A book that every young man and woman starting out in life these days ought to have handy is Dariel Fitzkee’s “Magic by Misdirection,” a classic in the magical arts written decades ago by a once famous American performer. It basically tries to lay out all the varieties of misdirection—the ways that you can be asked to pay attention to one thing while the performer is doing another.
.. it’s a study in all the ways of drawing your attention away from this thing I’m doing here to that thing I’m doing there.
.. makes a distinction between, for instance, simulation and dissimulation: “Simulation is a positive act. It shows a false picture. Dissimulation is a negative act. It hides a true picture. One reveals and the other conceals.” A good magician can be simulating with one hand and dissimulating with the other, and you don’t know which is which.
.. Donald Trump’s genius for misdirection is to pile so many obvious ruses upon so many ham-handed sleights that the easily fooled parts of his audience are impressed by the audacity, while the more sophisticated parts of his audience, on left and right both, become so fatigued by the constant motion that they stop paying sufficient attention to the core point of the deception.
.. very often, the most brazen kinds of misdirection are the most successful, especially in the hands of a brazen performer.
.. Kavanaugh is not unqualified for the Supreme Court just because of something that he may have done when he was seventeen, or because of how he may have lied to the Senate about this or that specificity of his youthful behavior or about how he may have accepted illicitly obtained Democratic e-mails when he worked in the George W. Bush White House, or about his possible involvement in the effort to make torture seem acceptable. (Kavanaugh maintains innocence on all fronts.)
.. Trump’s purpose in appointing Kavanaugh to the Court was clearly to provide himself with a protective vote for whenever one issue or another arising from his misbehavior makes its way there
.. Kavanaugh’s convenient late-arriving conviction that Presidents should be protected from investigation—late arriving since he evidently felt very differently when he was pursuing Bill Clinton—is catnip to Trump.
.. anyone who had illusions about Kavanaugh not being an acolyte of Trumpism should have been disabused by his partisan performance last week, in which he made it quite apparent. That’s the deal. That’s the trick.
.. The maddening part of this misdirection is the unwillingness on the part of people who imagine themselves to be full of good will to say who Trump is and what he remains.
.. he is not uniquely responsible for the existence of a revanchist core of white men who so fear the assertion of minority power that they will go to almost any lengths, and make any deal with any devil, to prevent it. That core has been a consistent feature of American life since the post-Civil War period. President Ulysses S. Grant basically faced the same two parties: a party that accommodated what is now called identity politics, reaching out to a coalition of people—those African-American, Jewish, Native American, and Irish petitioners whom Grant tried to favor—who thought that the world was getting better and who supported some kind of benevolent government protection, and a party rooted in a base of revanchist whites who believed that the world was getting worse, who wanted to keep other groups from exercising too much political power, and who hated the federal government for helping them.
.. no sane person can accuse him of having been an immoderate or a non-conciliatory voice for his base.
.. his mistake was to vastly overestimate the reservoir of conciliation on the other side.
.. That’s why he tried to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court—a judge who had been cited by Republicans as an acceptable candidate
.. Two-sidedness is, in itself, a classic piece of misdirection, designed to draw your attention as much to the hand that isn’t doing anything as to the hand that is.
.. No duly elected leader of any mature democratic state has gone on repeated public rants against his enemies, fed cries of “lock her up” directed at a political opponent, or routinely threatened and abused a free press.
.. there is no figure in the Democratic Party who in any respect shares Trump’s rhetoric or mirrors Trump’s threats or repeats Trump’s hatreds. Such figures exist only on the fringes of the left, whereas Trumpism has now become the central and defining faith of the Republican Party.
.. Kavanaugh is an instrument of Trumpism, an insurance policy that the con man is writing for himself. The rest is misdirection.
he comes from the poorest wing of the ruling family; his father was only governor of Riyadh and was known for being uncorrupted. As a result, M.B.S. grew up with a lot of resentment and disdain for his lazy cousins, who got obscenely rich, along with the big merchants close to them. His anti-corruption campaign was meant to stem the tide of graft, but it also had elements of revenge, and a power and money grab.
.. At the same time, we need to tell M.B.S.: You can be an effective king, with real legitimacy, or you can buy yachts, chateaus and Leonardo da Vincis like your cousins — but you can’t do both. He has to understand he’s becoming an important figure on the world stage, and he needs to cultivate the same reputation his father has — clean, modest, conciliatory.
.. On the management side, M.B.S.’s team is too small and contains a couple of minister-bullies close to him who are in way over their heads, and who bring out his worst instincts and offer terrible advice — some of which led to his failed overreaches in Yemen, Lebanon and Qatar. And while M.B.S. is a creative reformer, he has a fierce temper. Most of his ministers are afraid to challenge him or give him the candid, caring advice he needs.
.. Rex Tillerson is not respected in Riyadh, we have no permanent assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and no ambassador. Are you nuts? You need to appoint a James Baker or Dave Petraeus as your special envoy to the Arab Gulf who can help M.B.S. defuse Yemen, end the feuds with neighbors, and focus all his energies on building a Saudi Arabia that is thriving at home and admired by its neighbors. That’s the best bulwark against Iranian expansion.
.. If M.B.S. chases Iran everywhere, Tehran will sap all his strength; it will be death by a thousand cuts. We need to be in his ear regularly with someone he respects, and not just leave him to “the boys’ club” — your son-in-law or other young testosterone-fueled Sunni Arab princes in the Gulf.
.. it is more vital than ever that we continue to model the rule of law, respect for institutions, tolerance and pluralism. A special U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia is necessary now, but keeping America a special example is even more important.