Republican leaders need to mount an intervention.
Up to now I have not favored removing President Trump from office. I felt strongly that it would be best for the country that he leave the way he came in, through the ballot box. But last week was a watershed moment for me, and I think for many Americans, including some Republicans.
It was the moment when you had to ask whether we really can survive two more years of Trump as president, whether this man and his demented behavior — which will get only worse as the Mueller investigation concludes — are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions and, by extension, the world. And therefore his removal from office now has to be on the table.
I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.
It has to start with Republicans, given both the numbers needed in the Senate and political reality. Removing this president has to be an act of national unity as much as possible — otherwise it will tear the country apart even more. I know that such an action is very difficult for today’s G.O.P., but the time is long past for it to rise to confront this crisis of American leadership.
Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like
- reading briefing books,
- consulting government experts before making major changes and
- appointing a competent staff — so absent,
his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation. Vice President Mike Pence could not possibly be worse.
The damage an out-of-control Trump can do goes well beyond our borders. America is the keystone of global stability. Our world is the way it is today — a place that, despite all its problems, still enjoys more peace and prosperity than at any time in history — because America is the way it is (or at least was). And that is a nation that at its best has always stood up for the universal values of freedom and human rights, has always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary and has always nurtured and protected alliances with like-minded nations.
Donald Trump has proved time and again that he knows nothing of the history or importance of this America. That was made starkly clear in Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s resignation letter.
Trump is in the grip of a mad notion that the entire web of global institutions and alliances built after World War II — which, with all their imperfections, have provided the connective tissues that have created this unprecedented era of peace and prosperity — threatens American sovereignty and prosperity and that we are better off without them.
So Trump gloats at the troubles facing the European Union, urges Britain to exit and leaks that he’d consider quitting NATO. These are institutions that all need to be improved, but not scrapped. If America becomes a predator on all the treaties, multilateral institutions and alliances holding the world together; if America goes from being the world’s anchor of stability to an engine of instability; if America goes from a democracy built on the twin pillars of truth and trust to a country where it is acceptable for the president to attack truth and trust on a daily basis, watch out: Your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world.
The last time America disengaged from the world remotely in this manner was in the 1930s, and you remember what followed: World War II.
You have no idea how quickly institutions like NATO and the E.U. and the World Trade Organization and just basic global norms — like thou shalt not kill and dismember a journalist in your own consulate — can unravel when America goes AWOL or haywire under a shameless isolated president.
But this is not just about the world, it’s about the minimum decorum and stability we expect from our president. If the C.E.O. of any public company in America behaved like Trump has over the past two years —
- constantly lying,
- tossing out aides like they were Kleenex,
- tweeting endlessly like a teenager,
- ignoring the advice of experts —
he or she would have been fired by the board of directors long ago. Should we expect less for our president?
That’s what the financial markets are now asking. For the first two years of the Trump presidency the markets treated his dishonesty and craziness as background noise to all the soaring corporate profits and stocks. But that is no longer the case. Trump has markets worried.
.. The instability Trump is generating — including his attacks on the chairman of the Federal Reserve — is causing investors to wonder where the economic and geopolitical management will come from as the economy slows down.
- What if we’re plunged into an economic crisis and we have a president whose first instinct is always to blame others and
- who’s already purged from his side the most sober adults willing to tell him that his vaunted “gut instincts” have no grounding in economics or in law or in common sense. Mattis was the last one.
We are now left with the B team — all the people who were ready to take the jobs that Trump’s first team either resigned from — because they could not countenance his lying, chaos and ignorance — or were fired from for the same reasons.
I seriously doubt that any of these B-players would have been hired by any other administration. Not only do they not inspire confidence in a crisis, but they are all walking around knowing that Trump would stab every one of them in the back with his Twitter knife, at any moment, if it served him. This makes them even less effective.
Indeed, Trump’s biggest disruption has been to undermine the norms and values we associate with a U.S. president and U.S. leadership. And now that Trump has freed himself of all restraints from within his White House staff, his cabinet and his party — so that “Trump can be Trump,” we are told — he is freer than ever to remake America in his image.
And what is that image? According to The Washington Post’s latest tally, Trump has made 7,546 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day, through Dec. 20, the 700th day of his term in office. And all that was supposedly before “we let Trump be Trump.”
If America starts to behave as a selfish, shameless, lying grifter like Trump, you simply cannot imagine how unstable — how disruptive —world markets and geopolitics may become.
We cannot afford to find out.
Once again expressing hostility toward entire groups of immigrants, he further damages American political culture.
.. The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.
This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics.
Virtually every engaged conservative knows the term “bitter clinger.” When Barack Obama spoke at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 and offered his amateur sociological assessment that some Americans become “bitter” about social change and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” conservatives didn’t hear dispassionate analysis. They heard contempt.
.. Among the terrible effects of negative polarization is the widespread perception — often created by presidents and presidential candidates themselves — that a president governs for the benefit of his constituents alone.
.. Indeed, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and her declaration that Republicans were her “enemies,” millions of conservatives were motivated to go to the polls. (Remember “charge the cockpit or die”?)
.. First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.
.. Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations.
.. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak.
.. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.
.. But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans.
At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendent of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.
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 YourMorals.org, “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.
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.”