Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

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.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He upset social conventions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only that, but as NBC reported last month:

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

The report continued:

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristof and Collins

March 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

— Sincerely, Can’t Stand Trump

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

— Advice Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.L.: You really are tough.

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

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

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

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 23, 2017

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

Folks, we have been here before.

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

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

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

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

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

But it was not as it seemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two things bear repeating ad infinitum:

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

Today the question is the same.

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

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

Great question, Mr. Vice President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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