Rick Wilson, “Everything Trump Touches Dies”

there is actually a table in the Truman
White House where he played poker every
night and before he went to bed they
would actually put a cover on the poker
table to disguise the fact that Truman
was playing poker because it was bad or
seeing you know unfortunately I’m I’m
wondering in in light of this and in
light of this president um I used to
sort of respect the office of the
presidency and in in you know even the
ones that I disagreed with and that you
know several um now that we have seen
this guy you know go crazy on Twitter
and the potential for having colluded
with the foreign power which ruins me at
my core was in potential ruins me
I Corps do you ever see the sanctity of
office ever returning in the future yeah
I’m gonna actually shock you with
something because either the most
effective theme that was tested during
George Bush’s W Bush his run for the
White House the most successful themed
after compassionate conservatism which
actually really people believed it
bought it was restoring honor and
dignity to the White House because Bill
Clinton ran it like a frat house now I
think it’s gonna take a long time for
people to get back to a point where
probity and dignity look George
Washington he thought the most important
characteristic of a president was first
not to become a king but the second was
dignity and you got a guy upstairs rage
tweeting in the Oval Office are in the
executive bedroom every night you know
surrounded by a bed full of filet-o-fish
rappers and rage tweeting all night and
it’s hard to think of him as as you know
a dignified person you got a guy with a
gigantic chin waddle who thinks he’s
like babe meat and and he just the whole
effect of Trump is clownish and so that
makes it harder to believe in the in
that stature of the presidency so but
look it’ll come back there will be the
next person who’s president one hopes
will recognize that there’s a value to
be had by a president who shows dignity
and strength and quiet rectitude
sometimes as opposed to being a giant
rectum all the time so thank you hi
there hi I know that you have said that
you have friends in the administration
and that they call you to moan from time
to time from time to time yesterday was
a bad day I bet it was do they do they
seriously think because at some point a
credible conservative administration
will come back to this government is
anyone in the Trump administration short
of maybe Jim mattis should probably seek
employment at say a gas station
somewhere in the Midwest after this
because this is going to scar them and
mark them forever right I mean it it is
one of the predicates of the book and
it’s proving itself out time and time
they don’t even get credit for being
competent no and here’s the thing when
they call you what I tell them every
time for advice
quit walk out the door now and tell the
truth walk out the door now and say
what’s going on but moon do you shred it
we make him take you to court make him
make him go to discovery and and they
they a lot of these people that Trump
brought in let’s put it this way when
Trump sends us people to work in the
administration he’s not sending his best
thank you thank you
question out yes I wrote it down because
I can’t remember what I did 20 seconds
ago so I say this is someone a young
recently recent college graduate who’s
unemployed who probably makes Bernie
Sanders look like a centrist I actually
asked Noah Rothman this last year at an
event at my college and I was looking at
a University of Chicago poll that said
that a majority I think it’s 60% of
people aged 18 to 35 don’t see
capitalism the sort of core of
conservative conservativism as the thing
that can solve the most pressing issues
of our time and what I asked no last
year and I’d love to hear it from a you
know rock-ribbed conservative like
yourself what can you do to steer maybe
not people like me but maybe people
flirting with the idea or the left back
to the ideas one of the things is that
my party has to get its head out of its
own backside on crony capitalism because
what we’ve done for a long time and what
this tax bill did was take care of a
specific industry in the legislation now
I was told when Barack Obama was
president that picking winners and
losers was a bad thing the tax bill
picked 150 some winners on in the hedge
fund and wall street world and about 60
guys out there in the economy and they
got 85% of the benefits of a tax bill
that is that requires five percent
economic growth
4.1% economic growth to sustain itself
it’s ridiculous we’re picking winners
and losers by protecting the coal
industry which but should be dead by now
so Republicans have not been a good
example of free-market capitalism in
Congress for a long time this goes back
before Trump I’ve been a critic of this
of my own party of this before Trump
where we have decided that free-market
capitalism is capitalism is great except
if a guy gave us a big enough donation
to the super PAC then we’re gonna make
sure that his industry including it
could be you know like a dead industry
industrial sector completely that
Congress says ok we’re gonna keep buying
buggy whips from the sky because you
know the buggy whip industry is the
heart of American commerce capitalism
works when it’s tried and you know
socialism often leads to people starving
and freezing in the dark so you know and
I know everyone’s you say oh then
Norwegian Nations ended our and and and
the scanty nations yes they’re lovely
but there be few examples of this that
don’t scale necessarily to macro
economies like ours but anyway it’s a
hard road and it’s gonna have to be
something that requires some some reform
and self correction side the GOP to get
back to a free market and free trade
capitalism system so thanks thank you I
right yeah BRIC big fan a great look
plus one all those lot yes
does the Trump administration have any
policy successes for the remainder of
the Trump administration except by
tearing down Obama you’re a regulation
well Donald Trump proved in the very
first weeks of his administration that
he can’t pass the legislation I mean the
the house and the Senate had Obamacare
repeal cocked and locked it was going to
be smooth they were going to jam it
through they were gonna day we’re gonna
as a leadership member said to me pull
up Pelosi and smash Obamacare repeal
through and then the giant man-baby came
in and started and started interrupting
and started saying things on Twitter and
then describing the billa’s meme and so
there’s a reason they’re sending Trump
bills to sign that are like
naming bridges and the post office
Reform Act you know it’s small ball
stuff because they don’t trust him with
the big important stuff so they’re gonna
keep doing policy changes they’re gonna
keep doing the pen and the phone that
they hated Obama for and they’re gonna
keep doing executive orders even though
conservatives used to scream their heads
off Barack Obama is acting like a
dictator because he’s passing you know
he’s signing these executive orders and
he’s got a limited portfolio of things
he can do I predict he’s gonna keep
trying to keep the coal industry thing
moving and the steel tariffs moving
because he believes those are the key to
the two West Virginia Pennsylvania Ohio
you know the whole pencil tucky region
there and all that so thanks excellent
great book thanks a lot thank you so
much a question I haven’t heard from
anybody is one about the Russians the
Russian money and the oligarchs what do
you have to say about that and where are
the Republicans on this there’s a sort
of let me give this sort of technical
description of that there’s a lot of it
he’s been taking it for a long time
well well beyond 2016 he is deeply
embedded with a whole bunch of Russian
mobsters and has been since the 80s when
they peel this back and there I’ll tell
you the reason Donald Trump lives in
absolute mortal terror where it’s like
strap on the extra diaper when he
mentions when they mentioned getting his
taxes because this is a man who knows
once they start peeling apart the
relationships with the banks and with
the Russian lending and the glown
guarantees from Russians from like the
Bank of Cyprus to Deutsche Bank and all
these other things and they’re by the
way they’re people who are experts on
this bike well beyond my knowledge Craig
ungar’s book is great about this but
we’re gonna learn that this whole I have
no business with the oceans I don’t know
any Russians we’re gonna discover that
that is a complete fabrication and and
and the behavior of their campaign yeah
look Paul Manafort is not a guy you hire
because you’re like I need someone who’s
really dedicated to clean government
he’s a guy you hired because he brings
in a bunch of money from his friends in
Moscow and the oligarchs have gotten
used to buying elections in a lot of
countries and they played a big role in
this one and I think you’re gonna see
that come out not only in the
investigations that peel back Trump’s
business and financial and tax records
but also in the mobile investigation
itself thank you
who are the Democrats strongest in
weakest candidates in 2020 that is a
great question and I’m not gonna answer
it I’m gonna tell you what they need not
who it is the Democrats in 2020 I’m
gonna give you a scale like a
thermometer scale right up here right up
here I’m gonna stand up low higher right
up here be great on TV kick ass on TV be
engaging smart witty funny take it to
Trump let’s just kick his ass on TV all
the time now so that disqualifies about
40% of all Democratic candidates we’re
thinking about it and of course Hillary
Clinton with the broken robot Act could
never be that charismatic person okay
second part raise a butt ton of money
cuz you’re gonna need it because Trump
is gonna get the same media vacuum he
got last time so you’re gonna have to
buy that exposure you’re gonna have to
get in that fight and buy it it sucks
it’s horrible but there’s a lot of money
out there opposed to Trump and that’s
the next part now let me give you the
important part about policy the policy
part voters didn’t vote for a policy
with Trump they voted for an emotion
that emotion was rage they loved it they
loved that whole act so the Democrats
need somebody that can activate their
people and who has great I fight on the
battlefield we’re gonna actually fight
on so I look at an Elizabeth Warren that
schoolmarm technocrat yeah you may love
her but make her secretary of the
Treasury or something you know
and I know people like Oh what about
avenatti maybe the guys got smack the
guys got he can shit talk like nobody’s
business and he’s under Trump’s skin so
far and you may find somebody else that
can do that there may be some otherwise
you start lookin beta or work wins in
Texas is a long shot that guy wins in
Texas he’s gonna be a rocket in the
Democratic Party he will be a guy who
he’s a giant killer and he’s good on his
feet and he’s smart and his answer the
other day on the on the anthem question
was as good I mean I sat there watching
that going I wish I’d written that damn
so thank you we have time for this one
last question all right
hook it up thank you
so I work in polling and I’m very
curious tell me who so I’m just curious
what you think where we’re going with
political polling for the next
presidential election and really how you
know I think from my work I’ve seen that
the general public’s trust in polling
has just been demolished based yeah yeah
I think you and I can both acknowledge
that that 600 sample national polls are
no longer effective as a tool you know I
I have a couple of researchers and firms
that I’ve used and helped put together
over the years and everything counts in
large amounts so we’re doing thousands
and thousands more interviews than we
ever have and we’re doing robo’s but you
know we’re overcoming the the inaccuracy
of it with just sheer volume sheer
tonnage I think we’re gonna have to
continue to merge polling with other
data a consumer data and behavioral data
and stuff we’re seeing online we were
able to get much quicker than we have in
the past but I think as a tracking
mechanism its god-awful
as a quantitative exercise it’s it’s a
train wreck but fortunately as a media
prompt there’s almost nothing that that
drives media faster during a campaign
season than a poll showing somebody up
down good bad so it’s a longer
discussion that we could have here and a
fairly technical one but I’m a big fan
of way more interviews and and I don’t
even care about the the the you know the
trivialities of the inside campaign
stuff it’s mostly junk these days so
thank you all right

Trump Hates Those who Serve with Honor

Maybe seven or eight years ago I had a memorable conversation with a former Marine who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged after being severely wounded by an I.E.D. (He made a full recovery.) Like other military officers I’ve spoken with, he was thoughtful and well-informed, almost a bit of an intellectual — very much someone I could talk to, despite his having had experiences I can’t imagine.
But he was, he said, finding his post-military experience somewhat unsatisfying, because “there’s no honor in civilian life.
Strange to say, I felt that I understood him. I’ve had a wonderful professional life, getting well paid to do work that I enjoy and even amounts to a vocation. Yet I sometimes feel the hankering for something more — a sense of serving a larger purpose, including being willing to make big sacrifices if necessary. And I don’t think I’m alone in having those feelings, or in having special admiration for those public servants, not just in the military, who do live by an honor code.
But if you’re both powerful and corrupt, you don’t admire women and men who serve with honor. On the contrary, you hate and fear them, because their sense of duty may stand in the way of your schemes. And you especially hate the admiration most of us feel for honorable public servants, which makes it hard to brush them aside.
This hatred of honor, I believe, is the link between two big Trump-related stories of the past few days.
One story involved Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump fired. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, so this firing wasn’t in itself illegal. What became clear over several days of testimony, however, was that Trump wanted Yovanovitch gone precisely because she insisted on doing her job and serving the nation rather than Trump’s personal interests.
And the reason Trump tried to smear Yovanovitch even as she was testifying was his fury at how she was coming across: as an official who tries to serve with honor. One can only imagine his rage at the standing ovation she received at the end.
The other honor-related story was Trump’s decision — against the wishes of military leaders — to pardon three servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes.
Why did he pardon them? When he first tweeted that he was reviewing their cases, Trump declared, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” But it’s precisely because soldiers have the terrible power and responsibility to kill people in the nation’s service that they’re expected to do everything they can to avoid killing indiscriminately. Honorable behavior isn’t an annoying impediment to the use of force, it’s an essential part of what makes our military more than a gang of thugs.
But Trump hates those who serve with honor, and prefers thugs.
That’s the thing about Trumpism. It’s not just an ideology I disagree with; it’s not even merely a cult of personality that celebrates a leader nobody should admire. At its core is a rejection of the values that we used to think defined us as a nation. You might say that Trump is at war with truth, justice, and the American way. And that is, terrifyingly, a war he might win.

Quick Hits

Paul Ryan — remember him? — claims that he didn’t realize that Trump was insulting him by calling him Boy Scout. But of course Boy Scouts are supposed to be honorable.
Some years back, new members of the Foreign Service were told about how professional diplomats have often been unsung heroes. No wonder Trump hates them.
The Founding Fathers passed a resolution honoring whistle-blowers who revealed official misconduct — in 1778!
Why we have rules of war.

Mike Pompeo: Secretary of Hypocrisy

If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.

It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.

The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.

But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.

Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.

That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.

Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.

For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.

They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”

What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.

Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.

Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.

Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.

Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”

That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.

Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Excellence

A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.

Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.

Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullieddenounceddemotedthreatenedsued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.

But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.

Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.

So why all the rage?

The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.

But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.

Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.

All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.

I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.

A Philosopher of Law on the Dangers of Trump’s Plan to Pardon American War Criminals

On Saturday, the Times reported that President Trump has requested paperwork that would allow him to quickly pardon several Americans who have been accused or convicted of war crimes, and who have become causes célèbres on Fox News. They include a former Green Beret who has been charged with murdering a man in Afghanistan and a Navy seal platoon chief who has been accused of murdering multiple people in Iraq, including a schoolgirl walking along a river, and whose trial is scheduled to begin next week. A third potential exoneree is part of a group of former Blackwater military contractors who were found guilty of murdering fourteen unarmed Iraqis in 2007. The Times reports that Trump is pursuing an expedited pardon process so that he can officially pardon these men over Memorial Day weekend.

To discuss what this decision would mean, and to understand the history of Americans wanting to place their own actions above the laws of war, I spoke by phone with Scott Shapiro, a professor of law and philosophy at Yale. Shapiro is the co-author, with Oona A. Hathaway, of “The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World,” about the attempts after the First World War to institute a legal regime that would prevent a second one. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why the most outwardly patriotic Americans have long been skeptical of military law, the message President Trump is sending the military, and the dangers of placing troops above the law.

When you saw the news that these pardons were a possibility, what was it that went through your mind? Were there historical parallels, or did it seem like we were in another era?

I thought, immediately, Oh, pardon the war criminals to own the libs—that this was an attempt to trigger me and people like me. The reason I say I’m a little bit surprised at myself for having that reaction was that there is a long history, especially among conservative thinkers, of mistrusting the laws of war and thinking that the prosecution and punishing of American service personnel for defending our country, but not being punctilious about the particular rules of engagement, is unjust and unfair. This brought to mind the My Lai massacre—that was as horrific an act as a violation of the laws of war as you get.

And yet William Calley [a lieutenant who led the Charlie Company’s massacre of hundreds of civilians at My Lai] was somewhat of a folk hero in the United States. The heroes of My Lai, who saved many civilians and reported Charlie Company for what they had done, were vilified by many in the political establishment. Nixon was incredibly upset that William Calley was being prosecuted. He only got three and half years [of house arrest, after Nixon had him removed from prison]. It’s not clear to me how different what Trump is doing is from what Nixon did in the nineteen-seventies.

When you say that there is a long history of conservatives being mistrustful of laws of war, do you mean both international ways of regulating what our troops can do in war, like some sort of world court, and also our own laws or the military’s own laws?

Yes. So John Bolton, for example, has waged a war on the International Criminal Court for many years, since the beginning of its existence, and spent an enormous amount of time when he was in the State Department going around the world, trying to get countries to sign what we’ll call the Article 98 agreements, which basically said that these countries would not coöperate with the court in prosecution of American service personnel, and then denied them foreign aid if they didn’t.

But his objection has been very much about the notion that an international tribunal will prosecute American service personnel. Whereas there is another strand that objects even to our own government, our own military, prosecuting our own service personnel, and there are several strains to it, some of them being understandable, some of them being quite reprehensible. When I say understandable, I think that there are arguments. I don’t think they carry the day, but let me just say that there are at least arguments that make sense.

So one of them is war is hell, and shit happens, and it’s very hard to hold soldiers to such high standards. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous expression, that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife,” comes to mind—the idea being that, if you’re in that situation, you can’t be expected to follow all the rules perfectly. There’s also the idea that there are too many rules, and that the rules are too constraining and that we’re tying, as they say, our boys’ hands. And it’s especially problematic in cases where there’s an asymmetry, where the U.S. military is fighting a group that doesn’t follow the rules. So it’s not just that we have a lot of rules, we’re fighting other militaries who are ostensibly bound by those rules, too. But, also, what do we do when they’re not following the rules, they hide among civilians.

Those, I think, are arguments that need to be taken seriously, and people have obviously debated them, and it’s not obvious what the solution should be in particular cases. I went and I watched a lot of the Fox News clips about these cases that it seems like Trump was responding to. And they sometimes use these arguments, but they also use the arguments like, “These are our guys and you need to protect them. They’re risking their lives for us and we have to protect them.” And it’s tribalism. Like, “These are our people and it’s ungrateful to turn on them.”

There’s also a sense, I think, that they’re killing terrorists, so what’s the problem? They’re eliminating evil people. And I think that there’s a particular Trumpian flavor to the assault here, which is that they’re attacking the integrity of the military-justice system much in the same way that Trump does when he attacked Mueller. The idea here being, Look, you can’t trust anyone.


Yeah. It’s particularly interesting to go after the military, which is, of course, the most trusted institution in the United States, about the worst people in the world, that is, the war criminals.

Trump had this aspect of his campaign where he would basically say, “I’m smarter than all the generals.” Do you remember that? Everyone remembers the McCain P.O.W. stuff, but there was this weird, understated, The military is not tough enough or smart enough anymore. It’s just another institution that’s been corroded with establishment figures.

And yet, one of the things that Trump has done is devolved a lot more responsibility down to the military, reversing the Obama scheme whereby military plans had to get extensive vetting by the political branches. So Trump is, on the one hand, saying, “I’m smarter than the military,” and yet, “Don’t bother me with this stuff. You deal with it.

I assume, over time, the military has over all got better about investigating abuses within its ranks. Do you have some sense of even a hundred years ago, the period you wrote about, how much there was a system for investigating the American military for misbehavior?

So I can tell you that my colleague John Fabian Witt has written a lot about this. In “Lincoln’s Code,” he talks about how the system that we have now really evolved from the military commissions set up in the Mexican-American War and then the Civil War, whereby the U.S. military had to figure out what they would do with people who violated the laws of war.

And so, at least from the perspective of the U.S. military, we’ve been working on this for almost two hundred years—and, funnily enough, so much of the laws of war in their modern form was American-driven. It’s a classic example, I think, of Trump trying to undermine institutions that Americans helped create. So it’s this strange feature, but a lot of times there’s a sense that the laws of war are foreign impositions on the American military, interfering with our sovereignty, when in fact they were developed by the U.S. military as a way of enforcing military discipline.

That’s, in some sense, the general point that people misunderstand about the laws of wars: that they really have their origins in military discipline, that militaries around the world recognized the need to have constraints on soldiers for the sake of having a well-run military. And so it’s usually in the military’s interest for service personnel to be constrained in the way that they are. I would imagine that many military commanders are unhappy about this move.

Trump is often compared to authoritarian figures in history. He’s often been compared to Andrew Jackson. But to what degree does Trump remind you of a certain type that you’ve written about, which is someone from a hundred years ago having a certain isolationist streak, but also just a very warlike personality, with extreme jingoism and nationalism, and a contempt for or racism toward other countries and other people. This pardon news being paired with Trump’s apparent uninterest in a war with Iran was interesting.

Well, bellicosity and racism and Eurocentrism contributed enormously to imperialism and colonialism and genocidal wars of the past, for sure. What is interesting is that these attitudes normally led to war rather than what is happening with Trump, which is that it’s being matched with a kind of isolationism. My own view—and I obviously can’t substantiate it—is that the reason Trump is an isolationist is because I don’t think he wants to spend money on brown people. That is, I think he feels, Why are we spending our money and spending lives trying to bring democracy and improve Iraq, or Syria, or spending money on fighting in Iran, where we’re just going to have to pour money into that country? Here, the xenophobia and racism actually contribute to isolationism.

The America Firsters don’t want to get into World War Two in part because they think, Why are we trying to save the Jews? Why are we pouring money to protect these ethnic minorities in Europe when who the hell cares about them? There are definitely strong historical echoes.

I’m not trying to draw a direct parallel, but the America First types who did not want to get America involved in a war in Europe had no problem asserting the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere and insuring business interests in the United States were taken care of and expanded. And that would be my hunch about the type of war that Trump would be at least open to.

I think that’s right, though it’s hard to imagine what that case would be like. I’ve actually been surprised that Trump hasn’t said, “If Mexico doesn’t pay for the wall, we’ll just go take the money from them somehow.” I’m surprised that he hasn’t threatened some war in order to get the money back for the wall. He has said crazy things—“fire and fury”—about North Korea. Threatening a nuclear war is an outrageous thing to do. Saying, “If Mexico doesn’t pay for the wall, we’ll get it in some way,” doesn’t seem that much crazier. Of course, he seems to have no interest in Venezuela, so it’s hard to see what, exactly, the economic interests would be there. It’s so hard to know, and also tiresome to try to guess, what are you going to do next?

What are your biggest concerns, going forward, about what pardons like these would do?

I’m very worried about it. I think, historically, the origins of these rules emanate from military discipline and the sense that the military has to have control over soldiers and control their behavior and keep them focussed on the military mission at hand. And to follow the rules is extremely important for the success of the mission. The golden rule of counterinsurgency is, you want to make sure that you kill more terrorists than you make.

One of the cases that the New York Times reports about is pardoning this group of marines who urinated on deceased Afghans. Is it really helpful for our counterinsurgency mission for people to know that that’s what U.S. military personnel do, and the President just pardons it because it’s no big deal to pee on a dead Afghan?

There are so many ways that this is both an insult to the military and bad for the military. And the ironies of that are plenty.

Yeah, right. So there’s that. This is also really bad for morale. I’ve taught in R.O.T.C., I’ve taught these young officers in training, and they’re taught that these rules are super serious and that they really go to the essence of what it is to be an honorable officer. And then to have the President of the United States say, “Actually, the rules don’t really matter”—what does it do to their sense of what enterprise they’re participating in, No. 1? No. 2, how do they get their men to follow the rules if the Commander-in-Chief is saying it doesn’t matter? It’s just a recipe for disaster.

There are so many ironies here, but one of the cases that Trump is considering, based on the New York Times reports, is the case of the Blackwater military contractors. The Bush Administration tried so hard to get the Iraqis not to prosecute these people, because, they said, “Don’t worry, trust us. You can trust the American criminal-justice system. We’ll take care of it.” And they really held the Iraqi government at bay at a very difficult time with the idea that, We can take care of it.

Why would countries accept that going forward? They’d say, “Look what you’re doing.” So it’s not only bad from a military-mission perspective, but it’s also bad from the sovereigntist perspective. If what you’re really worried about is other countries exerting control over American service personnel, you’re giving them every reason to do it if you do this.

Or to want to create an international system where these things are taken care of, since America’s not going to take care of it on its own.

Yeah, exactly. It’s just more fuel for the people who say, “America has lost its moral way. We can’t trust them. We really need an international criminal court.”

I should also say that, for all these complex reasons of history and how Americans think of this stuff, at the same time, there’s probably a fairly simple thing going on, which is that, if this was not going on in Muslim countries, this probably would not have become a cause célèbre on Fox and the President might not be doing this.

Yeah. When Charlie Company mowed down men, women, children, old people, on the one hand, they were Vietnamese, and so, “Who cares?” But also, talk about historical parallels, after William Calley was convicted of murder, George Wallace visited him and said, “Look, I don’t see why we should be so upset about a soldier killing more communists.” And so, there is a way in which when you dehumanize and vilify a group, the fact that the military killed some more of them, well, how bad, really, is it?

Jesus and the Cross: Changing Perspectives (Richard Rohr)

When we look at history, it’s clear that Christianity is an evolving faith. It only makes sense that early Christians would look for a logical and meaningful explanation for the “why” of the tragic death of their religion’s founder. For the early centuries, appeasing an angry, fanatical Father was not their answer. For the first thousand years, most Christians believed that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross—the “price” or the ransom—was being paid not to God, but to the devil! This made the devil pretty powerful and God pretty weak, but it gave the people someone to blame for Jesus’ death. And at least it was not God.

Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) wrote a paper called Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) which might just be the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written. Thinking he could solve the problem of sin inside of the medieval code of feudal honor and shame, Anselm said, in effect, “Yes, a price did need to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father—by one who was equally divine.” I imagine Anselm didn’t consider the disastrous implications of his theory, especially for people who were already afraid or resentful of God.

In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way—working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in “his” reactions. Many still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent. People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.

Unfortunately, for a simple but devastating reason, this understanding also nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?

Over the next few centuries, Anselm’s honor- and shame-based way of thinking came to be accepted among Christians, though it met resistance from some, particularly my own Franciscan school under Bonaventure (1221–1274) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308). Protestants accepted the mainline Catholic position, embracing it with even more fervor. Evangelicals later enshrined it as one of the “four pillars” of foundational Christian belief, which the earlier period would have thought strange. Most of us were never told of the varied history of this theory, even among Protestants. If you came from a “law and order” culture or a buying and selling culture—which most of us have—it made perfect sense. The revolutionary character of Jesus and the final and full Gospel message has still to dawn upon most of the world. It is just too upending for most peoples’ minds until they have personally undergone the radical experience of unearned love. And, even then, it takes a lifetime to sink in.