Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.
And that person is Donald Trump.
How screwed up is that?
Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?
Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.
Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.
.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”
But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”
“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.
Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?
I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)
W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.
Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.
But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”
David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
“If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”
Men are being held accountable — and it has them mad as hell
This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.
Yesterday, Kavanaugh was the face of that backlash — an avatar for entitled, white male rage in the U.S. Angry, sputtering, petulant — the judge could barely contain his fury over being expected to answer for himself. As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow put it: “This person does not seem to have a lot of experience coping with not getting what he wants.”
Instead of responding to questions directly, Kavanaugh repeated his professional and academic bonafides as if his elite background was proof of good character. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked the judge about references in his high school yearbook about drinking to the point of vomiting, Kavanaugh responded, “I was at the top of my class academically.”
“Captain of the varsity basketball team,” he continued. “Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School.”
Don’t you know who I am?
.. When Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who prefaced her questions with anecdote about her own father’s alcoholism — asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out, the judge snapped, “Have you?” Even after she repeated the question, once again Kavanaugh sneered: “I’m curious if you have.”
.. Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker called this behavior “a model of American conservative masculinity…directly tied to the loutish, aggressive frat-boy persona that Kavanaugh is purportedly seeking to dissociate himself from.”
.. And, as is often the case with frat boys, Kavanaugh’s brothers had his back. One after another, the male Senators gave emotional apologies to the judge for even having to be there, bemoaning the loss of his life and reputation. Like Kavanaugh, they were appalled that the judge was expected to explain himself.
As if the possibility of him not ascending to the Supreme Court — and just continuing to serve on the second most important court in the country — would be a travesty. As if Kavanaugh was owed a smooth, unquestioned, path to whatever he wanted.
.. he hearing stopped being about Blasey Ford’s experience or even Kavanaugh’s fitness for the job, and instead became a stage for broader and bitter male resentment — furious over the seemingly new expectation of accountability, and raging over not immediately being given what was promised to them.
.. Even as women calmly and expertly explain the ways in which men have hurt us, our pain is immediately drowned out and glossed over by men’s belief that they should not have to answer to us, of all people.
.. My optimistic side would like to think that yesterday was the last loud gasp of a dying patriarchy, an astounded sexist minority trying its best to rebel against an emerging feminist majority. The less hopeful part of me, though — the part that still thinks quite a lot about America’s history of choosing poorly between a measured, informed woman and a belligerent, snapping man
The implication was that the court of public opinion is trying not Brett Kavanaugh but the very idea of the All-American boy—good-natured, mischievous, but harmless. That Brett Kavanaugh was a decent kid who may have erred here and there but only did so in good fun, and that investigating the allegations levelled by Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick in earnest would amount to marching Tom Sawyer, Opie Taylor, and the Beaver single-file to the guillotine.
.. This was what moved Senators John Cornyn and Ben Sasse to seemingly genuine tears during Kavanaugh’s testimony. But it was Lindsey Graham who went apoplectic. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020,” he shouted at Democrats during his turn for questions. “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
“Boy, y’all want power,” he continued. “God, I hope you never get it.”
.. The Kavanaugh nomination is now, in part, a referendum on the #MeToomovement—on whether the goodness of successful men, with families and the respect of their peers, should be taken for granted, and whether the women who have suffered abuse, but who don’t possess the kind of evidence a prosecutor might find satisfying, should remain silent and invisible lest they sully sterling reputations.
.. Kavanaugh—by appearing in a prime-time TV interview, and in casting the accusations, incredibly, as a conspiracy against him orchestrated by allies of the Clintons—has shown himself to be exactly the political operative he was when he was working under Ken Starr and as a hired gun for the Bush Administration.
.. He is, backed into a corner and stripped of his robes, the quintessential Fox News man—both gladiator and perpetual victim, another “white male,” as Graham called himself on Friday, told to shut up and go away by feminists and a vindictive left.
.. Belligerent, wounded, proud, timorous, and entitled—a man given to gaslighting and dissembling under pressure.
.. Should he be confirmed, he will have the power to color rulings from the highest court in the land with the biases and emotionality he has revealed this past week until, if he so chooses, he drops dead.
.. Conspiracy theories about Kavanaugh’s accusers—that Ramirez was an agent of George Soros, for instance, or that Kavanaugh’s mother, a district-court judge, had ruled against Ford’s parents in a foreclosure case—were offered not only by the likes of the Daily Caller and Trumpists at the site Big League Politics this week but also by the NeverTrumper Erick Erickson, who has called Ford a “partisan hack,” and a reporter for National Review.
.. It was Ed Whelan—who heads something called the Ethics and Public Policy Center and is a man Washington conservatives consider “a sober-minded straight shooter,” according to Politico—who potentially defamed a Georgetown Prep alumnus with unfounded speculation about a Kavanaugh “doppelgänger,” a theory that could have originated on the right-wing message boards that birthed Pizzagate and are now fuelling QAnon.
.. The kind of discrediting rhetoric that was deployed by supporters of Trump and Roy Moore in the wake of allegations against them—that the charges had come after too many years, that the women bear blame or should be regarded skeptically for being in situations in which abuse might take place—was let loose by respected figures like the National Review editor, Rich Lowry. “Why,” he asked, of Swetnick, on Wednesday, “would she constantly attend parties where she believed girls were being gang-raped?”
.. And the Times’Bari Weiss and the former Bush Administration press secretary Ari Fleischer, both on the center-right, were among those who suggested that Kavanaugh should be advanced even if the allegations levelled by Ford are true.
.. It is often argued by this crowd that broad criticisms of the right risk pushing sensible conservatives toward Trumpism. But the events of the past two weeks have made plain just how illusory and superficial the differences between the respectable establishment and the Trumpists really are.
.. it cannot be said now, as it was in November, 2016, that the man in question is the best or only option for those committed to conservative policy objectives. Backing Brett Kavanaugh is a choice conservatives have made over viable alternatives—qualified conservative candidates who could be spirited through the nomination process before November’s elections or in the lame-duck session by a Republican Senate that has already proved itself capable of sidestepping the required procedural hurdles.
They have chosen this course because the Kavanaugh nomination has presented the movement with a golden opportunity to accomplish two things more valuable, evidently, than merely placing another conservative on the court: standing against the new culture of accountability for sexual abuse and, at least as important, thumbing their noses at an angry and despairing Democratic Party.
Chad Ludington, a Yale classmate of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s who said he often drank with him, issued a statement on Sunday saying the Supreme Court nominee was not truthful about his drinking in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
I knew Brett at Yale because I was a classmate and a varsity basketball player and Brett enjoyed socializing with athletes. Indeed, athletes formed the core of Brett’s social circle.
In recent days I have become deeply troubled by what has been a blatant mischaracterization by Brett himself of his drinking at Yale. When I watched Brett and his wife being interviewed on Fox News on Monday, and when I watched Brett deliver his testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, I cringed. For the fact is, at Yale, and I can speak to no other times, Brett was a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker. I know, because, especially in our first two years of college, I often drank with him. On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.
.. I have direct and repeated knowledge about his drinking and his disposition while drunk. And I do believe that Brett’s actions as a 53-year-old federal judge matter. If he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences.
.. the ability to speak the truth, even when it does not reflect well upon oneself, is a paramount quality we seek in our nation’s most powerful judges.
I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth.