GOP, Immigration, Trump

A State of Emergency…

The only conceivable path Donald Trump has to re-election next year is to continue to fire up faithful fans by invoking his dystopian view of a nation threatened by an immigrant horde determined to storm the southern border and wreck havoc on America. It is the one constant theme of his presidency and the overriding theme of his State of the Union speech this week, a speech laced with words like bloodthirsty, sadistic, venomous and chilling.

Trump has perfected the politics of resentment, fear and scapegoating that Republicans have been shoveling ever more aggressively toward their “base” since Barry Goldwater invoked “extremism in defense of liberty” more than fifty years ago. 

Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address.

That the image of the “lawless state of our southern border” is at odds with the facts hardly seemed to bother cheering Republicans in the House chamber Tuesday night. Republicans have largely embraced Trump’s resentment theory of politics, which is exemplified by his demonization of refugees and immigrants, while they have simultaneously tied the party’s future to Trump’s frayed coattails. 

The overheated rhetoric about border threats, of course, also clashes with Trump’s claims about the strength of the American economy and his calls for unity, the issue that members of Idaho’s congressional delegation chose to emphasize in their reaction. 

By general consensus of fact checkers the biggest whooper in Trump’s speech was his claim that a border wall built during the George W. Bush administration had reduced violent crime in El Paso, Texas. But, the actual statistics show that violent crime in El Paso – one of the safest larger cities in America – had actually plummeted before the barrier was constructed. Such twisting of reality helps explain why those who represent the border, Texas Republican Will Hurd for example, reject Trump’s wall as a waste of money, an ineffective simplistic symbolic fix for a complex problem. 

The U.S.-Mexican border at El Paso, Texas

While Trump did attempt the rhetoric of bipartisanship in the face of another looming government shutdown over funding the wall he offered no path out of the political dead end he himself has created. He avoided mention of the declaration of a national emergency, a tactic likely illegal and surely to be immediately challenged, but he left that explosive option on the table. 

That Republicans actually tolerate talk of a declaration of national emergency over Trump’s failure to secure a policy objective that he could not accomplished when his party controlled Congress is Exhibit A in how completely the GOP has abandoned common sense, old fashioned conservatism and the Constitution. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently actually said Trump “must” invoke emergency powers to construct a border wall “if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal.” 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch also seems resigned to a Trump strategy that will include a national emergency. Risch predicted recently to KBOI radio’s Nate Shelman that the president’s Constitutional overreach was likely to happen, and apparently that is just fine with him. 

“I think that the President has figured out that (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) is not going to give the President a dime for the wall,” Risch said. “They hate this president so badly, that they won’t do anything for him, or give him anything that makes it look like a victory, so they are not going to vote for it. They’re happy with the shutdown.”

That is typical of Risch’s constant partisan gaslighting – the super partisan blaming others for partisanship – as well as his acquiescence to all things Trump and it begs the question conservative columnist George Will asked recently about Graham and could have asked about Risch. 

“Why do they come to Congress, these people such as Graham,” Will wrote recently. “These people who, affirmatively or by their complicity of silence, trifle with our constitutional architecture, and exhort the president to eclipse the legislative branch, to which they have no loyalty comparable to their party allegiance?”

Once again history provides some perspective if we’re willing to understand what is at stake. In the early 1970s, in a true bipartisan effort, Senators Frank Church of Idaho, a Democrat, and Charles Mathias of Maryland, a Republican, worked for months to craft legislation – the National Emergencies Act – ensuring that Congress and not a president will define and supervise a true national emergency. The two senators co-chaired a Special Committee on the Termination of National Emergencies, determined to unwind generations of presidential emergency declarations dating back to the Great Depression. In their view such open-ended exercise of one-person power created vast opportunities for Constitutional overreach by the kind of president the nation now suffers. Their subsequent legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate. 

Senators Frank Church of Idaho

Church and Mathias, apropos of the current moment, were, as constitutional scholar Gerald S. Dickinson wrote recently, “acutely aware of and sought to prohibit a future president from taking advantage of the emergency powers for partisan and policy purposes.”

In testimony before a Senate committee in 1976, Church said the president “should not be allowed to invoke emergency authorities or in any way utilize the provision of [the National Emergencies Act] for frivolous or partisan matters, nor for that matter in cases where important but not ‘essential’ problems are at stake.” He might have been talking about “the wall.” 

Church, as his biographers note, believed containing a president’s ability to invoke a national emergency was one of the Idahoan’s proudest moments, an affirmation that Congress, armed with the Constitution, can and should stand against the overreach of a would be autocrat. 

We shall see where all this is headed, but make no mistake Congress can halt the national emergency nonsense and doing so would be a profoundly “conservative,” not to mention Constitutional thing to do. 

As for Risch and others like him in Congress don’t expect them to protect congressional prerogatives or stand up to a demagogue. When he recently became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position Church once held, he proudly proclaimed that he would be no Frank Church. On that much, at least, his is absolutely correct. 

(Note: This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune.)

—-0—-

Borah, Church, Foreign Policy, Trump, U.S. Senate

The Risch Doctrine…

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch became chairman of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee last week and as nearly his first act he bashed the two Idahoans who held that position in the past, William Borah and Frank Church.

In an interview with Idaho Press reporter Betsy Russell, Risch also said his “repertoire does not include sparring publicly with the president of the United States. For many, many different reasons, I think that’s counterproductive, and you won’t see me doing it.”

UNITED STATES – APRIL 8: Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, questions Secretary of State John Kerry, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In one interview, the new chairman offered a remarkable display of historical ignorance, senatorial obsequiousness, hubris and blind partisanship. Call it “the Risch Doctrine.”

Let’s take them one by one.

“William Borah was around at the time when it was very fashionable, and indeed you could get away with non-involvement in a great matter of international affairs,” Risch told Russell.

The senator is correct that Borah, who represented Idaho in the Senate for 33 years, was, to say the least, skeptical about an aggressive U.S. foreign policy. More correctly, Borah was a non-interventionist, an anti-imperialist and a politician who believed passionately that the Senate must exercise a significant role in developing the country’s foreign policy. He would have been the last to say he would avoid “sparring publicly” with a president. He did so repeatedly, including with presidents of his own Republican Party.

Borah’s determined opposition to the peace treaty after World War I was based in large part on Woodrow Wilson’s arrogance in insisting that the Senate rubber stamp his handy work, accepting his terms or no terms.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Risch says he has his disagreements with President Donald Trump, but you’d be hard to pressed to find even one, while his record is ripe with acquiescence to an administration whose foreign policy from Syria to North Korea and from NATO to Saudi Arabia feels more unhinged, more chaotic by the day.

While Borah elevated the Foreign Relations Committee to something approaching equal standing with Republican presidents such as Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, Risch is first and last a partisan, even to the point of going down the line with Trump, while many other Senate Republicans broke with him this week over sanctioning a Russian oligarch. With a Democrat in the White House, Risch was never reluctant to bash a foreign policy decision. His “sparring” was always in plain sight. Now, it’s all quiet on the Risch front.

Risch also could not refrain from repeating an old smear against Sen. Frank Church, effectively accusing Church of weakening the nation’s intelligence agencies.

“In my judgment,” Risch said, Church “did some things regarding our intelligence-gathering abilities and operations that would not serve us very well today. We need a robust intelligence operation.”

We have a robust intelligence operation, one that has frequently made serious mistakes that require constant vigilance from U.S. senators.

Risch should know this. He’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he has repeatedly excused Trump’s own disregard, indeed contempt, for intelligence agencies, including dismissal of an FBI director who was just a bit too independent for Trump’s taste. You have to wonder if the new chairman has read even a summary of Church’s still very relevant work.

What Church’s landmark investigation really did in the 1970s was to explain to the American people, as UC-Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted told me this week, “what the CIA and FBI and other agencies had been doing in their name during the height of the Cold War.” As professor Olmsted, a scholar of American intelligence and its oversight noted, Church’s investigation “revealed many abuses and some crimes that had been committed, for example, by the CIA.”

One of those crimes was spying on American citizens. The National Security Agency actually conducted mail and phone surveillance on Church and Republican Sen. Howard Baker.

“Thanks to the Church Committee,” Olmsted wrote, “we now know that the CIA engaged mafia dons to stab, poison, shoot and blow up Fidel Castro; that it tried to poison Patrice Lumumba’s toothpaste and that it hired goons to kidnap the general in Chile who was trying to uphold his country’s constitutional democracy and thus stood in the way of a U.S.-backed coup. (He was killed in the course of the kidnapping.) The committee also revealed the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program, including the harassment of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Church didn’t weaken the intelligence community — he held it accountable. His work created the modern framework for congressional oversight, that is if Congress would use the power of oversight, and Church’s investigation led to the protections of the so-called FISA court that requires a judge to sign off on surveillance of a kind that the intelligence agencies once initiated on their own.

“This is a great time to be a Republican,” Risch told a partisan crowd at a Lincoln Day dinner in Shoshone last week. “You will not hear about this in the national media, but we have done a great job running this country.” Quite a line to utter while a quarter of the federal government remains shut down and while the president is operating with an “acting” chief of staff, Interior secretary, Office of Management and Budget director, attorney general, Defense secretary and has yet to even nominate ambassadors to a couple dozen countries.

Jim Risch, the committed partisan, has always been the kind of politician focused on his next election. He’s up in 2020 in what should be one of the safest seats in the country and he’s put all his chips on Trump.

But what if things are different in a few months or in a year? What if Robert Mueller’s investigation unspools a web of corruption that makes President Richard Nixon and Watergate look like a third-rate burglary? What if Risch has bet on the wrong guy?

He’s standing on the rolling deck of the USS Trump right now, raising nary a question about a president implicated in scandal from porno payoffs to Russian collusion. The super-partisan will never change, but his hubris may yet — and again — get the best of him.

—–0—–

Foreign Policy, GOP, Trump

Two Things About the Mattis Resignation…

  Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

–Resignation letter of General James Mattis

————

The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is being seen, as it should be seen, as not merely a senior Cabinet member leaving after losing a policy battle, but rather as a fundamental repudiation of the worldview of an American president. 

The resignation has stunned Washington, shaken our allies and, for the first time in the first two years of his chaotic presidency, caused significant numbers of elected Republicans to stir themselves to something approaching opposition.

The push back comes too late however. The damage is done. The work to re-establish American moral and political leadership across the globe will take a generation to repaired, if in fact it can be repaired.

Two things about Mattis’s resignation strike me as historically significant. 

Mattis and Trump

First, a principled resignation from public service has rarely, in fact hardly ever, been a feature of our politics. The only resignation in modern times that comes close to what Secretary Mattis did yesterday was the resignation of then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1980 in protest of President Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages held in Iran. That resignation, quietly made before, but not publicly announced until after the ill-fated rescue mission failed, was mentioned in the first three graphs of every Vance obituary when he died in 2002.

In other words, Vance, like Mattis, told the president of the United States that he was so fundamentally opposed to an administration’s policy that he could no longer serve. 

This kind of resignation (as I have noted before) occur with some regularity in other western democracies. Key officials, for example, have been fleeing Theresa May’s government – 19 high profile resignations so far this year – over the British prime minister’s handling the Brexit mess.

Anthony Eden, then the British foreign secretary, resigned in February 1938 after a dispute with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain over the best approaching to dealing with Benito Mussolini.

French President Emmanuel Macron has recently suffered the resignations of several high ranking officials in his government, one of whom spoke publicly of Macron’s “lack of humanity,” a line that could just as well apply to Trump.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Here’s hoping that the Mattis resignation over a serious matter of principle – of course, Donald Trump broadly ignored Mattis’s advice on a range of issues, not just Syrian policy – begins a new phase in American politics where serious people quit rather than work in an environment that debases their judgment and their sense of patriotism.

As for the argument that Mattis has provided what little adult supervision exists in the Trump Administration, and that he stayed so long in the face of so much chaos in order to protect the military and the world from the worst of Trump, I just don’t buy it.

You only provide the kind of supervision Trump needs (but won’t accept) if you are effective. In the main, the retired Marine Corps general, was not all that effective when it comes to policy. He opposed the decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump did it anyway. He opposed the senseless and constant Trump criticism of NATO allies. Trump kept it up. He even lost on the question of who should head the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Trump rejected his favored nominee. Even when Trump refused to acknowledge the importance of the late Senator John McCain’s career, Mattis publicly did so, but without offering even a mild rebuke to the president’s petty meanness.

The best outcome of Mattis’s resignation could be that the impact of his action will jar Washington Republicans out of their get-along/go-along Trump stupor and cause, at least some of them, to provide real oversight and substantive checks on the president. Mattis presumably could have stimulated this outcome months ago. Now, at last, he has. Maybe, just maybe, a corner has been turned in the reality TV series that the American presidency has become. 

Mattis resignation letter

The second takeaway for me from this historic moment is simply the head spinning reality that this foreign policy and national security chaos is taking place in a Republican Administration. The laws of politics and the orientation of our political parties has been turned completely upside down. The same Republicans who lamented, often with good reason, the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign and defense policy now own the most dysfunctional presidency in modern times. 

Republicans were once able to savage Democrats as “weak” on national security and eager to retreat from world responsibilities. That story line is now completely reversed thanks to Donald Trump.

Republicans who once based a good part of their brand on a clear-eyed reality about America’s role in the world have now embraced an ignorant, uninformed foreign policy that has trashed the post-war international order, facilitated the ambitions of China to further dominate the Pacific, emboldened authoritarian dictators, faked its way through North Korean talks about nuclear weapons and made Vladimir Putin the happiest man to occupy the Kremlin in a long, long time. 

Historians will write about this Republican collapse of rationality for generations to come, as well as those who aided and abetted it. While I suspect General Mattis will be mostly a footnote to this history, remembered more for his resignation than his accomplishments, one phrase in his resignation letter should be the jumping off point to assess why the GOP has fallen so far so fast. A fundamental reason for this debacle is simply the wholesale abandonment of fact-based competency in favor of the ranting and ignorance of a man totally unfit for the office he holds.

“Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies … Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” 

Associated Press coverage of Trump’s Syrian decision.

The key phrase in Mattis’s letter came as he explained his belief in the importance of international alliances and the need to oppose the evil intent of what he called “malign actors and strategic competitors.” Mattis based his opinion, he said, on insight gained, and this is the key phrase, “over four decades of immersion in these issues.”

In their hearts and minds most elected Republicans know that Donald Trump is an ignorant buffoon totally out of his depth. They must pray every night that he will not have to confront a real international crisis.

To allow Trump to get and keep the job he has many Republicans have suspended belief in the importance of “immersion” in reality. The GOP has traded competency and rationality for power and party. And that train wreck continues to unfold in real time.

Many Republicans have been relying on a guy like Jim Mattis to keep this careening locomotive on the tracks. Now, what do they do?

GOP, Idaho Politics, Russia, Trump

Moral Rot…

My weekly column from the Lewiston Tribune 

———–

In the wake of the latest revelations about the president of the United States the extent of the intellectual and moral rot of the modern Republican Party has – again – come into sharp focus. A party that once built a brand around “family values” has decided that Donald Trump’s involvement in a scheme that paid off a porn star and a Playboy model to hide affairs shouldn’t be treated as criminal.  

The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, no squishy liberal, says the party – leadership and followers – is guilty of “outsourcing our moral, our political judgment to legalisms.” 

The new GOP brand: moral relativism. 

Senator John Thune

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, dismisses Trump’s involvement in felony campaign finance violations, crimes that Trump’s one-time lawyer Michael Cohen will serve jail time for, as essentially a paperwork mistake. “These guys were all new to this at the time,” the senator says and besides what’s a little hush money to quiet a scandal during a presidential campaign. “Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to campaign finance issues,” Thune says. 

Or this from Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, a pillar of propriety on everything but presidential misconduct: “President Trump before he became president that’s another world. Since he’s become president, this economy has charged ahead … And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true.”

You can search high and low for any Republican concern that Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State and CEO of Exxon, said recently, “So often the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”

Few Republicans have bought more heavily into the party’s moral and intellectual rot than the Idaho delegation. After a brief flurry of indignation when Trump was caught on videotape bragging about assaulting women the get-along-go-along Idahoans have been pretty much lock step with Trump and they generally decline to say anything even remotely critical regarding his behavior.

Senator Jim Risch is the worst offender. 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch 

Risch, soon to be carrying Trump’s water as the high profile chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the administration’s handling of the brutal murder of a Saudi national who was also a columnist for the Washington Post. The CIA has concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder, a position Trump refuses to accept presumably because it would cause him to have to do something that might upset oil prices or more likely his own business interests. 

In an interview with the editorial board of the Idaho Falls Post Register last week, Risch said that he had reached a conclusion about who was responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but that he couldn’t discuss it without revealing classified information. That is simply an absurd statement. Other senators in both parties have laid the responsibility directly at feet of Mohammed bin Salman, but as the Post Registernoted “on all questions having to do with bin Salman’s direct responsibility, [Risch] deflected,” obviously in deference to Trump.

Meanwhile, as the New York Times has reported, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been counseling his Saudi pal, the crown prince, “about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.” Or as one wag put it “the president’s son-in-law is giving the Saudi prince some tips on how to get away with murder.”

Trump deference – or better yet servile submissiveness – is a pattern with Risch. In the face of much evidence that North Korea’s dictator snookered Trump during talks in Singapore in June Risch has helped maintain the fiction that Trump knows what he is doing. Risch has backed administration policy in Yemen where the Saudi’s, with U.S. help, have bombed the country back to the Stone Age. By some estimates 85,000 children may have already died in Yemen, with as many as 12 million more people on the brink of starvation.

Risch, with a seat on the Intelligence Committee, has been almost completely silent on Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, speaking only to dismiss its importance. “Hacking is ubiquitous,” Risch said in 2017 before adding, “Russia is not, in my judgment, the most aggressive actor in this business.”

We now know that at least 14 individuals with direct or close ties to Russia, from the Russian ambassador to the lawyer who set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, made contact with Trump’s closest advisors, his family and friends over an 18-month period and during the campaign. We also know, while Trump’s story continues to shift, that special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted a busload of Russian agents and gained convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, former national security advisor and many others. The investigation goes on, more indictments loom and Risch seems to care not at all. 

When the senator made his Faustian bargain to support Trump after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape emerged he said he had no choice but to support the con man his party had embraced. “Without any options other than to abandon America to the left or vote for the Republican nominee, as distasteful as that may be, I will not abandon my country,” Risch said. In reality, by ignoring and excusing the inexcusable, he has put party loyalty above both his country and our Constitution. 

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post put a fine point on this kind of moral rot when he wrote recently of Trump, “Once he’s no longer president — perhaps in 2021, or perhaps even sooner — everyone who worked for him, supported him, or stood by him is going to be in an extremely uncomfortable position.” 

Bush, Politics, Trump

The Last Non-Despised President…

          “The nation has become spectacularly meaner, to the point that George H. W. Bush is likely to be remembered as the last President of the Republic not to have been intensely despised by a significant portion of its population.” – Thomas Mallon in The New Yorker

———-

Former President George H.W. Bush is being fondly remembered as a man of character and kindness, a president who certainly made serious mistakes (don’t they all), but one who also exercised power with – to use one of his favorite words – “prudence.” The remembrances make the contrast between the late president and the current one all the more stark.

George H.W. Bush – 41

Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a fierce critic of Donald Trump and author of a scathing critique of the modern Republican Party called The Corrosion of Conservatism, wonders “how, in the space of a quarter-century, did we go from President Bush to President Trump?” The answer is complicated, as one suspects Bush 41 understood. He could be a self-reflective president, unlike the current one.

Mr. Rogers and John Wayne…

The comedian Dana Carvey made a mini-career of impersonating Bush on Saturday Night Live, exaggerating the preppy president’s gestures and speech for comic effect.

Comedian Dana Carvey performs his imitation of President George Bush in 1992.

After hearing of Bush’s death, I watched Carvey’s surprise White House appearance toward the very end of his presidency – H.W. had just lost to Bill Clinton – and came away thinking it takes a comedian to begin to understand the ying and yang of Bush. The 41st president was a genuinely brave Naval aviator, an aristocratic New Englander remade into a Texas oil man, a failed Senate candidate, a fierce partisan, a CIA director, a loyal vice president and a man who ruined his presidency by doing the right thing.

Perhaps Bush should have known that a new breed of Republican disrupters – read Newt Gingrich – would never cut him slack for raising taxes in service of reducing the deficit. Unlike the rest of the GOP, Bush never forgot that cutting taxes almost always leads to bigger deficits. Voodoo economics is not fake news. The moment marked a turning point away from responsible, bipartisan governing.

Carvey said his Bush voice was a mixture of Mr. Rogers – “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” – and John Wayne, a certain clipped, confident shorthand that often saw Bush mangle a phrase, but still convey his essential meaning. In a way Bush governed – evidence of his better angels – like Fred Rogers. He was prudent, careful and kind. He signed the Americans with Disability Act, a landmark piece of legislation that showed the country and its politics at its best. Bush, surrounded by adults like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, presided over a peaceful end of the Cold War, a moment we now take for granted that might have gone horribly wrong. Bush knew that an international coalition was needed to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and also knew that a contained Saddam, as thuggishly brutal as his regime was, was better for the region than the decades of turmoil his son unleashed by engaging in regime change.

Prudent isn’t a bad epitaph.

But, if Bush governed like the essentially decent, pragmatic, mostly moderate Republican he was, he campaigned as something else. After losing the GOP nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bush embraced, or at least accepted, the sharp, divisive, negative style that came out of the election cycle. We remember the Reagan landslide (with Bush as his vice president) as a major turning point in American politics, but that election also featured the first widespread use of the independent expenditure campaign. Exploiting the liberalization of campaign finance limits, independent campaigns went on the attack in a major way in 1980. Reagan benefited, but so did a new generation of political operatives, including Paul Manafort, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater. Their essential negative tactics, constructed of fear, division and, yes, racism, continue to shape GOP campaigns, conservative media and the current occupant of the White House.

When Bush got his own shot at the White House in 1988 he campaigned like John Wayne, all American flag factories, assaults on the ACLU and race baiting with the infamous Willie Horton references. Horton, an African-American convicted of murder, raped a white woman and stabbed her partner while on prison furlough, a program in place in Massachusetts when Bush’s opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis, was in office.

The ad…

Technically the Bush campaign didn’t run the “Willie Horton ad,” but left that dirty work to something called the National Security Political Action Committee, an independent expenditure campaign supposedly independent of the Bush campaign. Bush did, however, repeatedly invoke Horton on the stump and Atwater, his campaign manager, really did say: “If we can make Willie Horton a household name, we’ll win the election.”

Bush insisted to his biographer Jon Meacham that the references to Horton and the furlough issue were about Dukakis being soft on crime and none of it was meant as a race-based “dog whistle” to fire up the increasingly white base of the Republican Party. Yet as Meacham notes, “In truth, in the tangled politics of that difficult year, as so often in American life, [the references] ended up being about both.”

Bush and Dukakis, 1988

Dukakis, of course, was a perfectly awful candidate – remember him riding around in a tank with a funny looking helmet – and Bush won that election decisively, if not altogether honorably. Bush recorded in his diary, as Meacham reports, that critics would long complain that he had taken the low road to the White House. Bush, ever the pragmatist, wrote simply: “I don’t know what we could do differently. We had to define this guy [Dukakis].”

When the pragmatic Bush tried to compromise with a tax and budget deal his “prudent” approach was rejected by many in his party, none less than Gingrich, who cared less about governing and the nation’s future than he did about a generation of political power for the political right. It’s ironic that while people across the political spectrum praise Bush’s style and basic decency, one of his signature accomplishments – the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – is daily trashed by the current non-governing Republican Party. In the end, Bush – Willie Horton and all – was too much the pragmatist, too much a pro, too much a policy wonk for a party owned now for a man as far removed from Bush as decency is removed from vulgarity.

———

          “How different is Trump’s Republican party from Bush 41’s? George H. W. Bush signed the Americans With Disability Act in 1991. Donald Trump mocks the disabled. George H. W. Bush summoned a coalition of 35 countries for the first Gulf War. Donald Trump attacks even our closest allies, England and Canada, and talks about NATO like it was a deadbeat tenant. President Bush negotiated the original North American Free Trade Agreement. Donald Trump calls Mexicans ‘rapists’ and brags he has ordered armed U.S. troops to respond with deadly force to brown people throwing rocks at the border. George H. W. Bush celebrated charity and kindness. Donald Trump mocks a ‘thousand points of light.’ George H. W. Bush enlisted at 18, the Navy’s youngest pilot, in civilization’s last great battle against tyranny. Donald Trump dodged military service multiple times, celebrates tyrants and defends Nazi’s as ‘good people on both sides.’”

          –  Republican strategist Stewart Stevens

———

Thinking about George H.W. Bush I’m reminded of the words of the great British historian Julian Jackson, author of a marvelous biography of “le grand Charles” De Gaulle. “All biographers,” Jackson writes, “must guard against the temptation to impose excessive coherence on their subject.” And so it is with the 41stAmerican president.

A Man in Full…

Let’s remember Bush then as a man in full, a Mr. Rogers with a John Wayne side.

Bush was furious about this cover…and now we know it was wrong

By all accounts Bush loved being president and he was at his best when making friends. As the greatest political journalist of our age, Richard Ben Cramer, wrote in one of the best political books of our age, What It TakesBush was once asked what made him think he could be President? The answer: “Well, I’ve got a big family, and lots of friends.” Indeed he did and I for one won’t quibble with the statement that his was the most successful one-term presidency in American history. It would be prudent.

But the man also badly, badly wanted a second term in 1992 and was willing, as Cramer wrote to do what he had to do to win. Bush actually told interviewer David Frost that he would, in fact, do anything – whatever it took – to win again. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot had different ideas and Bush lost.

Richard Ben Cramer’s landmark book on the 1988 presidential race

And we are left to wonder how we got from the man with all those friends, the guy who wrote the thousands of thank you notes and befriended, of all people, his old opponent Bill Clinton, the prudent guy, how we got from that guy to this guy.

Part of the answer has to be that leaders of the Republican Party, as well as the conservative media echo chamber created by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes, have been telling their supporters, at least since Bush 41, that compromise is bad, moderation is capitulation, Democrats are evil and that fear tactics in the service of winning elections are acceptable, indeed necessary. Part of the answer is also that the Republican Party has now fully bought the Trumpian notion that politics is about “feeding the angriest instincts of his base.

So much for Mr. Rogers.

It is a complicated story and the man being remembered this week was, too.

—0—

Climate Change, Trump

Truth Decay…

My weekly column in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune

———-

In his famous Harper’s magazine essay about American politics, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, “one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen.”

Hofstadter wrote about what he called “the paranoid style of American politics” in 1964 when another Republican, Barry Goldwater, was threatening to destroy his party with fanciful notions about winning nuclear wars and staging for adoring crowds at his rallies what the journalist Richard Rovere called “great carnivals of white supremacy.”

The politically paranoid, the eminent historian argued, is a victim of his own lack of awareness where eversion to facts and his circumstances and experiences “deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him – and in any case he resists enlightenment.”

A week ago, while many Americans were still in a turkey and dressing induced post-Thanksgiving food coma (or perhaps shopping at a big box store on Black Friday), thirteen agencies of the federal government released a 1,600-page report on our changing climate. The first sentence of the report stated its most important conclusion in clear and unusually stark terms: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”

The report was purposely released on a holiday Friday in order to minimize the exposure of facts like this one: “Since the first National Climate Assessment was released (in 2000), the United States has endured 16 of the 17 warmest years on record, and the latest assessment paints a bleak picture of the future.”

Donald Trump, of course, dismissed the careful, factual work of scientists in four words. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

Such idiocy led Trevor Noah, the host of television’s Comedy Central, to ask: “How can one man possess all the stupidity of mankind. It’s like they edited his genes to give him superhuman stupidity.”

In order to agree with our scientist-in-chief you need to consciously discount the serious, detailed, principled work of 300 government and university scientists who drew upon the work of thousands of other scientists who have studied, analyzed and calculated what is happening to the climate.

This group includes two scientists I talked with this week who wrote chapters of the National Climate Assessment dealing with the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Philip Mote is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He earned his PhD at the University of Washington. Another author is Dr. Scott Lowe, the associate dean of the graduate school at Boise State University, a professor of environmental studies and a researcher on resource economics. He has his PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Both scientists told me a key takeaway from the new climate report – the fourth such effort since 2000 – is that Pacific Northwest resource industries, including particularly timber, agricultural and fisheries, best get ready for an unpredictable new era of climate variability. More variability in stream flows. More low snowpack conditions. Reduction in irrigation capability. More variability in growing seasons.

Here are just three sentences from the report on climate impacts in the Northwest:

  • “Forests in the interior Northwest are changing rapidly because of increasing wildfireand insect and disease damage,attributed largely to a changing climate.”
  • “Impacts to the quality and quantity of forage will also likely impact farmers’ economic viability as they may need to buy additional feed or wait longer for their livestock to put on weight, which affects the total price they receive per animal.”
  • “Decreases in low- and mid-elevation snowpack and accompanying decreases in summer streamflow are projected to impact snow- and water-based recreation, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, boating, rafting, and fishing.”

Dr. Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, told me he recently went back and looked at the first national climate assessment. He described that effort as “educated speculation,” but now he says we know in detail what has been happening to the climate over the last two decades and the conclusions to be drawn are more certain and more emphatic. As the report says, “observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations” for the amount of warming taking place “instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause.”

Trump is not alone, of course, in his denial of evidence starring us in the face. And while the dismissal of decades of science is an insult to the very notion of truth – Dr. Mote calls it a “raw denial of knowledge” – it is also flat out dangerous. The scientists stress that we do have the ability to adapt and deal with much of the impact of climate change, but denying the existence of what is happening – the dangerous part – paralyzes any meaningful action and the longer we wait the less likely we’ll adapt well or at all.

Dr. Lowe, the Boise State researcher, says the rejection of fact-based science is frequently tied up with weird notions of a conspiracy theory that university and government scientists “have an agenda that is funded by someone.” This is pure nonsense. They are scientists seeking facts. They volunteer there expertise.

In the Trump Era the very idea of truth is taking a beating, “truth decay” one recent report called it. Meanwhile, debasing expertise and knowledge gets us an administration stocked with a knucklehead who blames California wildfires on “radical environmentalists” and puts the president’s son-in-law, a trust fund baby and New York real estate developer, in charge of crafting a Middle East peace plan. Such folks not only seek no enlightenment, they are supremely comfortable in their ignorance.

As you shift the competing “truth” about climate change ask yourself a simple question. Who are you going to believe: a bunch of scientists who have been studying an issue for decades and have their work double and triple checked by other scientists or a guy who bankrupted his casino?

—0—

 

 

2018 Election, Brexit, Trump

Crass Self-Delusion…

          “Crass self-delusion is when you start with an ideological premise that you believe to be true even though it isn’t and then draw apparently reasonable conclusions from it.”

Columnist Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times

————–

One of the most remarkable, that is to say shocking, aspects of our current politics is the enormous degree of self-delusion that inflicts so many politicians and so many citizens. It seems to be an epidemic, or even a pandemic of ignorance that takes over minds and sickens them in the same way the great flu pandemic one hundred years ago infected so many millions world wide.

Theresa May: Going down with Britannia?

British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, is hanging on by her fingernails, continuing to maintain the unalloyed fiction that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union will somehow be good for the British economy. The Brits call it Brexit and May and her self-delusional fellow Conservatives – and more than a few in the Labour Party – have been fussing for months over the terms of the exit from the European common market.

It is obvious now – as it was obvious when the U.K. voted to leave the EU – that accomplishing the trick of separating from Europe and still maintaining all the advantages of staying in Europe would simply be impossible. Yet, the delusion continues, while May’s government comes apart at the seams. It reminds me of one of the old silent film comedies produced by the legendary Mack Sennett – a bunch of clueless Keystone Cops running into walls, jumping through windows, generally making no sense whatsoever, while acting like they have it all under control.

Keystone Kops or pro-Brexit British pols?

As Feargus O’Sullivan writes at CityLab about May’s latest proposal: “If the deal scrapes through, it’s far from the brave new dawn that Brexit’s advocates insisted was just around the corner. It will still bind the country into accepting most E.U. rules (including a customs union) for the foreseeable future, while removing Britain’s ability to influence those rules as a union member.”

That is rather like your mother insisting you eat your peas and promising that you will have absolutely nothing to say about it the next time peas are served.

The brilliant Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, who possesses an Irishman’s unique ability to poke holes in what passes for logic among the British ruling class, says the backers of the delusional Brexit  scheme fall into three different categories of what he calls sheer ignorance. The first category is “deliberate unknowing,” a situation where “you are fully aware of something but then choose to suppress that consciousness.”

The smarter British politicians, May included, knew Brexit was a farce, but went along with the farce to maintain power … or something. The same type of delusion is rampant in Donald Trump’s America, particularly prevalent in the deep delusion infecting the Republican ruling class in Washington, D.C.

Republican politician after Republican politician labeled Trump unfit, a clown, a con man, a disaster, an ignorant buffoon and now – I’m thinking of you Lindsey Graham – they can’t get enough of their joker-in-chief. Trump hasn’t changed. “Deliberate unknowing” has, however, become the GOP’s SOP.

Case in point: On the evening of the recent mid-term elections Trump took to his favorite chalkboard, Twitter, to proclaim the election a great victory for Republicans. He doubled down the next day during a White House news conference saying, “To be honest — I’ll be honest, I thought it was a — I thought it was a very close to complete victory.”

Right. Some kind of victory.

Democrats won 35-plus seats in the House of Representatives, taking control of that body. They held off what might have been a blood bath, while defending a slew of vulnerable seats in Senate. And they repaired much of the Midwest damage the party suffered in 2016 by winning a number of governor’s races. Oh, yes, Democrats picked up two Republican held Senate seats, including one in Arizona that has been in GOP hands since 1995, and now Democrats hold every congressional seat in Orange County, California.

John Wayne is spinning somewhere. But, it was “very close to complete victory” or, put another way, acknowledging that was not “very close to complete victory” is the very definition of “deliberate unknowing.”

That Trump news conference was, of course, where the president created the pretense to strip a CNN  reporter of his White House credentials. A silly, self-delusional move by Trump and a White House staff ever more unmoored from reality.

———–

           “We’re working on many things. Criminal justice reform we’re working on very hard. We have a meeting today, do you know about that? We have a meeting today.” Donald J. Trump in an interview with The Daily Caller

———-

O’Toole’s second category of ignorance is the “crass self-delusion” mentioned at the head of this piece: the ability to convince yourself that a long-held ideological position is correct in the face of vast evidence to the contrary.

Our national political delusion in this category could be something like, oh, the huge Trump-GOP tax cut. The tax cut was, or course, promised as a amazing boon to the middle class and a launching pad for vast economic growth that would “pay for itself.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell actually proclaimed, ““I’m totally convinced this is a revenue-neutral bill.” It wasn’t. Now – big surprise – McConnell says we’ll need to cut Medicare and Social Security to address the deficit created by the tax cut that was going to pay for itself.

The Republican ideology of tax cutting is certainly the stuff of true belief, the premise that tax cuts  overwhelmingly working to the benefit of the wealthiest are good for all of us is a myth, easily refuted.  The outcome of the entire tax cut charade has been to grow the deficit and threaten the broader economy. As the New York Times noted recently: “the fiscal health of the United States is deteriorating fast, as revenues have declined sharply. The federal budget deficit — the gap between what the government collects in revenues and what it spends — rose to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was a 17 percent increase from the prior year.”

Oh, well, in the age of Crass Delusion, with a president who lies with reckless abandon about absolutely everything, it may seem more comfortable to cling to the ideologically certain end of the ignorance continuum rather than grapple with messy old facts.

By the way, the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has done us a big favor. He’s actually been tracking Trump’s lies since Day One. It’s a big job, taking a mild-mannered Canadian – they really are our best friends – to keep track of the American president’s delusions, er, lies. Dale calculates “3,749 false claims” since Trump’s inauguration, the job of tracking the lies made easier by the frequency of repetition.

“On his fifth day in office, Trump baselessly alleged widespread voter fraud,” Dale wrote recently. “He did the same thing this past week. In his third month in office, Trump falsely claimed that the United States has a $500 billion trade deficit with China. He has said the same thing more than 80 times since.

“Listen to this president long enough, and you can almost sense when a lie is coming. If Trump tells a story in which an unnamed person calls him “sir,” it’s probably invented. If Trump claims he has set a record, he probably hasn’t. If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller.”

———-

          “The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens into our country. And they want to sign them up for free health care, free welfare, free education, and for the right to vote.” – Donald J. Trump just before the mid-term elections

———-

The final O’Toolean category of delusion is what he calls plain old “pig ignorance” as in “the genuine hallmarked, unadulterated, slack-jawed, open-mouthed, village idiot variety.”  In Trumpworld where to begin?

How about we send several thousand U.S. soldiers to the Mexican border at tremendous cost and at no small disruption to their personal lives. Let’s succeed in politicizing the military as part of a pre-election stunt in an effort to stop a “dangerous caravan” of displaced persons – poor, tired, desperate people – who pose absolutely no threat to the United States.

Political Hack…Attorney General

Or, how about this for pig ignorance? Appoint a grifting hot tub entrepreneur to run the U.S. Justice Department and somehow think that is either proper or a good idea. Trump might well succeed in getting his new acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in hopes of heading off the continuing investigation into Russian interference with our elections and potential Trump campaign involvement in that interference. But do any but the most delusional among us think that Mueller can’t outfox a guy who once tried to raise money using bitcoin to finance research into time travel – this is true, by the way – and seems pretty sure Bigfoot is a thing (also true)?

I’ll put my bitcoin on the former FBI director and decorated Marine combat veteran. And I’d take double or nothing that Whitaker is gone in about three Mooches.

Or, we could demonstrate our real grasp of reality by uniquely blaming the massive and deadly California wildfires on a lack of proper forest management rather than the real culprits – extended drought and the effects of ever worsening climate change. Trump actually suggested “raking and cleaning things” would  eliminate the causes of the massive fires. No, really, he did say that.

And we could make those claims even as the administration’s own budget proposal for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management actually calls for reduced funding for approaches that might help mitigate some of the effects of wildfire.

“Pig ignorance” is living your entire adult life in a gilded enclave in Manhattan, never getting out of a bubble made of your own self-delusion and faking that you could tell a fire line from buffet line.

———-

         “The Sunday Times reported Britain’s army had been ordered to step up contingency plans to help police maintain public order in case of food and medicine shortages after a ‘no deal’ Brexit, citing an unnamed ‘well-placed army source.’”

———-

Trump visits California fie victims, calls for more “raking”

In all their ignorance the Brexit hardliners may well succeed in destroying the U.K. economy and crippling European unity at the very moment dystopian nationalism is on the rise on the continent and in Trump’s own fevered imagination. O’Toole reminds us of how wacky the language of the pro-Brexit crowd has been and Trump’s rantings aren’t that far removed.

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this [unifying Europe], and it ends tragically,” the loathsome Boris Johnson said just before Brits voted to drive themselves off a cliff. He was suggesting that the European Union was attempting this dastardly Hitlerian deed of unity “by different methods” than the Nazi’s or Napoleon used, but that the effect on the U.K. would be just the same as Trafalgar and the Blitz of 1940. This entire business is a paranoid fantasy, a political psychosis, which sounds much like the daily news feed out of the White House.

No doubt we are stuck with Trump and all his delusions and ignorance for some time to come. His GOP enablers appear to be ready to double down on a strategy of hanging with him while he hangs them out. The mid-terms may have put up a political speed bump on the highway of craziness, but the deliberate unknowing, crass self-delusion and pig ignorance seems sure to continue. One entire political party has embraced nonsense.

Which is not to say that we can’t stop any time we want from buying into wacko conspiracy theories and  easily proven fallacies and we can stop listening to raving, ignorant people. Maybe the Brits will yet come to their senses. Perhaps we will, too.

Thomas Jefferson actually wrote something about this into the Declaration of Independence. “Let facts be submitted to a candid world,” ol’ Tom wrote. Good lord, let’s get on with that idea. Pig ignorance is just so stupid.

—0—

2018 Election, Trump

The Order of the Day…

          “It’s up to Trump and his morally dormant Republican Party to ensure that Pittsburgh remains a spasm of the awful past — and not a harbinger of an even worse future.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post

————-

The most distressing aftermath of the last awful week has to be the lack of condemnation, even the absence of demands for basic decency, directed at the president of the United States on the part of the nation’s ruling political party.

Outside the Pittsburgh synagogue this week

Search high and low if you will and try to find any level of moral or human response, let alone condemnation, of the hate filled tone established and perpetuated by the president. The response to Trump’s increasingly unhinged rhetoric from GOP members of Congress is, well, unlike him silence.

The terrible events perpetrated by an anti-Semitic killer at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a white supremacist gunman in Louisville and a wacko Trump supporting pipe bomber in Florida do bring appeals for lower decibel language from all sides. The first responders are properly praised since that is safe territory. The thoughts and prayers are extended. But the ranting racist president in the White House, he gets a pass from Republicans.

The president, as usual, has been all over the place in the wake of the largest anti-Semitic mass murder in U.S. history and a mass assassination attempt against Trump’s various opponents. He’s consulted his old, worn playbook – condemning reporters, vilifying opponents, accepting chants of “lock her up” at his rallies, spreading more hate and fueling more conspiracy. Fellow Republicans, well, they’ve been sitting on their lips hoping against hope that they can somehow slide past the mid-terms without great losses.

You simply cannot find a word of condemnation, concern or caution directed by a Republican toward the president. Columnist Richard Cohen calls the Vichy Republicans what they are – “moral cowards.”

Donald Trump should not – and ultimately will not – be held accountable for the senseless, racial and religious violence that has become an all-to-regular feature of American life. He has, however, undeniably made worse the deep and persistent hatred of “others” that has long and sadly been a part of the American story. He fans the flames of division. Hate and fear are the twin pillars of his strategy, such as it is, in the interest of ginning up the Republican base. You have to go back to the 1800s in American history to find such an openly racist, hateful president. And I don’t want to be unkind to Andrew Johnson or John Tyler.

Trump supporters and enablers will continue to deny the harsh reality of his racism, but the evidence is everywhere to see: the manufactured pre-election “crisis” at the border where a relative handful of desperate Central American refugees – not illegal immigrants – are fleeing a chaos of death and poverty that the United States, at least in part, helped create; the awful, hateful language about “Mexican rapists” and “low IQ” African-Americans; the Obama birther garbage; calling a black candidate for governor of Florida “a thief;” the proclamation that the president himself is a “nationalist” – code really for “white nationalist;” the equal apportionment of responsibility for the neo-Nazis atrocities in Charlottesville in 2017 and attacks on “globalists,” a term the white ultra-right uses to slander George Soros and Jews in general. And all that just constitutes Trump’s highlight reel of hate.

French far-right Front National (FN) party president Marine Le Pen – more and more the modern GOP looks like the movement she leads – anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white supremacist

It is being said, and properly so, that Trump did not create this climate of fear and hatred, but he most certainly has exploited it for his own purposes. The Republican Party Trump now owns lock, stock and barrel (pardon the analogy) has allowed the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan to resemble something disturbingly like the racist French political party led by the ultra-right Marine Le Pen. It is an awful realization that Trump has brought the GOP – and the nation – so very low in such a short time.

And where are the legislative Republicans?

“If there is such a thing as a hate crime,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, “we saw it at Kroger [in Louisville] and we saw it in the synagogue again in Pittsburgh. Horrible, criminal acts.” But beyond saying everyone should tone down their rhetoric, McConnell has no words for Trump. No admonition to back off, to stop spreading fear and fostering more hate. McConnell remains, like most every elected Republican, afraid to take on Trump’s hatred for fear of the backlash from those motivated by Trump’s hatred.

He also likes the judges and the tax cut. It is a Catch-22 of political and moral abdication of a type rarely, if ever, seen in our lifetimes.

The Trump inspired pipe bomber’s van covered with signs of his rage

Where once Republicans were guilty of transmitting “dog whistles” aimed at “others,” their president today is, as Cohen wrote this week, offering a “validation” of his own hate fueled conspiracy theories. The Pittsburgh murderer of 11 people at their place of worship was prompted it seems not only by the killer’s anti-Semitism, but also by his hatred of the fact that Jews where actually living their beliefs and adding migrants fleeing their own versions of hell.

“Trump’s allies,” as Jonathan Chait has noted, “have gone from justifying his reality-show authoritarian persona as a necessary expedient to embracing it as a positive good.”

And more from Chait’s analysis in New York Magazine:

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate,” a senior Trump-administration official told the Daily Beast, defending the president’s fear mongering attacks on a caravan of potential refugees. “This is the play,” Scott Reed, a strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s a standard tactic to use fear as a motivating choice at the end of a campaign, and the fact is the fork in the road is pretty stark.” In Texas, when a fan at a Ted Cruz speech exclaimed about [Cruz’s opponent] Beto O’Rourke, “Lock him up!,” Cruz answered, “Well, you know, there’s a double-­occupancy cell with Hillary Clinton.”

———–

If you need a chilling reminder of what such moral bankruptcy can portend take an hour or so and read a remarkable little book by the French writer Eric Vuillard. The book – The Order of the Day – describes in chilling detail two events that seemed less than remarkable at the time, but we now know forecast a cataclysm outcome.

Eric Vuillard’s remarkable little book…

“Vuillard’s book is a powerful story that relates with a simplicity free of mannerisms,” Gaby Levin wrote earlier this year in Haaretz, “two historical events connected to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and to Europe’s blind advance toward the abyss in the years before the war. Vuillard seeks to show how ‘sometimes the greatest catastrophes herald their arrival in small steps.’”

The first event was an unremarkable meeting early in 1933 in Berlin when 24 top German industrialists – we recognizes their companies to this day, Siemens, Bayer, Allianz, BASF, among others – pledged financial support to the then-struggling Nazi Party. Going along with the Nazis was an easy call for Germany’s industrial elite. Adolf Hitler was, of course, full of overheated rhetoric. The businessmen didn’t respect him, but they were sure he could be contained and after all he would probably be good for business.

The second event, five years later, recounts the Nazi takeover of Austria – the Anschluss – a series of cynical, opportunist, violent moves by Hitler that had they been resisted by politicians in Europe who should have known better could well have changed the course of history.

In recalling this history we should remember that many elected Republicans once saw through their current all-powerful leader. Senator Lindsey Graham, now Trump’s South Carolina toady, once warned, “If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed…and we will deserve it.” Today he tweeted his support for Trump’s immigration policy.

Moral bankruptcy breds moral bankruptcy – Cruz and Trump

Ted Cruz, the loathsome creature seeking a second Senate term in Texas, called Trump a “coward” after Candidate Trump insulted Cruz’s wife and tied his father to John Kennedy’s murder. The two will soon campaign together again in Texas.

———–

We are long past the point where we can expect, much as we might hope for it, Republicans, even in the mildest terms, to repudiate Donald Trump, his racism and his politics of hate. Moral bankruptcy begets moral bankruptcy.

Now, its up to the run of the mill American citizen to decide what kind of leadership they want and what kind of country they hope to inhabit. This is what elections are for. We shall see what happens as Trump likes to say and, while you contemplate your vote next week consider this:

Acclaimed historian Jill Lepore has written a remarkable new history of the United States, perhaps the most ambitious re-telling of the American story in generations. She sees the broad sweep of history in all that is happening around us. “I think we live in an age of tremendous political intolerance,” she said recently in an interview. “I think we live in an age where people don’t understand the nature of our political institutions.

Jill Lepore’s new history of the United States

“That really, really concerns me. Because it’s a symptom of the way people want to win by any means necessary. Because we’ve been given this kind of rhetoric of life or death, we’re on the edge of a cliff. It’s very hard for people to operate as a civic community interested in the public good in that kind of a climate.

“We all have contributed to the making of this climate, but I hope this is climate that can still change.”

I hope for change, too, but also acknowledge that we are indeed on the edge of a cliff.

——0——

Media, Politics, Trump

We Never Learn…

Note: My column this week in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune 

 ———–

Just when it seems that our politics can’t possibly produce yet one more head spinning moment we get one.

An amazing thing happened this week. The world laughed at the American president. While he was making a speech. At the United Nations.

Oh, I know, Trump fans will discount the importance of a spontaneous outburst of chuckling from the world’s diplomats. European elites, they will scoff. A reaction coming from African nations that are, well, it rhymes with lit holes.

Trump said the world was “laughing with me,” but of course that isn’t true

While it’s tempting to toss off yet another Trump moment as just the latest Trump moment the reaction to the president of the United States boasting about his greatness at the U.N. is really a symptom of a larger, more serious problem for the United States and the world. At the same time the United States has retreated from a position of international leadership we continue to suffer a difficult to correct deterioration of democratic practice at home. Unfortunately we are not alone.

As Edward Luce, a writer for the Financial Times, notes in his brilliant little book The Retreat of Western Liberalism, “Since the turn of the millennium, and particularly over the last decade, no fewer than twenty-five democracies have failed around the world, three of them in Europe (Russia, Turkey and Hungary.)” Luce is, of course, using the term “liberal” in the classic sense: liberal democracies encourage people to vote in free elections, they welcome dissent, they value a free press, they respect differences and find ways to compromise in the cause of an unruly, yet broadly universal understanding of progress.

Yet, the prevailing momentum in the world is not toward greater equality either political or economic. By one recent estimate, a third of the world’s people now live in democracies in decline. All the energy from the British exit from the European Union to new U.S. trade wars is in the direction of isolation, retrenchment and conflict. We see the telltale signs of this new world order playing out in real time. For 70 years the NATO alliance has provided security for Europe, Canada and the United States, yet the current administration, apparently ignorant of that history, picks fights those allies and plays nice with a Russian dictator. Rather than thoughtful engagement with China – Ed Luce calls the emergence of China as world power “the most dramatic event in economic history” – we apply time dishonored methods of tariffs and taxation that will soon enough hurt Idaho potato growers, Montana wheat farmers and Iowa soybean growers. China, meanwhile, consolidates its influence across the Pacific basin, while we tax ourselves thinking we will bring them to heel.

Americans are badly, one hopes not fatally, distracted at the moment. The constant political turmoil, the blind partisanship, the disregard for fundamental political and personal decency is part of a pattern across the globe. As the European scholar

Anne Applebaum put it recently, “Polarization is normal. More to the point … skepticism about liberal democracy is also normal. And the appeal of authoritarianism is eternal.”

Ask yourself a question: How much of what you hear and read about politics today do you really trust?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan

Authoritarians like Putin in Russia or Erdogan in Turkey have mastered manipulation on public opinion, they control the sources of information if they can, intimidate those they can’t and dominate and denigrate the rest. Democracy does not thrive in spaces where leaders label as “fake” or a “hoax” that with which they disagree. But demagogues do get ahead in societies where distracted citizens come to believe that nothing is real, that there are versions of the truth. More and more political leaders, even a candidate for governor in Idaho, seem comfortable with their own versions of Trump’s “fake news” mantra.

It used to be that political leaders, real political leaders, practiced the old political game of addition. How do I add to my support? How do I bring people together? How do we solve problems even if my side can’t prevail completely? How do we strengthen the often-fragile norms that define acceptable behavior? How do we strengthen the rule of law rather that assault it? Those were the days. Now it is all about juicing the base or perhaps even worse, depressing the vote.

The retreat of western liberalism is happening at precisely the moment the United States is fighting to lead the retreat. At a moment that demands American leadership, fresh thinking about old problems and a commitment to pluralistic societies, we are hunkered down building walls and denying climate change. And the world is laughing at words like, “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

Ironically, Donald Trump’s moment at the United Nations this week is, like so much of the man’s story, a fulfillment of his own expectations. Trump “has always been obsessed that people are laughing at the president, says Thomas Wright, a European expert at the Brookings Institution. “From the mid-’80s, he’s said: ‘The world is laughing at us. They think we’re fools.’ It’s never been true, but he’s said it about every president. It’s the first time I’m aware of that people actually laughed at a president.”

Hegel: What we don’t learn…

The laughter is on us, as is the future. It is nowhere ordained that American democracy will forever flourish and carry on. In fact the opposite is true. Modern world history is the story of one democracy after another – Italy, Germany and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s and Poland, Brazil and India today – facing internal turmoil, political polarization, decline or worse. We are not immune.

Friedrich Hegel, the great German philosopher put it succinctly, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

GOP, John McCain, Trump

It Was All So Predictable…

          Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, made the extraordinary admission in court on Tuesday that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.

        “I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016, Mr. Cohen said.

New York Times, August 22, 2018

—————-

         “We just learned longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity in the Michael Cohen probe, becoming the latest figure close to President Trump to cooperate with investigators. Weisselberg follows Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, David Pecker and, of course, Cohen. Pecker, like Weisselberg, had immunity; the others got plea deals.”

Aaron Blake, The Washington Post

—————-

I composed most of what follows before we got the news early Saturday that Arizona Republican Senator John McCain had lost his fight with cancer. McCain, a flawed, often cantankerous politician of the old school, was also amazingly self-aware, a pithy, independent SOB who was tough and smart and funny. It seems strangely appropriate, as sad as it is, that John McCain left us just as Donald Trump, a man who has repeatedly disparaged this genuine American hero, has begun his decent into utter disgrace.

John McCain on the presidential campaign trail. October 28, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

This week, to remember Winston Churchill’s famous line, is not the end for Trump, perhaps not even the beginning of the end, but almost certainly the end of the beginning.

One remarkable thing about Donald Trump’s historic debasement of the American presidency, perhaps the most remarkable, is how completely predictable it was. It was all there to see from the very beginning. Now the only question is how much more damage this profoundly corrupt and ignorant man will do before he’s done, because it is increasingly clear that he will be done.

A characteristic of too many people intimately involved in politics is the ability – or the willingness – to suspend belief in the cause of a partisan victory, no matter the cost. That kind of suspension of belief is an absolute hallmark of the Trump Era and what the man has done to the Republican Party. Normally sane, sober, serious Republicans – many of them in the know from the get go – nevertheless made a devil’s bargain, accepting Trump as their leader in exchange for the hope and expectation of political gain.

Now these Republicans, finally coming to grips with the consequences of suspending belief about their leader, are well down the path toward the chaos and defeat that was all too predictable. If there is any political karma many of them will get precisely what they deserve come November.

The warning signs of where Trump would take Republicans and the country are almost too many to recount – the racially charged announcement speech with references to Mexican rapists, the clown car cast of jokers surrounding the campaign – Steve Bannon, Carter Page, Don, Jr., Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen – the mentally touched boasts, over the top superlatives and need for ego gratification (who talks like that?) and the “only I can fix it” policy pronouncements. All this nonsense was devoid of basic common sense and immune to even elemental fact checking, but Republicans from Paul Ryan to local legislators lapped it up.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, now convicted of tax fraud and facing trial on more charges

When Trump promised to release his tax returns and then didn’t his explanation was as much a sham as a diploma from Trump University. The obvious question was simply “what’s he got to hide?” Plenty it would seem. It was well known that American bankers had long refused to do business with Trump and now his long-time lawyer and chief financial officer have flipped, helping, it would appear, to peel back the multiple layers of corruption that will eventually drive Trump and the political party he now owns over a cliff.

Republicans, at least most of them, have long known that he was a conman, a grifter, and as Melania and the rest of us now know he’s a shameless and constant liar about absolutely everything. None of it was a surprise. None.

Some Republicans have taken to saying the president’s growing body of critics suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” but they have it just backwards. Those who somehow convinced themselves that this profoundly flawed individual would somehow pull off the responsibilities of the most difficult job in the world were the truly deranged ones. His life, his businesses, everything he’s touched amounts to one big con. The derangement was thinking a life-long wise guy, a liar and cheat straight out of central casting fit for an episode of The Sopranos, would change at age 70. No one, of course, really believed the office would change the abhorrent behavior, the boorishness, the cruelty or the racism. Trump is studiously ignorant. That won’t change.

The “unindicted co-conspirator”

Now, as James Fallows wrote recently in The Atlantic, Republicans “confront a president who has been named in a felony guilty plea as having directed criminal activities. (It didn’t get this far or this crystal-clear with Richard Nixon.) Who is routinely discussed as a potential security risk by his own military and intelligence-agency officials. Who ridicules their former Senate colleague for not bending fully to his will as attorney general. Who is manifestly unable to contain his impulses and resentments, while holding a job whose most important qualification is temperamental control. Who …

“… The list of “who”s could go on, and any one of those 51 senators could complete it. But not a one of them will take a stand against this man, with a vote. Some give speeches. Some write op-eds. Many are “concerned.” Talk is something, but talk is not a vote.”

Devoid of empathy, imbued with a mean temper and an even nastier mean streak Trump was not the least bit prepared for the presidency and virtually every Republican who finally, sometimes reluctantly, but always with full knowledge, embraced him knew it. They knew all that has happened in recent days was not just possible, but likely. They knew even under the best case that a Trump presidency would be a certain kind of crappy show, a roiling cesspool of narcissism and self-interest. Yet, they have gone along settling for a tax cut for the best off and a Supreme Court that will be much more conservative than the country; going along all the way to seeing him implicated by his own lawyer in a felony meant to deceive voters about just what he is. The con man is now the “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Now what do Republicans do? They took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but they won’t even authorize a subcommittee to investigate porn star hush money that was designed to minimize political damage days before a presidential election.

“It’s getting a little ugly,” Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican and next year’s presumptive GOP whip told Politico in what must be the most understated thing to come out of South Dakota this year. “Most of us need to work with the president where we can to move our agenda … it’s definitely a fairly big sideshow.” Right.

Trouble is “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” – Section 4, Article 2 of the United States Constitution – is a bit more than a sideshow. We knew all this was going to happen. It has. Now what?

————–

What a remarkable contrast between the beginning of last week and the end. The week began with two men close to the president confessing to and convicted of felonies and the man with likely the most intimate knowledge of Trump’s “business empire” began cooperating with prosecutors. Meanwhile, the president verbally assaulted – yet again – his own attorney general (and seems close to firing him) for refusing to interfere with an investigation into Trump’s campaign and personal conduct. Hardly a cricket is heard from elected Republicans.

The week ends with bipartisan tributes to Senator McCain, a crusty, candid, principled Republican who repeatedly stood up to Trump, called out Vladimir Putin and suffered multiple insults from a man who couldn’t carry his briefcase or come close to matching his courage.  In the scope of seven days we have all the proof we’ll ever need of the extent of the intellectual and moral rot that has overtaken the Grand Old Party.

Yet, Congressional Republicans know, and their tributes to McCain make clear, what they should be doing. The Arizona senator should be their model. That he is not is a national tragedy.