Sunday, September 9, 2018
This is how last week started, with a few choice tidbits from
Bob Woodward's new book, Fear: Trump in the White House:
Philip Rucker/Robert Costa: Bob Woodward's new book reveals a 'nervous
breakdown' of Trump's presidency As Aaron Blake (in
The Most damning portrait of Trump's presidency yet -- by far):
Bob Woodward's book confirms just about everything President Trump's
critics and those who closely study the White House already thought
to be the case inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's also completely
The book doesn't go public until 9/11 -- wouldn't you like to have
been a "fly on the wall" for the marketing sessions that picked that
date? -- but not much that's been reported so far is surprising. I've
long suspected that Trump ordered a plan to pre-emptively attack North
Korea, and that the military brass refused to give him one, but that
story didn't strike Blake as important enough to even mention. (He
does cite Trump's tantrum over Syria: "Let's fucking kill him! Let's
go in. Let's kill the fucking lot of them.") Still, the main effect
of the book leaks was simply to get the mainstream press to return
to such quickly forgotten stories, and to provoke more reactions to
feed the 24-hour cable news cycle.
One such reaction was the now infamous New York Times anonymous
I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,
reportedly by "a senior official in the Trump administration whose
identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its
disclosure." Again, this has mostly been reported as a dis of Trump,
but it is actually a very scary document, revealing that even as
deranged as Trump is, he's not the most despicable and dangerous
person in his administration. When the author claims "like-minded
colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his
worst inclinations," they're not doing it out of any sense of higher
loyalty to law and the constitution. They're doing it to advance
their own undemocratic, rigidly conservative political agenda. And
if these people are really "the adults in the room," as competent
as they think, they'll probably wind up doing more real harm to the
people than Trump could ever do on his own.
Of course, the op-ed launched a huge guessing game as to the
author. Trump played along, tweeting something about "TREASON"
and urging Atty. General Jeff Sessions to investigate (although
on further reflection I doubt he'd really welcome another DOJ
investigation of his staff). And, of course, everyone who is
anyone in the administration has denied responsibility -- hardly
a surprise given that a willingness to stand up for truth and take
responsibility for one's actions were disqualifying marks for any
Trump administration job. Besides, as
John Judis notes, "I'd look for whoever in the administration
most vociferously denounces the author of the op-ed."
For an overview, see
Andrew Prokop: Who is the senior Trump official who wrote the New
York Times op-ed? -- although you'd have to go to the links to
come up with possible names and reasons. Jimmy Kimmel noticed the
unusual word "lodestar" and came up with a reel of Mike Pence using
the word in a half-dozen different speeches. (Colbert ran the same
revelation a day later.) Actually, that suggests Pence's speechwriter,
whoever that is. Indeed, there are dozens of anonymous little folk
you've never heard of scurrying around the West Wing offices, where
they could stealthily carry on the "good fight" of enforcing rightist
orthodoxy. It's not like anyone had ever heard of Rob Porter before
he got fired, but his precise job was to shuffle papers for Trump's
The other thing to remember about Pence is that he was the main
person responsible for staffing the Administration after Trump got
elected, so he's likely the main reason why all these totally orthodox
conservatives have been empowered and turned loose to wreak havoc on
the administrative state -- indeed, on the very notion that the
government is meant to serve the people and promote the general
welfare of the nation.
Additional links on Woodward and/or the Anonymous op-ed:
Masha Gessen: The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed and the Trumpian Corruption
of Language and the Media:
The Op-Ed section is separate from the news operation, but, in protecting
the identity of the person who wrote the Op-Ed, the paper forfeits the job
of holding power to account. . . . By publishing the anonymous Op-Ed, the
Times became complicit in its own corruption.
The way in which the news media are being corrupted -- even an outlet like
the Times, which continues to publish remarkable investigative work
throughout this era -- is one of the most insidious, pronounced, and likely
long-lasting effects of the Trump Administration. The media are being
corrupted every time they engage with a nonsensical, false, or hateful
Trump tweet (although not engaging with these tweets is not an option).
They are being corrupted every time journalists act polite while the
President, his press secretary, or other Administration officials lie
to them. They are being corrupted every time a Trumpian lie is referred
to as a "falsehood," a "factually incorrect statement," or as anything
other than a lie. They are being corrupted every time journalists allow
the Administration to frame an issue, like when they engage in a discussion
about whether the separation of children from their parents at the border
is an effective deterrent against illegal immigration. They are being
corrupted every time they use the phrase "illegal immigration."
David A Graham: We're Watching an Antidemocratic Coup Unfold:
Graham basically agrees with David Frum (see
This Is a Constitutional Crisis, a piece I read then decided wasn't
important enough to cite) that acts by White House staff to subvert
Trump's presidential directives constitute some kind of attack on
American democracy, even though they both agree that Trump is crazy,
demented, stupid and cruel. I think they're way overreacting. On the
one hand, it's simply not reasonable that any president -- even one
elected with a much less ambiguous mandate than Trump was -- should
have the power to dictate the acts of everyone who works under the
executive branch. The fact is that everyone who works for government
has to satisfy multiple directives, starting with the constitution
and the legal code, and in many cases other professional codes, labor
contracts, and job descriptions. On the other hand, every organization
involves a good deal of delegation and specialization, and virtually
all managers expect subordinates to push back against ill considered
directives. Most of the concrete cases Woodward cites are occasions
where rejecting Trump's directives is fully appropriate. The author
of the "we are the resistance" op-ed is a different case because he
(or, unlikely, she) is claiming a higher political right to go rogue,
but in the absence of specific cases that isn't even clearly the case.
What we probably do agree on is that Trump himself thinks he should
have more direct power over his administration than he does in fact
have, and this is more painfully obvious than is normally the case
because he tends to make exceptionally dreadful decisions, because
in turn he's uninformed, impetuous, unwilling to listen to expertise,
and unable to reason effectively. Given the kind of person Trump is,
occasional staff resistance is inevitable, and should be recognized
as the normal functioning of the bureaucracy. (Graham actually cites
a previous example of this: "Defense Secretary James Schlesinger,
worried by Richard Nixon's heavy drinking, instructed generals not
to launch any strikes without his say-so -- effectively granting
himself veto power over the president.")
Greg Sargent: Trump's paranoid rage is getting worse. But the White House
'resistance' is a sham.<
David Von Drehle: The only solid bet is on Trump's panic (but the op-ed
was probably Jared): I'm mostly linking to this because my wife's been
offering opinions on who did it all week, and her latest pick is Kushner.
I don't buy this for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the op-ed reads
like the work of an ideological purist -- something I seriously doubt of
Kushner. (I also doubt Kushner could write it without a lot of help --
whatever else you may think, it is very well crafted.) On the other hand,
the bottom third about the Mueller investigation makes perfect sense, and
gives you a lot to think about. The public hasn't seen Trump's tax returns,
but "Mueller almost certainly possesses" them. Also financial transaction
records from Deutsche Bank, "which also coughed up $630 million in fines
in 2017 to settle charges of participating in a $10 billion Russian
Concurrently, the Senate Judiciary Hearing has been holding hearings
on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Bret Kavanaugh.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: No summary of the week, but he wrote
some important pieces this week:
John McCain's memorial service was not a resistance event: Cites
Susan Glasser's New Yorker article for its ridiculous resistance
meme -- something I wrote about last week. As noted, McCain's occasional
dissent from Trump rarely had anything to do with policy, and when it
did it was usually because Trump has never been as steadfastly pro-war
as McCain. (Arguably Trump is so impetuous and erratic he's ultimately
more dangerous, but I don't believe that.) Sure, one might imagine a
principled conservative opposition to Trump, but Republicans gave up
any hint of such principles ages ago (e.g., when Arthur Vanderberg
welcomed the military-industrial complex, when Barry Goldwater sided
with segregation, when Richard Nixon decided winning mattered more
than following the law, when all Reagan and Bush decided to sacrifice
abortion rights for political expediency, when right-wing jurists
ruled that free speech rights are proportional to money, and that
anything that tips an election in your favor is fair play). But it's
real hard to find any actual Republican politicians who adhere to
such conservative principles. On the other hand, there is a real
resistance, not just to Trump but to the whole conservative political
Also on McCain:
Eric Lovitz: John McCain's Service in Vietnam Was a Tragedy.
Trump's White House says wages are rising more than liberals think:
This gets pretty deep in the weeds, trying to make "the best case for
Trump: surging consumer confidence," but concluding "wage growth isn't
zero, but it's still pretty low." My hunch is that it feels even worse,
because Trump's anti-union and other deregulation efforts are aimed at
increasing corporate power both over workers and consumers, while those
and other policies shift risk onto individuals.
Republicans are preparing to disavow Trump if he fails -- then come back
and try the same policies: You've heard this one before: every time
conservatives get political power, they screw things up -- Reagan ended
in various scandals from HUD to S&Ls to Iran-Contra, Bush I in a rash
of short wars and recession, Bush II with his endless wars and even huger
recession, and now Trump with his ticking cacophony of time bombs -- but
bounce back by claiming that their ideas never got a fair chance. As the
subhed puts it, 'Conservatism can never fail, only be failed." Indeed,
Trump's catastrophic failure now seems so ordained that some Republicans
are already heading for the exits and shelters, preparing themselves for
the next wave of resurgent conservatism. Paul Ryan is the most obvious
Republicans are arguing that Medicare-for-all will undermine Medicare:
Same old strategy they've always used, sowing FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt)
to rally the uninformed and easily confused against any proposed change.
Still, seems a little far fetched, especially coming from the party that
tried to stop Medicare from passing in the first place, the same one that
periodically comes up with new schemes to weaken it.
Obama wants Democrats to quit their addiction to the status quo.
Alternate title, the one actually on the page: "Obama just gave the
speech the left's wanted since he left office." Actually, the left
wanted him to step up 9-10 years ago, back when he was in a position
to do more than just talk. And while he embraces the "new idea" of
Medicare for All, ten years ago that was actually better understood
program than the one the Democrats passed and Obama got tarred and
feathered with. Yglesias wonders how effective Obama speaking out
might be. To my mind, the key thing that he's signaling is that
mainstream Democrats shouldn't fear the party moving to the left.
Rather, they need to keep up with their voters. For more on Obama's
Dylan Scott: The 7 most important moments in Obama's blistering
critique of Trump and the GOP: Starts with "It did not start with
Tara Golshan/Ella Nilsen: Trump says a shutdown would be a "great political
issue" 2 months from the midterms: On the surface this seems like a
monumentally stupid thing to say. I think we've had enough experience
lately with playing chicken over budget shutdowns that it's pretty clear
that whoever initiates the shutdown loses. If Trump doesn't get this by
now, that can only suggest he's, well, some kind of, you know, moron.
Dara Lind: Trump's new plan to detain immigrant families indefinitely,
explained: Some highlights:
- Tighten the standards for releasing migrant children from detention
- Detain families in facilities that haven't been formally approved for
- Give facilities broad "emergency" loopholes for not meeting standards
- Make it easier for the government to revoke the legal protections for
Ernesto Londono/Nicholas Casey: Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans
With Rebel Venezuelan Officers: Takeaway quote: "Maduro has long
justified his grip on Venezuela by claiming that Washington imperialists
are actively trying to depose him, and the secret talks could provide
him with ammunition to chip away at the region's nearly united stance
against him." Trump has also talked up staging an outright US military
German Lopez: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's disastrous handling of a
police shooting tanked his reelection bid: Emanuel announced he
won't run for third term, even though he had already raised $10 million
for the campaign.
Rick Perlstein/Livia Gershon: Stolen Elections, Voting Dogs and Other
Fantastic Fables From the GOP Voter Fraud Mythology: A long history,
going back to Operation Eagle Eye, launched by Republicans convinced
that the 1960 presidential election was stolen from Richard Nixon.
Greg Sargent: Trump's latest rally rant is much more alarming and dangerous
Dylan Scott: The 4 House GOP scandals that could tip the 2018 midterms,
explained: Scott Taylor, Chris Collins, Duncan Hunter, Rod Blum.
"Democrats' 2018 message is that Republicans are corrupt."
Felicia Sonmez: Trump suggests that protesting should be illegal:
Tempted to file this under Kavanaugh above, given that the key tweet
was in response to protesters at the Senate hearings (most of whom
were in fact arrested), but the first example in the article refers
to him lashing out at "NFL players for kneeling during the national
anthem, and further examples include the "Giant Trump Baby" in London.
John Wagner: Trump suggests libel laws should be changed after uproar
over Woodward book. Actually, changing libel laws to allow him to
sue anyone he thinks defamed him was something he campaigned on in
2016 -- something at the time I didn't think stood a chance of passing,
but still revealed much about his worldview. Treating dissent and even
criticism as criminal is a common trait of the class of political figures
we commonly describe as dictators. Trump has long shown great sympathy
for such figures, which only adds to the notion that he aspires to be
a dictator as well.
Kay Steiger: 4 winners and 3 losers from Brett Kavanaugh's many-hour,
multi-day confirmation hearings: Simpler version: "Winner: Trump.
Loser: women and people of color." Another loser: "civil libertarians,"
although I'd read that more broadly.
Alex Ward: A North Korea nuclear deal looks more likely to happen now.
Here's why. The sticking points seem to be matters of who does what
first. Advisers like Bolton seem to have convinced Trump that the only
way to get Kim to do what he says he wants to do is to keep applying
maximum pressure, even though that mostly suggests that the US is the
one who can't be trusted to deliver unforced promises. Take the issue
of formally ending "the state of war" between the US and North Korea.
What possible reason is there for Trump not to do this (and for that
matter not to do it unilaterally and unconditionally)? Ward doesn't
really provide reasons for optimism on that account, but that North
and South are continuing to meet and negotiate in good faith does
give one reason for hope. On some level, if both Koreas agree the US
should have little say in the outcome.
Also nominally on Korea, but more directly connected to matters
of resistance/insubordination by Administration staff opposed to
Trump's "worst inclinations," see:
Fred Kaplan: Is Mattis Next Out the Door? Woodward reported that
Mattis defused Trump's "Let's kill the fucking lot of them" directive
on Syria by directing his staff "we're not going to do any of that."
That's not the only case where Mattis has acted to restrain Trump, but
this is a case where Mattis is trying to overrule Trump's directive to
suspend provocative war exercises in Korea. Evidently Trump got wind
of this one and publicly redressed Mattis. That's often the prelude to
a purge (although Mattis, like Sessions, could be relatively hard to
get rid of).
Not really news, but other links of interest:
Mary Hershberger: Investigating John McCain's Tragedy at Sea:
Originally published in 2008, so not an obit. Before McCain got shot
down over Hanoi, another confusing incident in the navy pilot's
accident-prone career. Side note I didn't know:
[McCain's] first effort at shaping that narrative received a remarkable
boost when the May 14, 1973, edition of U.S. News & World Report
gave him space for what is perhaps the longest article the magazine had
ever run, a 12,000-word piece composed entirely of his unedited and often
rambling account of his prisoner-of-war experience. Ever since, McCain has
added compelling details at key points in his political career. When his
stories are placed beside documented evidence from other sources,
significant contradictions often emerge.
That initial piece was written well before McCain ran for office (1982,
AZ-1 House seat; in 1986 he ran for the Senate, succeeding Barry Goldwater).
Every politician has a back story, but few have made that story so central
to their political ambitions as McCain has.
Nathaniel Rich: The Most Honest Book About Climate Change Yet:
A review of William T. Vollmann's magnum opus on global climate change,
Carbon Ideologies, a single work published in two volumes, No
Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative. "Honest" because
he regards the fate of life on earth as intractably locked in.
Most of the extensive interviews that dominate Carbon Ideologies are
thus conducted with men who work in caves or pits to produce the energy
we waste. If "nothing is more frightful than to see ignorance in action"
(Goethe), these encounters are a waking nightmare. Oil-refinery workers
in Mexico, coal miners in Bangladesh, and fracking commissioners in
Colorado are united in their shaky apprehension of the environmental
damage they do, not to mention the basic facts of climate change and
its ramifications. "Mostly their replies came out calm and bland,"
Vollmann reports, though this doesn't prevent him from recording them
at length, nearly verbatim. On occasion his questions do elicit a gem
of accidental lyricism, as when an Indian steelworker at a UAE oil
company, asked for his views on climate change, replies, "Now a little
bit okay, but in future it's very danger." It's hard to improve on that.
By the way, in
What Will Donald Trump Be Remember For? Tom Engelhardt argues that
the thing Trump will be longest remembered for is his contribution to
the global roasting of the planet. He comes to that conclusion after
a long list of the relatively stupid but trivial things Trump gets into
the news cycle every day with. Trump's love affair with fossil fuels
(especially "beautiful clean coal") will certainly rank as one of those
"Nero fiddling while Rome burns" cases, but Engelhardt is also skipping
over a harrowing number of less likely but still catastrophic breakdowns,
including a major economic depression, several wars (worst case nuclear),
some kind of civil war, a military coup, the end of democracy and freedom
as we once knew it.
Maj. Danny Sjursen: The Fraudulent Mexican-American War (1846-48):
A brief history of America's most nakedly imperialist war.