Blow and Krugman

February 13, 2017

In “The Power of Disruption” Mr. Blow tells us history shows that it works.  Prof. Krugman, in “Ignorance Is Strength,” says what they don’t know can hurt them, but also us.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Trump resistance movement is stretching its wings, engaging its muscles and feeling its power. It is large and strong and tough. It has moved past debilitating grief and into righteous anger, assiduous organization and pressing activism.

Welcome to the dawn of the fighting-mad majority: The ones who didn’t vote for Trump and maybe even some who now regret that they did.

They are charging forward under the banner of sage wisdom that has endured through the ages: Show up, get loud and fight back. Do it with your body and words, with your time and money, with every fiber of yourself. They see what this dawning regime means and they don’t intend, not even for a second, to wait around to see what happens. “What happens” is happening right now and it’s horrific.

Donald Trump is a vulgar, uninformed, anti-intellectual, extremely unpopular grifter helming a family of grifters who apparently intend to milk their moment on the mount for every red cent.

Trump still hasn’t released his taxes or fully disconnected from his businesses. His wife is suing The Daily Mail because she believes the newspaper may have injured her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multiyear term.” When his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line was dropped by Nordstrom, Trump lashed out at the retailer on Twitter, citing Ivanka as something of his moral compass: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” This begs the question: “Why do you need someone to push you to do the right thing?”

Then, top Trump adviser Kellyanne “QVC” Conway, from the confines of the White House briefing room, said during a televised interview: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say.” She continued: “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”

Unethical is too kind a word for these classless cretins. Furthermore, Trump has nominated, and his Republican conspirators in the Senate have confirmed, a rogues’ gallery of some of the least qualified, most questionable appointees in recent memory. Aside from some of them being the fiercest critics of the very agencies they are charged with leading, some have also been accused of bigotry, plagiarism, insider trading and overall vacuousness.

Trump’s Muslim ban has also been an absolute disaster and has met some much-applauded resistance in court, most recently with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rebuking the administration’s lawyers like children.

This administration is already manifesting as the disaster we knew it would be; the stench of its rot surrounds us. What is there to wait and see? A rose will never bloom from a weed; you must snatch that thing up at first sight, by the root.

That is why you are seeing so much grass-roots resistance from a multiplying array of groups. One of the most prominent is called “Indivisible.” The Nation interviewed Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project and reported on the exchange: “Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of ‘practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.’ This, he adds, ‘was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff — going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

I would add that these groups are practicing one of the most effective tactics of confronting power: disruption. Town hall meetings have been disrupted; protesters disrupted Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s plans to enter a Washington school.

Disruption works!

When Frederick Douglass attacked Abraham Lincoln by saying that he “seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous, if nothing worse,” Douglass was being disruptive.

When women suffragists paraded through Washington, they were being disruptive.

When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat, she was being disruptive.

When civil rights activists marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were being disruptive.

When LGBT people fought back at The Stonewall Inn, they were being disruptive.

When Act Up flooded Times Square, they were being disruptive.

When Occupy Wall Street refused to move from their parks, they were being disruptive.

When Black Lives Matter took to the streets and ground traffic to a halt, they were being disruptive.

When Native Americans stood in resistance at Standing Rock, they were being disruptive.

When Elizabeth Warren persisted, she was being disruptive.

Disruption is not a dirty word; in this environment, it’s a badge of honor.

Yes, it’s important to show up on Election Day, but it is also important to show up on the hundreds of days before and after. This is what the resistance movements are saying to Trump and his America: Buckle your seatbelts, because massive disruption is in the offing.

Trump is not normal. He is not competent. And we will not simply sit back and suck it up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When I travel to Asia, I’m fairly often met at the airport by someone holding a sign reading “Mr. Paul.” Why? In much of Asia, names are given family first, personal second — at home, the prime minister of Japan is referred to as Abe Shinzo. And the mistake is completely forgivable when it’s made by a taxi driver picking up a professor.

It’s not so forgivable, however, if the president of the United States makes the same mistake when welcoming the leader of one of our most important economic and security partners. But there it was: Donald Trump referring to Mr. Abe as, yes, Prime Minister Shinzo.

Mr. Abe did not, as far as we know, respond by calling his host President Donald.

Trivial? Well, it would be if it were an isolated instance. But it isn’t. What we’ve seen instead over the past three weeks is an awesome display of raw ignorance on every front. Worse, there’s no hint that either the White House or its allies in Congress see this as a problem. They appear to believe that expertise, or even basic familiarity with a subject, is for wimps; ignorance is strength.

We see this on legal matters: In a widely quoted analysis, the legal expert Benjamin Wittes described the infamous executive order on refugees as “malevolence tempered by incompetence,” and noted that the order reads “as if it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all” — which is a good way to lose in court.

We see it on national security matters, where the president continues to rely on a chief adviser who, suspicious closeness to the Kremlin aside, appears to get his strategic information from right-wing conspiracy theorists.

We see it on education, where the hearings for Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, revealed her to be completely ignorant about even the most elementary issues.

We see it on diplomacy. How hard is it to ask someone from the State Department to make sure that the White House gets foreign leaders’ names right? Too hard, apparently: Before the Abe flub, the official agenda for the state visit by Theresa May, the British prime minister, repeatedly misspelled her name.

And on economics — well, there’s nobody home. The Council of Economic Advisers, which is supposed to provide technical expertise, has been demoted from cabinet rank, but that hardly matters, since nobody has been nominated to serve. Remember all that talk about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan? If you do, please remind the White House, which hasn’t offered even a ghost of a concrete proposal.

But let me not be too hard on the Tweeter-in-chief: disdain for expertise is general in his party. For example, the most influential Republican economists aren’t serious academics with a conservative bent, of whom there are many; they’re known hacks who literally can’t get a number right.

Or consider the current G.O.P. panic over health care. Many in the party seem shocked to learn that repealing any major part of Obamacare will cause tens of millions to lose insurance. Anyone who studied the issue could have told them years ago how the pieces of health reform fit together, and why. In fact, many of us did, repeatedly. But competent analysis wasn’t wanted.

And that is, of course, the point. Competent lawyers might tell you that your Muslim ban is unconstitutional; competent scientists that climate change is real; competent economists that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves; competent voting experts that there weren’t millions of illegal ballots; competent diplomats that the Iran deal makes sense, and Putin is not your friend. So competence must be excluded.

At this point, someone is bound to say, “If they’re so dumb, how come they won?” Part of the answer is that disdain for experts — sorry, “so-called” experts — resonates with an important part of the electorate. Bigotry wasn’t the only dark force at work in the election; so was anti-intellectualism, hostility toward “elites” who claim that opinions should be based on careful study and thought.

Also, campaigning is very different from governing. This is especially true when the news media spend far more time obsessing over your opponent’s pseudo-scandals than they do on all actual policy issues combined.

But now things have gotten real, and all indications are that the people in charge have no idea what they’re doing, on any front.

In some ways this cluelessness may be a good thing: malevolence may indeed be tempered by incompetence. It’s not just the court defeat over immigration; Republican ignorance has turned what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg against Obamacare into a quagmire, to the great benefit of millions. And Mr. Trump’s imploding job approval might help slow the march to autocracy.

But meanwhile, who’s in charge? Crises happen, and we have an intellectual vacuum at the top. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Oh, trust me, Paul — I’m terrified.

Collins, solo

February 11, 2017

In “Footing the Bill for the Trumps” Ms. Collins points out that on the public’s dime, the first family is costing a pretty penny. It’s curious behavior considering the president’s 2011 complaints about the Obamas.  Here she is:

All these Trumps are getting damned expensive.

Last month, taxpayers forked over nearly $100,000 to protect Eric Trump while he was on a business trip to Uruguay. And the Defense Department is looking to rent space in Trump Tower — which goes for as much as $1.5 million a year per floor — so they can bring the nuclear launch codes along when the president comes to visit his wife in New York.

The mere idea of Donald Trump and the nuclear codes is way more disturbing than the money. But still, critics claim that Melania Trump’s decision not to move into the White House is costing the country more in security than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Melania is staying in New York so her son, Barron, can continue at his school. Presumably, the bill will drop somewhat over the summer. Meanwhile, the city police and the Secret Service have wrapped an incredibly expensive security blanket around a chunk of Fifth Avenue.

Of course she’s totally within her rights. One of the rules for criticizing a first family is that you leave the kids alone. (I am not thinking here of Eric.) If Melania decides never to become part of official Washington at all, that’s fine. There’s plenty of precedent. Zachary Taylor’s wife, Margaret, hated the whole idea so much that when Taylor died in office, the engraving of the deathbed scene showed Mrs. Taylor with her hands over her face in grief, because nobody knew what she actually looked like.

On the other hand, she never filed a lawsuit claiming an erroneous news story had hurt her ability to market a “broad-based commercial brand” while she had an unmatchable opportunity to be in the public eye as first lady.

Melania says her legal actions are completely misunderstood.

Conservatives used to have a field day complaining about the high cost of moving the Obamas around. The future President Trump himself once tweeted: “The habitual vacationer, @BarackObama, is now in Hawaii. This vacation is costing taxpayers $4 million +++ while there is 20% unemployment.”

The unemployment rate was not, at the time, anywhere near 20 percent. And last weekend Trump happily ran up a federal bill of around $3 million for a trip to Mar-a-Lago where he watched the Super Bowl and dropped in on a Red Cross ball, which presumably brought his resort a hefty fee.

Yeah, it’s the profit-making end of the story that’s so irritating. When Eric Trump went to Uruguay, his mission was to promote Trump Tower Punta del Este. “We’re going to have an amazing company,” Eric told the local media, adding that his father was going to do “amazing things for the United States.” And that Dad would be “an incredible commander in chief.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, adjective-wise.

The president has theoretically separated himself from all his businesses, but they still belong to him. He may not have operational command, but Eric does, and it’s hard for folks in Uruguay not to believe that the president is watching when the son comes to call and mix with his fellow realtors, flanked by a security detail that’s on our dime.

Those continuing financial interests around the world are a huge problem — you probably noticed that the immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries didn’t include the ones in which the president had hotels or condos or golf courses? And he’s never going to do anything to fix it. When Trump was calling for better ethics in Washington, he only wanted us to drain the other guys’ swamp.

But don’t you wish he’d try to show he appreciates the security price tag? We don’t want to make little Barron change schools, but Trump could buy Melania a condo in a relatively low-traffic location to save security from having to create a no-go zone in Midtown. It would send up a signal that he realized the problems he was causing. Also it would be cheaper for the Defense Department. And maybe closer to the school. The only thing inconvenienced would be Donald’s bottom line.

And Eric could have put his security detail up for free. Given that he was traveling on a moneymaking venture and all.

Trump did announce that when the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, came to visit him in Mar-a-Lago this weekend, he was not going to charge Abe for his room. “That is a gift that the president is extending to the prime minister,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, otherwise known as The Most Miserable Man on Earth.

That was the grand gesture. Meanwhile, you could argue that Trump is using a visit by an important foreign leader to promote one of his brands.

At least Abe has not been requested to pose holding up a gift bottle of Trump wine. As far as we know.

Well, you know, Gail — grifters gotta grift.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 10, 2017

Bobo wants someone to come up with “A Gift for Donald Trump,” and he frets over what to give the man who has everything.  “Ross McLaurin” from Houston, TX will have something to say…  In “Preserving the Sanctity of All Facts” Mr. Cohen says in a new era of “alternative facts” and the talk of “fact-based” journalism, the simple truth is under siege.  Prof. Krugman, in “When the Fire Comes,” says we should get ready for the inevitable presidential power grab.  Here’s Bobo:

If you could give Donald Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be?

My first thought was that prudence was the most important gift one could give him. Prudence is the ability to govern oneself with the use of reason. It is the ability to suppress one’s impulses for the sake of long-term goals. It is the ability to see the specific circumstances in which you are placed, and to master the art of navigating within them.

My basic thought was that a prudent President Trump wouldn’t spend his mornings angrily tweeting out his resentments. A prudent Trump wouldn’t spend his afternoons barking at foreign leaders and risking nuclear war. “Prudence is what differentiates action from impulse and heroes from hotheads,” writes the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order — building walls, offending allies and driving away the stranger and the refugee. Do I really want to make him more prudent and effective in pursuit of malicious goals?

Moreover, the true Trump dysfunction seems deeper. We are used to treating politicians as vehicles for political philosophies and interest groups. But in Trump’s case, his philosophy, populism, often takes a back seat to his psychological complexes — the psychic wounds that seem to induce him into a state of perpetual war with enemies far and wide.

With Trump we are relentlessly thrown into the Big Shaggy, that unconscious underground of wounds, longings and needs that drive him to do what he does, to tweet what he does, to attack whom he does.

Thinking about politics in the age of Trump means relying less on the knowledge of political science and more on the probings of D.H. Lawrence, David Foster Wallace and Carl Jung.

At the heart of Trumpism is the perception that the world is a dark, savage place, and therefore ruthlessness, selfishness and callousness are required to survive in it. It is the utter conviction, as Trump put it, that murder rates are at a 47-year high, even though in fact they are close to a 57-year low. It is the utter conviction that we are engaged in an apocalyptic war against radical Islamic terrorism, even though there are probably several foreign policy problems of greater importance.

It’s not clear if Trump is combative because he sees the world as dangerous or if he sees the world as dangerous because it justifies his combativeness. Either way, Trumpism is a posture that leads to the now familiar cycle of threat perception, insult, enemy-making, aggrievement, self-pity, assault and counterassault.

So, upon reflection, the gift I would give Trump would be an emotional gift, the gift of fraternity. I’d give him the gift of some crisis he absolutely could not handle on his own. The only way to survive would be to fall back entirely on others, and then to experience what it feels like to have them hold him up.

Out of that, I hope, would come an ability to depend on others, to trust other people, to receive grace, and eventually a desire for companionship. Fraternity is the desire to make friends during both good and hostile occasions and to be faithful to those friends. The fraternal person is seeking harmony and fair play between individuals. He is trying to move the world from tension to harmony.

Donald Trump didn’t have to have an administration that was at war with everyone but its base. He came to office with a populist mandate that cut across partisan categories. He could have created unorthodox coalitions and led unexpected alliances that would have broken the logjam of our politics.

He didn’t have to have a vicious infighting administration in which everybody leaks against one another and in which backstairs life is a war of all against all.

He doesn’t have to begin each day making enemies: Nordstrom, John McCain, judges. He could begin each day looking for friends, and he would actually get a lot more done.

On Inauguration Day, when Trump left his wife in the dust so he could greet the Obamas, I didn’t realize how quickly having a discourteous leader would erode the conversation. But look at how many of any day’s news stories are built around enmity. The war over who can speak in the Senate. Kellyanne Conway’s cable TV battle du jour. Half my Facebook feed is someone linking to a video with the headline: Watch X demolish Y.

I doubt that Trump will develop a capacity for fraternity any time soon, but to be human is to hold out hope, and to believe that even a guy as old and self-destructive as Trump is still 0.001 percent open to a transformation of the heart.

And there’s probably a 0.001% chance that I’ll see pigs flying past my house.  Here’s what “Ross McLaurin” had to say:

“Sure, and if only Hitler had been more like Mother Teresa, Hugo Chavez the benefit of a degree in economics and Nero a fire extinguisher.

On what rational basis do you expect a 70 year old man whose well publicized and ill advised business and personal dealings over many decades will change? My recollection is that he has been involved in over 3500 lawsuits as he attempts to bully or weasel his way out of his dealings. Why would you possibly have any transactions with such a person?

He is an artist when it comes to convincing the gullible. As good a writer as you are, you are not in that category and I don’t know why you are trying to convince me or yourself that their exists the slightest possibility that Trump will transform into someone totally different that the “Donald” that he has been parading around for decades.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Fact-based journalism is a ridiculous, tautological phrase. It’s like talking about oxygen-based human life. There is no other kind. Facts are journalism’s foundation; the pursuit of them, without fear or favor, is its main objective.

But in this time of President Trump’s almost daily “fake news” accusations against The New York Times, and of his counselor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” and of untruths seeping like a plague from the highest office in the land, there’s increasing talk of “real” or “fact-based” journalism.

That’s ominous. Fact-based as opposed to what other type? To state the obvious, fake news websites fed by kids in Macedonia to make a buck are not journalism. These sites use fabricated stuff in journalism’s garb to further political ends.

There’s a targeted “Gaslight” attack on journalists designed to make them doubt their sanity. It’s emanating from the White House and aims to drag everyone down the rabbit hole where 2+2=5.

Velocity trumps veracity. That is the puzzle and the menace of our age.

Speed and disruption have more psychological impact than truth and science. They shape the discourse. The debunking of a fake news story is seldom as powerful as the story itself. Trump says “X.” Uproar! Hordes of journalists scurry to disprove “X.” He moves on, never to mention it again, or claims that he did not say it, or insists that what he really said was “Y.”

People begin to wonder: Am I imagining this? They feel that some infernal mechanism has taken hold and is dragging them toward an abyss. The president is a reference point; if he lies, lying seeps deep into the culture. Americans start to ask: Will we ever be able to dislodge these people from power? What are they capable of?

Simon Schama, the British historian, recently tweeted: “Indifference about the distinction between truth and lies is the precondition of fascism. When truth perishes so does freedom.”

The enormity of the defiling of the White House in just three weeks is staggering. For decades the world’s security was undergirded by America’s word. The words that issued from the Oval Office were solemn. It was on America’s word, as expressed by the president, that the European continent and allies like Japan built their postwar security.

Now the words that fall from Trump’s pursed lips or, often misspelled, onto his Twitter feed are trite or false or meaningless. He’s angry with Nordstrom, for heaven’s sake, because the department store chain dropped his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line! This is the concern of the leader of the free world.

Unpresidented!

I was struck by how Paul Horner, who runs a big Facebook fake-news operation, described our times in The Washington Post: “Honestly people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

We’ve never seen anything like it because when hundreds of millions of Americans are connected, anyone, clueless or not, can disseminate what they like with a click.

Horner came up, during the campaign, with the fake news story that a protester at a Trump rally had been paid $3,500. It went viral. We’ve had fake news accounts of how Hillary Clinton paid $62 million to Beyoncé and Jay Z to perform in Cleveland, and how Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim American officer killed in Iraq, was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fake news — BREAKING! SHOCKING! — swayed the election.

Now we have President Trump suggesting that the real fake news is his negative polls — along with CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and any other news organizations that are doing their jobs: holding his authority to account and bearing witness to his acts. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s man of the shadows, thinks the media should “keep its mouth shut.” We won’t.

Sometimes I try to imagine what Trump’s Reichstag fire moment might be. In February 1933, a few weeks after Hitler became chancellor, fire engulfed the parliament in Berlin — an act of arson whose origin is still unclear. A recent New Yorker article by George Prochnik quoted the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig on Hitler’s savage reaction: “At one blow all of justice in Germany was smashed.”

From a president who loathes the press, who insults the judiciary, who has no time for American ideals of liberty or democracy, and whose predilection for violence is evident, what would be the reaction to a Reichstag fire in American guise — say a major act of terrorism?

We can only shudder at the thought.

Facts matter. The federal judiciary is pushing back. The administration is leaking. Journalism (no qualifier needed) has never been more important. Truth has not yet perished, but to deny that it is under siege would be to invite disaster.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What will you do when terrorists attack, or U.S. friction with some foreign power turns into a military confrontation? I don’t mean in your personal life, where you should keep calm and carry on. I mean politically. Think about it carefully: The fate of the republic may depend on your answer.

Of course, nobody knows whether there will be a shocking, 9/11-type event, or what form it might take. But surely there’s a pretty good chance that sometime over the next few years something nasty will happen — a terrorist attack on a public place, an exchange of fire in the South China Sea, something. Then what?

After 9/11, the overwhelming public response was to rally around the commander in chief. Doubts about the legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote and was installed by a bare majority on the Supreme Court were swept aside. Unquestioning support for the man in the White House was, many Americans believed, what patriotism demanded.

The truth was that even then the urge toward national unity was one-sided, with Republican exploitation of the atrocity for political gain beginning almost immediately. But people didn’t want to hear about it; I got angry mail, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, whenever I pointed out what was going on.

Unfortunately, the suspension of critical thinking ended as such suspensions usually do — badly. The Bush administration exploited the post-9/11 rush of patriotism to take America into an unrelated war, then used the initial illusion of success in that war to ram through huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bad as that was, however, the consequences if Donald Trump finds himself similarly empowered will be incomparably worse.

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

But what’s even worse is the way Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, framed the issue: Nordstrom’s business decision was a “direct attack” on the president’s policies. L’état, c’est moi.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power:

[Trump’s tweet, which I can’t figure out how to get in here, reads as follows:

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

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it. So who are these people?

It certainly won’t be Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It won’t be Jeff Sessions, his new attorney general, with his long history of contempt for voting rights. It might be the courts — but Mr. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize judicial oversight in advance.

What about Congress? Well, its members like to give patriotic speeches. And maybe, just maybe, there are enough Republican senators who really do care about America’s fundamental values to cross party lines in their defense. But given what we’ve seen so far, that’s just hopeful speculation.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.

Krugman’s blog, 2/7/17

February 9, 2017

There was one post on Tuesday (sorry I missed yesterday, but I was sick as a dog), “Is There A Trump Bubble?”:

Everyone knows that stocks and interest rates have soared since the election; at the same time, if you aren’t worried about erratic policies from the Tweeter-in-chief, you’re really not paying attention. So are markets getting it all wrong?

I’ve been wondering about that — and yes, in the first few hours after the election I thought, briefly and wrongly, that a crash was coming quickly. But anyway, I decided to crunch a few numbers — and surprised myself. I still think markets are underrating the risk of catastrophe. But I’m not as sure as I was that there’s a huge Trump bubble buoying markets — because when you actually look at the data, the market action has been much smaller than the hype.

Look first at stocks. Yes, they’re up since the election. But how does this rise compare with past fluctuations? Not very big, actually:

What about real interest rates? I’ve been arguing that the widespread belief in serious fiscal stimulus is wrong, which means that a really big rise in real interest rates wouldn’t be warranted. But it turns out that the movement isn’t that big:

There was an overshoot early one, but at this point it’s only about 30 basis points, consistent with fiscal stimulus of maybe 1 percent of GDP. Still high, I think, but not yuge.

Inflation expectations are also up, but that may reflect various non-Trump things like growing evidence that we really are close to full employment.

I still think that markets are too sanguine. But the truth is that they haven’t moved nearly as much as the hype suggests, so the case for either a huge Trump effect or a huge Trump bubble is a lot weaker than you might think.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

February 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

The Post continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next day, Trump again took to Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2016, my mom became a naturalized

Citizen just in time to watch
America denature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 2/6/17

February 7, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Dude, Where’s My Policy?”:

What Trump has done or tried to do over the past two years — wait, it’s really only been two weeks? — is incredibly bad. But spare a bit of attention to what doesn’t seem to be happening. Has anyone heard anything, anything at all, about domestic policy development?

Remember, after the election Wall Street decided that we were going to see a big push on infrastructure, tax cuts, etc.. Some analysts were warning that progressives should be ready for the possibility that Trump would engage in “reactionary Keynesianism.” Worrying parallels were drawn between Trumpism and autobahn construction under you-know-who.

But if there’s a WH task force preparing an infrastructure plan, it’s very well hidden; maybe they’re waiting to figure out how to turn on the lights. Seriously, I’ve been saying for a while that there will be no significant public construction plan. Wall Street economists, at least, are starting to catch on.

Meanwhile, that Obamacare replacement is … still nowhere to be seen, with GOP Congresspeople literally running away when asked about it.

Big tax cuts — and savage cuts to social programs — are still very much on the Congressional Republican agenda, and they could put it all together, hand it to Bannon, and have Trump sign it without reading. But I’m starting to wonder: surely they planned to unveil things during the Trump honeymoon, with the public prepared to believe that it was all done with the little guy’s interests in mind. Even pre 9-11 Bush could count on media goodwill and supine Democrats to ram through his tax cuts.

But now? With massive public distrust, and media fully willing to do real reporting on the distribution of tax cuts, not “Democrats say that the rich are the big winners”? With the media infatuation on Serious, Honest Paul Ryan at least temporarily dented by his avid support for Muslim bans and all that? Maybe they’ll do it anyway, but it seems a lot less certain than it did in November.

At this point I’m starting to wonder whether there will be any real movement on economic policy, as opposed to random insults aimed at allies.

It’s odd that the markets are, so far, not reflecting any of this; they’re basically unchanged from the levels they reached after the initial Trump Boom euphoria. But surely the odds have shifted, and there’s now a real possibility that on domestic policy, at least, we’re in for a period of sound, fury, and tweets signifying nothing.

Brooks and Cohen

February 7, 2017

Bobo still can’t quite find it in himself to admit what’s happening in the Alt-White House…  Today he presented us with “Where History Is Being Made,” in which he gurgles that Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few things to say.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Queen for a Free Trade Deal,” says Theresa May’s Brexit-buffeted Britain offers a bridge to Trump, but Europe mulls a rampart.  Theresa May has lost her mind, and Parliament has declined to hear from Mein Fubar.  Here’s Bobo:

James and Deborah Fallows have always moved to where history is being made. In the 1980s, when the Japanese economic model seemed like the wave of the future, the husband and wife team moved to Japan with their school-age children. Then, after 9/11, they were back in Washington, with James writing a series of essays for The Atlantic about what might go wrong if the U.S. invaded Iraq.

In 2006, they moved to China and both wrote books about China’s re-emergence. Over the past few years they have been flying around the U.S. (James is a pilot), writing about the American social fabric — where it’s in tatters and where it’s in renewal. That was pretty prescient in the lead-up to the age of Trump.

James and Deb have an excellent sense of where world-shaping events are taking place at any moment — and a fervent commitment to be there to see it happen.

Their example has prompted what I call the Fallows Question, which I unfurl at dinner parties: If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?

Let’s start with a little historical perspective.

If you had responded to the Fallows Question in 1968 you would have moved to California, both to the Bay Area and to Orange County. That would have put you at the epicenter of the ’60s counterculture, and also at the center of the Reaganite conservatism that arose in response.

By 1974, the most important place to be was the offices of the magazine Ms. For all its excesses, feminism has been the most important and the most salutary change of our lifetimes.

By the 1980s, the big historical changes had to do with capitalism and finance, so either Japan or Wall Street was the place to be. In the early 1990s, Europe was the place to witness the end of communism and the false dawn of global peace. By the ’90s, Silicon Valley was the most important driver of world historical change.

The Fallows were clearly right to go witness the rise of China, but by 2006 I could also argue that equally important events were happening in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus, with the crumbling of the modern Middle East.

By 2010, the Fallows Question would have taken you to the neuroscience departments at universities like N.Y.U., Harvard and U.S.C., where cognitive scientists were rewriting our understanding of the human mind. By 2015, it would have taken you to working-class Ohio to witness the populist upheaval that is driving current global politics.

Today, I’d say the most pivotal spot on earth is Washington, D.C. The crucial questions will be settled there: Can Donald Trump be induced to govern in some rational manner or will he blow up the world? Does he represent a populist tide that will only grow or is some other set of ideas building for his overthrow? Are the leading institutions — everything from the Civil Service to the news media to the political parties — resilient enough to correct for the Trumpian chaos?

Washington will either preserve the world order or destroy it.

I sent the Fallows Question to the Fallows themselves, and they agreed in part with my Washington answer. But they also said that the most important place to be now might be places like Erie, Pa.; Fresno, Ca.; and Columbus, Ohio.

Trump’s presence in the White House may push change to the local levels. In these cities, the Fallows argue, citizen participants are coping with declining industries, creating new civic cultures, assimilating waves of immigration, collaborating across party lines to revive everything from arts programs to tech seedbeds.

If you want to “observe” history, the Fallows say, go to Washington. If you want to “participate,” go elsewhere.

That’s a good argument, but I suppose I should close by widening the possibilities. After all, few knew about Martin Luther in 1517 or what Deng Xiaoping would unleash in 1977. So maybe the most important spot on earth right now is to be found at:

An evangelical church in Brooklyn that has come up with a style of faith that satisfies the spiritual needs of blue America.

A National Front office in Paris where a French Stephen Bannon is plotting the final destruction of the European Union.

A bio lab somewhere where researchers are finding ways to tailor cancer treatment to each patient’s particular genetic makeup, thus lengthening lives and restructuring the phases of the typical human life.

A set of universities, headquartered in Mauritius and spread throughout Africa, that will unleash the human potential of that continent at exactly the moment when the African future, in many places, is most promising.

Most people can’t up and move in search of history. They’re tied down by work, family and spiritual commitments. But you only go around once in life, so if you can swing it, you might as well be where the action is.

Gawd…  Here’s what “gemli” had to say about this:

“The most important spot on earth right now is Vienna, where teams of psychiatrists trying to find out what’s wrong with our president.

There is no safe place we can move to as long as he is in charge. His personality is dissociating before our eyes. Either he can’t tell truth from fiction, which indicates mental disease, or he intentionally lies about self-evident truths, which indicates mental disease. At official gatherings he wallows in personal aggrandizement, followed by disparagement of some irrelevant critic.

The swirl and turmoil of being thrust inept and unprepared into the presidency have caused him to issue inconsistent, contradictory and irrational orders. As long as he’s president his missives will have the force of his office behind them, and will set courts and countries into disarray.

Republicans in Congress must recognize by now that the promise of his presidency will not advance their interests. There is no way to carry on business as usual. Democrats are rebelling, people are marching in the streets, foreign leaders are mystified and Putin is laughing.

There is no church, no bio-lab, and no university that will matter if things continue to destabilize.

So if I were the Fallows, I might head for a 1960s-era fallout shelter. Il Doofus hasn’t been president for three weeks, and already the world going to hell in a handbasket.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Sunderland, England:

From this northeastern town that has lost its shipyard, its coal industry and its glass manufacturers in recent decades emerged the first signal that Britain was to change course. After the Sunderland Brexit vote came in — 61.3 percent in favor of leaving the European Union — there was little doubt how last June’s referendum would go.

Nissan, the Japanese automaker, had warned against a vote to leave. It is now the largest private-sector employer in the area, with 6,700 people working at its plant and tens of thousands more in the supply chain. Workers didn’t care. Like tens of millions of people across Britain and the United States, they were ready for disruption: to heck with the tired advice of politicians, multinational corporations and bankers.

Prime Minister Theresa May has since intervened with Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, and the company recommitted to the plant last year. Still, Ghosn has said Nissan will “re-evaluate the situation” once the terms of Britain’s exit from a single market of a half-billion people are agreed. Those negotiations will take years.

That’s Britain’s situation in a nutshell: uncertain, unfamiliar and unsteady. The country has cut loose from its European ties; nobody is sure where it’s drifting, although May’s coddling of President Donald Trump has been insistent.

“None of us saw this coming,” Charlie Nettle, the head of marketing and business development at AV Dawson, a logistics company, told me. Behind him, in a vast warehouse, I could see some 30 tons of rolled steel, much of it destined for Nissan. “There was a massive divide between management and the work force across the board. We told workers management was voting to stay in and a lot of important international relationships were at stake. But they felt overlooked by politicians. This was their chance to be heard.”

Nettle said that after the vote, three companies that had been in negotiations on investments in the region that would have involved Dawson pulled out. Since then things have settled down somewhat, but, “We are still in this period where people are nervous about making investment decisions. That’s a bad thing.”

It will go on for a while. May has been trying to reposition Britain. It’s a tough exercise in that geography is immovable. Europe, rejected, sits next door. Sometimes it seems that she’s intent on turning Britain from a leading European power into America’s malleable little Euro-appendage. Well, she might say, that’s what the people wanted.

In fact, it’s unclear what the people voted for. Some 48 percent wanted to remain. The “Brexiters” were a motley band driven mainly by anti-immigration anger, sentimental nationalism, resentment of globalized elites, economic fears, phobias about Germany and Brussels — all whipped up by post-truth politicians. The European Union was little more than a convenient scapegoat for a host of anxieties. Now May is casting around for faraway friends to offset the damage.

Her first stop and priority was Washington. With unseemly and unprecedented haste she invited Trump for a state visit: the queen for a Europe-offsetting free trade deal. It was enough to make Britons squirm, especially with talk of Churchill thrown in.

This clumsy move has prompted a petition against the visit signed by more than 1.8 million people, a statement from the speaker of the House of Commons that Trump is unfit to address Parliament, and musings as to whether Prince Charles and Trump will get into a fist fight over global warming. May has been on the defensive about Trump’s pointless anti-Muslim immigration and refugee ban.

At the same time, siding with a president who wants to break up the European Union has not done May any favors as Brexit negotiations loom. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is unimpressed. “Our sucking-up to Trump when Trump is anti-E.U. is making our relationship with Europe more difficult,” Hugo Dixon, the editor of InFacts, a pro-European publication, said.

The May government has tried to portray Britain as Europe’s bridge to Trump. Bridge, schmidge: That did not wash. “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter,” the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, observed. In Europe there is serious questioning about what kind of ally Trump’s America is and whether a bridge — or a rampart — is needed.

As May shifts to a more pro-Israel stance, in apparent deference to Trump, and hurries to Turkey to conclude a fighter jet deal (going light on Turkey’s human rights record), a new post-Brexit British foreign policy takes shape. For now, it does not look edifying.

Brexit is the rift that will keep on giving.

Back in Sunderland, Ross Smith, the director of policy at the Chamber of Commerce, told me: “Hopefully, the negotiations will take years. We don’t want to fall off a cliff.”

Harry Trueman, the deputy leader of the Sunderland City Council, was wearing a Trump tie he bought in New York. “It’s the only thing Trump can produce,” Trueman told me. Then he showed me the label: “Handmade in China.”

Blow and Krugman

February 6, 2017

Mr. Blow believes that the President* needs “A Lesson in Black History” and that Donald Trump has much to learn from Frederick Douglass.  First off that he’s no longer with us…  Prof. Krugman, in “Springtime for Scammers,” says they’re making financial predators great again.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week at a supposed Black History Month “listening session” at the White House, Donald Trump made this baffling statement: “I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

It sounded a bit like he thought the inimitable Douglass, who died in 1895, was some lesser-known black leader who was still alive.

When Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked what Trump meant by his Douglass comments, Spicer responded:

“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

Assuming that the “he” in that sentence refers to Douglass, these numbskulls are actually referring to him as a living person and have absolutely no clue who Douglass is and what he means to America.

Social media had a field day with this, relentlessly mocking the team, but for me the emotion was overwhelming sadness: How could the American “president” or a White House press secretary, or any American citizen for that matter, not know who Douglass is?

Let’s be absolutely clear here: Frederick Douglass is a singular, towering figure of American history. The entire legacy of black intellectual thought and civil rights activism flows in some way through Douglass, from W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to President Barack Obama himself.

Douglass was one of the most brilliant thinkers, writers and orators America has ever produced. Furthermore, he harnessed and mastered the media of his day: Writing an acclaimed autobiography, establishing his own newspaper and becoming the most photographed American of the 19th century.

Put another way: If modern social media existed during Douglass’s time, he would have been one of its kings.

Douglass also was a friend of Susan B. Anthony and an advocate for women’s civil rights as well as the civil rights of black people, understanding even then the intersectionality of oppressions. In fact, the motto of his newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color — God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”

But perhaps one of the best reasons Trump and Spicer need to bone up on Douglass is to understand his relationship with Abraham Lincoln and to get a better sense of what true leadership looks like.

Douglass was a blistering critic of Lincoln from the beginning. In Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address, he quoted from one of his previous speeches in which he had said “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” and he went on to defend the Fugitive Slave Act, promising the slave states full enforcement of it as long as it was on the books.

This incensed Douglass, who said of the remarks: “Not content with the broadest recognition of the right of property in the souls and bodies of men in the slave states, Mr. Lincoln next proceeds, with nerves of steel, to tell the slaveholders what an excellent slave hound he is.”

Although Douglass’s cutting critique of Lincoln began to soften after Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass continued to be unhappy throughout the Civil War about the unequal treatment of black soldiers in the Union Army. But even in the midst of this criticism, Lincoln entertained Douglass at the White House.

Although Douglass wasn’t fully satisfied with Lincoln’s positions, Douglass remarked of the meeting: “Mr. Lincoln listened with earnest attention and with very apparent sympathy, and replied to each point in his own peculiar, forcible way.”

This stands in stark contrast to Trump’s avoidance of black intellectuals and even any real critics. Trump’s “listening session” seemed to be populated only by his black appointees and supporters.

Lincoln and Douglass would go on to develop a genuine friendship and Douglass would become something of Lincoln’s conscience on the slave issue. In fact, Lincoln called Douglass “one of the most meritorious men, if not the most meritorious man, in the United States.”

That is what leadership and growth look like. Lincoln grew from the association with and counsel from his onetime critic, to become one of the greatest presidents America has ever known.

Indeed Black History Month began not as a month but a week: Negro History week, the second week of February. It was established in 1926 by noted black historian Carter G. Woodson, and choosing February was no coincidence: It honored the birthdays of Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and Douglass, who helped direct his conscience.

Trump would do well to study this history; he has much to learn from it. As the historian Woodson’s personal motto went: “It’s never too late to learn.”

Trump study?  When pigs fly.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

People keep saying that Donald Trump is a populist. I do not think that word means what they think it means.

OK, it’s true that our so-called president — hey, if he can say that about a judge who ruled against him, surely we can say that about him — is channeling the racism and bigotry of some ordinary Americans, and in so doing sticking it to squeamish elites that take the Constitution both seriously and literally. But so far his economic policies are all about empowering ethically challenged businesses to cheat and exploit the little guy.

In particular, he and his allies in Congress are making it a priority to unravel financial reform — and specifically the parts of financial reform that protect consumers against predators.

Last week Mr. Trump released a memorandum calling on the Department of Labor to reconsider its new “fiduciary rule,” which requires financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests — as opposed to, say, steering them into investments on which the advisers get big commissions. He also issued an executive order designed to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform, enacted in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Both moves are very much in line with the priorities of congressional Republicans and, of course, the financial industry. For both groups really, really hate financial regulation, especially when it helps protect families against sharp practice.

Why, after all, was the fiduciary rule created? The main issue here is retirement savings — the 401(k)’s and other plans that are Americans’ main source of retirement income over and above Social Security. To invest these funds, people have turned to financial professionals — but most probably weren’t aware that these professionals were under no legal obligation to give advice that maximized clients’ returns rather than their own incomes.

This is a big deal. A 2015 Obama administration study concluded that “conflicted investment advice” has been reducing the return on retirement savings by around one percentage point, costing ordinary Americans around $17 billion each year. Where has that $17 billion been going? Largely into the pockets of various financial-industry players. And now we have a White House trying to ensure that this game goes on.

On Dodd-Frank: Republicans would like to repeal the whole law, but probably don’t have the votes. What they can do is try to cripple enforcement, especially by undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose goal is to protect ordinary families from financial scams.

Unlike other parts of Dodd-Frank, which are supposed to reduce the risk of a future financial crisis — and won’t be fully tested until the next major shock hits — the bureau is designed to deal with problems that afflict consumers in good times and bad. And by all accounts it has been a huge success, increasing transparency, reducing fees, and exposing fraud. Remember the Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank was found to have signed millions of customers up for accounts, credit cards, and services without their consent or knowledge? This scandal only came to light thanks to the bureau.

So why are consumer protections in the Trump firing line?

Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs banker appointed to head Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council — populism! — says that the fiduciary rule is like “putting only healthy food on the menu” and denying people the right to eat unhealthy food if they want it. Of course, it doesn’t do anything like that. If you want a better analogy, it’s like preventing restaurants from claiming that their 1400-calorie portions are health food.

Mr. Trump offers a different explanation for his hostility to financial reform: It’s hurting credit availability. “I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money.” It would be interesting to learn what these “nice businesses” are. What we do know is that U.S. banks have generally shunned Mr. Trump’s own businesses — from which, by the way, he hasn’t separated himself at all — perhaps because of his history of defaults.

Other would-be borrowers, however, don’t seem to be having problems. Only 4 percent of the small firms surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business report themselves unsatisfied with loan availability, a historic low. Overall bank lending in the United States has been quite robust since Dodd-Frank was enacted.

So what’s motivating the attack on financial regulation? Well, there’s a lot of money at stake — money that the financial industry has been extracting from unwitting, unprotected consumers. Financial reform was starting to roll back these abuses, but we clearly now have a political leadership determined to roll back the rollback. Make financial predation great again!

Collins, solo

February 4, 2017

In “Trump With a Tail” Ms. Collins says Mike Pence pulls leash; the president barks.  Here she is:

How bad do you need to be to get rejected for Donald Trump’s cabinet?

We’ve got nominees who don’t really know anything about the subject they’d be overseeing. Some hatehatehate the federal programs they’d be charged with guiding. Some have messy financial issues that haven’t been resolved.

But Trump’s pick for secretary of education swept the board. Trifecta! Betsy DeVos, it’s become clear, knows very little about public schools, doesn’t like them and has minimal experience in management. Plus, she’s a billionaire whose money is in a bewildering stack of holding companies.

“I have never seen a nominee with such tangled and opaque finances,” complained Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington.

This was after a procedural vote on the nomination on Friday. The Republican leadership dragged the senators in at dawn, before everybody left town for the weekend. It was a productive morning. Not only did they kick the DeVos can down the line, but by 7 a.m., the majority had also managed to castrate a formerly bipartisan rule aimed at keeping oil and mining companies from bribing foreign governments.

The big DeVos vote is next week. After listening to her flounder around in a hearing, two Republican senators said they just couldn’t bring themselves to support her, so it looks like it’ll come down to 50-50. All eyes will turn to Mike Pence. Who will become the first vice president since the founding of the republic to break a tie on a cabinet nomination.

And you thought Donald Trump was just babbling when he promised to make history.

Pence is looking more and more like the Big Man in the administration. Conservatives who see their president as a large, scary spending machine follow Pence’s every move with adoration. The religious right is counting on him to keep a chief executive with a history of crotch-grabbing on the straight and narrow when it comes to their agenda. And Republicans in Congress realize he’s the only member of the top team who could get through a phone conversation with the prime minister of Australia without causing an international crisis.

It’s a lot of fun to think of Donald Trump as a mere lap dog. Granted, a lap dog who runs around snarling and snapping and signing executive orders, which he seems to regard as some long form of Twitter. But at the end of the leash — Mike Pence.

It’s very likely that having the vice president in command would only give us a more conservative, better-organized version of the Trump brand. But the important thing is that nothing could drive our new president crazier than suggesting he’s just Pence’s pet.

Our readers seem very interested in this concept, particularly when it comes to torturing Trump. This week I suggested some possible nicknames for the president, and the votes are in. I am happy to report that we will now be calling Donald Trump … wait for it … Pence’s Poodle.

I was kind of hoping for Pence’s Pomeranian — because, you know, of the hair. There were some write-ins for Pence’s Pug, and a number of protests from people who did not want their dog connected in any way with the 45th president of the United States. But what can I tell you? A vote is a vote.

The Poodle had a big week — unnerving other heads of state over the phone, confusing people at meetings and signing those executive orders. On Friday, he was directing the government to liberate our financial industry from the heavy boot of regulation that left the nation’s bankers and hedge fund managers living on rice and beans during the Obama era.

One of the goals is to get rid of a pending rule requiring brokers to act in their clients’ “best interests” when they’re giving advice about retirement investments. Obviously, this would be really, really hard on our nation’s forgotten financial consultants. And you know how much the beleaguered working class hates the gloom of transparency in their I.R.A.s. But liberation is on the way.

Trump was the star of the National Prayer Breakfast while Pence sat in the audience, smiling and nodding and occasionally offering his boss an extra bowl of kibble. Our chief executive thanked Pence for being “incredible” right after he told the audience that the ratings for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” are much lower now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the host. (“It’s been a total disaster.”) The show’s creator was in the room and the president said he was sure “Mark [Burnett] will never, ever bet against Trump again.”

Have you noticed that Pence’s Poodle tends to refer to the hero of all his stories as “Trump”? Perhaps he thinks of “Trump” as a separate person. Maybe an action hero who leaps around the country saving people from public schools or financial oversight, while occasionally stopping to wag his powder-puff tail in the direction of the vice president.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 3, 2017

Bobo has surpassed himself this time…  He’s extruded a thing called “A Return to National Greatness” in which he moans that the true American myth is dynamic and universal, yet the countermyth of Trump and Bannon is winning, and he also has the unmitigated gall to inform his readers that people on the left aren’t patriotic.  Maybe he should consider the differences between patriotism and jingoism…  There will be a response from a reader.  Mr. Cohen, in “United States to Australia: Get Lost,” says it is grotesque for Trump to dismiss Australia’s stranded refugees as the next “Boston bombers.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Menace,” says this isn’t a strategy; it’s a syndrome.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal, tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America. More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.

The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting, turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and what that civilization contributed to the human story.

It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics), Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England (literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America (science).

In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.

Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.

That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.

But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.

The myth has been bruised, too, by the humiliations of Iraq and the financial crisis. By a cultural elite that ignored the plight of the working class and thus broke faith with the basic solidarity that binds a nation.

And so along come men like Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with a countermyth. Their myth is an alien myth, frankly a Russian myth. It holds, as Russian reactionaries hold, that deep in the heartland are the pure folk who embody the pure soul of the country — who endure the suffering and make the bread. But the pure peasant soul is threatened. It is threatened by the cosmopolitan elites and by the corruption of foreign influence.

The true American myth is dynamic and universal — embracing strangers and seizing possibilities. The Russian myth that Trump and Bannon have injected into the national bloodstream is static and insular. It is about building walls, staying put. Their country is bound by its nostalgia, not its common future.

The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning. The policies that emanate from it are surprisingly popular. The refugee ban has a lot of support. Closing off trade is popular. Building the wall is a winning issue.

The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism. It has exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.

We are in the midst of a great war of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage.

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project?

Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

He’s become a national disgrace.  Here’s what “chickenlover” from Massachusetts had to say to him:

“”The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
And do you know why this myth is winning? It is the result of relentless, non-stop barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigrants, anti-common sense that has been spewing from Fox News for the past two decades. It is the result of pundits like you who have been pushing the GOP agenda over the same period. It is the result of the GOP which has been unwilling to challenge this downward trend. Where were you when Obama was delegitimized from day one by Mitch McConnell and his pals? No wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.
Unfortunately, even though you helped make it, we all own it now. Why, for that matter, even in this column you write, “That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Why do you stop at Reagan? You are still unwilling to include Obama as part of that rich American tradition. Why? Obama saved the American economy that was ravaged and savaged by his predecessor. He saved the auto industry. Don’t you remember?
If you as a scholar and a pundit do not see the need to include Obama in that list, why do you expect the average American will? Little wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”

Net up we have Mr. Cohen:

Let’s imagine for a moment Rex Tillerson, the newly installed secretary of state, awakening to this tweet from President Trump about an important American ally:

“Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

First, the “illegal immigrants” are in fact desperate people fleeing conflict whose status as refugees has in most cases been officially recognized. Second, as refugees, they have the right, under the Geneva Conventions, of which the United States is a signatory, to be treated “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Third, the “thousands” are in fact about 1,250 of the 2,500 men, women and children who, for more than three years now, have been marooned on two remote South Pacific islands, Manus and Nauru, in appalling conditions that have seen suicide, deaths through negligence, a killing, and relentless mental abuse. Fourth, this “dumb deal” reflects the pressing Australian interest in finding a way out of its predicament with the refugees and the American interest in strengthening its Australian alliance at a time when United States Marines are rotating through Darwin and China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Fifth, diplomacy is about identifying shared interests; it stands no chance when the tweeted tantrums of a tempestuous president constitute Washington’s highest-level communications with a world held in America-first contempt.

The notion must cross Tillerson’s mind that Trump’s inaccurate tweet is needless provocation of a friend; that simultaneously infuriating Asian and European allies may not be smart; and that his task will be a thankless one as Trump’s White House coterie hatches seat-of-the-pants policy and leaves his already restive State Department to deal with weighty issues in Luxembourg and the Solomon Islands.

Let’s further imagine that all this passes through Tillerson’s head before he grabs the Washington Post and discovers that Trump has taken his Australia bashing further. He has hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after telling him it’s his “worst call by far” with world leaders (behind Vladimir Putin, of course), and accused Turnbull of preparing to send the next “Boston bombers” America’s way.

At which point Tillerson must really be wondering — as is the rest of the world after two weeks of fast-tracked chaos from Trump. The president wants to run the United States like his business, with scant accountability and contempt for rules. Fine, except that bankruptcy is the worst conceivable outcome for a business whereas nuclear war is the worst conceivable outcome for America and all of humanity. Trump is in way over his skis.

From the pointless, counterproductive, prejudice-reeking temporary ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries to a botched Navy SEAL raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, the same traits of haste and imprudence have been apparent. Trump is a propagator of mayhem at the head of a TV- and Twitter-driven movement whose goal is to circumvent democratic institutions through the exercise of hypnotic and disorienting power. He is only incidentally the president.

That is already clear, as is the fact that Trump’s embrace of Putin was not some weird whim but reflected a fundamental alignment of values around bigotry, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, calculated religious absolutism, 21st-century big-data autocracy and hatred of the media. The president therefore feels more “allied” with Russia than with America’s European allies, whose values run counter to his.

“The worst deal ever” — as Trump put it according to the Washington Post — was signed in September in New York by Anne C. Richard, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and Rachel Noble, deputy secretary of Australia’s department of immigration. It was kept secret, however, until Nov. 12, four days after the election, because refugees, particularly Muslims from the Middle East, were such a sensitive issue in the campaign.

“We really want to mothball these places,” Richard recalls Australian officials telling her, referring to Manus and Nauru. They have become an acute embarrassment to Australia. The United States got help with some national security issues in return, as well as Australian commitments to take more refugees from Central America.

Poor Turnbull who’s white and conservative and might therefore have thought he could get on the right side of Trump. No way! Many of the refugees are Iranians persecuted by the Islamic Republic. There’s no surer way to drive the president to paroxysms than to suggest he extend a hand to Muslims, signed accords between allies notwithstanding.

I went to Manus last year with the photographer Ashley Gilbertson to see the suffering. It’s not easy to get in; Australia does not want prying eyes. I met a young Iranian, Benham Satah, who has a college degree in English and has languished there since Aug. 27, 2013. His roommate, another Iranian called Reza Barati, was killed by a local mob in 2014.

“Sometimes I cut myself,” Satah told me, “so that I can see my blood and remember, oh yes! I am alive.”

It is grotesque and offensive for Trump to dismiss these stranded, mistreated human beings as “Boston bombers.” Muslim equals terrorist is an idea that sullies America.

What refugees like Satah want by an overwhelming majority is not more violence but the dignity that comes with a job, a roof over their heads and decent schooling for their children. Vetting to enter the United States takes at least 18 to 24 months — one reason nobody from Manus or Nauru has moved yet despite Australian hopes they’d all be scooped up by a C-130. The vetting is already “extreme” — Trump’s word.

For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice and give Tillerson inspiration to be brave.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.

The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.

But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?

There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Thanks, Comey.