A warmonger is the latest to lose his dignity to Donald Trump.
Say this for Donald Trump. He may be transforming American politics into a kleptocratic fascist reality show and turning our once-great country into a global laughingstock, but as least he’s humiliating John Bolton in the process.
Many people who get involved with this president end up diminished, embarrassed or, in quite a few cases, indicted. Rex Tillerson, once known as a corporate titan, will now be remembered for his brief, ineffectual record as secretary of state. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, are in prison.
Bolton’s comeuppance is of a different kind. By taking to Fox News to kiss up to Trump, he became national security adviser, a job that no other president would have ever given to a discredited warmonger. His reward is that, after devoting his life to the expansion of American power globally, he’s a hapless party to its contraction. For a person to sell out his putative ideals for such a hollow victory would be like a Greek drama, if the Greeks had written dramas about such small men.
Bolton is sometimes described as a neoconservative, but that’s not really right. Neoconservatives purported to champion the expansion of American values, while Bolton just wants to impose American might. On the surface, he seems an excellent fit with Trump, who is also uninterested in human rights and contemptuous of multilateral institutions. Both are
- bellicose nationalists,
- dismissive of climate change,
- eager to empower the Israeli right,
- hostile to Islam but
- solicitous of Saudi Arabia.
But the uber-hawk Bolton, who still refuses to admit that the Iraq war was a mistake, has long believed that America’s most implacable enemies include North Korea, Russia and Iran. One multilateral organization he appears to value is NATO, a counterweight to Russia that he once called “the most successful political-military alliance in human history.” Now, at the summit of his career, he’s part of an administration that makes a mockery of his longtime foreign policy philosophy.
When the George W. Bush administration, in which Bolton also served, lifted some sanctions on North Korea in 2008, Bolton seemed almost heartsick. “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
So one can only imagine the ineffable sadness he felt over the weekend, when Trump stepped into North Korea to shake the hand of his friend Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s totalitarian leader. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering putting aside the goal of getting North Korea to surrender the nuclear weapons it already has, instead trying to get the country to stop making new nuclear material.
Given Trump’s limitations as a statesman, that’s probably the best that can be hoped for. But it’s almost certainly not what Bolton, who was calling for pre-emptive strikes on North Korea just before Trump appointed him, thought he was signing up for. In response to the Times article, Bolton tweeted angrily that he’d heard of no such plan, though he might have simply been out of the loop. After all, while Trump was flattering Kim, Bolton was in Mongolia.
Also on Sunday, Politico reported on a white paper prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff about expanding Russian power. “Russia has a growing and demonstrated capacity and willingness to exercise malign influence in Europe and abroad, including in the United States,” the paper said.
Bolton used to decry this influence. Vladimir Putin’s efforts in the 2016 election, wrote Bolton in 2017, was “a casus belli, a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate.” When Putin lied to Trump’s face during their first meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Bolton hoped Trump would take it as a “highly salutary lesson about the character of Russia’s leadership.” Obviously, Trump learned no such lesson. At the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, last week, the president joked with Putin about election interference and the murder of journalists, a scene that will now be part of Bolton’s legacy.
There is one major issue left on which Bolton could shape history. On Monday, news broke that Iran had breached a limit on how much nuclear fuel it can possess under the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abandoned. That comes after months of escalation on both sides, and the threat remains that Bolton could goad an erratic Trump into war.
Standing between us and that apocalyptic possibility is the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been urging Trump away from a military confrontation with Iran. Last month, Carlson used his opening monologue to eviscerate Bolton, calling him a “bureaucratic tapeworm” for whom war is “always good business.” In normal administrations, national security advisers have more authority than cable news hosts, but it was Carlson, not Bolton, who was with Trump at the Korean Demilitarized Zone this weekend. (Carlson later called into “Fox & Friends” and rationalized North Korean atrocities, said that leading a country “means killing people.”)
It’s nightmarish to live in a country where our foreign policy has been reduced to an intramural battle between Fox News reactionaries. And there’s still a danger that Bolton could outmaneuver the isolationists. But right now there is a thin, bitter consolation in knowing that he, like so many others who’ve worked for Trump, sacrificed his principles for power and will likely end up with neither.
Stop Giving Trump the Benefit of the Doubt
Five months later, everything liberals said about the tax bill turned out to be true. Contrary to Republican claims, wage growth has been anemic. Instead of sharing the wealth with employees, companies have spent record amounts of money buying back their own stock. The tax cuts are creating larger deficits than Republicans predicted, and those deficits are now being cited as a pretext for cutting spending on the poor.
.. has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much,” David Sanger reported in The New York Times. The U.S. government has even issued a commemorative coin about the summit featuring Trump and “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un face-to-face, signaling to the world that it’s now the American president who craves legitimation from the North Korean dictator.
.. Even a casual newspaper reader — which, of course, Trump is not — knows that when North Korea talks about “denuclearization,” it doesn’t mean unilaterally giving up all its nuclear weapons. A hastily arranged meeting between two bellicose egomaniacs, premised on a basic misunderstanding, is unlikely to resolve one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflicts; a flimsy agreement that roughly preserves the status quo seems like a best-case scenario.
.. We all want to be open-minded, but con men should never be given the benefit of the doubt.
‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’
Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.
.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”
“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”
.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”
.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”
.. a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”
.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”
.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.
.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that
.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.
.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”
.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”
.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.
The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.
.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”
.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”
Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s Oldest Horror Story
Nearly 80 years later, that aroma of perversion and maladroit du seigneur clings to Hollywood. Now we are inundated with grotesque tales of Harvey Weinstein pulling out his penis to show to appalled and frightened young women, enlisting the pimping help of agents and assistants to have actresses delivered to his hotel rooms, where he pestered the women to watch him shower or give him a massage or engage in intimate acts.
“The ill will towards him for getting away with it all for so long has unleashed something so primitive,” a prominent male Hollywood producer told me. “If people could rip him apart, they would
.. a man trusted by the Obamas to have their daughter intern at his company.
.. Often the actresses scrambled, trying to figure out how to get out of the room without having their futures shredded by the vindictive satyr, who also threatened to destroy actresses who balked at wearing dresses designed by his wife Georgina Chapman’s fashion label on the red carpet... Min recalled attending the $400,000 speech Barack Obama made as an ex-president to an A&E Networks advertising upfront at the Pierre hotel in New York in April.
.. “There probably needs to be some introspection about how certain people who engage in horrendous mistreatment of women can co-opt the media,” she mused. “The fundamental predatory nature of Hollywood is young, attractive people — largely females — putting themselves in front of men to be judged and appraised and chosen.
.. In Hollywood, unlike at other Fortune 500 companies, the one-on-one meetings take place in hotel suites and bars. It’s an exploitative and oddly personal process.”
.. Harvey had proven time and again he could get you the Oscar that could make your career. It’s the difference between being in the reboot of ‘Saved by the Bell’ or getting 15 million for your next role.”
Hollywood is a culture that runs on fear. And it is not like other professions, one top entertainment executive said, because “no one comes with a résumé. It’s about what you look like and who sent you.”
.. There was resentment against Weinstein in Hollywood, not only for the stories bubbling around about women, but the way he humiliated men who worked with him. He even berated a 15-year-old girl at a screening because her parents supported a political candidate he opposed.
.. Like Trump, that other self-professed predator, there were complaints that in business deals he stiffed people on bills (advertising and public relations payments), and he had a reputation for lying, cheating, taking advantage, acting like a thug. Many in the film community felt he besmirched the Oscars by turning it into a marketing race rather than a contest of quality.