Will the Blowhard Blow Us Up?

Administration officials have been trying to reassure journalists that James Mattis, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always in the country to watch over Trump in case he goes off the deep end.

.. a Nixon defense secretary, James Schlesinger, got so worried about a cratering Nixon — who was drinking and telling congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead” — that he told military commanders to check with him or Henry Kissinger if the president ordered up nukes.

.. In all my interviews of Trump over the years, he never seemed very chesty about foreign intervention. “If only we could have Saddam back, as bad as he was, rather than $2 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost and all these wounded warriors,” he told me during the campaign.

.. His pitch was mostly about turning inward, so America could shore up its economy, security and infrastructure. “Unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech on the trail.

.. Now, in case North Korea is too far away, Trump is threatening “a possible military option” closer to home, in Venezuela.

.. Watching Trump, 71, and Kim, 33, trade taunts is particularly disturbing because they mirror each other in so many unhinged ways. Trump is a democratically elected strongman and Kim is a fratricidal despot, but they both live in bizarro fantasy worlds where lying and cheating is the norm.

They’re both spoiled scions who surpassed less ruthless older brothers to join their authoritarian fathers in the family business. They both make strange fashion statements with their hair and enjoy bullying and hyperbole. They both love military parades, expect “Dear Leader” displays of fawning and favor McDonald’s and Madonna.

They both demand allegiance. When Trump feels he isn’t getting it or paranoia takes over, he publicly mocks his lieutenants or jettisons them. Kim simply gets out his antiaircraft machine guns and calls up his nerve-agent assassins. He had his uncle killed for, among the reasons, clapping halfheartedly, The Times reported.

“Kim understands Trump better than Trump understands himself,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me. “He is only comfortable dominating and forcing others into submission. When that’s not happening, he experiences an almost physical discomfort because he feels unsafe. He doesn’t know any other way to achieve status.”

.. Proving there’s no method to his madness, Trump went after Mitch McConnell, who is literally the most important person to Trump in pushing his agenda through Congress and who, as Carl Hulse wrote in The Times, secured the president “the signature accomplishment of his young presidency” by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed

When the President Is Un-American

Real Americans understand that our nation is built around values, not the “blood and soil” of the marchers’ chants; what makes you an American is your attempt to live up to those values, not the place or race your ancestors came from.

But the man who began his political ascent by falsely questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth — a blood-and-soil argument if ever there was one

.. Real Americans understand that our nation was born in a rebellion against tyranny. They feel an instinctive aversion to tyrants everywhere, and an underlying sympathy for democratic regimes, even those with whom we may currently have disputes.

Real Americans expect public officials to be humbled by the responsibility that comes with the job.
.. Foreign autocrats may rage against unflattering news reports, threaten to inflict financial harm on publications they dislike, talk about imprisoning journalists; American leaders aren’t supposed to sound like that.

Dinesh D’Souza on ‘The Big Lie’: ‘Fascism Has Crept Deeply into the Bowels of the Left’

“There’s a deep fascist streak in politics now. Ironically, the fascism of today marches under the banner of anti-fascism, and it claims the moral credibility of anti-fascism,” D’Souza said. “In other words, it tries to take all the odor of fascism – stained as it is with the Holocaust, Auschwitz – and project it onto Trump and on the right.”

“This is a massive historical deception. That’s the Big Lie at its core,”

.. D’Souza saw the election of former President Barack Obama as the tipping point for left-wing fascism.

.. “When Obama came in with his sort of Alinskyite sensibility, and Hillary, of course, having the same, a kind of gangsterism came into American politics.” he continued, “a gangsterism that said things like, ‘Let’s deploy the IRS against our opposition. Let’s wiretap using the FBI. Let’s try to put our opponents in prison.’ This is sort of fascist behavior, and this is the kind of thing that I don’t think – I mean, Jimmy Carter would not have dreamed of it. Neither would JFK or Truman.”

.. D’Souza said the left was driven to embrace these tactics by “the glimpse of being able to establish exactly what the fascists always wanted: a complete centralized state.”

.. “Remember, for example, that with the NSA today there are surveillance technologies that were completely unavailable to Mussolini in the 20s or Hitler in the 30s,” he pointed out. “So in a sense, true fascism, full-scale fascism, is more possible today than it was in the twentieth century.”

“This is sort of the leftist objective. Now, they thought that they were almost there – and then, out of nowhere, comes this bizarre guy Trump, and he sort of turns the tables. He takes over, and they’ve suddenly lost all three branches of government, and they can’t believe it. This is the fury out of which they’re striking back,” he said.

.. “Now, I’m not comparing the left to the Nazis of Auschwitz,” he added. “But I am comparing them to the early Nazis, and, in fact, I would insist that the history of the Democratic Party – look at its 150-year history of racism, slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan. This history is actually more reminiscent of Nazism than of, say, Mussolini-style fascism.”

.. “Mussolini didn’t actually have concentration camps,” he elaborated. “He didn’t persecute the Jews in the systematic fashion Hitler did. He didn’t have segregation. Mussolini’s fascism, in a sense, was much less racist. So if you want to compare racism, you’ve got to compare the Democratic Party with the Nazis – both those groups imbued, over most of their history, with deep racism.”

.. Kassam proposed that much of this truth has been hidden by rebranding left-wing heroes of the past, such as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s transformation from eugenicist to “women’s health” pioneer.

“Margaret Sanger’s basic premise was eugenics,” D’Souza agreed. “More children from the fit and less from the unfit. She was in support of fairly extreme measures, including segregation and then, notoriously, forced sterilization in order to deprive lower-class and uneducated women of the chance to reproduce. She was very explicit about that.”

“Now, when the Nazis did it in 1933, Margaret Sanger gave speeches praising it. She said, ‘Look, the Nazis, the Germans, are ahead of us. We’ve got to catch up to them.’ This is the actual Margaret Sanger, but it’s not the Margaret Sanger you’ll find in Planned Parenthood brochures,” he said.

.. “Number one, I notice that the Republicans very rarely answer the accusations that are made against them,” D’Souza replied. “For example, all Trump needs to say is something like, ‘Hey, guys, it’s very interesting you call me a fascist. First of all, you guys slay me on every existing platform. I turn on the TV, comedians are ridiculing me. The media is blasting me. Hollywood people are railing. If I was really a fascist, do you think I would allow that to happen? Do you think Mussolini would allow the radio in Rome to be blasting him? No, he’d send some people over. They’d shut down the radio station. That would be the end of that.’”

“Real fascism doesn’t tolerate that kind of dissent,” he noted. “The pervasiveness of it is clear proof that Trump is not an authoritarian; he’s not a fascist.”

.. The guys, for example, who wrote the Nuremberg laws, the senior Nazi officials, are literally standing there and debating these laws holding in their hand the blueprints of Democratic laws of the Jim Crow South. And they’re basically saying, ‘All we need to do, in effect, is cross out the word black and write in the word Jew, and we’re home free.’ Literally, the Nuremberg laws were not parallel to, they were based upon – they were directly derived from – Democratic laws formed in America, in the South,” he said.

Trump Knows How to Push Our Buttons

The Trump administration hopes “Democrats will react by defending immigration and look ‘soft on gangs,’ ” aware that “if they push the envelope on this issue they can get coverage for their efforts and drown out Democratic efforts to change the topic.”

.. Brodnitz described Trump’s tactics as offering “ideas that sound really outlandish but that they believe have popular support — at least with their core voters” and that the Long Island speech was based on “the hope that Democrats would look more concerned about criminals than about crime and its victims.”

.. it has been difficult for the Democrats to recruit key white voters to consider an economic agenda in the face of concerted efforts by the Trump campaign and his administration to shift the focus to crime.

.. the percentage of Americans who said they had “great respect” for the police had risen from 64 percent in 2015 to 76 percent in 2016.

.. I think, yeah, a lot of people, whites anyway, think that the police are too constrained. When I watch the anarchists tear up Oakland, which happens pretty regularly, a part of me thinks “where are the 1968 Chicago police when we really need them?” These thugs behave the way they do in part because there are no consequences. Also, we see a lot of cases on TV where someone is resisting arrest, the police wrestle him down and hit him a few times, and then there are complaints about excessive force. Heavens’ sakes, if someone doesn’t comply with an order, what are the police supposed to do?

.. “Trump is endorsing the lex talionis — an eye for an eye,” Jonathan Haidt, the author of “The Righteous Mind” and a professor of ethical leadership at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, wrote in an email. In his own surveys, conducted at YourMorals.org, “only a subset of people on the right endorse such beliefs; it’s basically the authoritarians, not the Burkean or ‘status quo’ conservatives.”

.. One question Haidt’s survey asks respondents is whether they agree or disagree with the idea that “a criminal should be made to suffer in the same way that his victim suffered.”

Haidt said “progressives strongly reject it, and it correlates fairly well with politics — the farther right you are, the more you endorse it.”

.. It appeals to one of our worst angels, the desire for “rough justice” — quick and brutal revenge inflicted on a suspected wrongdoer. The ultimate evolutionary rationale for revenge, vendettas, blood feuds, mob violence, summary justice, lynching, vigilantes, deadly ethnic riots, the code of the streets, and other forms of rough justice is deterrence: if a person anticipates getting beaten up for exploiting people, he’ll think twice about exploiting them.

Trump, in Pinker’s view, has focused on the most primitive and regressive emotions among voters:

.. Pinker sees this as part of an ongoing struggle.

The appeal of regressive impulses is perennial. The forces of liberalism, modernity, cosmopolitanism, the open society, and Enlightenment values always have to push against our innate tribalism, authoritarianism, and thirst for vengeance.

And yes,

at times in history the darker forces prevail — the two world wars, the American crime wave from the 1960s to early 1990s, the rise of civil war in the developing world over that same period. These darker forces, moreover, are not just raw instincts, but often rationalized in ideologies.

.. This puts the Democrats in a dangerous position. The more they succeed in pushing Trump up against a wall, politically speaking, the more they risk the possibility that the he will inflict real damage, whether it is hostile engagement abroad or increasingly aggressive attacks on democratic institutions at home.

..  In an excerpt that was published by Politico, Flake describes

the strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians created such a cognitive dissonance among my generation of conservatives — who had come of age under existential threat from the Soviet Union — that it was almost impossible to believe.

.. What Flake recognizes, and what Democrats are only coming to realize, is that Trump represents a systemic assault on the legitimacy of America’s democratic processes, an attack that needs to be countered by far more that a modest collection of economic policies organized under the rubric “a better deal.”