, the big problem is that you want to be fair, but you don’t want to encourage him. A lot of Americans liked the idea of responding to a chemical attack in Syria by bombing a Syrian air base. But if the president thought it was popular, wouldn’t he get carried away? It’s like praising a 4-year-old for coloring a picture, and the next thing you know he’s got his crayons out, heading for the white sofa.

What we want to do is take the crayons away and murmur: “Good boy. Now why don’t you go off and nominate some ambassadors for a change?”

And go find your boats.

Kristof and Collins

April 13, 2017

Mr. Kristof has some ideas on “How to Stand Up to Trump and Win.”  He says don’t just hold a sign. Experts share how to resist and get results.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Versus the Love Gov,” says let’s compare the president and Alabama’s new former chief executive.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

After President Trump’s election, a wave of furious opposition erupted. It was an emotional mix of denial and anger, the first two stages of grief, and it wasn’t very effective.

Yet increasingly that has matured into thoughtful efforts to channel the passion into a movement organized toward results. One example: the wave of phone calls to congressional offices that torpedoed the Republican “health care plan.”

Yes, Trump opponents lost the election and we have to recognize that elections have consequences. But if “resistance” has a lefty ring to it, it can also be framed as a patriotic campaign to protect America from someone who we think would damage it.

So what are the lessons from resistance movements around the world that have actually succeeded? I’ve been quizzing the experts, starting with Gene Sharp, a scholar here in Boston.

Sharp’s works — now in at least 45 languages and available free online — helped the Baltic countries win freedom from Russia, later guided students in bringing democracy to Serbia, and deeply influenced the strategy of Arab Spring protesters. Sharp is THE expert on challenging authoritarians, and orders for his writings have surged since Trump’s election.

Today Sharp is 89 and in fading health. But his longtime collaborator, Jamila Raqib, has been holding workshops for anti-Trump activists, and there have even been similar sessions for civil servants in Washington exploring how they should serve under a leader they distrust.

The main message Sharp and Raqib offered is that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.” His work emphasizes grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration — and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts to mock awards.

Raqib recommended pragmatic efforts seeking a particular outcome, not just a vague yearning for the end of Trump. When pushed, she said that calls for a general strike in February were insufficiently organized, and that the Women’s March on Washington, which had its first protest the day after Inauguration Day, will ideally become anchored in a larger strategy for change. But she thinks the “Day Without Immigrants” protest was well crafted, and the same for the bodega strike by Yemeni immigrants.

Sam Daley-Harris, another maestro of effective protest, agrees on a focus on results, not just symbolic protest. He has overseen groups like Results and the Citizens Climate Lobby that have had outsize influence on policy, so I asked him what citizens upset at Trump should do.

“The overarching answer is to work with your member of Congress,” Daley-Harris told me. He suggested focusing on a particular issue that you can become deeply knowledgeable about. Then work with others to push for a meeting with a member of Congress, a state lawmaker or even a legislative staff member.

He recommended speaking courteously — anyone too hostile is dismissed and loses influence — and being very specific about which bill you want the person to support or oppose.

I’m encouraged by the increasing savvy of the resistance efforts, with excellent online resources cropping up and grass-roots groups like EmergeAmerica.org and RunforSomething.net developing to train people who want to run for political office. Students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have organized “Resistance School,” a kind of online teach-in to sharpen the tools activists need. The first 90-minute webcast had more than 50,000 streams.

“We wanted to move away from a defensive response to an offensive response, not just marching but also thinking of longterm strategy,” one of the organizers, Shanoor Seervai, told me.

To students of resistance — patriotic resistance! — let me offer three lessons from my own experience reporting on pro-democracy movements over decades, from China to Egypt, Mongolia to Taiwan.

First, advocates are often university-educated elites who can come across as patronizing. So skip the lofty rhetoric and emphasize issues of pocketbooks and corruption. Centrist voters may not care whether Trump is riding roughshod over institutions, but they’ll care if he rips them off or costs them jobs.

Second, movements must always choose between purity and breadth — and usually they overdo the purity. It’s often possible to achieve more with a broader coalition, cooperating with people one partially disagrees with. I think it was a mistake, for example, for the Women’s March to disdain “pro-life” feminists.

Third, nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule. When Serbian youths challenged the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, they put his picture on a barrel and rolled it down the street, allowing passers-by to whack it with a bat.

In recruiting for the Trump resistance, Stephen Colbert may be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic senators. Trump can survive denunciations, but I’m less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Our question for today is: How does Donald Trump compare to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, the now-famous “Love Gov”?

Bentley resigned this week after a long-running sex scandal. Trump, who used to be a king of sex scandals, doesn’t have any presidential ones. When the day is done and the moon is high, our chief executive now appears to be moved mainly by the siren song of Fox and Twitter.

But nobody’s forgotten those girl-grabbing tapes from the campaign. There’s also currently a grope-related lawsuit. And recently, his sympathetic take on Bill O’Reilly’s multiple sexual harassment problems. Plus, face it: These days we cannot possibly talk about anything without bringing up Donald Trump: chocolate cake, funny dog videos, Easter, professional wrestling, Millard Fillmore.…

But first, Governor Bentley. Our story begins in 2014, when he was re-elected by a whopping margin, wearing the image of a kindly family man. However, during the march to victory, his wife recorded her husband having a conversation with campaign aide Rebekah Mason that centered heavily around feeling up Mason’s breasts. And his staff couldn’t help noticing that the governor started calling Mason “baby” during staff meetings.

Lots and lots of incidents later, Mrs. Bentley filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage. She also gave investigators a ton of love texts — thanks to what appeared to be a certain technological ineptitude on the part of her husband. (They included the immortal “Bless our hearts. And other parts.”)

The State Legislature began to investigate. After the release of a 131-page report, 3,000 pages of documents, threats of felony charges and a thumbs down from the State Ethics Commission, Bentley finally agreed to quit, plead guilty to two misdemeanors and promise never to run for office again — the last not appearing to be a likely problem.

Now Bentley is obviously a very, very different guy from Donald Trump, who is never going to be married to anybody for 50 years. Trump’s children are in his employ, while Bentley’s show up in the report trying to get their father checked for dementia. However, there are some commonalities: Both men are in their 70s and have a thing for messaging via cellphone.

One of the most useful lessons of the Bentley scandal, in fact, was that when your wife’s name is Dianne, it’s a very bad idea to send her a text saying “I love you, Rebekah.”

Both guys have a history of bragging about their special privileges. In Trump’s case there was all that talk about his right to go into the Miss Universe dressing room and stare at naked ladies, and, of course, the famous recorded boast about how “when you’re a star” you get to grab women by their private parts, whether they like it or not. Bentley told an unhappy staffer that as governor, people had to “bow to his throne.”

Differences: Mason, a former TV anchor, first entered Bentley’s employ as his press secretary. Trump’s press secretary is Sean Spicer, and that is never, ever going to be a compromising relationship. On the other hand, Rebekah Mason never claimed that Hitler didn’t use poison gas on any Germans.

Bentley went crazy trying to shut down gossip that he was committing adultery, and it’s hard to imagine Trump reacting the same way. Back in the day, when New York papers were full of stories about him cheating on his wife, Ivana, with an aspiring actress named Marla Maples, he had a squad of publicists on the case. But none of them seemed to be trying to discourage the coverage. “We got absolutely no pushback,” agreed Matt Storin, who was then an editor at The Daily News.

In the end, Bentley may have been undone less by his affair than by the financial flimflammery on the side. (His lover’s husband, a former weatherman, got a $91,000-a-year job as director of the state’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.)

So far, we haven’t heard reports about Trump spending public money to please a former mistress. As opposed to spending public money taking heads of state to his resort or providing security for the kids when they go abroad to make business deals.

On occasion we are reminded that the worst things that happen in this world are generally not about consensual sex.

Morning Consult, a nonpartisan polling company, recently queried registered voters across America on their attitudes toward their governors, and Alabama’s got a 44 percent job approval rating, with 48 percent disapproving. That’s bad, but there were nine other governors who ranked lower.

Pop Quiz: Guess who ranked on the very bottom of the chart?

A) Chris Christie

B) Chris Christie

C) Chris Christie

On the list of things the voters dislike, it appears, sex takes a back seat to running around the country behaving like Donald Trump’s spaniel. And now we’ll wait to see how long it is before people start shaking their heads and saying President Trump is acting crazier than that governor in Alabama.

Blow and Kristof

April 6, 2017

In “Creeping Toward Crisis” Mr. Blow says the Syrian and North Korean problems can’t be solved by a simpleton.  Mr. Kristof presents “My Most Unpopular Idea: Be Nice to Trump Voters.”  He says that among the reader reactions was “I hate these people.”  And “gemli” from Boston will have something to say to Mr. Kristof.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.

What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.

Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.

Just days after the Trump administration shockingly signaled a softer stance on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Assad — possibly emboldened by America’s reversed course — unleashed an atrocious chemical attack on his own people, killing dozens.

Rather than using the bulk of his response to condemn the butcher Assad or the inaction of Assad’s patron, Vladimir Putin — let alone take responsibility for the role his own administration’s shifting position might have played — Trump harped on what he inherited from President Obama.

When asked Wednesday during a news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan whether the chemical attack this week crossed a “red line,” Trump said: “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many many lines, beyond a red line. Many many lines.”

He continued: “It’s very, very possible, and I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

But changed from what? From the soft pedal of a few days ago that may have provided cover for this attack, or from previous statements in which he warned that America should “stay out of Syria”?

To change a position, one must start from an established position. Trump is all over the place like a spider playing Twister. During the news conference, he said that he was a “flexible person,” but I believe him to be an obtuse one.

During the news conference, a reporter asked:

“If I may, Mr. President: You know very well that the Iranian militias and Hezbollah have been propping the Syrian regime for a while, over a few years now. Will you go after them? What message will you give them today? And will you work with the Russians to stop, to ground, the Syrian Air Force and to establish safe zones?”

Actually, it was clear that the president didn’t “know very well.” In fact, he seemed lost by the question. So instead of answering, he opened an attack on the Iran nuclear deal and ISIS.

The reporter had to point out the ridiculousness of the answer: “But sir, I’m talking about the Iranian militias in Syria supporting the Syrian regime, separate of the nuclear deal. What message do you have for them today?” Caught in his ignorance, Trump clumsily responded: “You will see. They will have a message. You will see what the message will be, O.K.”

It was beyond embarrassing: It was mortifying. And it was terrifying.

Then there is North Korea, which keeps testing missiles, including one this week in advance of Trump’s meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, a clear message that North Korea continues its weapons program unbowed by pressure from America or China.

Trump is depending on China to exert influence on North Korea that it may be reluctant, or not have the capacity, to do. In any case, this week Trump told The Financial Times, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

This seemed to signal the possibility of unilateral action of some kind, but the form is not clear. The Syrian and North Korean problems are complex and can’t be solved by a simpleton. Every action produces a reaction. Every lever you pull risks a life — or many.

This is not about Trump’s ego, even though I’m sure he believes that it is. It is about whether this draft dodger’s ignorance and insecurities could haphazardly plunge our country — and indeed the world — into an armed conflict. The King of Chaos isn’t suited for the steady navigation of crisis.

And we’re only 75 days in…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

When I write about people struggling with addictions or homelessness, liberals exude sympathy while conservatives respond with snarling hostility to losers who make “bad choices.”

When I write about voters who supported President Trump, it’s the reverse: Now it’s liberals who respond with venom, hoping that Trump voters suffer for their bad choice.

“I absolutely despise these people,” one woman tweeted at me after I interviewed Trump voters. “Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.”

Maybe we all need a little more empathy?

I wrote my last column from Oklahoma, highlighting voters who had supported Trump and now find that he wants to cut programs that had helped them. One woman had recovered from a rape with the help of a women’s center that stands to lose funding, another said that she would sit home and die without a job program facing cutbacks, and so on. Yet every one of them was still behind Trump — and that infuriated my readers.

“I’m just going to say it,” tweeted Bridgette. “I hate these people. They are stupid and selfish. Screw them. Lose your jobs, sit home and die.”

Another: “ALL Trump voters are racist and deplorable. They’ll never vote Democratic. We should never pander to the Trumpites. We’re not a party for racists.”

The torrent of venom was, to me, as misplaced as the support for Trump from struggling Oklahomans. I’m afraid that Trump’s craziness is proving infectious, making Democrats crazy with rage that actually impedes a progressive agenda.

One problem with the Democratic anger is that it stereotypes a vast and contradictory group of 63 million people. Sure, there were racists and misogynists in their ranks, but that doesn’t mean that every Trump voter was a white supremacist. While it wasn’t apparent from reading the column, one of the Trump voters I quoted was black, and another was Latino. Of course, millions of Trump voters were members of minorities or had previously voted for Barack Obama.

“Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and just deplorable folks,” Senator Bernie Sanders, who has emerged as a surprising defender of Trump voters, said the other day. “I don’t agree.”

The blunt truth is that if we care about a progressive agenda, we simply can’t write off 46 percent of the electorate. If there is to be movement on mass incarceration, on electoral reform, on women’s health, on child care, on inequality, on access to good education, on climate change, then progressives need to win more congressional and legislative seats around the country. To win over Trump voters isn’t normalizing extremism, but a strategy to combat it.

Right now, 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the states are held by Republicans. About 7 percent of America’s land mass is in Democratic landslide counties, and 59 percent is in Republican landslide counties.

I asked the people I interviewed in Oklahoma why they were sticking with Trump. There are many reasons working-class conservatives vote against their economic interests — abortion and gun issues count heavily for some — but another is the mockery of Democrats who deride them as ignorant bumpkins. The vilification of these voters is a gift to Trump.

Nothing I’ve written since the election has engendered more anger from people who usually agree with me than my periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too. But I grew up in Trump country, in rural Oregon, and many of my childhood friends supported Trump. They’re not the hateful caricatures that some liberals expect, any more than New York liberals are the effete paper cutouts that my old friends assume.

Maybe we need more junior year “abroad” programs that send liberals to Kansas and conservatives to Massachusetts.

Hatred for Trump voters also leaves the Democratic Party more removed from working-class pain. For people in their 50s, mortality rates for poorly educated whites have soared since 2000 and are now higher than for blacks at all education levels. Professors Angus Deaton and Anne Case of Princeton University say the reason is “deaths of despair” arising from suicide, drugs and alcohol.

Democrats didn’t do enough do address this suffering, so Trump won working-class voters — because he at least faked empathy for struggling workers. He sold these voters a clunker, and now he’s already beginning to betray them. His assault on Obamacare would devastate many working-class families by reducing availability of treatment for substance abuse. As I see it, Trump rode to the White House on a distress that his policies will magnify.

So by all means stand up to Trump, point out that he’s a charlatan and resist his initiatives. But remember that social progress means winning over voters in flyover country, and that it’s difficult to recruit voters whom you’re simultaneously castigating as despicable, bigoted imbeciles.

And here’s what “gemli” has to say about all that:

“It’s not as though I don’t feel the pain of the people who voted for the president. As a liberal, I endured eight years of W., and watched him fly over New Orleans after Katrina took my home, along with everything I owned. I watched as we were plunged into wars by god-fearing bigots, as women suffered for wanting to end an unwanted pregnancy, and as gay people struggled uphill trying to climb a mountain of abuse merely to reach their goal of basic human dignity.

I felt the elation of Obama’s election fade as our current president engineered a program of lies about his birth to undermine his legitimacy, and while Republicans shouted “Liar!” as he addressed the nation. I cringed as conservatives ignored the sight of twenty tiny coffins after Sandy Hook, and doubled down on their efforts to make guns available to the insane.

But nothing compares to the emptiness and despair I felt as I watched a vulgar, narcissistic and incurious idiot sail to victory by doing nothing more than tapping into the resentment of people who didn’t know they were being lied to. His presidency is even more of a sham than I could have imagined, and, as predicted, he’s hurting the people who voted for him.

In my weaker moments, I feel sorry for them. But mostly I despair for a country so deluded by ignorance and resentment that we have shamed ourselves, possibly for generations to come. My sympathy is in short supply, and frankly, I need all I can muster for myself. The rest are on their own.”

Kristof and Collins

March 30, 2017

In “President Trump vs. Big Bird” Mr. Kristof says that to value the humanities and the arts isn’t wimpish or elitist. It’s civilized.  Which is what Mein Fubar and his cronies aren’t.  Ms. Collins says “Trump Remembers the Ladies” and considers a celebration for Women’s History Month in an administration where women are rare.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

So what if President Trump wants to deport Big Bird?

We’re struggling with terrorism, refugees, addiction, and grizzlies besieging schools. Isn’t it snobbish to fuss over Trump’s plans to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Let me argue the reverse: Perhaps Trump’s election is actually a reminder that we need the humanities more than ever to counter nationalism and demagoguery.

Civilization is built not just on microchips, but also on arts, ideas and the humanities. And the arts are a bargain: The N.E.A. budget is $148 million a year, or less than 0.004 percent of the federal budget. The per-capita cost for Americans is roughly the cost of a postage stamp.

The humanities may seem squishy and irrelevant. We have a new president who doesn’t read books and who celebrates raw power. It would be easy to interpret Trump as proof of the irrelevance of the humanities.

Yet the humanities are far more powerful than most people believe. The world has been transformed over the last 250 years by what might be called a revolution of empathy driven by the humanities. Previously, almost everyone (except Quakers) accepted slavery and even genocide. Thomas Jefferson justified the “extermination” of Native Americans; whippings continued in American prisons in the 20th century; and at least 15,000 people turned up to watch the last public hanging in the United States, in 1936.

What tamed us was, in part, books. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” famously contributed to the abolitionist movement, and “Black Beauty” helped change the way we treat animals. Steven Pinker of Harvard argues that a surge of literacy and an explosion of reading — novels in particular — “contributed to the humanitarian revolution,” by helping people see other viewpoints. There is also modern experimental evidence that reading literary fiction promotes empathy.

The humanities have even reshaped our diet. In 1971, a few philosophy students, including an Australian named Peter Singer, gathered on a street in Oxford, England, to protest the sale of eggs from hens raised in small cages. This was an unknown issue back then, and passers-by smiled at the students’ idealism but told them they’d never change the food industry.

Looking back, who was naïve? Today, keeping hens in small cages is illegal in Britain, in the rest of the European Union and in parts of the United States. McDonald’s, Burger King, General Mills and Walmart are all moving toward exclusively cage-free eggs, because consumers demanded it.

Singer, now a Princeton University professor, is a wisp of a man who defeated an agribusiness army with the power of his ideas and the muscle of the humanities. (Singer has a terrific recent book, “Ethics in the Real World,” that wrestles with how much we should donate to charity, and whether wearing a $10,000 watch is a sign of good taste, or of shallow narcissism.)

In short, the humanities encourage us to reflect on what is important, to set priorities. For example, do we get more value as taxpayers from Big Bird and art or music programs, or from the roughly $30 million Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort will cost us when he’s tallied nine visits in office (he’s already more than halfway there)? That’s also more than the cost of salaries and expenses to run the National Endowment for the Humanities, not including the grants it hands out.

Do we get more value from billions of dollars spent on deportations? Or from tiny sums to support art therapy for wounded veterans?

Then there’s our favorite bird. The Onion humor website reported: “Gaunt, Hollow-Eyed Big Bird Enters Sixth Day Of Hunger Strike Against Proposed Trump Budget.” In fact, Big Bird will survive, but some local public television stations will close without federal support — meaning that children in some parts of the country may not be able to see “Sesame Street” on their local channel.

In 2017, with the world a mess, I’d say we need not only drones but also Big Bird, and poetry and philosophy. Indeed, our new defense secretary, Jim Mattis, apparently shares that view: He carried Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” to Iraq with him.

It’d be nice to see Mattis drop off “Meditations” for the new commander in chief. And maybe present the first lady a copy of “Lysistrata.”

Look, I know it sounds elitist to hail the humanities. But I’ve seen people die for ideas. At Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, I watched protesters sacrifice their lives for democracy. In Congo, I saw a tiny Polish nun stand up to a warlord because of her faith and values.

The humanities do not immunize a society from cruelty and overreaction; early-20th-century Germany proves that. But on balance, the arts humanize us and promote empathy. We need that now more than ever.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Women’s History Month is coming to an end. Donald Trump must be absolutely exhausted.

“… the White House has been hosting events all throughout March,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, launching into a list of activities that culminated Wednesday in a visit by the president to a special Women’s Empowerment Panel. The administration regarded this gathering as so important that it featured every single female cabinet member.

Yes! All four!

Actually, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao couldn’t come, so they substituted Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “My cabinet is full of really incredible women leaders,” the president said, looking at the quartet.

There are 24 people in the cabinet. This is one of the reasons that pictures of White House decision-making resemble a meeting of the Freemasons.

Besides Chao, the cabinet women include Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations, and Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration. While everybody wants to encourage small business and at least some of us want to encourage the U.N., neither of those would be regarded as exactly superpower positions.

The final slot, secretary of education, belongs to Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation hearing was highlighted by the discovery that she didn’t know about the rights of disabled students.

“I’m so proud,” the president beamed. He then set off on a quick march through women’s history, with shout-outs to Susan B. Anthony (“Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?”), Harriet Tubman and “the legendary Abigail Adams.”

Trump referred to Abigail’s famous letter asking John Adams to “remember the ladies” when writing the new country’s laws. He did not mention her husband’s response, which was, “I cannot but laugh.”

The theme for the White House women’s celebrations appears to be Failure to Appreciate Irony. On the one hand, multiple panels on women in business and families. Meanwhile, over on the nonsymbolic side, a passionate push for a bill that would have sent women’s health care costs through the roof.

“Really? Take away maternity care? … Who do these people talk to?” Hillary Clinton asked, somewhat rhetorically. This was during a speech to California businesswomen that marked the return of the feisty, political Clinton who spent a year warning people what would happen if they made Donald Trump president. Welcome back, Hillary.

Given the shortage of cabinet members, female Trumps have been called into play for the administration’s version of March Madness. Melania Trump gave a talk honoring the State Department’s International Women of Courage award winners, two of them from countries the president wants to include in his immigration ban. She also showed up for the four-women-in-the-cabinet panel. “Melania said, ‘This is something I just have to be at.’ She feels so strongly about it,” said her husband.

We are leaving the first lady alone. Presidential relatives who don’t mess in politics are off bounds.

Relatives with a West Wing office and security clearance are, however, fair game. Whenever the White House is trying to manufacture feminist credentials, Ivanka gets hauled out as Exhibit 1.

She’s certainly all over the place. Hosting a round table of women business owners. Sitting next to Angela Merkel to discuss vocational training. Sitting at Dad’s desk for a photo op during a visit by the Canadian prime minister.

“A great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table!” she tweeted. “That’s not a woman in power,” retorted comedian Trevor Noah. “It’s Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”

To be fair, Ivanka has been pushing Congress for a big child care tax deduction. It’s a laudable concept, except for the part about being unlikely to pass and giving most of the benefit to families that need it the least.

But she’s dropped all pretense of trying to get her father to support reproductive rights. After his health care defeat the president sneered at the right-wing House Freedom Caucus for having “saved Planned Parenthood.”

This was a guy, you’ll remember, who used to praise Planned Parenthood for its work promoting women’s health. Now he’s got no problem driving it into the ground. And in lieu of abortion rights, there’s been no attempt to expand women’s access to contraception.

Meanwhile, the White House was promoting its women’s history celebrations as being all about empowerment. It was, Spicer claimed, a longstanding presidential obsession — Trump had “made women’s empowerment a priority throughout the campaign.”

Well, there were those apologies for having bragged about being able to grab women by their private parts.

“Nice try, Sean,” retorted Emily’s List, recalling stories from that campaign of yore, including estimates that Trump paid men on his campaign staff one-third more than women.

Whoops, back to irony. Susan B. Anthony would be appalled. Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? If they were around today, you know who they’d be picketing.

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.