Trump’s Worst Watcher

Do you remember back when everybody thought John Kelly was going to calm down the Trump White House?

Stop laughing. Although it has been another wow of a week, hasn’t it? We had one top administration official, Rob Porter, resigning over claims of domestic abuse regarding two ex-wives. Kelly defended Porter as “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional” shortly before a picture popped up of one former Mrs. Porter sporting a black eye.

.. This was a little bit after Kelly himself made headlines for suggesting that some young immigrants couldn’t qualify for federal help because they were just “too lazy to get off their asses” and file some paperwork.

.. Meanwhile the president, apparently unsupervised, was calling for a government shutdown and lobbying enthusiastically for an expensive new military parade.

.. A good chief of staff advises the president against doing things that will make the administration look stupid or crazy. So, are we all in agreement that Kelly, retired general turned Trump chief of staff, appears to be … a failure? And sort of a jerk in the bargain?

.. Kelly did nothing about the fact that the White House is loud and mean and generally unfathomable. Except make things even worse. This, after all, is the guy who’s intervened whenever Donald Trump is in his expansive give-me-an-immigration-bill-to-sign phase, and pushed him over to Haiti-is-a-shithole territory.

.. When Kelly was head of the Department of Homeland Security, many Democrats liked him

.. He seemed smart, and he knew stuff.

.. But now it’s becoming clear that Kelly is the point man on immigration insecurity, heading off the president’s impulses for outreach, no matter how fleeting.

.. The best Panetta could do in a phone interview was to suggest the new, bad version of his old friend might be the product of too much time spent with his current boss.

.. The world began to notice that Kelly was perhaps not as cool, calm and collected as we’d bargained for when he was coordinating a condolence call by the president to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed while serving on a strange mission in Niger.

.. he stepped up to the White House podium and launched that infamous tirade against Representative Wilson,” said Whipple. That kind of outspokenness in a chief of staff is “very unusual,” he added, not to mention “politically inept.”

.. It’s hard to remember many times that Kelly’s outspokenness helped the president out of trouble.

.. he offered up a theory that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”

.. Maybe Mattis could be chief of staff. Hard to imagine things would get worse.

A lesson in what made Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments so racist

The ire directed Dreher’s way focused on one passage in particular. Admitting he’s sympathetic to the argument that “political correctness keeps people from saying things that are true,” Dreher presents an example: “If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? . . . Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood [into] a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?”

.. And as Dreher restates his point, he makes that clear: “Some countries and cultures really are worse than others, but we can’t talk about it.”

.. Here is where Dreher’s argument falls flat. The night after The Post reported Trump’s comments, Tucker Carlson made a similar point on Fox News: Democrats, he said, can’t support preserving the protected status of Haitians, Salvadorans and others and at the same time condemn Trump for casting aspersions on those countries. If these places weren’t “shitholes,” Carlson claimed, liberals wouldn’t shrink from sending their citizens back there. So it’s dishonest not to say the word.

But calling the conditions in a country “shit” and calling a whole culture “shit” aren’t the same thing. Dreher lumps the two together, exposing how his and Trump’s thinking differ from the thinking of the liberals who would let Salvadorans stick around.

.. The “success stories” of immigrants who came to the United States and changed it for the better aren’t exceptions to some rule that dooms nonwhite people to failure because of their innate cultural flaws. They are examples of what can happen when someone enters an environment whose structures allow them to excel.

.. The problem is, as Dreher’s misbegotten defense makes clear, that isn’t what Trump was saying. He was saying that to live in a shithole is just what these people deserve.

Tom Cotton, David Perdue, and the Trap of Lying for Donald Trump

In denigrating anyone who called the President out for his slurs, Senators Cotton and Perdue (pictured here in August) show their willingness to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

.. According to the Post, “Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard ‘shithouse’ rather than ‘shithole,’ allowing them to deny the President’s comments on television over the weekend.” Is that how people sleep at night in Trump’s Washington?

And they are poisonous.

.. It should be clear that the house/hole distinction, should it even have existed, would not count as “allowing” Cotton and Perdue to deny the President’s remarks on any terms. But the ones on which they did so are particularly egregious, because they offered themselves as witnesses to other senators’ supposed dishonor.

.. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, had confirmed the reported phrase “shithole countries” publicly; Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, had backed up the press accounts more obliquely but unmistakably. Senator Tim Scott, his Republican colleague, who is African-American, told reporters that Graham had confirmed the essentials of the report to him; Graham didn’t dispute that. Graham had also publicly said that there was a racial aspect to the remarks, which he said he’d called the President on, saying, by his account, “America is an idea, not a race.”

.. Cotton, appearing on Sunday news programs, specifically disparaged Durbin’s credibility. “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,”

.. Cotton told John Dickerson on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And I know, and I know what Dick Durbin has said about the President’s repeated statements is incorrect.” He also said that Durbin had a history of dishonesty.

.. When Dickerson asked Cotton about the thrust of the remarks, as opposed to the President’s word choice, Cotton said, “I did not hear derogatory comments about individuals or persons.” Perhaps there was another rationalization in there: he was being derogatory about whole populations, not individuals!

.. in the next sentence, Dickerson made the terms of Cotton’s lies clear when he asked, “So the sentiment is totally phony that is attributed to him?”—meaning to the President. Cotton answered, “Yes.”

.. At the same time, Perdue was busy on ABC’s “This Week,” telling George Stephanopoulos, in even more categorical terms, that Durbin was guilty of a “gross misrepresentation” of Trump’s remarks, saying that such “language” was simply not used.

.. When Stephanopoulos noted that there were multiple sources who said otherwise—indeed, the President himself reportedly called friends to brag about what he had said

..  Congressmen Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, who is the House Majority Leader and has not commented (but, as the Washington Post noted, stood quietly next to the President when he denied the reports on Sunday; Trump also called himself the “least racist person”

.. members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,”

.. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false.

.. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play:

  1. first, he got to slur whole nations.
  2. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize:
  3. the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

.. What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy.

.. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you.

What happens when a party becomes unmoored from the truth and the American creed

a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.

.. “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself.

.. much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought.

.. Means that do not respect values that conservatives used to hold dear (e.g. free markets, federalism, family unity) are no cause for celebration.

.. if conservatives think Trump’s accomplishments are conservative, then conservatism has morphed into something foreign to those who spent decades advocating a governing philosophy rooted in

  • opportunity for all,
  • civility,
  • federalism,
  • the rule of law,
  • free markets and
  • limited but vigorous government.

.. Trump’s right-wing apologists would have us treat Trump’s racism, attacks on democratic norms, dishonesty and contempt for independent democratic institutions as matters of style. “Well I don’t much like his tweeting but …” “Well, we don’t really agree that there are good people on the neo-Nazi side.” “Well, we all knew he was a bit of a liar.

.. Call this the “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”  syndrome

.. If one puts racism so far down the list of priorities that it barely deserves a raised eyebrow — or worse, requires some fudging to cover it up — one has become an enabler of racism. If one brushes off repeated, deliberate falsehoods because they are embarrassing, one becomes an enabler of lying, a handmaiden to attacks on objective truth. These are not inconsequential matters; they are not style issues. Truth-telling and repudiation of racism are or should be top principles both for America and for conservatism.

.. Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be)

.. The assertion that we can disregard everything the president says so long as it does not become cemented in law misconceives the role of the presidency and ignores his oath.

.. His oath was not to produce tax cuts or regulatory rollbacks. He swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, including reverence for the First Amendment, an independent judiciary and equal protection under the law.

.. The party and Trump apologists who brandish the conservative moniker, we fear, have lost their way. They’ve ceased to think deeply about the substance of policy and its effects, but worse, they have inverted their once-claimed priorities. What is most important — democratic norms and objective truth — is now for too many an afterthought, and Trump’s evisceration of the same, mere differences in style. We cannot abide by this, and neither should Americans of whatever political stripe.

They Were Bad. He May Be Worse.

Historians have long looked to a few key criteria in evaluating the beginning of a president’s administration.

First and foremost, any new president should execute public duties with a commanding civility and poise befitting the nation’s chief executive, but without appearing aloof or haughty. As George Washington observed at the outset of his presidency in 1789, the president cannot in any way “demean himself in his public character” and must act “in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of office.”

.. New presidents also try to avoid partisan and factional rancor, and endeavor to unite the country in a great common purpose.

They avoid even the slightest imputation of corruption, of course political but above all financial.

.. Over the decades, historians’ ratings of presidents have consistently consigned a dozen or so presidents to the bottom of the heap, including James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and, in recent evaluations, George W. Bush.

.. Yet the first years of these failed presidencies were not always so bad, and in nearly every case not as bad as Mr. Trump’s.

.. Only in Pierce’s second year did his support for the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act help rip open the national divisions over slavery, threatening the Union and destroying his presidency.

.. Warren G. Harding — darkly handsome, impeccably dressed and widely adored — acquired a reputation for cronyism, corruption and womanizing that continues to stain the reputation of his administration, which ended when he died of a heart attack in 1923. But while the corruption was very real, the worst of it, above all the Teapot Dome scandal, did not come to light until after his death.

.. Harding’s first year actually brought some auspicious legislative accomplishments, including passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which invested millions in the nation’s infant highway system.

In October, Harding addressed a huge segregated crowd in Birmingham, Ala., and courageously urged equal political rights for blacks, without which, he said, “our democracy is a lie.”

.. In public Harding was a paragon of dignity, and his death was universally mourned.

.. Richard M. Nixon’s first year in office produced mixed results. He continued the Vietnam War but floated reforms such as a guaranteed annual income for the poor. He hinted at retreating from civil rights laws and court rulings, but enforced them.

The year also yielded innovations like the National Environmental Policy Act, which Nixon signed into law in January 1970. The mixture of arrogance and paranoia that would lead to the Watergate scandal did not take hold until later.

.. George W. Bush has made some worst-presidents lists because of the disastrous Iraq war and the collapse of the economy under his watch. But his first year was notable for his post-Sept. 11 leadership, when he rallied the country’s spirit while cautioning Americans not to turn their grief and outrage into reprisals against Muslims. He ended his first year with an approval rating in the Gallup poll of 83 percent.

.. Only two of the failed presidents had horrendous first years, which, like Mr. Trump’s, were a result largely of their own actions. James Buchanan, a wealthy bachelor, at all times courteous and dignified, connived behind the scenes even before he was inaugurated to help coax the Supreme Court into the calamitous Dred Scott decision of 1857, handed down a few days after his swearing-in and widely considered among the court’s worst.

.. Calculated to suppress antislavery politics once and for all, the decision instead alarmed Northerners by allowing the expansion of slavery — and it helped set the nation on the political course that ended in civil war.

.. The financial panic of 1857 and subsequent depression, the splintering of the Union and the later exposure of rampant corruption inside the executive branch added to the sense of Buchanan’s fecklessness.

.. Andrew Johnson, a vituperative racist, was temperamentally and politically unsuited to succeed the slain Abraham Lincoln. His troubles began when he showed up for his swearing-in as vice president drunk and belligerent.

.. After becoming president through assassination, Johnson at first signaled he would take a hard line against the defeated rebels, but then switched to attacking civil rights for the former slaves, siding with the ex-Confederates and engaging in abusive tirades against the Radical Republicans in Congress. He closed his first year by vetoing the Civil Rights Bill, which would have given the former slaves citizenship. Both houses of Congress swiftly overrode the veto, setting in motion the events that would end with Johnson’s impeachment in 1868.

.. Mr. Trump’s first year has been an unremitting parade of disgraces that have demeaned him as well as the dignity of his office, and he has shown that this is exactly how he believes he should govern.

.. he is the first president to fail to defend the nation from an attack on our democracy by a hostile foreign power — and to resist the investigation of that attack. He is the first to enrich his private interests, and those of his family, directly and openly.

.. He is the first president to denounce the press not simply as unfair but as “the enemy of the American people.”

He is the first to threaten his defeated political opponent with imprisonment.

He is the first to have denigrated friendly countries and allies as well as a whole continent with racist vulgarities.

.. If history is any guide — especially in light of the examples closest to his, of Buchanan and Andrew Johnson — Mr. Trump’s first year portends a very unhappy ending.

What’s so extremely, uniquely wrong about Trump’s presidency

there are glimpses of the seemingly reasonable guy beloved by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who one day says he’ll “take all the heat” on immigration, who wants to sign a “bill of love.” Do not be fooled. He is a chimera. Two days later he will have vanished, leaving you feeling slimed and gaslighted. Graham was right the first time: Trump is a “kook” who is “unfit for office.”

.. The biggest lie ever told by a candidate to the American people came from Trump, repeatedly, during the campaign: “At the right time, I will be so presidential, you will be so bored.” Now we know: He is characterologically incapable of fulfilling this vow.

..It is little comfort to conclude that our best hope lies in the rationality of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un and the steadying influence of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
.. The longer-term and greater danger is that Trump
  • does not believe in American ideals and institutions. He
  • does not believe in a free press or free speech;
  • unconstrained, he would crack down on both.
  • He does not believe in the rule of law, a Justice Department free of political interference,
  • the separation of powers or an independent judiciary. He
  • does not believe in the United States as a beacon and example to the world.

Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

If you’re a student of history, you might be comparing that person to a member of the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, a bigoted, xenophobic, anti-immigrant group that at its peak included more than a hundred members of Congress and eight governors. More likely, however, you’re suggesting that said person is willfully ignorant, someone who rejects facts that might conflict with his or her prejudices.

.. The parallels between anti-immigrant agitation in the mid-19th century and Trumpism are obvious. Only the identities of the maligned nationalities have changed.

After all, Ireland and Germany, the main sources of that era’s immigration wave, were the shithole countries of the day. Half of Ireland’s population emigrated in the face of famine, while Germans were fleeing both economic and political turmoil. Immigrants from both countries, but the Irish in particular, were portrayed as drunken criminals if not subhuman. They were also seen as subversives: Catholics whose first loyalty was to the pope. A few decades later, the next great immigration wave — of Italians, Jews and many other peoples — inspired similar prejudice.

.. Yet conservative professors are rare even in hard sciences like physics and biology, and it’s not difficult to see why. When the more or less official position of your party is that climate change is a hoax and evolution never happened, you won’t get much support from people who take evidence seriously.

But conservatives don’t see the rejection of their orthodoxies by people who know what they’re talking about as a sign that they might need to rethink. Instead, they’ve soured on scholarship and education in general. Remarkably, a clear majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on America.

So the party that currently controls all three branches of the federal government is increasingly for bigotry and against education. That should disturb you for multiple reasons, one of which is that the G.O.P. has rejected the very values that made America great.

.. Think of where we’d be as a nation if we hadn’t experienced those great waves of immigrants driven by the dream of a better life. Think of where we’d be if we hadn’t led the world, first in universal basic education, then in the creation of great institutions of higher education. Surely we’d be a shrunken, stagnant, second-rate society.

.. Moretti argues, rightly in the view of many economists, that this new divergence reflects the growing importance of clusters of highly skilled workers — many of them immigrants — often centered on great universities, that create virtuous circles of growth and innovation. And as it happens, the 2016 election largely pitted these rising regions against those left behind

.. one way to think of Trumpism is as an attempt to narrow regional disparities, not by bringing the lagging regions up, but by cutting the growing regions down. For that’s what attacks on education and immigration, key drivers of the new economy’s success stories, would do.