America’s Parasite

Frankly, Trump doesn’t give a damn.

It’s funny that Donald Trump doesn’t like a movie about con artists who invade an elegant house and wreak chaos.

He should empathize with parasites.

No doubt the president is a movie buff. He has been known to call advisers in the wee hours to plan movie nights at the White House for films he wants to see, like “Joker.” And, in an early sign of his affinity for tyrants, he told Playboy in 1990 that his role model was Louis B. Mayer running MGM in the ’30s.

Trump interrupted his usual rally rant Thursday night to bash the Oscars, saying: “And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year?”

He added: “Can we get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back, please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies. The winner is from South Korea. I thought it was best foreign film, right? Best foreign movie. No. Did this ever happen before? And then you have Brad Pitt. I was never a big fan of his. He got upset. A little wise guy statement. A little wise guy. He’s a little wise guy.” (When he accepted his Oscar, Pitt complained that the Senate did not let John Bolton testify.)

Our president is nostalgic for a movie romanticizing slavery and a movie about an aging diva swanning maniacally around a mansion, living in a vanished past. (I am big. It’s the party that got small.)

Trump’s xenophobic movie criticism, combined with his mocking pronunciation of the name “Buttigieg,” harked back to the days when George H.W. Bush ran in 1988 wrapped in the flag, saying he was on “the American side,” while his celebrity endorser Loretta Lynn complained that she couldn’t even pronounce the name Dukakis. Too foreign-sounding.

It also echoed a segment on Laura Ingraham’s show, in which it was suggested that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an American war hero who immigrated from Ukraine, might be guilty of espionage.

And in his Vegas rally on Friday, Trump was again calling his predecessor “Barack Hussein Obama.”

This was another bad, crazy week trapped in Trump’s psychopathology. No sooner was the president acquitted than he put scare quotes around the words justice and Justice Department and sought to rewrite the narrative of the Mueller report, whose author warned that Russia was going to try to meddle in the U.S. election again.

Philip Rucker wrote in The Washington Post: “As his re-election campaign intensifies, Trump is using the powers of his office to manipulate the facts and settle the score. Advisers say the president is determined to protect his associates ensnared in the expansive Russia investigation, punish the prosecutors and investigators he believes betrayed him, and convince the public that the probe was exactly as he sees it: an illegal witch hunt.”

Trump, who moved from a Fifth Avenue penthouse to the White House, is sinking deeper into his poor-little-me complex, convinced that he is being persecuted.

His darker sense of grievance converges with a neon grandiosity. Trump is totally uncontrolled now. Most presidents worry about the seaminess of pardons and wait until the end. Trump is going full throttle on pardoning his pals and pals of his pals in an election year.

The Republicans have shown they are too scared to stop him and won’t. The Democrats want to stop him but can’t. (Although if they win the Senate back, Democrats will probably end up impeaching him again and this time have plenty of witnesses.)

Now, in a frightening new twist, the president is angry at his own intelligence team for trying to protect the national interest. He would rather hide actual intelligence from Congress than have Adam Schiff know something that Trump thinks would make him look bad politically.

As The Times reported, the president’s intelligence officials warned House lawmakers in a briefing that Russia was once more intent on trespassing on our election to help Trump, intent on interfering in both the Democratic primaries and the general. (They also told Bernie Sanders that the Russians were trying to help his campaign.)

News of the House briefing caused another Vesuvian eruption from the mercurial president, who is hypersensitive to any suggestion that he isn’t winning all on his own.

The Times story said that “the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place,” especially because his nemesis Schiff was present.

A few days ago, the president replaced Maguire as acting director with Richard Grenell, the sycophantic ambassador to Germany whose qualifications for overseeing the nation’s 17 spy agencies include being a former Fox News commentator and Trump superfan who boasts a gold-level card with the Trump Organization.

As the Democrats sputter and spat and fight over federal giveaways and N.D.A.s, the unfettered president is overturning the rule of law and stuffing the agencies with toadies.

Nothing is in the national interest or public good. Everything is in the greater service of the Trump cult of personality.

In “Gone With the Wind,” Atlanta burned to the ground. In Trump’s version, Washington is aflame.

Republicans, the Real Chickens of Kiev

A bad day for the president, from Roger Stone’s criminal conviction to Marie Yovanovitch’s moral conviction.

When he was running in 2016, Donald Trump told me that he reminded himself of another presidential candidate — someone, Trump said, who was also tremendously good-looking, a former entertainer and a Democrat-turned-Republican.

The vainglorious Trump felt he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

It is true that, like Reagan, Trump has reshaped his party in his own image, fully inhabiting it. But Reagan’s great mission was to thwart the Evil Empire, taunting that he would put a Star Wars shield in the sky. He wanted democratic ideals to supersede authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union.

Trump’s more sinister and incomprehensible aim is to help the Russians whenever he can.

While Reagan’s legacy will be helping to tear down communism and that wall, Trump’s legacy will be turning Republican lawmakers into dupes assisting Russia as it undermines our democracy — and democracy around the world.

Privately, many Republicans say that they do not buy into all of Trump’s deeply disturbing, topsy-turvy policies toward authoritarian regimes. Trump began echoing the Kremlin talking points during his campaign, saying about Vladimir Putin’s Crimea annexation: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

But G.O.P. pols go along publicly because they are recreants, slavishly trying to hold onto voters who are more intensely aligned with Trump than old-style Republicans.

Republicans may be winning the impeachment battle on Fox News but they are getting clobbered by the classy diplomats demonstrating true patriotism in the hearing room. Republican members of the Intelligence Committee risibly struggle to back up Trump on his demented conspiracy theory — belied by the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community — that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary, rather than Putin who meddled to help Trump.

Nancy Pelosi never spoke truer words than when she chided Trump, “With you, all roads lead to Putin.”

Reagan would be stunned to find Republican members of the House at war with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. — all to bolster Trump’s tender ego. Their preference seems to be to allow Russian meddling again if that’s what’s necessary for Trump to prevail a year from now.

Despite Republican efforts to throw up a smokescreen, despite their complaints that they are being muzzled even as they pose questions, it is clear that the president was putting his own political interests — looking for dirt on Hillary and the Bidens — above national security and using shady henchmen to do it.

It’s laughable that Donald Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Rather, the most corrupt president ever was determined to export his own corruption to Ukraine.

The longtime civil servants made clear that history in Ukraine is still being written, that soldiers are dying in the “hot war” between Russian and Ukraine and that subjugating U.S. policy to Trump’s petty, paranoid actions may yet deprive us of a valuable ally.

Alluding to Rudy Giuliani and his indicted cronies, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said: “Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign, corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

Because Republicans are now dupes to dictators and sleazy foreign businessmen.

Republicans tried to minimize the former ambassador’s ordeal at the hands of her bosses, suggesting it was a matter for H.R. and noting that she now has a sweet gig at Georgetown University. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley sarcastically riposted that Yovanovitch getting ousted at the pinnacle of her career no doubt felt “like a Hallmark movie.”

Trump told Ukrainian President Zelensky that “the woman was bad news” and added ominously that “she’s going to go through some things.” In another call, Trump introduced his favorite subjects — beauty pageants and Eastern European beauties — telling Zelensky: “When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented.”

In an aria of oblivious self-destruction, the president further intimidated Yovanovitch just at the very moment that she was testifying about how she had felt intimidated by the president.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted, seemingly blaming her for Black Hawk Down. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”

In testimony Friday afternoon, another State Department aide said that he too overheard Trump on a call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland of the European Union pressing for investigations and that Trump was reassured by his man in Kiev that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do what it takes. Oh, high-level diplomacy.

Democrats know Moscow Mitch will squelch them in the end but hope they’ll get through to enough independents and suburban Republicans to deny Trump a second term.

No matter how many decent Americans come forward to expose his sordid behavior, will Trump be hauled out of the White House kicking and screaming while a celebratory Baby Trump balloon flies overhead?

The answer to that: Nyet.

Trump’s Pile of Rubble

WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.

As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”

“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.

It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.

Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.

The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.

The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.

President Barack Obama in 2009 bent over so the son of a departing staff member could feel his hair.
CreditPete Souza/The White House

But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.

Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.

Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.

The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”

The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.

Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.

It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.

Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?

We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.

Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.

If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.

There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.

For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.

Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.

If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.

Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.

But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.

We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.

Kamala Shotguns Joe Sixpack

WASHINGTON — In January, a reporter contacted the nascent Biden campaign to request an interview. She wanted to ask the former vice president about lingering criticisms that were bound to come up on the trail: how, as a senator, he failed Anita Hill; his lead role in the 1994 crime bill; his vote for the Iraq war; his mixed record on abortion rights; his handsy ways; the hot mess that is Hunter.

And that little girl was me.

I was promptly rejected for an on-the-record sit-down. Talking to some in the Biden circle, I sensed a myopia. They seemed to think they could blow past the past, walling off the candidate and ignoring the imbroglios that were obvious fodder for the pack of hungry Democrats and the rapacious president who would soon be in full cry after the front-runner.

Not deigning to talk to the press to explain bad decisions to voters seemed more like Queen Hillary than Uncle Joe. Even David Axelrod, who favored Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate, has said that it is “not a tenable strategy” to meet the press only when you are rolled out to try to explain some embarrassing gaffe.

It was also a bad sign, after Biden got in trouble for bragging at a fund-raiser about working with segregationist senators, that the candidate’s advisers trash-talked him to The Washington Post, saying they had warned him to use a less toxic example of bipartisanship.

In my experience, candidates with advisers who belittle them on background do not win elections.

The aloofness and arrogance of the Biden operation came spilling out for all to see under the bright lights of the debate stage.

The 76-year-old seemed irritated and unprepared to address inevitable jabs from his younger, more nimble rivals. What did he think would happen — that they would strew rose petals along his path to the podium and beg for selfies? In the 2008 race, he was a more vivid and genial debater than Obama. Now he seems simultaneously drained and entitled.

Kamala Harris, who had been trying to appease the progressives on Twitter who berate her for her law enforcement record, suddenly found her inner cop.

Rather than asking Biden to pass the torch, she took a blowtorch to him.

“I do not believe you are a racist,” she allowed about the man who was the partner of the first black president, had a good civil rights record and claimed (unconvincingly) that he was inspired to run by his disgust at Charlottesville.

Harris snapped the cuffs on: “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Harris was grinding her stiletto on a vulnerable part of Biden’s record. The reason Hill was eviscerated and a lying Clarence Thomas ascended to the Supreme Court is that Biden, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was bending over backward to appease uncompromising Republicans on the panel — the same men who were falsely accusing Hill of perversity, erotomania and perjury.

A Times story revealed how Biden went to Michigan before the midterms last year to reclaim the Midwest for Democrats but ended up praising Republican Fred Upton during a paid speech to a Republican-leaning audience. Apoplectic Democrats said Biden helped Upton win re-election to the House.

After Harris dressed down Biden, Michael Bennet snapped back at the front-runner. Biden was boasting that, when they were negotiating a deal in 2012 to end a government showdown, he got Mitch McConnell to allow the top individual income tax rate to rise, generating about $600 billion in revenue.

“The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the Tea Party,” the Colorado senator said. “It extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Democratic Party had been running against that for 10 years.”

Biden is selling himself as someone who can work with a Republican Party that everyone but Biden realizes doesn’t exist anymore.

Adding injury to insult, his handlers overcoached him on his signature trait of runaway verbosity. It was weird watching Biden cutting himself off midsentence — “My time is up. I’m sorry” — while all the others were talking well over their allotment. It was like the sheriff in “Blazing Saddles” holding the gun to his own head.

Biden may have been trying to limit what he said — just as he limits press exposure — to keep out of trouble. But it looked as if he lacked confidence.

After his poor debate showing, Biden tried to recover Friday in Chicago but stepped in it again, saying during a labor luncheon, “We’ve got to recognize that kid wearing a hoodie may very well be the next poet laureate and not a gangbanger.”

He argued that “the discussion in this race today shouldn’t be about the past.” But the problem at the moment is that Biden has too much past and not enough presence.