The United States is in the middle of a very unfortunate experiment in how disoriented a great nation can become before it loses its moorings entirely.
.. But former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama reminded us last week that there is nothing normal about this moment. They issued searing, overlapping condemnations of Trumpism without naming President Trump. Former commanders in chief of opposing parties don’t do this sort of thing unless the country faces an emergency.
Our disorientation is reflected further in the way honorable men and women allow themselves to be pushed into defending the indefensible and twisting noble concepts into cheap and ultimately shameful talking points. These are designed to get the president through one more news cycle or around some controversy he could easily quell if he had any familiarity with the words “I’m sorry.”.. For all the talk about Trump being something other than a Republican, he always falls back on the party’s old ideas because he has none of his own.. the central fact of our political situation: that Trump is systematically sapping our democratic capacities through his routine behavior. As Bush put it, “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. . . . Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”.. Kelly could not back up Trump’s claim that Wilson had “totally fabricated” the president’s conversation. In fact, Kelly seemed indirectly to confirm her account. So he resorted to a vicious rebuke of the African American congresswoman... Kelly didn’t even have the decency to use Wilson’s name, and he compared her to noisy “empty barrels.” It was hard to hear him and not think of Bush’s warnings about “dehumanization.” Kelly went on to give a false account of gracious, bipartisan comments Wilson made at the dedication of a Florida FBI building... It’s common to hear the president called a “disrupter.” But unlike the tech-world heroes to whom the label is typically applied, he builds nothing, creates nothing and moves a majority of our fellow citizens only toward rage or a sense of helplessness.
.. The burden is especially great on those who hoped that by serving this man, they could serve their country. Alas, Kelly has shown us that this is simply not possible.
Bush offered a blunt assessment of a political system corrupted by “conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” in which nationalism has been “distorted into nativism.”
.. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
.. Just hours after Bush completed his speech, Obama also made a veiled critique of the Trump era, calling on Democrats at a New Jersey campaign event to “send a message to the world that we are rejecting a politics of division, we are rejecting a politics of fear.”
.. That Trump’s two most recent predecessors felt liberated, or perhaps compelled, to reenter the political arena in a manner that offered an implicit criticism of him is virtually unprecedented in modern politics, historians said.
.. George W. Bush was taking aim at Trump’s “roiling of the traditional institutions of the country and, in particular, demeaning the office of the president by a kind of crude or vulgar bashing of opponents,”
.. “I think this is Bush throwing down the gauntlet and feeling that this is a man who has gone too far,” Dallek said. The discretion former presidents traditionally afforded their successors “is now sort of fading to the past because of the belligerence of Trump.”
.. McCain’s critique prompted Trump to warn him to “be careful” because he is prepared to “fight back.”
.. The common thread among Bush’s and McCain’s words was a defense of the post-World War II liberal order
- which supported strong security alliances,
- a defense of human rights and an
- open economic system of free trade
.. “The hallmark of McCain’s and Bush’s speeches was to try to re-center us on what have been, since 1945, these traditional ends,”
.. He cautioned at the time, however, that he would speak out if he saw “core values” at risk.
.. the unifying themes between Obama and Bush are “humanity and empathy towards the American public.”
.. Bush opened his remarks by speaking in both English and Spanish and noting that refugees from Afghanistan, China, North Korea and Venezuela were seated in the audience.
.. Bush also warned that “bigotry seems emboldened” in a passage that evoked the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville
.. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said in a line that drew the most applause.
.. “Politics are now about discrediting people by ad hominem attacks, not by argumentation,” Cohen said. Those who opposed Bush’s wars have a fair point of view, he said, but their constant “demonization does help make it easier for Trump.”
It’s also totally clear why Allen felt untouchable enough to add that even if he had believed the “horror stories,” he wouldn’t have been interested, let alone concerned, because he is a serious man busy making serious man-art. He said people wouldn’t bother coming to him anyway, because, as he described it: “You’re not interested in it. You are interested in making your movie.” (That last bit is fair, actually. If I’d been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, literally my last instinct would be to go to Woody Allen for help.)
.. there is no injustice quite so unnaturally, viscerally grotesque as a white man being fired.
.. Donald Trump, our predator in chief, seems to view the election of Barack Obama as a white man being fired. He and his supporters are willing to burn the world in revenge.
.. the pathetic gall of men feeling hunted after millenniums of treating women like prey
.. So, Mr. Allen et al., I know you hate gossip and rumor mills, but unfortunately they’re the only recourse we have.
.. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.
.. The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy.
.. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them
During the campaign, when President Trump’s advisers wanted him to stop talking about an issue — such as when he attacked a Gold Star military family — they sometimes presented him with polls demonstrating how the controversy was harming his candidacy.
During the transition, when aides needed Trump to decide on a looming issue or appointment, they often limited him to a shortlist of two or three options and urged him to choose one.
And now in the White House, when advisers hope to prevent Trump from making what they think is an unwise decision, they frequently try to delay his final verdict — hoping he may reconsider after having time to calm down.
.. The president is often impulsive, mercurial and difficult to manage, leading those around him to find creative ways to channel his energies.
.. Some Trump aides spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts that might work against him, according to interviews with 18 aides, confidants
.. “I restrict no one, by the way, from going in to see him. But when we go in to see him now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.”
.. Trump’s penchant for Twitter feuds, name-calling and temperamental outbursts presents a unique challenge.
.. One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump
.. One regular practitioner is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who praised Trump’s controversial statements after white supremacists had a violent rally in Charlottesville and also said he agreed with Trump that professional football players should stand during the national anthem.
.. Former treasury secretary Larry Summers wrote in a Twitter post, “Mnuchin may be the greatest sycophant in Cabinet history.”
.. Especially in the early days of his presidency, aides delivered the president daily packages of news stories filled with positive coverage
.. Some aides and outside advisers hoping to push their allies and friends for top postings, such as ambassadorships, made sure their candidates appeared speaking favorably about Trump in conservative news outlets — and that those news clippings ended up on the president’s desk.
.. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has frequently resorted to diversionary tactics to manage Trump.
.. he will volunteer to have his staff study Trump’s more unorthodox ideas
.. When Trump wanted to make South Korea pay for the entire cost of a shared missile defense system, McMaster and top aides huddled to come up with arguments that the money spent defending South Korea and Japan also benefited the U.S. economy in the form of manufacturing jobs
.. If [Trump] wanted to do something that I thought could be problematic for him, I would simply, respectfully, ask him if we could possibly wait on it and then reconsider,” Nunberg
.. During the campaign, after reading a story in the New York Times that said Trump’s advisers went on television to talk directly to him, the candidate exploded at his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, chastising his top aide for treating him like “a baby,”
.. The president appreciates how Mattis, a four-star Marine general, speaks to him candidly but respectfully and often plays down disagreements in public.
.. Mattis’s focus has been on informing the president when they disagree — before the disagreements go public — and maintaining a quiet influence.
.. Mattis has also gone out of his way not to suck up to the president
.. Mattis has also worked to get on Trump’s good side by criticizing the media for putting too much emphasis on his disagreements with Trump
.. When he has broken with the president, Mattis has done it as subtly possible.
.. Several people who have met with Trump in recent weeks said he mocks other officials in Washington, especially fellow Republicans.
.. Trump upset Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) by cutting a deal with Democrats. In subsequent days behind closed doors, the president mocked the reactions of McConnell and Ryan from the meeting with an exaggerated crossing of his arms and theatrical frowns.
.. “They have an on-the-record ‘Dear Leader’ culture, and an on-background ‘This-guy-is-a-joke’ culture,”