That Christmas When the Trumps Saw Red

Here in New York we have a desperate, critical need to get a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. The existing ones are in terrible shape and if either ever has to be closed down, it’ll be a major blow to the economy of the city, the region and the country. So far Trump just hasn’t gotten on board. Reliable sources tell me it’s because he doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for something people can’t see.

.. Gail: I’ve always suspected that many conservatives hate mass transit because it just fundamentally offends their sense of individualism. That you can’t be the heroic American Man Who Rides Alone if you’re sitting in a car with 40 other people making multiple stops in New Jersey. But go on.

.. As for immigration, I liked our colleague Tom Friedman’s formulation from his column the other day: “A high wall with a big gate.” Not because I think the wall is such a great idea — the money would be better spent on personnel and technology, not concrete — but because I think it is a price worth paying for a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, an expanded H1-B program for high-skilled immigrants and their spouses, and other steps to make immigration to the United States fairer, safer and easier for every law-abiding person who wants to come and make this a better country.

.. if we want to resolve the border issues, there’s also going to have to be a very big effort to fuel economic development in Central America. This really isn’t a problem about Mexicans anymore so much as impoverished refugees from the violence and hunger of countries like Honduras.

.. We need some version of a “Plan Colombia” for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, modeled on the military and financial assistance the United States gave to Bogotá that successfully helped Colombians get the upper hand against insurgents and drug cartels. And that’s another one for the “good luck getting it past the president” file.

.. I do not dispute the science that climate change is happening and that much of it is man-made. And Trump and his administration should simply acknowledge the fact.

I’m less clear, say, that we should attribute events like the devastating forest fires to climate change alone as opposed to a host of additional causes, including too many people living in fire-prone areas (and often causing the fires), as well as poor forest-management practices.

.. I was reminded of this the other while reading a fascinating piece in The Times Magazine about the ecological devastation wrought by biofuels — which were seen as part of the climate-change cure just a few years ago. The riots in France sparked by the government’s climate-related hike to diesel fuel taxes are also a reminder that the term “climate sensitivity” should be a political term as well as an ecological one.
.. It’s true that overdevelopment is one of the causes of the California fires — as well as all the terrible flooding in places like Florida and Texas. Interesting that the president never mentions that.
.. We could do a lot to discourage people from living in places they shouldn’t be in the first place, for instance by ending or reforming the National Flood Insurance Program.
.. The ethanol subsidies have been a fiasco. Cap-and-trade systems are prone to corruption. A carbon tax probably makes the most sense but tends to be regressive. My own view is that reinvesting in nuclear plants makes the most sense from an environmental and technological point of view, so long as you can reform the regulatory picture to make them economical.
.. One of the reasons I’m in the “Do something” camp is because there are plenty of strategies that would be helpful even if they didn’t turn out to do much over the long run for the global warming. We already mentioned mass transit, controlling overdevelopment of beaches and other fragile areas. Reducing car emissions makes the air better. Encouraging the solar heating industry and wind power gives us an economic boost.
..  I’m mildly cheered that he has almost prevented a disaster he needlessly caused.
.. Melania. And Melania’s taste.  For reasons I don’t quite get, liberals and conservatives seem to have made some kind of tacit pact not to criticize her or her choices as first lady. They weren’t so kind to Hillary Clinton.

In the modern era, the East Wing has developed into an intensely strategic and media-conscious operation that serves to garner positive press coverage for the president and his policy agenda. But Melania Trump’s East Wing has not yet hit its stride in this regard, despite its abundant potential to do so.

Anyone who closely followed the first lady’s border visit Thursday would have noticed that Trump does appear to care about the fate of the children she was visiting. It was not a strictly congratulatory trip. The questions Trump asked indicated genuine concern, not indifference, such as how often the children were permitted to call their parents

.. Like past first ladies, she is more popular than the president, and she seems to have a greater ability to influence public opinion of her husband among political independents and members of the opposite party, even when compared with key surrogates such as Ivanka Trump and Vice President Pence.

Those advantages come from the flexibility first ladies are afforded by their role, which allows them to stay out of partisan debates and restrict their public appearances, all the while benefiting from unfettered access to presidents and perceived closeness to them.

.. For someone who has been involved in the fashion industry and the public eye for decades, Trump, like her husband, can be surprisingly careless about her public image at times. This would be surprising in any presidential spouse, and it’s no less so coming from one who’s a former model. If anything, the words on her jacket seem to speak to a lack of interest in the role she fills.

.. In the modern era, the East Wing has developed into an intensely strategic and media-conscious operation that serves to garner positive press coverage for the president and his policy agenda. But Melania Trump’s East Wing has not yet hit its stride in this regard, despite its abundant potential to do so.

The Quiet Radicalism of Melania Trump

On the first anniversary of his inauguration, President Trump spent the day blasting Democrats for the government shutdown, suggesting that women marching in protest of his presidency were somehow celebrating it, and embroiled in allegations that he paid off a porn star to keep her quiet about their relationship. Melania Trump, meanwhile, commemorated the anniversary by tweeting a single photo of herself on Inauguration Day on the arm of a Marine. Her husband was nowhere in sight, and she did not mention his name. A few days later — on what happened to be the Trumps’ 13th wedding anniversary — she canceled her plans to accompany Mr. Trump to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

She may not be progressive. She may not be political. And yet Mrs. Trump may end up doing more than any of her predecessors to upend our expectations of the slavish devotion a first lady must display toward her husband.

.. With the exception of the Clintons, there has not been a more complicated first couple in modern history: Mrs. Trump is the third wife of a man who once told the radio host Howard Stern he would “give her a week” to lose the baby weight after their son, Barron, was born.

.. First ladies are expected to accept their husband’s infidelities and cruelty and to remain their strongest champions, no matter what the circumstances

.. They are expected to be adoring.

.. The day after President Clinton testified before a grand jury and came clean to the country, Mrs. Clinton marched across the South Lawn together with Bill, their daughter, Chelsea, standing between them, holding both of her parents’ hands, as they headed for Marine One to embark on their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was the photo-op the president needed.

.. Mrs. Obama was also the first first lady to challenge people to accept a woman who refused to play the role of the saccharine, adoring spouse. “I can’t do that,” she said in 2007 Vanity Fair interview. “That’s not me. I love my husband. I think he’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, and he knows that. But he’s not perfect, and I don’t want the world to want him to be perfect.”

.. This quiet rebellion started with her decision not to move into the White House until five months after her husband took office. It gathered force when she swatted her husband’s hand away on an airport tarmac in Israel last year. By the time the Trumps leave the White House, Mrs. Trump may have done more to change our notions about this archaic position, which has no job description and no pay, and comes with impossible expectations, than most of her predecessors.

Would it have been beneficial to Donald Trump for his wife to stand beside him in Davos and show a united front, as we have come to expect from first ladies? Absolutely. Does she care? Probably not.

The Fall of Africa’s Most Hated First Lady

I was often struck by how deeply respectful Zimbabweans were of their president. Many people were obviously unhappy with Robert Mugabe’s leadership. Still, it was not unusual to hear people reference his role in the independence movement, to point out his clear intellectual gifts and his efforts to advance education.

.. The narrative, universally accepted across the country, was that the shy young typist had stolen Mr. Mugabe’s heart and then corrupted him. Mr. Mugabe was a good man turned bad; Ms. Mugabe was the temptress who led him to his downfall.

.. Her whereabouts is unknown — a testament to the fact that it is her physical safety rather than his that is in question in these tense times.

.. Over the course of the two decades since she entered public life, Ms. Mugabe garnered a well-deserved reputation for combativeness. She publicly humiliated key leaders; she has been embroiled in a range of personal scandals because of her volatile temper.

.. wore designer outfits while she fed the rural masses and didn’t hesitate to get into physical altercations with those who crossed her or her children.

.. She was just 31 when she married Mr. Mugabe in 1996; at 52, she remains relatively youthful.

.. The people who opposed her most fiercely are veterans of the movement

.. Grace Mugabe has fared particularly poorly compared with Sally Mugabe, Robert Mugabe’s first wife, who was the quintessential African first lady. Sally Mugabe was well educated. She had strong independence credentials, having been imprisoned for speaking out against the colonial rule of what was then Southern Rhodesia. And when her husband became prime minister in 1980, she quickly stepped into the maternal role: She was known across the country as Amai, or “mother.”

POTUS Tweeted Less Abroad Because of Melania’s Presence: Report

Drudge wondered, “could this help soften some of Trump’s edges?”

.. Drudge mentioned that Nancy Reagan was known as the “secret behind Ronnie” because she “soothed him… she played watchdog.”

During the 2016 campaign, when asked what advice she gives to her husband, Melania Trump often told media outlets that she told him to stay away from tweeting things that could “get him in trouble.”

 

Ivanka Trump could be the most powerful first lady ever

But unlike her predecessors who weren’t the wife of the president, Ivanka appears poised to be an adviser, advocate and hostess all at once. Which could revolutionize the role — and make her the most powerful first lady ever.

.. “Ivanka and Jared and Don Jr. are more influential than any Cabinet member,” a friend of the Trumps told me recently

.. When I interviewed Rosalynn Carter earlier this year, she clearly remembered the uproar over her decision to sit in on her husband’s Cabinet meetings, even though she did so without saying a word. Then, first ladies were expected to hide their influence. Ivanka, on the other hand, was at the table Wednesday (along with Don Jr. and brother Eric) when the president-elect met with tech CEOs. And she hasn’t done much to dispel the notion that she and her husband will be top advisers

.. I do think she is intrigued by the potential to serve as an envoy from President Trump to skeptical blue America.

.. One way to view Ivanka’s unapologetic assertion of herself as a policy adviser is that she’s already cleared the bar that Lady Bird warned her daughters about: “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t mind seeing on the front page of the newspaper.” Ivanka has lived her whole life understanding this maxim and is prepared for the White House in a way that presidential daughters who came before her, including Luci and Lynda Bird Johnson, Tricia and Julie Nixon, and Jenna and Barbara Bush, weren’t.

.. During the campaign she unwisely cut short an interview with Cosmopolitan’s Prachi Gupta because she said the reporter’s questions about conflicts between her statements on child care and her father’s statements years before had “a lot of negativity.” That’s an answer the media probably won’t accept from someone with West Wing influence.

.. in April, then-candidate Donald Trump described Melania’s reluctance: “We have such a great life. Why do you want to do this?” he said she asked him. He replied with his usual modesty: “I sort of have to do it, I think. I really have to do it.” Ivanka doesn’t share her stepmother’s reticence. She fits the mold of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, President Theodore Roosevelt’s first daughter, who described herself as “ecstatic” when her father became the 26th president