Seth takes a closer look at President Trump lying about everything from Paul Manafort’s sentencing to a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Eric Prince argues that the Senate transcript of his testimony is wrong.
Everyone has a code of conduct, whether explicit or unacknowledged. Nearly halfway into President Trump’s first term—which some people hope and others fear will be his only one—the contours of his code have become pretty clear.
Mr. Trump has a consistent way of judging people. Strong is good, weak is bad. Big is impressive, small is defective: “Little Marco.” Winners are admirable, while losers are contemptible. A corollary is that there is neither dishonorable victory nor honorable defeat, which is why Mr. Trump poured scorn during his candidacy on John McCain for having been captured—never mind McCain’s heroic conduct as a prisoner of war.Individuals are either attractive or unattractive. If they don’t look good, it doesn’t much matter what they say or do. Appearance is reality: Plato’s Cave inverted. This is why Mr. Trump’s TV stardom mattered more than his checkered business career.
Finally, people are either loyal or disloyal. Loyalty in this case means their willingness to defend Mr. Trump, whatever the cost to their own interests or reputation. In this vein, Mr. Trump favorably compared former Attorney General Eric Holder’s unswerving support for President Obama with Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
This brings us to the next feature of Mr. Trump’s personal code—his distinctive understanding of how the world works. Here’s how it goes.
With the possible exception of family, all relationships are at bottom transactional. Every man has a price, and so does every woman.
There’s money, and then everything else. Money and morals are unrelated. Even if a Saudi leader ordered the assassination and dismemberment of a prominent dissident, this is no reason to halt arms sales to the monarchy. If American firms don’t get the contracts, someone else will. Why should we be chumps? If promoting democracy or simple decency costs money, what’s the point?
The core of human existence is competition, not cooperation. The world is zero-sum: If I win, someone else must lose. I can either bend another to my will or yield to his.
The division between friends and enemies is fundamental. We should do as much good as we can to our friends, and as much harm to our enemies.
This brings us to President Trump’s handbook of tactics we should employ to achieve our goals:
Rule 1: The end always justifies the means. Asked whether he had spoken disrespectfully about Christine Blasey Ford, he said, “I’m not going to get into it, because we won. It doesn’t matter; we won.” Case closed.
Rule 2: No matter the truth of accusations against you, deny everything. Bob Woodward’s recent book quotes Mr. Trump counseling a friend who had privately confessed to sexual-misconduct charges against him. “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny, and push back hard on these women,” says Mr. Trump. “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.” The corollary to Rule 2 is that the best defense is a good offense. As the president told his friend, “You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. Never admit.”
Rule 3: Responding to criticism on its merits is pointless. Instead, challenge the motives and character of your critics. Their criticism isn’t sincere anyway: It’s all politics, the unending quest for dominance. If ridicule works, use it, even if it means caricaturing your adversaries by reducing them to their weakest trait. If Jeb Bush is “low energy,” who cares what he thinks about immigration?
Rule 4: To win, you must arouse your supporters, and deepening divisions is the surest way to do it. Even if compromise could solve important problems, reject it whenever it threatens to reduce the fervor of your base. No gain in the public good is important enough to justify the loss of power.
Rule 5: It is wonderful to be loved, but if you must choose, it is better to be feared than loved. The desire for love puts you at the mercy of those who can withhold it; creating fear puts you on offense. You cannot control love, but you can control fear. And this is the ultimate question of politics, indeed, of all human life: Who’s in control?
Defenders of President Trump’s code of conduct will point to what they see as its unsentimental realism. His maxims are the terms of effectiveness in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. They may not be pretty, but they work. Politics is not like figure skating. You get no points for style. You either get your way or you don’t. Nothing else matters.
Critics of Mr. Trump’s code—I’m one of them—view the distinction between permissible and forbidden means as essential to constitutional democracy, and to all decent politics. What Mr. Trump’s supporters see as the restoration of national greatness, his critics see as the acceleration of national decline.
This, to no small extent, is what next month’s elections are really about.
But the human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. “Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,” it invariably says.
Most people who think they are fully conscious or “smart” and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.
.. Divine perfection is precisely the ability to include imperfection; whereas we think we must exclude, deny, and even punish it! The flow of grace is an increasing ability to forgive reality for being what it is—instead of what we want it to be!
.. The beauty of the unconscious, whether personal or collective, is that it knows a great deal, but it also knows that it does not know, cannot say, dare not try to prove or assert too strongly. What it does know is that there is always more—and all words will fall short and all concepts will be incomplete. The contemplative is precisely the person who agrees to live in that kind of blinding brightness. The paradox, of course, is that it does not feel like brightness at all, but what John of the Cross (1542-1591) called a “luminous darkness” and others identify as “learned ignorance.”
We cannot grow in the integrative dance of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness not to know—and not even to need to know. What else would give us peace and contentment?
Many years ago, the Israeli Bedouin expert Clinton Bailey told me a story about a Bedouin chief who discovered one day that his favorite turkey had been stolen. He called his sons together and told them: “Boys, we are in great danger now. My turkey’s been stolen. Find my turkey.” His boys just laughed and said, “Father, what do you need that turkey for?” and they ignored him.
A few weeks later the Bedouin chief’s camel was stolen. His sons went to him and said, “Father, your camel has been stolen. What should we do?” And the chief answered, “Find my turkey.”
A few weeks later the chief’s horse was stolen, and again his sons asked what they should do. “Find my turkey,” the chief said.
Finally, a few weeks later his daughter was abducted, at which point he gathered his sons and told them: “It’s all because of the turkey! When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”
.. how and why we failed to contain the egregious behavior of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
They each started by — metaphorically speaking — stealing a turkey. And when we didn’t respond, they kept ratcheting up their wretched behavior to the point where Trump thinks he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and Putin thinks he could poison a wayward spy in London, and get away with it.
Trump’s turkey was his tax returns. During the campaign he promised to release them after the I.R.S. finished auditing him. Then, after he was elected, Trump said, sorry, not going to release them ever. And nothing happened. Trump, I am reliably told, has actually said to people close to him, “Can you believe I got away with that?”
.. Once Trump saw that he could get away with not disclosing his tax returns, he knew he could get away with anything.
.. Any Bedouin chief who watched the steady acceleration in the breadth and pace of Trump’s lying — like his recent boast that he had fabricated a trade deficit with Canada in talks with Canada’s prime minister or his dishonest statements to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation — would tell you: Get me Trump’s tax returns.
.. Because there must be something very important in them that he wants to keep hidden.
.. Maybe it’s just the embarrassment that he is not as rich as he claims, or, maybe, it’s something more fundamental — like how dependent he is on Russian oligarchs for financing
.. Putin’s turkey was even more serious. It was the shooting down of that Malaysian civilian airliner, Flight MH17
.. Putin’s proxies in eastern Ukraine had requested that Russia send them an SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher.
.. Putin did not push the button on that missile, but he created the conditions for it to shoot down that plane — and he walked away from it as if the plane were brought down by lightning, making up one implausible story after another. He got slapped on the wrist with a few sanctions, but his complicity faded away into a mist of baldfaced lies.
.. Who wanted to confront Russia, with all its gas exports to Europe and all its oligarchs throwing money around London or buying condos in places like … Trump Tower in New York?
.. Why not poison a former Russian spy in London with a banned military nerve agent or perpetrate genocide in Syria? Who’s going to stop me?”
Trump and Putin are cut from the same cloth. Their strategy is: keep pushing, keep grabbing, keep lying, keep denying, no matter how implausible the denials — and never apologize. Because when you lie on an industrial scale, it overwhelms everyone else. Normal people just don’t behave that way, and the sheer shamelessness eventually exhausts them.
.. when people keep eroding the norms of society, stealing — turkeys or the truth — eventually becomes the norm.
.. That steady erosion of norms is what Trump is doing to America and Putin is doing to the world.
.. American voters have to go to the polls and deal a resounding electoral defeat to this Republican Party, which Trump has taken over like an invasive species.
.. America needs a healthy conservative party in our two-party system. But this G.O.P. is not a conservative party and it is not healthy.
.. As for Putin, the only way to brush him back is with economic sanctions that truly hurt him and his corrupt clique of oligarchs, and an offensive cyber campaign that exposes just how much money they have all stolen from the Russian people.
.. Bullies like Trump and Putin are relentless. They will keep driving through red lights, smirking all the way, as long as we let them.
.. As the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”