America First or Trump First?

I was seeing a U.S. president put Russia first, not America first.

.. What’s the matter with you? I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I know that it will be an increasing problem as we enter Phase 3 of the Trump presidency.

.. Phase 1 saw Trump unhinged but bound — bound by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn. In Phase 1 Trump said and did plenty of crazy stuff, but these key aides limited the damage.

.. Phase 2 has seen Trump unhinged and unboundTrump has neutered Kelly, distanced himself from Mattis and sacked Tillerson, McMaster and Cohn. He replaced the last three with men so hungry for their jobs that they were ready to step over the bodies of their predecessors, who, they knew, were pushed out for standing up to Trump on policies and principles

Watching longtime anti-Russia hawks — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton — shucking off everything they’ve said over the years and ignoring Trump’s coddling of Putin and his trashing of the F.B.I. in order to grab jobs they’d long coveted is witnessing careerism, sycophancy and cynicism on an industrial scale.

But that sets up Trump Phase 3: unhinged and unbound and unintended.

.. “What America’s allies in Europe learned from Trump’s recent visit is that the United States, at his direction, is acting more like predator than partner. They are concluding that Trump is not looking for a better deal with the European Union. He’s looking to destroy the European Union. And even though they understand the difference between the president and the government he leads, they know the West may never be the same again.”

.. There is one critical defense line left — that formed by F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

.. Wray, Coats and Rosenstein all rose to the occasion. They knew Helsinki was a test of their institutions and themselves, and they passed it with flying colors — always putting America first and not Trump first when it really mattered.

.. Wray also let lawmakers and other critics know that their conspiracy theories about the F.B.I. and Justice Department’s Russia investigations were not intimidating him

.. Rosenstein backed up Coats 100 percent, declaring: “As Director Coats made clear, these [Russian] actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”

.. Unfortunately, the secretary of homeland security showed no such spine. Asked if the Russians had intervened to favor Trump, Nielsen said with a straight face: “I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

.. That was the sound of a senior national security official putting Trump first, not America first. Nielsen proved to be a shameful coward. I sure hope we do not have a homeland security crisis on her watch.

.. Why do they so freely sacrifice their own reputations and their own integrity to defend a man with no integrity, a man who would sell each and every one of them down the river the second he decided it was in his interest? It is inexplicable to me.

At least Stormy Daniels got paid.


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, “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.”

‘A Better Deal,’ or Just a Better Spiel?

Democrats have unveiled their 2018 agenda, and it suggests they understand why they lost to Trump.

not everyone on the left wants to focus on winning back the voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who backed Barack Obama but rejected Mrs. Clinton. Some would rather try to rebuild the twice-successful Obama coalition of young voters, minorities and socially liberal whites. The mathematical reality is that Democrats will probably have to do a little bit of both.

.. Therefore, the party needs a message that resonates with its base but also with voters who are turned off by the overt racial and ethnic appeals Democrats have long relied on.

.. Whether “A Better Deal” will do the trick may be up to President Trump. His low job-approval numbers don’t much faze him. He has done little to broaden his appeal, perhaps because he isn’t on the ballot next year. His base seems to care more about his in-your-face style than concrete legislative accomplishments. The president ought to understand, however, that some of his support is quite soft and has already started to erode. Republican and independent voters who reluctantly backed Mr. Trump have lost confidence in his ability to address their concerns.

..  Mr. Trump can earn loyalty from lawmakers and officials in his administration by demonstrating it himself. If he wants to change the subject to tax reform from Russia investigations and internecine strife in the West Wing, maybe he should stop sounding off to New York Times editors about matters best handled out of public view.

.. Now that voters have handed the GOP control of the Oval Office and both the House and Senate, the party is out of excuses.

.. It’s progress if Democratic leaders have accepted why they really lost last year. But the party still needs to spend the next 15 months figuring out how to win again. Demonizing Mr. Trump didn’t work last time.

The Democrats’ Agenda, and the Art of the Possible

The agenda Democrats began rolling out on Monday actually shares some ideas — job training, lowering drug prices, help for working families — with the Republicans’ stated but so far unrealized priorities.

.. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s campaign promise for a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul, a job-creation effort Democrats are eager to talk about, goes nowhere.

.. And why isn’t Mr. Trump, who is counting bills to rename post offices as legislative achievements, turning to Democrats for help on initiatives they and he support?

.. Democrats want to help 10 million Americans find work by expanding paid apprenticeship and work-based job-training programs.
.. Democrats want to give Medicare Part D the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for its 41 million enrollees; our deal maker in chief once thought that was a good idea, so he might want to pick up the phone.
.. Party leaders realize, as Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, wrote on Monday, that they’ve lost the last two elections in part because they “failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there.”

How Democrats Lost Voters to Trump—and Might Win Them Back

A populist economic message could be key to recapturing some of the estimated six million who voted for Obama in 2012 but Trump in 2016

Democratic leaders are calling their new agenda “A Better Deal,” and it’s heavy on populist economics: a higher minimum wage; more working-class access to government health programs; and expanded broadband for rural areas.

.. The key for Democrats isn’t simply to turn out more young, liberal voters, or to win over Republicans who don’t like President Trump. Rather, Democrats need to win back working-class voters who defected to Mr. Trump. Doing that requires crafting a more effective economic message and convincing skeptical voters that Democrats aren’t locked into a Washington status quo they deeply distrust.
.. six million people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 abandoned the Democrats to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016.
.. In these “flip counties” Mrs. Clinton also is personally unpopular; just 30% view her favorably, while 50% have an unfavorable view. Interestingly, though, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Mrs. Clinton from the left with an antiestablishment populist message, is far more popular there. In the flip counties, 44% have a positive view of Mr. Sanders, while just 29% have a negative view.
.. feelings toward Mrs. Clinton are a net 20-percentage points negative, while they are a net 15-points positive for Mr. Sanders.

.. That suggests Mrs. Clinton, the ultimate representative of the party establishment, was a particularly ill-suited candidate for 2016. It further suggests that a populist economic message of the kind Mr. Sanders brought to the table has resonance in the areas that moved away from the Democrats.

..  A whopping 71% said they aren’t confident their children’s generation will have a better life.
.. they particularly like the suggestion that he is “shaking things up in Washington,” and that he is twisting corporate arms to keep jobs in the U.S. That may be because they are feeling economic strain; 66% say someone in their household has lost a job in the last five years, and 75% say someone in the household has more than $20,000 in student debt.
.. But Mrs. Clinton just as surely lost them because she was seen as part of the political establishment in a year of surging antiestablishment sentiment
.. Don’t be surprised if Republicans try to hold on to those voters in next year’s midterm elections by portraying Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a replica of Mrs. Clinton, an out-of-touch embodiment of a hated political establishment.