It was a cri de cœur from Lindsey Graham, the lament of the sycophant scorned.
President Trump’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Syria by leaving them undefended against a Turkish invasion was, Graham tweeted, “a disaster” and a “nightmare.”
“President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam,” he wrote pointedly of his good friend. “They are NOT tired of fighting us.” And he commented on the signal Trump’s decision sent to the world: “By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways.“
In his cruelest cut of all, he compared Trump to Barack Obama. “No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision,” wrote Graham on Twitter, “it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security.”
Graham’s disappointment was palpable, but understandable, given all that he has given up to avoid this moment.
For the last several years, Graham has transformed himself from one of Trump’s fiercest critics, into one of his most reflexive defenders. Even by the cynical and shape-shifting standards of Washington, Graham’s metamorphosis has been a thing of wonder. The senator once known as John McCain’s best friend in the Senate, transformed himself into Trump’s shinebox, willing to ingratiate himself with rationalizations and praise even as Trump became increasingly erratic.
At first, it was a mere curiosity. During the 2016 campaign, Graham had called Trump a “nutjob” and a loser,” as well as a “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” He predicted that if the GOP nominated him, “we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.”
But as McCain faded from the scene, Graham seemed to shift his affections to the man who so publicly insulted McCain.
Graham and Trump became a thing. They played golf. They talked on the phone. And an alliance of the oddest imaginable bedfellows was born.
In moments of candor, Graham tried to explain the deal he thought he was making. When Mark Leibovich asked him earlier this year what had happened to him, Graham explained:
“Well, O.K., from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he said.
I asked what “this” was. “ ‘This,’ ” Graham said, “is to try to be relevant.” Politics, he explained, was the art of what works and what brings desired outcomes. “I’ve got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country,” he told me.
Like many others in his party, staying “relevant” was central to their political calculations. Capitulating to Trump meant that Graham would become a rock star in the increasingly Trumpist party and virtually assured of re-election in South Carolina next year.
He would also have the president’s ear. And this was at the heart of Graham’s Bargain.
Graham told himself: by staying close to Trump, he could influence him and prevent horribly bad decisions. Others made the same calculation, but Graham made the uber-tradeoff, because the stakes were so high. What did it matter if he had to endure temporary embarrassments, abase himself on cable television, or even become a political punchline, if he could stop Trump from impulsive decisions regarding Russia or North Korea? Or Syria?
The world saw Graham as a craven, cringing Uriah Heep. Graham saw himself as someone who could save the world, or at least the Kurds.
Graham calculated: If he didn’t play golf with Trump and indulge his penchant for pillow talk, Trump would be putting and chatting with Rand Paul, listening to the counsels of isolationism, appeasement and international amorality. He was not simply the adult in the room; he was the adult BFF in the room, who would temper Trump’s worst instincts.
And then came Trump’s decision.
Despite Graham’s compulsive turd-polishing of the last few years, Trump didn’t even consult him before making the decision to abandon the Kurds. Graham, who had given up so much self-respect to prevent just this outcome, was not even in the room. He didn’t even get a text.
This is the thing about Faustian bargains. The price is high and the rewards turn out to be illusory. They end badly.
This week, Lindsey Graham, found that out the hard way. I wonder what they’ll talk about the next time they go golfing together.
The eerily contemporary morality of HBO’s Game of Thrones
it went anti-Tolkien. Indeed, if you dared to call their creation “Tolkienesque,” the esteemed deceased English author might well rise from the grave in protest.
.. In Tolkien’s tales, magic is of paramount importance, the good is very, very good, and the evil is obvious and horrifying. Tolkien was a veteran of World War I, and he’d seen his own Mordor. The descriptions of the Black Land have eerie echoes in the blasted earth and industrial destruction in the trenches of the Western Front. In Tolkien’s time, great good faced great evil (often against seemingly overwhelming odds), and great good triumphed.
.. His work instead calls back to an earlier time, to the struggles for dynastic succession in old England. Loosely based — very loosely — on the Wars of the Roses, his books pit warring families against each other
.. This game has but one rule, “You win or you die.” The politics are gritty, good men are hard to find, and honor and virtue are often rewarded with swift death.
.. Perhaps fearing that the show would flop without a little extra help, HBO used its full premium-cable powers to lard it up with graphic sex and violence.
.. Martin’s books aren’t for the squeamish, but HBO took the lewd elements to the next level. Comedians and critics even coined a term, “sexposition,” to describe the show’s habit of using extended sex scenes as a mechanism for explaining plot points and developing characters. In family-friendly social-conservative circles, the word went out: HBO once again was using sex to sell, and Christians especially shouldn’t be buying.
.. But by the end of season six, the show was an unstoppable ratings juggernaut, watched by upwards of 25 million Americans each week. It’s arguably the most watched show on television today.
.. Season seven (out of eight) starts on July 16, and its ratings will likely surpass everything but the NFL playoffs. A true cultural moment is at hand.
.. the show’s creators have accomplished what few television or film producers have ever achieved — they have improved upon classic books and have, quite simply, mastered the art of storytelling.
.. they cast the multiple important roles perfectly, and they have shown a knack for delivering during the big moments. The plot twists, betrayals, and epic battles aren’t just watchable, they’re rewatchable. In fact, classic clips garner millions of views on YouTube as fans go relive the highlights in much the same way that Patriots fans no doubt relive the last five minutes of Tom Brady’s epic comeback in Super Bowl LI.
.. The story itself matters too, and in many ways it is the right story at the right time, holding up a mirror to modern American sensibilities and showing the consequences of modern American morality.
.. In Tolkien’s world the stakes are immense, the moral battle lines are clear, and victory actually means victory, the end of a distinct evil force. In this respect, as noted above, Tolkien was a man of his age.
.. Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense.
.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.
.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent.
.. Think of it as Calvinism without Christ — natural human depravity unleashed. The realities of human nature mean that evil is very, very evil, and good is also touched with the weight of sin.
.. Certain timely themes emerge, perhaps most salient among them the constant, vivid reminders that the ends do not justify the means.
.. Indeed, Martin has revealed a key truth — that pursuing virtuous ends by vicious means can so transform a person that the ends themselves change. Virtue is redefined, and ultimately virtue is lost.
.. The characters are obsessed with settling scores and vindicating their honor.
.. In fact, even the evilest of characters have their own tales of woe. They can always find a murder or a conflict or an act of defiance that justifies the next vengeful act. Just as in real life, evil has a reason for its rage.
.. While watching, one can’t help but be reminded of Christ’s admonition that even his followers should be “wise as serpents.”
.. A conservative can’t watch the show without understanding that it is, at times, almost shamelessly Burkean: Disrupt the established order at your peril.
.. several of the great houses launched a rebellion (“Robert’s Rebellion”) to depose a mad king. By any measure, it was a just war against a homicidal maniac
.. I suspect we won’t see anything like the collapse of Mount Doom in Return of the King. Maybe we’ll get justice, but it will likely be angry justice, and when the series ends, the last person on the Iron Throne will wear the crown uneasily, knowing that she (or he) left a trail of bodies on the path to power and that those souls not only cry out for vengeance but have living descendants who hear their call.
.. At issue was the question of political tactics. Did the “high road” work anymore? Don’t the nice guys always lose, and when they lose don’t the virtues they believe in ultimately lose as well?
.. an increasingly amoral society, unmoored from its traditions and full of entitled and ambitious men and women who compete for power with unrestrained viciousness. Does that sound at least vaguely familiar? Is it any wonder that Game of Thrones resonates in the modern American heart?
.. It will still have too much sex (though HBO has limited the lewdness as the series has grown more popular)
.. it will give us something else as well — a lesson that entitlement and rage have a price, and that justice gets lost when victory is the only goal. Perhaps the true rule of the game of thrones isn’t “Win or die” but rather “Win and die.” The quest for power, unmoored from virtue, is the doom of us all.