what the trial reveals is something very damning, in the ethical if not legal sense: namely, what kind of people Trump surrounds himself with.
There was no secret about Manafort’s record as an influence-peddler on behalf of corrupt dictators and oligarchs when he went to work for Trump. On April 13, 2016, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote a prescient article headlined: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal.” Trump couldn’t have cared less. His whole career, he has surrounded himself with sleazy characters such as the Russian-born mob associate Felix Sater, who served prison time for assault and later pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, as well as lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is reportedly under investigation for a variety of possible crimes, including tax fraud.
.. These are the kind of people Trump feels comfortable around, because this is the kind of person Trump is. He is, after all, the guy who paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against him from students of Trump University. The guy who arranged for payoffs to a Playboy playmate and a porn star with whom he had affairs. The guy who lies an average of 7.6 times a day.
.. And because everyone knows what kind of person Trump is, he attracts kindred souls. Manafort and Gates are only Exhibits A and B. There is also Exhibit C: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, is facing federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and false statements as part of an alleged insider-trading scheme. Exhibit D is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been accused by Forbes magazine, hardly an anti-Trump rag, of bilking business associates out of $120 million.
.. In fairness, not all of Trump’s associates are grifters. Some are simply wealthy dilettantes like Trump himself
.. Among the affluent and unqualified appointees Trump has set loose on the world are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who are somehow supposed to solve an Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has frustrated seasoned diplomats for decades. No surprise: Their vaunted peace plan remains MIA.
.. ProPublica has a mind-boggling scoop about another group of dilettantes — a Palm Beach doctor, an entertainment mogul, and a lawyer — whom Trump tasked as an informal board of directors to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. None has any experience in the U.S. military or government; their chief qualification was that they are all members of Trump’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago.
.. Beyond the swindlers and dilettantes, there is a third group of people who have no business working for Trump or any other president: the fanatics. The most prominent of the extremists was Stephen K. Bannon, the notorious “alt-right” leader who was chief executive of Trump’s campaign and a senior White House aide. He may be gone, but others remain. They include Peter Navarro, who may well be the only economist in the world who thinks trade wars are a good thing; Stephen Miller, the nativist who was behind plans to lock immigrant children in cages and bar Muslims from entering the United States, and who is now plotting to reduce legal immigration; and Fred Fleitz, the Islamophobic chief of staff of the National Security Council. They feel at home in the White House because, aside from being a grifter and a dilettante, Trump is also an extremist with a long history of racist, sexist, nativist, protectionist and isolationist utterances
My gut reaction is that these student mobbists manage to combine snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.
.. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.
.. sophisticated people in those days wanted to be seen, to use Scott Alexander’s term, as mistake theorists. Mistake theorists believe that the world is complicated and most of our troubles are caused by error and incompetence, not by malice or evil intent.
.. Mistake theorists also believe that most social problems are hard and that obvious perfect solutions are scarce. Debate is essential. You bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. You reduce passion and increase learning. Basically, we’re all physicians standing over a patient with a very complex condition and we’re trying to collectively figure out what to do.
.. The idea for decades was that racial justice would come when we reduced individual bigotry — the goal was colorblind individualism. As Nils Gilman argues in The American Interest, that ideal reached its apogee with the election of Barack Obama.
.. But Obama’s election also revealed the limits of that ideal. Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.
.. The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.
These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?
.. If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe. It’s not surprising that you would become, in Scott Alexander’s terminology, a conflict theorist, not a mistake theorist.
In the conflict theorist worldview, most public problems are caused not by errors or complexity, but by malice and oppression. The powerful few keep everyone else down. The solutions to injustice and suffering are simple and obvious: Defeat the powerful. Passion is more important than reason because the oppressed masses have to mobilize to storm the barricades. Debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. Discordant ideas are not there to inform; they are there to provide cover for oppression.
.. So I’d just ask them to take two courses. The first would be in revolutions — the French, Russian, Chinese and all the other ones that unleashed the passion of the mob in an effort to overthrow oppression — and the way they ALL wound up waist deep in blood.
The second would be in constitutionalism. We dump on lawyers, but the law is beautiful, living proof that we can rise above tribalism and force — proof that the edifice of civilizations is a great gift, which our ancestors gave their lives for... Our new generation was never taught how to communicate outside it’s own tribe. And failure to learn how to do that will not bode well for their future or ours... I have spent my entire adult life on college campuses, and I would say that most students do not subscribe to mobbism or tribalism. Alas, I would say apathy is far more common than protest, and that most students are unlikely to know that Christina Hoff Sommers is even speaking on campus, to have an opinion about her ideas, or to attend. I see few protests, flyers, or petitions on campus these days. Instead, I see harried students who work part-time, struggle to pay tuition, and are anxious about landing a decent job when they graduate.
On college campuses, according to a Brookings/UCLA survey, 50 percent of students believe that “offensive” speech should be shouted down and 20 percent believe it should be violently crushed.
.. Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth.
.. Monarchies produce great paintings, but democracy teaches citizens to put their art into action, to take their creative impulses and build a world around them.
.. Democratic citizens are not just dreaming; they are thinkers who sit on the town council. He quotes the philosopher Bergson’s dictum: “Act as men of thought, think as men of action.”
.. Mann argued that the enemies of democracy aren’t just fascists with guns. They are anybody who willfully degrades the public square — the propagandists and demagogues. “They despise the masses … while they make themselves the mouthpiece of vulgar opinion.”
.. all they see is the grubby striving for money and power and attention.
.. The authoritarians and the demagogues subjugate action through bullying and they subjugate thought by arousing mob psychology.
.. “This is the contempt of pure reason, the denial and violation of truth in favor of power and the interests of the state, the appeal to the lower instincts, to so-called ‘feeling,’
.. A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump
.. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.
Mr. Torshin has established ties to Russia’s security establishment. He served in the upper house of the Russian Parliament and also sat on the country’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a separate government council that includes the director of the Federal Security Service, known as F.S.B., and the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs.
.. Spanish investigators claim Mr. Torshin laundered money for the Russian mob through Spanish banks and properties while he was in Parliament.
Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.
The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.
The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.
One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.
He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented. The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings.
.. He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.
.. Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,”
.. Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”
.. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.
.. This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
.. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”
.. FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti.
.. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”
That, actually, is how presidents talk.
.. I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.
.. the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.
If you believe the Comey statement, you must take away from it that Trump is a liar, a bully and a criminal. You must take away from it that Trump has a consuming need to be surrounded not only by loyalists but also by lackeys.
.. Trump’s comments as alleged in the Comey statement make Trump sound more like a mob boss than the president of a democracy.
.. Comey recounts that at a Jan. 27 dinner alone with Trump in the Green Room of the White House, Trump demanded, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
.. “The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to.
.. Trump added:
“‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’”
.. Trump was obsessed with the salacious dossier of unsubstantiated claims compiled by a former British spy, including the explosive claim that Russian authorities believed they could successfully exploit Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’
.. According to Comey’s statement, Trump was so upset by the details in the dossier that at a dinner in the Green Room of the White House, “he said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen.”