said, ‘Bob, what’s with the letter?’ ” Attorney General William Barrrecounted in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “ ‘Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue?’ ” Bob—that is, Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election—had sent Barr the letter on March 27th, three days after Barr had released his own letter purporting, in four pages, to convey the principal conclusions of Mueller’s more than four-hundred-page report. Mueller had been fairly clear about what was, as Barr put it, with the letter: Barr’s statement “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” And, in its wake, there was “now public confusion.” Barr told Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, that the letter had prompted him to call Mueller, on speaker phone, while several people, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, were in the room with him. As Blumenthal questioned Barr about his subsequent exchange with Mueller, Barr picked up what appeared to be a copy of Mueller’s letter and gave it a sour scan. “The letter’s a bit snitty,” he said. “I think it was probably written by one of his staff.”
“Snitty” is a word of relatively recent origin; Merriam-Webster traces the appearance of the underlying noun, “snit,” to 1939. It echoes something of the meaning of snipe and snip, and even snitch—of pettiness and petulance. It hardly seems right as a way to describe the concerns that Mueller—a man with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement—had about a possible blow to public confidence in his investigation, or in the Justice Department, or in both. And yet the complaint perfectly expresses the culture of the Trump Administration. Calling people “snitty” is a way of accusing them of being weak, mewling, and rule-bound, with a pathetic belief in fairness. It’s the bully’s retort upon being called out—expressing the same resentment that might, say, lead a President to commit what the Mueller report refers to as potentially “obstructive acts.” “Snitty” is used to conjure up the image of people whom one would rather ignore stamping their feet—which may be why Barr joined it with the supposition that the letter Mueller signed was written “by one of his staff.”
The question of what “staff” might be capable of was, it seems, already on Barr’s mind. After the Senate hearing, it emerged that he had decided not to appear at a parallel hearing in the House, scheduled for Thursday, supposedly because he objected to being questioned by lawyers on the committee staff rather than by the representatives themselves. The committee is responding with a flurry of subpoenas; the issue of the Trump Administration’s evasions of congressional oversight is not a new one, and it won’t go away. But Barr does a particularly bad job of hiding his disdain. At one point, Blumenthal asked him if anyone had taken notes of the “what’s with the letter” call. Barr confirmed that some people had done so. “May we have those notes?” Blumenthal asked.
“No,” Barr replied.
“Why not?” Blumenthal asked.
“Why should you have them?” Barr said.
Who do these senators think they are? Barr’s own recollection of the call was an exercise in blame. According to Barr, Mueller said that he was “concerned about the way the media was playing this” and wanted his executive summaries released in order to “avoid some of the confusion that was emerging.” Barr continued, “I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate, and he said no, that the press—he felt that the press coverage was.” At this point, Barr has shown himself to be enough of an unreliable narrator that it makes sense to wait and learn if this is also Mueller’s recollection. (Mueller does not specifically mention the press in his letter.) But it is worth asking what Barr is saying here about the press: the coverage, up until then, was based only on his four-page letter. If the coverage was inaccurate or misleading, how might that have happened—was the press making things up? Barr doesn’t appear to mind implying that reporters either are incapable of basic reading comprehension or just act in bad faith. Earlier in the hearing, Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, also raised what he called “the news-coverage issue” and asked Barr, “What were you supposed to do about that?” Noting that the report was now out, the senator called the whole matter moot and added, “None of us can control what the news publishes or prints, except the media.” Nor should anyone—but it would be helpful, sometimes, if the press had truthful material to work with. And Congress might do something about that.
I have the immediate urge to praise Canada, set in motion by Justin Trudeau’s recent rebuke of Donald Trump at the G-7 summit. There, Trudeau made it plain that he and his country were not about to be bullied by the American President, not on a question of unilateral tariffs, not about anything. Trump responded with gangster-style threats and sneers, followed by more threats and sneers from his associates.
.. The question worth asking is what it is in the Canadian national character, if I may call it that, that makes Canadians so ready to take on bullies.
Canada has been doing this as long as there has been a Canada. The Mounties wear red coats, we were taught in school, to defy villains by their very presence.
.. Lester Pearson prompted Charles de Gaulle to cut short a visit to the country, in 1967, after he had insulted Canadian sovereignty.
.. When Pierre Trudeau learned that Richard Nixon, in 1971, had called him an “asshole,” he delivered an unforgettable Canadian retort: “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”
.. Famously obliging in attitude—how do you get twenty-five Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, “Please get out of the swimming pool”—Canadians are also notoriously stubborn of spirit.
.. Canadian democracy is supported by some of the strongest social capital in the world, exceeded only, by most academic measures, by that of Scandinavia and New Zealand.
.. Trust in social institutions, in the honesty of government and the solidarity of citizens, remains strong in Canada, even when its results, as with the election of Doug Ford—the smarter brother of the late Rob Ford, the onetime mayor of Toronto—to the premiership of Ontario, is not what progressive-minded people might like.
.. the United States now ranks below Canada, it still scored high in recent registries. But it once led the world in social capital. Can it do so again?
.. The term seems to have originated, or at least become most closely associated, with the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam.
.. in northern Italy, where citizens participate actively in sports clubs, literary guilds, service groups, and choral societies, regional governments are “efficient in their internal operation, creative in their policy initiatives and effective in implementing those initiatives.” In southern Italy, by contrast, where patterns of civic engagement are far weaker, regional governments tend to be corrupt and inefficient.
.. If you have experience working outside your immediate clan or cohort, you’re likelier to be able to practice democratic politics.
.. Jürgen Habermas captured in the phrase “the public sphere,” when he showed how essential civic life was to the Enlightenment: a government is only as strong as its cafés.
.. for all the South’s cultural self-proclamation, it was a paralyzed, frozen society, while the North was full of activity. “Our young men are members and managers of reading rooms, public libraries, gymnasiums, game clubs, boat clubs, ball clubs, and all sorts of clubs, Bible classes, debating societies, military companies; they are planting road-side trees, or damming streams for skating ponds, or rigging diving-boards, or getting up fireworks displays, or private theatricals; they are always doing something,”
.. it was the strength of Canada’s commonplace civilization, the knowledge that a huge and hugely variegated country would find bullying unacceptable, that gave Trudeau the nerve to speak
.. his defense of the idea that there is more to politics than the rituals of domination and submission, which are the sum total of Donald Trump’s understanding of society.
.. The bankruptcy of America’s social capital becomes more evident when we see it flourish elsewhere. It’s no accident that Trudeau, in addition to receiving the support of his own Parliament, has received that of what used to be called the free world. The American President, meanwhile, has found himself more at home with the brutal leaders of gangster governments.
Before he was elected Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau faced a consistent type of criticism from his opponents: he was too young and too eager to please, conservatives said. His economic plans added up to “unicorns and rainbows.” He did not have the gravitas to represent Canada internationally.
But President Trump has helped bring together the most bitter of Canadian enemies, as he lashed out at Trudeau following the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec, and even the country’s most staunch conservatives have publicly backed up their Liberal prime minister for taking a tough tone in the U.S.-Canada trade conflict.
“I think sometimes, you know, you have to tell the schoolyard bully that they can’t have your lunch money. And I think that’s what the prime minister did today,” said Jaime Watt, a Toronto-based conservative political strategist. “I think most Canadians would say that they were proud of their prime minister.”
.. Who knows what to do with Trump? Nobody knows what to do with him. His own people don’t know what to do.”
.. Trudeau repeated a certain comment, saying Canada was “polite” but “will not be pushed around.”
.. Trump took the second such comment, made in a news conference after the Quebec meeting, badly. In a tweet, he depicted Trudeau as two-faced, saying the prime minister had been “meek and mild” during the meetings, only to lash out afterwards. “Very dishonest & weak,” he tweeted.
Perhaps some of the falling-out boils down to a misunderstanding of Canadian etiquette, said Bruce Heyman, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada — “especially for somebody who’s coming from the world that [Trump] is coming from, and has been so blunt and so confrontational in his conversations and approaches.”
Canadians, Heyman said, “are collaborators who try to find paths to solutions.” It could be easy for someone to misread them, “not taking them seriously or not understanding the resolve they have.”
.. I think he’s trying to make an example of Canada. Canada’s a small, super-friendly ally . . . and I think he’s just kind of sending a message to the rest of the world: ‘If we can treat the Canadian this way, you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of what might be coming your way.’ ”
.. Trudeau has two good reasons to change his tone now, Hampson said: First, the NAFTA talks are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Second, the next federal Canadian election is next year.
“I think he and his government feel under some pressure to talk tough and to do so publicly.”
.. “I’m not sure if it’s been niceness,” he said. “It’s been more cordial — cordial and businesslike.”
.. “I think that Canadians do pride themselves on an international image where we’re seen as being cordial, friendly and even-handed in terms of trying to get along with other states,” he said.
.. “The reality is that even under the best of circumstances, Canada is a middle power and, you know, when you’re a middle power, you have to get along with larger powers. You’re not necessarily going to get along with larger powers by aggressively attacking them.”
.. But Canadians have also supported tougher stances in the past, when there’s a principled reason for taking them
what many grass-roots American conservatives heard was not a brash provocation, but a brave and unequivocal calling out of a bully.
.. “I believe that this idiot over there is trying to make a name for himself,” said Mr. Yu’s friend Ralph Barbee Jr., 76, a Vietnam veteran and former host of a local fishing show who arrived at the Golden Corral in an S.U.V. adorned with stars, stripes and an enormous photo of Mr. Trump on the hood. “I believe if he fires one more missile, that’s the end for them.”
.. On Thursday, the conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh praised President Trump on his radio show for his display of machismo, contrasting him with his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“We don’t have a pajama boy who wears mom jeans who can barely throw a baseball, a first pitch, at a Nationals game, as president,” he said. “We have somebody out there who’s no-nonsense, and who’s not going to take this.”
.. “He needs to step all over that little twerp,” said John Stout, 71, who sat with three retired friends over coffee at the Sinclair gas station in Wiggins, Colo., on Thursday. The other men nodded in agreement. “If it had been me up there,” Mr. Stout continued, “I’d have done it a lot quicker.”
.. “Hell yes,” he said. “And they can pinpoint it to where they are not killing a lot of innocent people. That will be the big goal there.”
.. She said that Mr. Trump’s stance on North Korea is exactly what she was hoping for. “I think we have to go guns blazing and let them have it,” she said.
.. “I think he needs to send some SEALs in to take care of him. As a private matter. I think he needs to go after that guy, and nobody will know about it.” She trusts the president, she said. “Trump, he knows very well how to play his cards right.”
.. Austin Rhodes, 52, a conservative. Mr. Rhodes said that the president had limited oratorical skills, and compared him to the rock singer Meat Loaf: “No matter what he sings, whether he tries to sing a Meat Loaf hit or opera, he’s going to be Meat Loaf.”
But in this case, he said, perhaps Trumpian bluster was exactly what was needed in response to North Korea as well as a number of troubled Middle Eastern countries, Mr. Rhodes said. “You need to be ridiculously blunt. Maybe this is the guy for the times, because Obama was not.”
.. In an opening prayer, a woman asked God to help make America great again.
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