Stay Classy….No, Really

 

         “Nice hotel. Under budget and ahead of schedule. Isn’t that nice? No, it is a great honor. This is our brand-new ballroom.”

Donald J. Trump free-associating and praising his new D.C. hotel

———-

I knew a guy years ago that I’m tempted to say reminds me of the Republican presidential candidate, but i can honestly say no one really reminds me of Donald J. Trump. But this guy I knew does remind me of Trump in one specific way.

This really rich guy had a lot of money, several homes, expensive cars and he spent serious money on his apparel. You may know the type. Silk shirts, custom made sport coats – loud plaids and patterns – patent leather shoes. Expensive it was, but classy not so much. All of which proves something my old man used to say: you can spend a lot of money and still be a bum. A thousand dollars spent on a pair of polyester pants still means you’re wearing polyester pants.

Stay "classy" Toronto

Stay “classy” Toronto

The one and only time I have stayed in a Trump branded hotel – my excuse was that it was on a trip for a client and they booked the room – was in Toronto some years ago. I thought of that guy with the patent leather shoes as I entered my room. Not my style. Not my taste. Too much bling, not enough class. No portrait of The Great Man hung over the king sized bed, but you could feel him in the room. Creepy and did I say tacky?

Stay Classy…

I know that writing about a presidential candidate on the basis of his taste in bathroom faucets and bedroom headboards risks demeaning the whole idea of a presidential campaign, but let’s face it after praising Putin, fleecing his foundation, conning his contractors, harassing Hispanics, belittling blacks and assaulting half the population of the country this is where DJT has taken us.

Since I don’t understand – even a little – how anyone can support this guy based on his experience, temperament or policy ideas (he has, in order, no experience, a sociopath’s temperament and incoherent and dangerous ideas) then his taste – or lack thereof – seems to me to be completely fair game.

The grand Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. pre-Trump.

The grand Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. pre-Trump.

Political reporters assigned to cover Trump, the journalistic equivalent of a daily root canal, are still venting over the hoodwinking they suffered recently when the Republican candidate summoned them to his gaudy new Washington, D.C. hotel ostensibly to declare that he finally “believes” Barack Obama was born in the United States. He eventually got around to that statement, more or less, but spent most of his time before the cameras praising his new hotel.

I’ll never set foot in the dump.

I’ve been in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. – now the “newest luxury hotel” in the Capitol – and before Trump got hold of it the structure was all that he is not – full of detail, sensitive to history, a study in character, sturdy and principled. Some knot head at the General Services Administration (GSA) momentarily lost his/her mind and gave the job of “refurbishing” the building to Mr. Red Ties. Mistake.

Pray to God the man never gets any closer to the White House than the Presidential Suite at what use to be the Old Post Office. Still, as Monica Hesse of the Washington Post observed after spending a night in Trumpsalvania, the faux billionaire “has already taken over the city, at least in some filigreed, metaphorical way.”

One former GSA official recalled wondering, as BuzzFeed reported, “Are they going to tart the thing up? How do you maintain the dignity of the building?” You don’t. Not with Mr. Tasteless in town.

The “Deluxe” room was going for $805 a night when Hesse cased the joint last week.  Online hotel booking sites were offering rooms for half that price more recently. I predict a lot of vacancies. Hesse wrote that the lobby was full of gawkers, but not guests. “Make America Curious Again.” For the reporter’s sake I hope Jeff Bezos approves her expense account.

The Quest to Be Taken Seriously…

Will he re-do the White House in gold leaf?

Will he re-do the White House in gold leaf?

Trump, it is increasingly clear, has spent his entire life trying and mostly failing to be taken seriously. The forthcoming Frontline documentary on PBS will apparently make that case explicitly with an interview by Roger Stone, the Nixon-era hatchet man who is now Donald’s conspiracy theory whisperer.

Stone says that Trump decided to run for president when Obama kneecapped him over the “birther” issue at the White House Correspondent’s dinner in 2011. Trump sat through Obama’s speech fuming all the way, unable to laugh at himself or the absurdity of the big lie he has been peddling for years. All the swell people in D.C. laughed at him. He was humiliated. He was made a fool. Worst of all he was made to look a fool by a smart black man in a tuxedo, a guy who has actually read books and written them and knows what the nuclear triad is all about.

Commander-in-Chief as revenge play

Trump both got mad and decided to get even after that dinner. He’d show ‘em – take a grand old historic building and make it an amusement park and, by the way take the White House, too. Comforting thought, heh? Commander-in-Chief as revenge play.

All the endless boasting, the pathological lying, the gaudy buildings, the slinky ex-and-current wives, the name plastered on everything (even the bath mats at Trump Toronto), the insults, the funny hair, it’s all an act. Most of us grow out of our insecurities or at least find a way to manage them. Instead Trump makes a play for the nuclear codes.

Most of us, assuming we had the ego or ambition to seek high public office, might actually try to assemble some degree of preparation for that task. You might invite interesting, informed people to help provide an education on all that you don’t know. You might read something beside your own Twitter feed. But that’s just too much work and too normal for a Great Man, particularly one in need of constant reassurance that he is the best thing since the invention of the Taco Bowl.

The radio host and essayist Garrison Keillor has, I think, nailed Trump better than anyone, better certainly than many reporters who struggle to treat this singularly abnormal man as though he was anything but abnormal.

Trump having a grand time at the White House Correspondent's dinner in 2011

Trump having a grand time at the White House Correspondent’s dinner in 2011

Keillor, speaking directly to Mr. Needy, wrote recently in an essay: “The New York Times treats you like the village idiot. This is painful for a Queens boy trying to win respect in Manhattan where the Times is the Supreme Liberal Jewish Anglican Arbiter of Who Has The Smarts and What Goes Where. When you came to Manhattan 40 years ago, you discovered that in entertainment, the press, politics, finance, everywhere you went, you ran into Jews, and they are not like you: Jews didn’t go in for big yachts and a fleet of aircraft — they showed off by way of philanthropy or by raising brilliant offspring. They sympathized with the civil rights movement. In Queens, blacks were a threat to property values — they belonged in the Bronx, not down the street. To the Times, Queens is Cleveland. Bush league. You are Queens. The casinos were totally Queens, the gold faucets in your triplex, the bragging, the insults, but you wanted to be liked by Those People. You wanted Mike Bloomberg to invite you to dinner at his townhouse. You wanted the Times to run a three-part story about you, that you meditate and are a passionate kayaker and collect 14th-century Islamic mosaics. You wish you were that person but you didn’t have the time.”

They Know He’s a Huckster…

Most Republicans, of course, know all this. Even those who have endorsed the gaudy hotelier know it. Chris Christie knows it, but he’s grasping for any political life raft. Rudy Giuliani knows it, but he craves the spotlight almost as much as the guy from Queens. Ted Cruz – oh, boy – even Lyin’ Ted knows that the guy who insulted his wife and accused his dad of killing JFK is profoundly unfit. John McCain, remember him, Mr. Straight Talk? He knows. He wouldn’t let Trump close to Sedona or within a football field of his wife and daughters.

They all know, as Garrison Keillor also wrote, that “Trump is a man whom few Republicans would care to invite into their homes. So what’s going on here? An epidemic of hippocampus poisoning from bad enzymes in cheap beers? The man is a fraud, a compulsive liar and a clueless playboy whose presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the country. If you would make us the laughingstock of the world just to irk your liberal sister-in-law, you are someone who should not be allowed to come within 500 yards of an elementary school.”

Staying classy in Atlantic City (AP Photo)

Staying classy in Atlantic City (AP Photo)

But the otherwise smart people who have endorsed and enabled this joker have twisted themselves into a political pretzel. They’re not voting their conscience, but their ambition. They justify their betrayal of democracy, not to mention common sense, by selling their souls for control of the Senate or a seat on the Supreme Court. They’ve bet the country that they can control a race baiting, foreign policy ignoramus. They can’t. Most of them don’t even want to mention his name. They wouldn’t share a Big Mac with the guy, but he’s got to be better than Hillary, right? But they know – they really know – that he’s not.

Only Business…

Trump, of course, got the lease on The Old Post Office by promising a bunch of things that he has now completely reneged on and, of course, he worked every angle to minimize his tax burden and cage ever subsidy. It’s only business, right?

I think the whole hotel thing and Trump’s desire to be taken seriously and to not be humiliated go a long way to explain his unwillingness to release his tax returns. He may yet get away with being the first candidate since Nixon not to reveal his worth, his charitable contributions, his debts, his overseas bank accounts, his Russian ties, etc. etc.

But his real motive is not to be shamed. He’s not worth what he says he’s worth. He’s likely not paid a cent in taxes for years. He’s almost certainly has dodgy investments and a mountain of debt. The Washington Post’s remarkable stories have confirmed his philanthropy consists of using other people’s money to buy paintings of himself and cover his legal bills. It’s all a scam. And the tax returns would prove it, which is why we’ll never see them.

Despite much of the politics that take place there Washington, D.C. is a great place to visit. Go see the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Mall and the National Gallery. Visit the new African-American Museum, a place where you’re not likely to encounter Donald Trump or many of his followers. Great restaurants dot the city. Rock Creek Park is fun for a walk. And if you want to stay in a really great hotel, classy and tasteful try the Willard, the Hay-Adams or the Madison. Walk by The Old Post Office, gaze up at the handsome clock tower and contemplate the seat of government. Hope Trump’s seat never gets near it.

By the way, that Toronto hotel that I still causes a cringe when I think about two nights there, well – it’s troubled. Trump doesn’t own it, as usual with his “real estate empire,” he just “manages” it for the real owners and not well by all accounts.

As the Toronto Star reported earlier this year: “After 15 years of controversy, an investor revolt and now a U.S. Republican leadership campaign that has seen the billionaire businessman morph from bombastic long shot to presidential prospect, Talon International, the property developer, wants to erase his name from the Toronto skyline. They believe Donald Trump has tarnished his brand and the tower that wears it.”

Imagine what he’ll do to the country.

 

The Useful Idiot…

 

        “Hillary Clinton’s admission that she has pneumonia after allegedly becoming ‘overheated’ at a 9/11 event has even some in MSM acknowledging that the issue of the Democratic candidate’s health can no longer be ignored, as her tour has been put on hold.” 

How the Russian media outlet RT is covering the Clinton health story.

———-

A few days ago Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, a noted writer on Russian and European history and politics, outlined what seems to me a highly likely scenario regarding the American presidential election.

Vladimir Putin, Applebaum wrote, is not so secretly attempting to undermine the U.S. electoral system, indeed his aim may well be to destabilize American democracy. It may sound farfetched, but then again the evidence may be hiding in plan sight.

We should believe that Putin, the creepy Kremlin leader and a former KGB apparatchik, is meddling in the election because he has done it before and, in fact, he does it all the time.

Here's a pair to draw to.

Here’s a pair to draw to.

What Americans might be waking up to – we can hope – is that in Putin’s attempt to interfere with a U.S. election he has for the first time, as an earlier generation of Moscow leaders might have said, “a useful idiot” to help him in the person of Donald J. Trump.

Here’s Anne Applebaum’s informed speculation in a nutshell:

Trump continues to say, as he already repeatedly has, that if he loses the election to Hillary Clinton the whole system must be “rigged,” the polls are “wrong” and “real voters” have been ignored. He constantly complains that the “dishonest” and “corrupt” media is out to get him.

Meanwhile, Russian Internet hackers will continue to use a third party – Wikileaks – to disseminate emails pilfered from Clinton or George Soros or some nameless bureaucrat somewhere in order to, as Applebaum says, “discredit not just Hillary Clinton but also the U.S. democratic process and, again, the ‘elite’ who supposedly run it.”

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, another of the Kremlin's "useful idiots"

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, another of the Kremlin’s “useful idiots”

Before Election Day or even on Election Day hackers will try to create havoc with one of more state election systems. They don’t need to succeed; just trying will be enough to confirm the suspicion, already firmly planted by Trump and others, that the election is “fixed.” The FBI, we already know, has warned election officials in Arizona that the election machinery may have been compromised. Imagine waking up on November 9th with Clinton having narrowly won Arizona – polls show her within striking distance there – and then imagine what Trump does and says.

I’ll quote Applebaum directly regarding the next step: “The Russians attempt to throw the election. They might try to get Trump elected. Alternatively — and this would, of course, be even more devastating — they might try to rig the election for Clinton, perhaps leaving a trail of evidence designed to connect the rigging operation to Clinton’s campaign.”

What a perfect KGB-like operation: Plant a trail of evidence “proving” that Clinton “stole the election.” It all reads like a John Le Carre thriller, but somehow doesn’t seem all that farfetched. “Once revealed,” Anne Applebaum writes, “the result will be media hysteria, hearings, legal challenges, mass rallies, a constitutional crisis — followed by confusion, chaos and an undermining of the office of the presidency.”

No Matter What – Putin Wins…

Here is the particularly pernicious aspect of the Russian meddling: there is no downside for Putin or his objectives. Putin wins no matter the outcome in November.

The plot of a novel...or the scheming of a former KGB operative?

The plot of a novel…or the scheming of a former KGB operative?

Suppose Trump wins the election in which case Putin gets his useful idiot in the White House and ends 75 years of Republican skepticism about all things Russian.

Or suppose Clinton wins amid allegations that the election was rigged or stolen. Putin still wins with a weakened American president who is immediately discredited as “illegitimate” by a sizable chunk of the electorate.

Under any scenario the Kremlin gains in its real aim, which is to destabilize western democracy, weaken NATO and diminish U.S. standing around the world. These aims also help explain Putin’s objectives in supporting Brexit, the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the European Union, his encouragement of hard right elements in France and elsewhere in Europe and his embrace of Syria and Iran.

But the critical element in the Kremlin strategy is the utility of the fake billionaire from Trump Tower. Without a major party presidential candidate like Trump, a guy who surrounds himself with advisers with ties to Putin, who praises the Russian dictator as a better leader than the American president and then grants interviews to Putin’s international disinformation network, the election meddling and propaganda campaign would be a good deal more difficult to pull off.

As the Washington Post pointed out Trump’s recent interview with Larry King on the Putin financed propaganda channel RT was all about dissing news coverage of his own campaign. That message fits perfectly with Putin’s larger aims. Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist and translator who runs a blog dedicated to exposing misinformation in Russian media, put it this way: RT’s “mission now is not to report on Russia but to tell everyone how bad America is. There’s a huge audience for that, not just internationally but in the United States as well.”

Republicans who continue to lionize Ronald Reagan must wince just a little that the new face of their party now echoes the Kremlin line. “Reagan never gave interviews to Pravda while campaigning to be our president,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, wrote on Twitter, referring to the official newspaper of the Soviet Union. “Who advised Trump to appear on RT?” Who indeed?

An earlier Republican with a different view of Russia

An earlier Republican with a different view of Russia…”tear down this wall…”

Nothing motivates the GOP presidential candidate more than money, so that fact may offer the simplest, if a no less comforting explanation of the Trump-Putin alliance.“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008 and it has been widely reported that his old man has been trying to cut a fat hog in Moscow for years.

Even if you don’t buy the full extent of Anne Applebaum’s conspiracy, just consider this: Is there anyone who knows anything about American politics who would have predicted two years ago that the Republican candidate for president would have at the center of his candidacy a bromance with a Russian hatchet man? Four years ago Mitt Romney, you remember him, was condemning Russia and Putin as our nation’s greatest strategic threat. In fairness to Romney, many allegedly smart people in both parties disagreed with his assessment. Now Mitt looks like a genuine prophet.

Not only has Trump embraced Putin and essentially offered cover to Russian outrages in Ukraine he has neutered GOP hawks like John McCain who are left to mumble, as House Speaker Paul Ryan did last week, that Vladimir Putin really isn’t a nice guy. The former KGB agent really isn’t a nice guy, but he may understand U.S. politics better than many American voters.

Nothing Like This Before…

So, has anything like this ever happened before, has a foreign power ever attempted in such a comprehensive way to mess with a presidential election and influence American policy? The answer is both kind of and no.

One somewhat analogous historical precedent is the presidential election of 1940 and the tumultuous foreign policy debate immediately preceding U.S. entry into World War II. While far less obvious than the Russian effort in the current election, Britain clearly tried to influence U.S. politics, policy and public opinion – with willing help from Franklin Roosevelt – in 1940 and 1941.

British-born historian Nicholas John Cull has documented the extent of the British effort in his 1995 book Selling War – The British Propaganda Campaign Against American “Neutrality” in World War II.

Winston Churchill authorized British propaganda efforts in 1940-1941, but didn't attempt to weaken American democracy

Winston Churchill authorized British propaganda efforts in 1940-1941, but didn’t attempt to weaken American democracy

During the 1930s, as Cull has written, British policy “explicitly forbid any such endeavor in the United States,” but that policy changed as the war situation darkened after the fall of France in 1940. British policy makers began to believe “through judicious use of propaganda and publicity” that they might “undermine U.S. neutrality and somehow sell Britain and a second world war to a skeptical American public.”

A key tactic was to plant “subversive propaganda” through a network of middlemen – “cut outs” they were called – who were charged with distributing up to “twenty rumors each day with the ‘leading home reporters of the New York and Chicago papers.’”

Given the sensitivity at the time to the notion that Britain was trying to maneuver the United States into the war, public disclosure of a propaganda campaign or covert lobbying of Congress would have been politically explosive. The British, however, deemed feeding useful information to popular reporters, both low risk and effective. They used a well-connected political operative with relationships inside the government and with columnists and radio personalities like Walter Winchell and Dorothy Thompson to shape public and political opinion. Over time the effort was quite successful.

However, what Winston Churchill’s government did not do, unlike Vladimir Putin’s, was attempt to hijack an election or destabilize American democracy. There is no obvious historical precedent for what has been quietly happening in plain sight with Trump’s campaign.

Now with media obsession focused on Hillary Clinton’s health, an issue sure to dominate news coverage for days, and with the Kremlin’s candidate climbing in the polls we may learn just how sinister a former KBG henchman can become when at last he has a useful idiot in the Oval Office.

 

What Trump Hath Wrought…

 

         “I think I’m going to do great with African-Americans. I say it very simply: the crime is through the roof. Through the roof. People can’t walk down the street without getting shot. I’ll stop that. There are no jobs. I’m going to bring back jobs.”

 Donald J. Trump on his appeal to African-American voters

 ———-

It use to be, say back in 1960, when John Kennedy was photographed at a big rally in Detroit, that Labor Day weekend marked the actual beginning of a sprint to the White House. No sprint this year. More like a long, drawn out trip to the dentist. Or day after day visits to the DMV.

Take a number. Enjoy yourself. This is American democracy in action.

John Kennedy in Detroit in 1960

John Kennedy in Detroit in 1960

We have not really had a presidential campaign, but more of an intellectual and emotional endurance test. You survive and you win the chance to live in the America of 2017 – whatever that will be.

Welcome to the last 60-plus dispiriting, distasteful, regrettable days of what has certainly been the most hate filled, racially infused campaign in modern American history. I say that advisedly, since I like to think I’m a student of political history. But this is one for the books.

George Wallace surely played the race card in 1968. National Republicans perfected their “southern strategy” over the last 40 years by evoking “dog whistles” that appealed to too many of the worst instincts in too many Americans. Politicians in both parties are guilty of pander and puffery in the cause of identity politics. But nothing in recent times has been like this campaign.

Cold, Angry, Discouraged…Afraid…

I was sufficiently dispirited by the current political spectacle that I took some time away from this space. I needed a break. I wanted to reflect. And I worried, like so many others, that I had nothing more to say about a national nightmare that increasingly left me cold, angry, discouraged and, yes, even afraid for the country.

But, life goes on…even with Trump.

One last time let me get the false equivalence out of the way: Hillary Clinton is an awful candidate who by virtue of a long string of stupid decisions, political flip flops and ethical lapses has made what should have been a cakewalk against a sociopathic narcissist into a contest that, while clearly going her way, is not entirely a sure thing. What Hillary Clinton is not, however, is demonstrably unfit for the position she seeks. Her opponent on the other hand…

But that is not my point – at least not today. Today’s subject is What Trump Hath Wrought.

What Trump Hath Wrought…

Donald J. Trump is more than likely going to lose the presidential election, but what he has helped bring to the scummy surface of American politics will, I fear, be with us for a long, long time to come. Unless…but I’ll get to that.

The Grand Entrance (ABC News photo)

The Grand Entrance (ABC News photo)

Trump, I need hardly remind you, launched his campaign on June 16, 2015 – a day that will live in infamy – by gliding down an escalator at his gaudy Trump Tower in New York City. He got off in the sub-basement, down where the sewer backs up and launched his Day One slanders against Latinos.

Here’s the quote, just in case you need a refresher: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They are not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump went on to say disparaging things about Syrians during that announcement speech and threw in slaps at China and Japan for good measure. You can look it up. Candidates normally use their announcement speeches to tell you what they really think is important. Trump did just that.

Equal Opportunity Hatred…

Yet, proving he has had the capacity to grow during the campaign, Trump eventually expanded his racial and ethnic hit list to include Muslims, Mormons, Jews and, of course, women. I’m leaving out a few distinct groups, I’m sure, but with the candidate that has based his entire campaign around a message of hate it is hard to keep all the hate straight.

No candidate, at least in modern times, has so broadly and blatantly appealed to racial animus, has so exclusively based his campaign on pitting one group of Americans against another, as has the rich, entitled white guy from Queens. And here is just some of what he has rendered.

Trump, as we all know, is a Twitter fiend. He loves to pop off – many of us do – in 140 characters. He typically starts his day with a blast at the MSNBC morning show or at the “failing” New York Times. He boasts with some frequency that his Twitter account has attracted more than 11.3 million followers. (Hillary Clinton has a measly 8.5 million followers.) Twitter followers are a source of pride for the guy who loves nothing so much as those who love him.

Just one of Trump's "re-tweets" of a completely disavowed list of "statistics" widely cited by white supremacist groups

Just one of Trump’s “re-tweets” of a completely disavowed list of “statistics” widely cited by white supremacist groups

The big-time media outlets have largely ignored the internals of Trump’s Twitter-verse, but even the most casual review shows it to be a cesspool of hate, racism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism.

But, Donald J. Trump – Twitter handle @realdonaldtrump – obviously doesn’t care. Not only does he not care that a cast of white supremacists, anti-Semites and crazy neo-Nazis follow his every Twitter belch, he is actually encouraging the tone and tenor of their hate. Yet the few times he’s been called to account for what he has helped stir up he shrugs and goes on. Any sense of responsibility rolls off his back and slides to the floor below his Made In China blue suits.

It should be obvious, but I’ll make it clear, I do not believe everyone who supports Trump – not even the vast majority – are fire breathing white supremacists or neo-Nazis with a persecution complex. But many of his most enthusiastic supporters are, as they cheerfully acknowledge.

“White Genocide…”

A major theme of the current breed of American racist is what they see as the peril of “white genocide,” the idea that somehow white Americans are on the verge of their last stand against the evils of a multi-cultural society that will be dominated by murdering Mexicans, Syrian terrorists and “others.” These folks, of course, have websites that predict the eminent end of white civilization, the death of Europe, etc. etc.

Back in the spring Fortune magazine commissioned a review of Trump’s social media connections with white supremacist groups. The magazine hired an analytics firm – Little Bird – to try and understand the connections between #whitegenocide and Donald J. Trump.

“Our technology builds a big network of hundreds or thousands of specialists in a particular field or people who used a particular hashtag, and then analyzes the connections between the people in that network,” Little Bird co-founder and chairman Marshall Kirkpatrick explained in the Fortune article. “We then find the person or people in that group that are most followed by others in the same group. It’s kind of like a ‘9-out-of-10 dentists recommend’ model rather than measuring people by the absolute popularity. We view it as earned influence within a specific context.”

This is basic social media theory – influencers influence. And Trump has been helping spread the message. “Since the start of his campaign, Donald Trump has retweeted at least 75 users who follow at least three of the top 50 #WhiteGenocide influencers,” Fortune reported. “Moreover, a majority of these retweeted accounts are themselves followed by more than 100 #WhiteGenocide influencers.”

Trump as Trump. (Washington Post photo)

Trump as Trump. (Washington Post photo)

You can check some of this yourself by looking at Trump’s Twitter feed, as I did over the weekend. I clicked on “followers” and one of the first images that pops up is the symbol of the double lightening bolt of the Nazi SS.

I don’t know about you, but I take that as a sure sign that Trump follower is focused on his great leader’s recent message in Detroit where he said he was all about understanding “that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and there are many wrongs that should be made right.” Right.

Oh, right. That from the real estate developer who agreed to a consent decree in order to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that charged him with systematic bias against African-Americans.

Known by the Company You Keep…

As the news website Buzz Feed recently reported: “Visitors to the website for the Council of Conservative Citizens — a white nationalist group cited by Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof — will find a steady stream of pro-Trump articles.

“Trump Surge Continues,” “Jorge Ramos Deported From Trump Press Conference,” “Trump’s Nationalist Coalition,” reads the front page of the site.

“Earl Holt, the president of the organization, declined to comment on Trump.

“But Jared Taylor, who runs the site American Renaissance — which argues that ‘one of the most destructive myths of modern times is that people of all races have the same average intelligence’ — is an avid supporter of The Donald.

“In a recent post, Taylor contended, ‘If Mr. Trump loses, this could be the last chance whites have to vote for a president who could actually do something useful for them and for their country.’”

Generally speaking the Internet is a virtual garbage pit of this kind of trash, but there is a simple solution to stop this outrageous stuff if any candidate – particularly a presidential candidate – isn’t really trying to encourage the kind of hate that Trump’s campaign has brought to the surface. You simply use the method that exists on Twitter to “block” an offensive follower. Trump apparently exempts no one from participating in his dystopian social media universe, so by definition he is encouraging and enabling.

"I am not a racist..."

“I am not a racist…”

The fact that David Duke, the former Klu Klux Klan leader and Louisiana GOP senate candidate, and other very public white supremacist support Trump should be reason enough for Republican leaders to push back on the candidate’s message of division and hate. But here we are marveling at the spectacle of the most openly racist candidate major party candidate for president since, well, I don’t know since when.

Even Woodrow Wilson, a presidential racist of the early 20th Century variety, hid his nasty beliefs better than Donald Trump.

Trump belatedly says he disavows David Duke’s support, but does so while continuing to flaunt his politics of hate. How else to explain handing over his campaign to one of the Internet’s chief purveyors of racial, anti-Semitic claptrap and having the odious Breitbart “news” organization serve as his campaign Pravda?

Here is what else is odious: in a late rush to make this awful man seem like a legitimate candidate major news organizations, for the most part, portrayed Trump’s recent trip – the first of its kind for him ever – to a African-American church in Detroit as an effort to appeal to black voters. It was not.

Trump and his latest new campaign team realize that he is increasingly underwater with suburban white voters, particularly women, who have decided that what the guy has been saying for months is what the guy really believes. Without attracting more of these voters who should be dependably Republican Trump can’t win. Trump is really appealing to white voters by finally paying photo op attention to black voters. He’s going to receive an historically low level of African-American support, but if he acts more human in the last sixty days he might claw back a few white voters.

It’s the triple bank shot political strategy of racial cynicism, but as the New York Times’ Charles Blow correctly said, Trump will not undo the months of division he has sown with a 45-minute photo op in a black church.

“You were a chief birther against President Obama,” Blow wrote in his column. “You have maligned Mexicans and slandered Muslims. You have treated women with disdain. You have mocked the handicapped. You have displayed a staggering lack of basic knowledge about governance. You have applauded dictators. You have encouraged the assault of protesters at your rallies.”

Trump’s Lasting Legacy…

The Detroit appearance and the “outreach” to black Americans are as phony as a diploma from Trump University, a lie as big as Trump bragging about his billions or his golf handicap. Unfortunately these lies and Trump’s approach to his entire candidacy have awakened the hateful animosity that lives in the dark corners of American politics. If we are the America I think we are Donald Trump will lose in November, but the hatred and sense of disaffection he has stirred will be his lasting legacy and ours.

The immediate aftermath of this awful political campaign should set off a major period of reflection by both political parties. As John Feffer noted in a perceptive essay back in June both parties need to ponder what the next election will produce when “a far more capable politician who embraces similar retrograde positions” is seeking the presidency.

But the major onus for real political navel gazing will rest with Republicans and particularly those who have tried to save their own political skins while allowing a racist, hatemonger to capture their party. The only thing that will push Trumpism back in the dark corner is broad and consistent repudiation of the man, his message and his methods. Nothing else will cut it.

Every politician with a soul will need to find ways small and large to turn down the heat of hate. It won’t be easy. It will require some stern talk and sober self-reflection and a deep and abiding commitment to an inclusive America, the kind of place Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned. Frankly, its the kind of America most of us envision despite what Trump has kicked up.

Donald Trump didn’t invent intolerance and hatred, that’s been with us since our beginnings, but he has enabled and brought to the surface of American politics what so many have labored so long to diminish and eventually destroy. Trying to heel and move ahead has now become even more difficult thanks to an entitled, ego-driven white guy.

 

Our Manchurian Candidate…

         

           “The final and most worrying similarity between Putin and Trump is that so many are unwilling to believe that someone like Trump could ever become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed to great jubilation, we never would have believed that a former KGB agent would become the president of Russia just nine years later. The moral: Be careful whom you vote for, it could be the last election you ever have.”

Russian dissident Garry Kasparov on the similarities between Putin and Trump.

———-

Hang around politics long enough and you will ultimately come to embrace an ironclad rule. There is no such thing as a coincidence.

None of these (seemingly) unrelated facts/events/developments that I unspool below are matters of chance. Together they do not constitute a wildly improbable “coincidence.” Arrange the bullet-points anyway you want and then conclude the whole thing is amazing…or shocking…or worse.

Praise for Putin – Authoritarians as Stablemates…

The curious bromance - Trump and Putin

The curious bromance – Trump and Putin

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump astounds many Americans with praise – not once but time and again – for autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin. One of the first widely acknowledged incidents of Trump evoking his relationship with the former KBG operative occurred during one of the many Republican primary debates. Of course Trump lied about what happened when he said, “I got to know him [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates.” And then referring to the television show’s ratings, Trump said, “We did well that night.”

Trump and Putin had been featured in separate segments on the same night on 60 Minutes, but the rest of Trump’s claim was a fabrication. He – and we – shrugged it off as another whopper from the Orange Haired Wonder.

A couple of months later Trump went even farther when he discounted allegations that Putin has had journalists murdered. “Our country does plenty of killing also,” Trump maintained and then added that at least Putin is “running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know unlike what we have in this country.”

Putin has returned the compliments. As Trump noted: “A guy calls me a genius, and I’m going to renounce?” I’m not going to renounce him.” Putin didn’t use those exact words, but never mind, this is Trump. The very next day Putin did call Trump a “colorful person” and said he welcomed Trump’s proposal for a “full-scale resumption” of U.S.-Russia ties.

Trump’s bromance with Putin is not a recent phenomenon. In 2013, long before he was considered a serious political candidate, Trumped Tweeted: “I just got back from Russia-learned lots & lots. Moscow is a very interesting and amazing place. U.S. MUST BE VERY SMART AND STRATEGIC.”

Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia until 2014, said Trump’s position toward Russia “makes everyone I talk to around the world nervous — and it makes me nervous.” And David J. Kramer, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state dealing with Russia during the George W. Bush administration, said simply he is “appalled” by Trump’s approach to Putin.

Trump has never – big surprise – backed away from any of his praise for Putin or vice versa.

Remember Brexit, NATO and Support for Nationalist Movements…

Among the relatively few in the world to celebrate the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union were Trump and Putin. The French rightwing, nationalist political leader Marine Le Pen was another who praised the UK move. Most close observers believe Brexit serves Putin’s aim to fracture European unity and complicate western economies, while also encouraging nationalism everywhere. It has been well documented that Russian money has propped up rightwing, nationalist movements in Hungry and, of all places, France.

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, another Putin favorite

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, another Putin favorite

Trump’s recent astounding and completely unprecedented assertion that he would not automatically honor the 70 year old commitment to the NATO alliance is of a piece with his embrace of Brexit and, of course, is precisely the same position held by Vladimir Putin.

Putin, meanwhile, lavishes attention on separatist, anti-globalization movements from Northern Ireland to Texas – really. As NBC reported, “Northern Irish, Scottish, Basque, Catalan and Italian secessionists have been invited to Moscow for a conference, partly funded by Russia, planned for August. They will mingle with Texan, Californian, Puerto-Rican and Hawaiian wannabe-separatists from all over the world, the conference organizer says.”

It is no overstatement to say that never before in American history has one party candidate been so completely in sync with the world views of a Russian leader. In order to align with Putin, Trump has had to dump generations of foreign policy consensus. All by itself that is simply an amazing development in American politics.

Paul Manafort: Political Fixer Here and Abroad…

As Trump’s campaign both powered forward earlier this year winning one Republican primary after another, his campaign organization was widely seen as a mess. Enter long-time Republican operative Paul Manafort who was installed as the campaign chairman. Before long Manafort, a long-time lobbyist and GOP operative,  consolidated his role when Trump’s campaign manager was forced out.

Paul Manafort, Trump's Ukraine connection

Paul Manafort, Trump’s Ukraine connection

One of the great unreported stories of the current political cycle is how and why Manafort came to the Trump orbit. He is reportedly “volunteering” his services.

In 2014, Politico published a profile of Manafort referring to the one-time Reagan and Bush aide as “an invisible man” and “a notorious political fixer.” At the time of the 2014 piece, Manafort was emerging as the top advisor to the pro-Putin Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. You may recall your recent world history and the fact that Putin has been working hard for years to destabilize Ukraine and prevent NATO membership even to the point of invading and occupying the eastern part of the country.

‘What’s already certain is this,” Politico wrote two and a half years ago, “Even among the many American strategists who test their fortunes abroad, Manafort’s journey from the front lines of the Reagan revolution to the right hand of a Moscow-backed Eastern bloc pol straight out of central casting ranks as one of the more unusual escapades of the Washington consulting class.” Little surprise: lots of money has been involved.

Additionally, a Trump “energy advisor,” Carter Page, has extensive ties to Putin and the Russian energy giant Gazprom and a retired three star general, Michael Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who recently spoke to the Republican National Convention has been cozy with Putin. Flynn sat with Putin at a dinner recently in Moscow celebrating the founding of Russia Today, the ‘news organization’ that is a key element in Putin’s international propaganda apparatus. Flynn has frequently appeared on RT and may be a paid contributor to the network. He refuses to confirm or deny.

If Flynn’s name sounds familiar it is because he had a brief run as a potential Trump vice presidential candidate.

Trump’s Russian Beauty Pageant…

In a fascinating piece of reporting in June, the Washington Post noted this: “The overwhelming consensus among American political and national security leaders has held that Putin is a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms in seeking to regain influence and territory in the former Soviet bloc. In 2012, one year before Trump brought his beauty pageant to Moscow, then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Russia the United States’ top geopolitical threat — an assessment that has only gained currency since then.”

Trump comparing finger length with a beauty pageant contestant in Moscow in 2013.

Trump comparing finger length with a beauty pageant contestant in Moscow in 2013.

The Post story went on to recount how a Trump-organized beauty pageant in Moscow garnered several million for Trump, that various Trump family members have made numerous trips to Russia seeking financing and development projects and then offered this fascinating quote from Donald Trump, Jr. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Anyone paying attention knows that Trump’s financial empire is as messy as his campaign organization. Most U.S. banks long ago refused to deal with Trump and his ties to Russian banks have covered his mounting debt.

In a brilliant piece on the Trump-Russia connection blogger Josh Marshall, he edits the Talking Points Memo website, said of the Republican candidate, “He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.” Trump seemed to confirm that suggestion when he bragged to a real estate publication that “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” when he traveled to Russia for his beauty pageant.

The release of Trump’s tax returns – the fact that he refuses is unprecedented in modern American politics – would go a long way to illuminate the extent of his indebtedness to Russian banks and billionaires. That Trump won’t release those documents, which if they contain exculpatory information would be helpful to his cause, speaks volumes.

The Platform Fight That Wasn’t…

You needed to be paying really close attention last week to catch this story. During deliberations over the content of the Republican Party platform, Trump representatives killed a resolution that would have placed the party on record supporting “lethal” military aide to Ukraine. That is a position backed by virtually every Republican with any type of foreign policy experience, Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, for example, but hotly opposed by the Kremlin. So Trump forces killed the resolution, apparently one of the few times Trump or his minions paid any real attention to the party platform.

Coincidence? You have to wonder why it happened.

The Leaked Emails…

Here’s what The Atlantic says: “Close your eyes and imagine that a hacking group backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin broke into the email system of a major U.S. political party. The group stole thousands of sensitive messages and then published them through an obliging third party in a way that was strategically timed to influence the United States presidential election. Now open your eyes, because it looks like that’s what just happened.”

A view of the main stage for the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A view of the main stage for the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

American security and intelligence officials have confirmed that Russian hackers, likely Russian intelligence agencies, were responsible for the cyber theft of 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee’s servers. The FBI is now investigating. The Russian hackers apparently turned the email trove over to Wikileaks, which dumped the material at precisely the moment it would have maximum impact on the Democratic National Convention that began Monday in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, state sponsored Russian media outlets have played the story big, focusing particularly on the forced resignation of the chairwoman of the DNC, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The email dump, of course, implicates the DNC in a “conspiracy” to thwart the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and help Hillary Clinton. Not incidentally, the Tweeter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, spent all weekend highlighting the email issue.

At the risk of seeming to sound like Donald Trump who has rarely met a conspiracy theory he didn’t embrace – Ted Cruz’s father helping Lee Harvey Oswald kill John Kennedy or Barack Obama the Kenyan Muslim – I have to conclude the Trump-Russian connection story is one of two things. Either the dots really do connect and Putin and Russia are actively – and effectively – attempting to influence an American presidential election and doing so with the active support of the GOP nominee…or this is all just one huge, remarkable coincidence. Take your pick.

Or consider this.

The Manchurian Candidate, 1962

The Manchurian Candidate, 1962

In 1962 United Artists, a big Hollywood film studio, released a film with a crazy, convoluted and politically explosive plot. In the film a foreign government sends a brainwashed ex-American serviceman to assassinate a U.S. politician. The film was something of a box office flop and many critics concluded that the plot of The Manchurian Candidate was just too farfetched, too implausible.

But Pauline Kael, the great film critic of The New Yorker, saw something else and she called the movie, “A daring, funny, and far-out political thriller about political extremists. … This picture plays some wonderful, crazy games about the Right and the Left; although it’s a thriller, it may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made in Hollywood.”

Today John Frankenheimer’s film is considered a classic. Maybe it is just a coincidence that I think about this old film when I think about Putin, Trump, Russian email hackers and the presidential election campaign.

Or maybe it is not a coincidence at all.

 

Trumping the Shark…

 

        “And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there [in South Korea] watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, what are we getting out of this?’”

Donald J. Trump in an interview with the New York Times

———-

Republicans, particularly those from the traditional post-war internationalist wing of the Grand Old Party, have devoted most of their waking hours over the past seven and a half years to assailing Barack Obama’s “fickle” foreign policy.

Obama has been bashed for “leading from behind,” for constantly “apologizing” for the United States, for being unwilling to double down on a purely military response to the violence and political turmoil from Egypt to Syria, from Ukraine to Iran.

Neville Chamberlain in 1938

Neville Chamberlain in 1938

In this Republican view Obama is a Kenyan socialist update of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who redefined the word “appeasement” so that it has become the most damning of all foreign policy epithets.

Then the GOP nominated Donald Trump.

I’m going to posit that never before in the history of modern U.S. politics has one party, a party that has for so long held rock solid views on foreign policy and America’s place in the world, so quickly and violently changed direction. The Trumpian “pivot” on foreign policy is now complete and the implications are coming into focus. As usual with Trump there is little doubt or nuance.

The Republican presidential candidate detailed for the New York Times yesterday his belief that as president he would not automatically guarantee 70 years of commitments to European security, would not condemn the massive violations of civil liberties underway in the wake of an attempted coup in Turkey and would remove American military and security commitments from far east allies like Japan and Korea.

And that’s just for openers.

The only thing missing from Trump’s capture of the Republican Party were seconding speeches of his nomination from anti-democratic thugs like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's Erdogan

Turkey’s Erdogan

Imagine Barack Obama making a statement like Trump made yesterday. Reminded by the Times David E. Sanger that since the attempted coup in Turkey Erdogan “put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you? And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?”

Trump’s reply: “I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”

Forget the messenger, worry about our own rule of law with such a man in the White House. Worry also about the cognitive dissonance on the new GOP ticket. At the very moment Trump’s interview was posted online Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence was saying this: “We cannot have four more years of … abandoning our friends. … Donald Trump will … stand with our allies.” Right. Got it.

The Reagan doctrine of American Exceptionalism has been reduced in the Age of Trump to: “We’re not in a position to be more aggressive. We have to fix our own mess.” Apparently fixing “our own mess” will cause Trump to look for inspiration to the dictators he refuses to condemn.

Loyal readers know that I have often voiced my own profound concerns about an American foreign policy based on the constant expansion of U.S. military power or the belief, held by Hillary Clinton among others, that nearly every foreign policy challenge demands a military response, but Trump has gone where no Republican has gone since at least Robert Taft in 1952.

Goldwater slogan in 1964

Goldwater slogan in 1964

Trump has torn the Republican Party from its post-war moorings, even more so it is now clear than Barry Goldwater did in 1964. His appeal to nativist, know nothingism, his exploitation of fear, his appalling ignorance of our own history and the world’s has gone way beyond anything we have seen since McCarthy in the early 1950’s. This is truly the GOP’s McCarthy Moment and no time, as Edward R. Murrow said of the Republican’s earlier demagogue, for citizens – particularly Republicans – who oppose his nonsense to remain silent.

It is now truly time to contemplate the consequences of turning over the country’s foreign policy – the nuclear codes for crying out loud – to a man who shouldn’t be trusted with the key to the executive washroom. The country has been here before. Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 proclaimed that “In your heart you know he is right,” but American voters saw through Goldwater’s bizarre suggestions that battlefield nuclear weapons might be used in Southeast Asia, that a nuclear warhead was “just another weapon” and that North Vietnam could be reduced to a “mud puddle” if only we had the right leadership.

The last time a radical hijacked the GOP, American voters agreed with Democrats who countered Goldwater’s slogan with their own: “In your guts you know he’s nuts.”

Donald J. Trump is certifiably “nuts.”

The GOP’s “New Nixon…”

 

      “I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first…The ’60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”

                                                                               Donald J. Trump

——–

There is a remarkable story on the front page of today’s New York Times. For anyone even remotely conversant with American political history, perhaps particularly Americans who identify with the Republican Party, the story is beyond stunning.

Nixon in 1968

Nixon in 1968

The soon-to-be Republican candidate for president of the United States is openly embracing the campaign themes of the only president forced from office while facing the ultimate political judgment – impeachment.

Richard Nixon would surely have been convicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by the United States Senate in 1974, and might well have been indicted and convicted in criminal proceedings – many of his henchmen were – had Gerald Ford not pardoned him. Now Donald Trump is publicly embracing the most disgraced president in American history.

In reporting on the strangest political bear hug since, well, since ever. The Times notes: “It was a remarkable embrace — open and unhesitating — of Nixon’s polarizing campaign tactics, and of his overt appeals to Americans frightened by a chaotic stew of war, mass protests and racial unrest.

“And it demonstrated that, wisely or mistakenly, Mr. Trump sees the path to victory this fall as the exploitation of the country’s anxieties about race, its fears of terrorism and its mood of disaffection, especially among white, working-class Americans.”

Trump’s chief political operative Paul Manafort – think of him as an even more sinister and devilish version of Nixon’s chief henchman H.R. Haldeman, one of the Nixon men who went to jail – said Trump’s convention speech this week will channel Nixon in 1968. “If you go back and read,” that speech Manafort said, “that speech is pretty much on line with a lot of the issues that are going on today.”

Meanwhile, Nixon’s dirty trickster Roger Stone – he has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, really – continues to be a key Trump surrogate. Stone made headlines yesterday for attacking Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich, who has refused to endorse Trump.

Nixon’s 1968 campaign exploited division, class and race hate, while promising “law and order.” His presidency then produced the most lawless administration in modern times.

AR-160129785At a fragile moment in the long American experiment, the GOP candidate offers only fear. No plans, nothing even remotely connected to real public policy. No looking forward to a better, more inclusive, fairer America, but a call to retreat to an America that has never existed. “Make America Great Again,” is as much a myth as Trump’s business success. His promise of “law and order” would almost certainly lead to the kinds of abuses that brought down the man his campaign now embraces.

Richard Nixon was a tragically flawed, but profoundly driven man. Seeking the presidency for the second time in 1968, and after losing election as governor of California in 1962, Nixon’s team – Haldeman was P.R. executive – knew they needed to present “the New Nixon;” a more human, genuine Nixon. The repackaging, along with the “law and order” theme, worked, but just barely. Then the old Nixon re-emerged in the Oval Office.

The long awaited “pivot” by Trump that might finally put lipstick on the pig of his personality and temperament may or may not come this week. I would bet not, since while Nixon was a deeply effective conman he was also much more politically sophisticated than Trump. Re-packaging Trump will be tough, but perhaps amid the bluster and showmanship the Republican convention will produce an image of a “new Trump,” but like so much about the man it will be an illusion.

That Trump has openly and proudly adopted Richard Nixon as a model says all we need to know about the man’s sense of history and the trials and tribulations of the American experiment and the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Republicans who have supported Reagan, the Bushes, Bob Dole and John McCain must confront in their candidate a remarkable political throwback. We can now confidently say their new candidate really is the “new” Nixon.

 

Civility and Citizenship…

 

      “And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Robert F. Kennedy speaking shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

——-

The man who will soon be the Republican candidate for president of the United States has diagnosed what ails the country in the 21st Century. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Donald Trump said during one of the shouting matches that passed for debates during the primary season. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”

Robert Kennedy speaks to a crowd in Indianapolis after Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination in 1968.

Robert Kennedy speaks to a crowd in Indianapolis after the King assassination in 1968.

Surveys tell us Trump has hit a nerve. Across the political spectrum Republicans, Democrats, independents agree that “political correctness” is a big problem even if, as I suspect, most Americans would have trouble defining the term. Political correctness is the problem for all seasons, an all purpose explanation for any position that someone else holds that you find disagreeable.

As with most things he says Trump has misdiagnosed “the big problem.” And the misdiagnosis is glaringly apparent in the roiling wake of post-July 4th America. America’s diverse culture – a nation of immigrants – with class, racial, educational and wealth disparities doesn’t really suffer from an over abundance of political correctness, but rather the illness is a deficit of essential civility and engaged citizenship. Our challenge, as the distinguished scholar Danielle Allen says, is reflect on our own history to find how diverse individuals live together in a shared public life.

To put a fine point on it: way too many Americans are ignorant of how their government really works and woefully deficient in understanding the country’s history and how that history informs and effects what is happening today. It is nothing less than a national crisis.

It’s Insane…

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been a voice in the wilderness trying to arouse a new American commitment to civic education. “In over half the states in the union, civics education is not required,” O’Connor told the Washington Post in 2012. “The only reason we have public school education in America is because in the early days of the country, our leaders thought we had to teach our young generation about citizenship … that obligation never ends. If we don’t take every generation of young people and make sure they understand that they are an essential part of government, we won’t survive. We don’t teach our own kids. It’s insane.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has made civic education her cause

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made civic education her cause

It is insane. And if you think about it O’Connor’s point helps explain a lot about the current state of American democracy. When Trump says he is going to “build a wall” and a foreign country will pay for it or when Bernie Sanders promises health care for all, a well-informed, civically-aware American says, “hold on. How you goin’ do that?” The informed voter might well ask: What is the role of Congress in getting that done? Can you bring along the other side? What will it cost? Do you know even what you are talking about?

Politicians have always made grand and unrealistic promises, but voters should be well enough grounded in civic reality to reel in the truth and discount the blarney. Hard to do if you don’t have the basic understanding of how government works.

Trump’s utterly fanciful claim that he can eliminate the national debt in eight years, while slashing taxes is a good illustration of the disconnect between what a candidate says and what politics and reality allow. As Politico reported, “Trump’s budget and policy proposals have resonated with the Republican base, even if elements of his plan run entirely counter to conservative economic orthodoxy. But taken together, they are a series of puzzle pieces that just don’t fit into a coherent whole, according to experts on both sides of the aisle.”

Translation: May sound good, cannot happen. To reach the goal of eliminating the national debt in eight years, Trump would need to slash all federal spending by two-thirds. No serious person believes that could either happen or should happen. The economy would tank and the political and economic dislocation would be enormous.

“I don’t know that he’s really taken the time to understand the complexities of some of these areas of policy,” Lanhee Chen, policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution told Politico. “I am concerned about that.”

Former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said it even more bluntly in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “Trump repeatedly, blatantly and knowingly makes up or gravely distorts facts to support his positions or create populist divisions…Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.”

But to make those judgments requires a working knowledge of government and how budget and fiscal decisions are made. An engaged citizen doesn’t need Hank Paulson’s experience, but they do need to know more than Donald Trump does. Far too many don’t.

Mom would not have tolerated this guy…

The other foundational piece to a better informed and engaged citizenry represents, not surprisingly perhaps, the antithesis of what the GOP nominee has been offering for months. When Trump fumes against “political correctness” what he is really rejecting is what my mother would have called “civility.” Or simply being nice, respectful, courteous. Making an attempt to understand the other person’s perspective.

Donald Trump during a GOP debate

Donald Trump during a GOP debate

Insulting women, repeatedly referring to a United States senator as Pocahontas, constantly referring to your opponents as “liars” or “crooks” or “low energy” is not politically incorrect it is rude, vulgar and beneath the playground taunts of a junior high school bully let alone a presidential candidate. Imagine – I hope you can only imagine – such language at your dinner table or work place. Few would tolerate it simply because its wrong, hateful and mean. Who can really argue that these are the characteristics we should encourage or value in our leaders.

The presidential campaign of 2016 will be remembered for many things not least, I suspect, a further coarsening of our already raw political dialogue. The Donald Trumps of the world must be kept at the political fringes. They are in no way representative of what Lincoln so rightly called “the better angels of our nature.”

An essential responsibility of leadership, whether in the corporate boardroom or the Oval Office is to educate, explain, to empathize and illuminate rather than divide, degrade and preach a politics of despair and hatred.

In a brilliant and also shocking piece of political reporting, the New York Times Nick Confessore honed in on the connections between citizenship and civility and how Trump, in the name of disowning political correctness, has broken something that will be hard to mend.

“In the months since Mr. Trump began his campaign, the percentage of Americans who say race relations are worsening has increased, reaching nearly half in an April poll by CBS News. The sharpest rise was among Republicans: Sixty percent said race relations were getting worse,” Confessore writes. Trace that increase directly to the Republican nominee.

And Confessore continues: “And Mr. Trump’s rise is shifting the country’s racial discourse just as the millennial generation comes fully of age, more and more distant from the horrors of the Holocaust, or the government-sanctioned racism of Jim Crow.” This is the intersection between coarseness and lack of civility and the American citizenship deficit.

The Better Angels of Our Nature…

Former President and Mrs. Bush with President and Mrs. Obama at Dallas memorial for murdered police officers

Former President and Mrs. Bush with President and Mrs. Obama at Dallas memorial for murdered police officers

President Obama tried to remind us this week what America should be about, what it could be about. In a moment of profound national distress the nation’s first non-white president appealed to our better angels. He was, of course, immediately criticized and critics continue to offer the fiction that the president is “anti-police,” still Obama’s words demand our attention, demand that we reflect, not merely react.

“In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work,” Obama said. “It’s about forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change.

“Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human.

I don’t know. I confess that sometimes I, too, experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things. I’ve seen too many families go through this.

“But then I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel. ‘I will give you a new heart,’ the Lord says, ‘and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.’

“That’s what we must pray for, each of us. A new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens.”

That open heart begins with genuine civility and new commitment by each of us to real engaged and informed citizenship.

 

So We Beat On…

 

      “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

———

Good Lord it is tough work explaining let alone supporting Hillary Clinton.

She may be the living proof of the old political axiom that the worst wounds are self-inflicted. She is the poster child – at least the Democratic poster child – for secretive, damaging dissembling. A very sophisticated political friend suggests an apt analogy: Clinton is the American version of Dodgy Dave Cameron, the newly deposed British prime minister. Both crave power for power’s sake with few core convictions and even less shame.

Careless, not criminal

Careless, not criminal

Clinton’s email debacle will be recorded as among the worst handled “political scandals” in modern times. An original stupid decision to use a private email set-up rather than a government run system – why she did it can only be explained by the secretive side of Hillary, the side hoping to never have to explain anything during her State Department tenure – was compounded by the cover up. For weeks – months – she ham-handedly strung out the story, never admitting until really forced to do so that the whole thing was a stupid mistake. Now the director of the FBI has pointed out for the world and for Donald Trump all the inconsistencies and incompetence. Clinton was not criminal, just “extremely careless,” said James Comey. Now that is a great campaign slogan: “She may be careless, but at least she is not criminal.”

One holds out the hope that Clinton will be a better president than she has been a would be president. She has a tin political ear, a well-developed capacity to foster mistrust and, considering she will be the first woman nominated as a major party presidential candidate, a remarkable inability to stir enthusiasm. Among the best things you can say about Hillary Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump. Another good bumper sticker.

Clinton is in for a rough few days, but her good news is that the country is just days away from watching what will surely be a bat s@#t crazy spectacle of a Republican convention where the GOP will turn over the party to a pathological liar whose latest contributions to American politics has been to energize white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, while praising Saddam Hussein.

"He was a bad guy — really bad guy," the presumptive Republican nominee told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. "But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists. Over."

“He was a bad guy — really bad guy,” the presumptive Republican nominee told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. “But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over.”

Ask yourself what is worse: an ethically challenged careerist with a lust for power who believes, along with her husband, that the rules don’t apply to them…or Donald Trump?

Clinton’s handling of her email scandal combined with the stunning takedown of her “carelessness” by the FBI director would be disqualifying for any other candidate any of us can think of, but this is a two person race and the other person is a racist bully whose impossible boasts and claims and nonsense should be cause for a mental health intervention.

Campaigns come down to a choice between two people, most often two flawed people. This is our choice in 2016 and it is ugly and dispiriting and disappointing. Clinton will be a better president, I hope and suspect, than she has been a candidate. With Trump what you see is what you get. One person will muddle through, while the other may well destroy the country.

There is a danger here – we are already seeing it in press coverage of the two candidates – of false equivalence. Clinton with all her faults is not Trump. The email scandal is serious stuff. Trump’s demeanor, his temperament, his incoherence and ignorance are disqualifying. There is no equivalence between the careless and the utterly dangerous.

Like Scott Fitzgerald’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Bill and Hillary Clinton are reckless people with a remarkable sense of entitlement. Not much to admire here. The messes they have made are legion. But the other guy represents a level of evil, intolerance, racism and hate not seen at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So we beat on, boats against the current…and I’m with the careless one.

 

Stop, Think and Ask “What If…”

 

According to the Financial Times, Michael Gove, a champion of Britain’s exit from the European Union and now a candidate for prime minister, refused during the recent Brexit campaign to name any economists who back exit from the European Union, saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” 

——–

It can be difficult, when watching politics unfold in real time, to identify and see clearly the larger currents and fault lines that define where we are and where we might be headed. This reality – not always being able to comprehend the present – is why history matters and why, regrettably, so many Americans – and Brits apparently – have forgotten lessons from the past.

Americans face an obesity crisis and a epidemic of gun violence, but perhaps just as seriously we face the plague of historical amnesia. Increasingly we cannot connect the dots of the past with the issues of the moment. That can be a fatal disease in a democracy.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

The recent decision by voters in the United Kingdom to abandon more than 40 years of increasing interconnection with Europe, and in the process turning their backs on the last century of European history, and the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump illustrate how we forget our history at our peril. Two striking examples make my case.

Europe in 1940…

Imagine the world, and particularly Europe, in the spring of 1940. Nazi armies have overrun Poland and Norway, invaded the Low Countries and are pressing toward Paris. Hitler’s Panzers and Stuka dive-bombers have terrorized Warsaw, Krakow, Brussels and Antwerp. The Wehrmacht – perhaps the greatest offensive army the world had ever seen – was routing the French army, thought at the time to be the best fighting force in the world, and guns booming on the front lines could be heard at the Eiffel Tower. Would France fight on, resist the awful weight of invasion or would defeatists in the French government and military surrender?

A German tank in France in 1940

A German tank in France in 1940

The new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a Francophile who loved Champagne and the ships of the French Navy among other things, was desperate to keep France in the war – and the French Navy out of German hands – and he embraced an audacious plan to buck up the faltering and besieged government in Paris.

At the suggestion of several French diplomats serving in London – among the group was Jean Monnet, considered the founding father of the European Union, and the junior French General Charles De Gaulle – Churchill pitched to the French Premier Paul Reynaud a “declaration of indissoluble union.

The formal proposal declared, “The two governments declare France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union…every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain and every British subject will become a citizen of France.” Once united the two countries would have a formal association of Parliaments, joint management of defense and finance and a single war cabinet to direct the defense of western Europe. “Its all embracing character,”as one historian has written, “went further than anything before in the history of war-time alliances. Even in the subsequent history of European unity, no Government ever proposed a more radical and far-reaching plan for supernatural integration.”

Astounding.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Great Britain and France would, symbolically and practically, become one and fight on against Hitler’s armies. We know how the story turned out. Reynaud could not sell the idea to his government, most members of whom had already indicated a willingness to throw in the towel and surrender. The World War I hero Marshall Henri Petain, who went on to collaborate with the Nazis and was later found guilty of treason, rejected Churchill’s proposal out of hand saying it would be better to become “a Nazi colony” than to unite with Britain. Reynaud resigned as prime minister without a formal vote on the British proposal and later said the failure of Churchill’s idea was the greatest disappointment of his political career.

As for becoming a Nazi colony, France certainly did, to the enduring shame of many who advocated capitulation rather than embrace new and radical thinking. The name of Petain is forever stained, while De Gaulle is celebrated as the greatest Frenchman of the 20th Century.

I’ll leave it to you to arrive at your own Brexit takeaway from this little historic tableau from 75 years ago, but one lesson seems clear: when faced with the greatest threat in modern times Winston Churchill was prepared to join his nation’s fate in the most fundamental ways with France, indeed with all of Europe. His imagination was equal to the moment.

Reed Smoot is Smiling…

The presumptive nominee of the Republican for the presidency is, on the other hand, beyond imagination. Donald Trump spent the week, with a few Trumpian deviations, outlining his remarkable views on trade. Reed Smoot must be smiling.

Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time

Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time

To the extent that Smoot, an austere apostle of the Mormon Church and a Republican senator from Utah, is remembered at all today it is for being the architect of the 1930 tariff legislation that bears his name. The Smoot-Hawley tariff – Hawley was Willis Hawley, an Oregon lawyer and educator who became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee – dramatically increased tariffs, led to a stifling of American exports just as the Great Depression took hold and sparked an international trade war against the United States.

As historian Douglas A. Irwin points out in his history of the tariff legislation, Canada, the largest U.S. trading partner in 1930, immediately retaliated with its own trade sanctions, while other countries formed “preferential trading blocs that discriminated against the United States” shifting world trade away from the U.S.

Saddled with the political, not to mention financial cost of protectionist trade policies after Smoot-Hawley, Republicans generally became “free-traders,” adopting a fundamentally conservative view that goods and services should move freely in the global economy, largely unhindered by artificial controls. Trade wars were to be avoided, exports encouraged and imports not feared. Trump’s approach – a trade war with China and mostly incoherent, but clearly protectionist measures regarding U.S. imports – as much as any policy he proposes, upends long-established Republican orthodoxy and flies in the face of historical experience.

Smoot-Hawley was largely designed to protect American farmers. It didn’t and many voices, including hundreds of economists, warned against its passage. The widely respected columnist Walter Lippmann called the protectionist legislation “a wretched and mischievous product of stupidity and greed.” You wonder if he knew Trump? And one advisor to the Republican president who signed the controversial legislation said, “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot Tariff. That Act intensified nationalism all over the world.”

America in the Great Depression

America in the Great Depression

Donald Trump’s rhetoric about trade, in addition to doing violence to a deeply held Republican tradition dating to the Great Depression, would almost certainly cost rather than protect American jobs. Other nations would surely retaliate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce pointed out this reality in what amounted to a stunning rebuke by American business of the GOP nominee. Even some of those who developed the economic analysis Trump relies upon for his position on trade repudiate his approach. Experts, of course, are so out of fashion, just like facts and history.

Meanwhile, across the pond, after more than 40 years spent embracing European integration the United Kingdom is certain to discover in the days ahead that the cost of isolation from Europe will be great and painful. In both cases – Brexit and Trump – opportunistic politicians, feeding on the fears of worried citizens, peddle fanciful ideas that simply can’t withstand careful evaluation. But, unfortunately our collective historical amnesia leaves us susceptible to the crude charms of charlatans.

Historical analogies are never perfect, of course, but history can help illuminate enduring truths, one being that simple answers to complex problems are almost always wrong.

Another lesson taught by history is simply to stop, think and ask “what if”? What if the French government in 1940 had had more courage and imagination? What if Herbert Hoover would have listened to his advisers? What if?

 

Brexit and America

   

       “We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we have fought against big politics, we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit.”

Nigel Farage, advocate of the UK exit from the European Union

——–

It will be remembered as one of the great unforced errors in modern political history. In the language of soccer – this is Britain after all – soon to be former British Prime Minister David Cameron scored an “own goal,” kicking the ball into his own net. In one crazy act of political suicide Cameron threw a referendum bone to his political opponents. They ate the bone and then consumed him for good measure.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

The Brits may have become the first people in the history of the world to vote for a recession. For sure they have voted for months – maybe years – of financial turmoil, economic and political isolation and very likely an independent Scotland. Brits also voted to validate the ugly kind of nationalism that is seeping across Europe. When the Brexit outcome is applauded by France’s ultra-right Marine Le Pen, the Kremlin and Donald Trump you instinctively know you are on the wrong side of history.

The Self-Inflicted Wound…

Cameron, a nominally successful politician before Brexit, will now be remembered for crashing his Conservative Party and speeding the disunion of Europe at the very moment the region needs even greater unity to deal with everything from trade to terrorism. Comparisons to Neville Chamberlain are inevitable. Meanwhile, the chief opposition party, Labour, is also in disarray and it seems inevitable that the party’s far left leader will have to go.

Why? Why reduce the United Kingdom’s long-term future to a plebiscite? Why risk it all on a one-off election with the highest of high stakes? The answer, of course, is political and here we begin to see the real relevance for the United States in 2016 of what has so dramatically happened in Britain.

Cameron set off these falling dominos of destruction in 2014 when in order to win an outright Conservative majority in the British parliament he attempted to placate radicals in his own party and in the uber-nationalist rightwing UK Independence Party (UKIP) with an up or down, in or out vote on the EU. Rather than fight the 2015 election over staying in Europe, Cameron tried to have it both ways even saying at one point that he might led the effort to leave the EU after he was re-elected. It was rank political opportunism from the guy one British Labour Party member recently dubbed “Dodgy Dave.”

Cameron compounded the dangers of his risky EU gamble by presiding during the recent campaign over a shambling Conservative Party that spoke with many discordant voices. Several of Cameron’s own cabinet ministers campaigned against him and remaining in the EU. Chaos follows chaos.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson - more in common than a bad hair day

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – more in common than a bad hair day

The “leave” campaign was led by another artful dodger, albeit one more colorful than Cameron, the former mayor of London Boris Johnson, a New York born gasbag with Churchillian ambitions who now maneuvers to replace Cameron. Leave it to an Irishman, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, to correctly sum up BoJo, as Johnson is nicknamed: “He has a streak of Churchill’s brilliant opportunism and reckless charm, but he does not have behind him the national consensus that an existential struggle created behind Churchill and he is, in everything but girth, a lightweight.”

The U.S. Plays This Cynical Game Too…

None of this so much compares to Churchill-type politics as to the cynicism and recklessness of Congressional Republicans in the United States like Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (not to mention all of Ryan many predecessors, one of whom just reported to federal prison). This is why the British action looms so very large across the American political landscape.

The vote to leave the EU doubtless has its roots in a variety of toxic soil – anti-immigration, fears of globalization, misunderstandings about free trade, hatred of the “privileged elites,” long simmering class resentments and totally valid concerns about growing income inequality. Johnson and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage, Britain’s Donald Trump with a better haircut, are ironically both men of wealth and privilege who played on the fears of many Brits, concocted fanciful stories about the benefits of leaving and now inherit a diminished UK more badly divided than ever. Sound familiar?

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage

Writing in The Guardian Zoe Williams condemned Farage’s hateful rhetoric after the referendum, language that sounds remarkably like Trump’s “knock the crap out of ’em” talk. “But for poor taste and ugly triumph,” Williams wrote, “nothing matched [Farage’s] assertion that [the Leave vote] had happened ‘without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired.’”

A ridiculous comment, of course, since a pro-EU Member of Parliament was murdered days before the voting, the first MP lost to an “act of terror since the darkest days of the IRA and, leaving Ireland aside, the first since 1812. His words seemed to carry a tang of regret – echoing his dark mutterings of some weeks ago, when he predicted violence on the streets and sounded exhilarated by it.”

This is not the political talk or action of a western democracy, but something much more sinister, something to be condemned and defeated. It is the politics of cynicism, hatred and despair, of yesterday not tomorrow.

For most of the last eight years Congressional Republicans have done something similar by promising their mostly white, older base that obstructing political action on everything from immigration reform to climate change was the American way. They have mostly refused to condemn the fevered claims of white supremacists and talk radio that a duly elected president of the United States is somehow not one of us. They set out not merely to merely disagree with Barack Obama, but as McConnell infamously said, to “make him a one term president.”

Refusing to Set Expectations with Your Voters…

Republicans refused to really engage on big issues from health care to Syria, even voting no on a sensible economic stimulus and an essential auto bailout in the wake of The Great Recession knowing all the while that they could gin up the base with Barack bashing and yet one more promise to repeal Obamacare.

Now their presidential candidate tweets regularly about what “Obama has done with the debt,” while never acknowledging – or probably knowing – that no president spends money that has not been authorized and appropriated by the Republican Congress. Trump’s own claims to eliminate the debt are as unrealistic as the claims made by Britain’s anti-Europe crowd and just as widely discredited.

Yet simple lessons in civics and finance eludes not only the candidate, but his followers. Facts be damned. Even if a claim is pure poppycock, shot down by an “expert” who knows something, so what? it still makes a good message in 140 characters.

Failing to deliver for their base on undeliverable promises the GOP leadership now finds itself roughly where Dodgy Dave Cameron sits – on the outs with one-time supporters who feel conned, left trying to explain how a phony billionaire “populist” who traffics in insults and conspiracy theories has hijacked their party.

The Farage-Trump analogy even works to the level of both men’s penchant for the sleazy insult. Farage once told a former Belgian prime minister and top EU official to his face that he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” At least Farage’s insults are more original than Trump’s.

Chaos leads to chaos

Chaos leads to chaos

This stunning turn of events in both the UK and the U.S. is evidence of an appalling lack of political leadership, leadership willing to acknowledge that moderation in the pursuit of progress is actually a virtue.

It should also be said that the American left hardly has clean hands at this moment of upheaval. Bernie Sanders continues to stoke too many of his supporters into a populist lather with a message that, while more optimistic and forward looking than what is coming from the populist right still often ignores political reality. The hardest thing to do in politics is to say no to your supporters and the second most difficult is to temper their expectations. We are seeing this populist revolt in no small part because of a failure to do either.

Cameron likely could have shutdown the EU debate in 2015 by forcefully making the conservative case for the UK staying in Europe – British conservatives led the country into the EU in the first place in 1973 – but he gambled the country on his own election and now he has lost it all.

Finding the Center Again…

McConnell and Company have embraced a similar level of political opportunism, shunning any obligation to negotiate with Obama and displaying no willingness to instruct their base voters in the finer points of how democracy works. On the immigration issue alone Republicans might have found a sensible middle ground with Obama years ago. Some of them, including Marco Rubio, came close in 2013 to a political solution only to cave to the rampant xenophobia among the Tea Party faithful that now powers Trump’s campaign. The resulting division, exacerbated even more by an evenly split Supreme Court unable to rule in a recent critical case – again McConnell’s doing – has created racial tensions not seen in the country since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Writing from his own political exile brought on by his reckless embrace of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, former British prime minister Tony Blair nevertheless made an essential point in a post-Brexit op-ed in the New York Times. With Britain and the U.S. clearly in mind, Blair wrote, “It was already clear before the Brexit vote that modern populist movements could take control of political parties. What wasn’t clear was whether they could take over a country like Britain. Now we know they can.”

Blair might have noted that Brexit and Trump have completed the transition of the once principled right of center conservative parties in Britain and the United States into collections of angry, aggrieved nationalists whose real currency is neither the pound or the dollar, but rather fear and hatred.

Remembering History, Acting Responsibly…

“The center must regain its political traction,” Tony Blair says, “rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”

Battle of the Somme , 1916

Battle of the Somme, 1916

Next Sunday – July 1st – marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the worst battle on the western front in The Great War. A million Europeans and most of a generation of Britain’s finest perished in one of the worst battles in human history all in order to prevent Europe from descending into a new dark age. The peace following The Great War lasted barely twenty years before an even more destructive war ravaged Europe. From that wreckage, barely seventy years ago, Europe began to come together in a genuine union – some wanted to call it a United States of Europe – with the belief that economic connections and open borders were the keys to security and peace, that cooperation was vastly more productive than national rivalry. All that idealism, all that reality stands torn and tattered now and the future is, at best, uncertain.

Winston Churchill, considered by the EU as one of the movement’s founders, once quoted a French politician as saying, “Without Britain there can be no Europe.” Churchill immediately added, “This is entirely true. But our friends on the Continent need have no misgivings. Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.”

That is what political leadership sounds like.

These are not the times for opportunists and demagogues who peddle simple answers for the problems of a complex, rapidly changing and profoundly interconnected world. Send the populists of all stripes packing. They are the sowers of discord, the merchants of chaos. Britain has sent us a signal. It would be wise to pay attention.