Category Archives: NYTimes

OK, it can’t happen here, But it is happening!

I take the following from a recent cover article in the Economist Magazine, The corrupting of democracy. The writer is speaking of Hungary, and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban.

Take Hungary, where Fidesz, the ruling party, has used its parliamentary majority to capture regulators, dominate business, control the courts, buy the media and manipulate the rules for elections. The prime minister, Viktor Orban, does not have to break the law, because he can get parliament to change it instead. He does not need secret police to take his enemies away in the night. They can be cut down to size without violence, by the tame press or the taxman. In form, Hungary is a thriving democracy; in spirit, it is a one-party state.

Victor Orban

While speaking of the Hungarian pirme minister, Victor Orban, the Ecoomist writer might have been speaking of Donald Trump:

At the heart of the degradation of Hungarian democracy is cynicism. After the head of a socialist government popularly seen as corrupt admitted that he had lied to the electorate in 2006, voters learned to assume the worst of their politicians. Orban-Trump has enthusiastically exploited this tendency.

This political theatre, of which, if of nothing else, Orban-Trump is a master, is designed to be a distraction from their real purpose, which is the artful manipulation of obscure rules and institutions to guarantee their hold on power.

Rather than appeal to his compatriots’ better nature, Orban-Trump sows division, stokes resentment and exploits their prejudices, especially over immigration.

Now we see this sort of political theatre happening here, almost on a daily basis.
I take what follows from the NYTimes of August 28:

President Trump’s signature campaign promise to build a wall along the southwestern border is far behind schedule. So he has told his aides to get the job done by whatever means necessary, including by seizing land on the Mexican frontier. The president has repeatedly suggested during meetings on immigration policy that aides “take the land” and “get it done,” according to a person who has heard him say it. The Washington Post first reported that Mr. Trump had brought up the land seizures and had floated the idea of offering pardons to aides willing to break the law, a suggestion he has made previously when exploring ways to fulfill his campaign promises.

Reuters

And our president, Donald Trump takes this sort of irresponsible behavior ever further than Victor Orban, who has not, I believe kowtowed to Vladimir Putin. In the Business Insider of August 30, 2019 we read:

  • Current and former spies are floored by President Donald Trump’s fervent defense of Russia at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France. 
  • President Trump Is Either A ‘Russian Asset’ Or A ‘Useful Idiot’ For Putin
  • At the summit, Trump aggressively lobbied for Russia to be readmitted into the G7, refused to hold it accountable for violating international law, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • One former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was the FBI director, told Insider Trump’s behavior was “directly out of the Putin playbook. We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.” 
  • A former CIA operative told Insider the evidence is “overwhelming” that Trump is a Russian agent, but another CIA and NSA veteran said it was more likely Trump was currying favor with Putin for future business deals. 
  • Meanwhile, a recently retired FBI special agent told Insider that Trump’s freewheeling and often unfounded statements make it more likely that he’s a “useful idiot” for the Russians. But “it would not surprise me in the least if the Russians had at least one asset in Trump’s inner circle.”

The Economist writer does go on to say that the old-established polities of the United States and Britain are not about to become one-party states, but they are already showing signs of decay. Once the rot sets in, it is formidably hard to stop. So yes, it is happening here , the “rot” that Trump has brought with him to the Oval Office..

another must read. Frank Bruni on Donald Trump’s lies, August 6, 2019

Trump’s Biggest and Most Dangerous Lie

He’s no foe of bigotry. He’s an agent of it.

When a president orders up a special script, summons the national media and sends a message to all Americans that the “sinister ideologies” of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” have no place here, the normal response is to cheer.

But these aren’t normal times. Donald Trump isn’t a normal president. And those words, which he spoke on Monday, made me feel sick, because they were just cheap and hollow sops to convention.

He doesn’t believe them. Or rather, he doesn’t care. That’s indisputable from his actions to this point, and it will be demonstrated anew by his behavior going forward. I lost my fondness for forecasts after November 2016, but you can take this prediction to the bank: Trump will be back to his old tweets and tricks in no time. They have gotten him this far, and he’s not going to mess with a good thing just because the country is in crisis.

That speech of his was a pantomime of dignity to give cover to his Republican enablers, and it took a hell of a lot of nerve. Trump as a healer? A unifier? I have grown dangerously inured to his lies — how can you not, when there are so many of them? — but this one was so big it stopped me in my tracks. And it scared me, because when he pretends that what he has been doing isn’t bigoted and racist and that he’s not pushing a narrative of white people who belong here threatened by dark people who don’t, he encourages that same delusion in his followers. He’s not confronting them. He’s letting them off the hook.

This big lie was built on an endless string of little lies, few of which are included in those unwieldy compendiums of all Trump’s fibs and fictions because they’re not quite facts that can be checked or misinformation that can be debunked:

I am the least racist person you have ever met.” (Maybe the “you” doesn’t have a broad or enlightened circle of acquaintance.) “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” (Barring an X-ray of his endoskeleton, I can’t refute this.) It’s not strictly provable that he went after “the squad” because they are women of color in addition to being progressives, salient as that detail is. It’s just mighty suspicious.

Before I go any further: I don’t claim that Trump specifically caused or catalyzed El Paso or Pittsburgh or related blood baths, because nothing’s that tidy, because I know that mass shootings and mad shooters predate him and because, in a sense, it doesn’t matter. The enmity he sows and the hatred he reaps are unacceptable regardless, and they’re certainly not lowering the temperature of political discourse in America.

I also don’t believe that all of Trump’s backers are bigots, and insistences along those lines are an overreach with the unfortunate effect of inviting many of them to tune out their critics. Trump rose and Trump rules for an array of reasons.

But an us-versus-them racism is prominent among them. Let’s never forget the milestones of his political ascent: In 1989, as he kicked around the idea of running for office, he took out full-page ads in major New York City newspapers against the Central Park Five and denounced the “bands of wild criminals” and “crazed misfits” threatening everyone else. In retrospect, this was throat clearing for his invocation of Mexican rapists more than a quarter century later.

In 2011 he became the best-known face of the birther movement, promoting the notion that Barack Obama was born outside the United States and thus an illegitimate president. “Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president,” Ashley Parker and Steve Eder wrote in The Times. “He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.”

The lowlights of that campaign and then his presidency include the Muslim ban; the repeated references to illegal immigration as an “invasion;” the characterization of migrants as vermin who “pour into and infest” America; the tweet urging four congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, though only one of them wasn’t born here; and, of course, the insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violence at a gathering of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.

Some of those “very fine people” shouted “Jews will not replace us,” and yet Trump went on to excoriate the Democratic Party in general and Representative Ilhan Omar in particular as anti-Semitic. That’s what I mean about his big lie. He winks at white nationalists, then points a finger in other directions.

He stirs up bigots and bigotry, as he did at the recent rally in North Carolina where they chanted “Send her back” about Omar and at a May rally in Florida where he asked the crowd how to prevent migrants from crossing our southern border. “Shoot them!” a man shouted. The crowd erupted in laughter. Trump’s response was a smile.

Reflect on that in light of what just happened in El Paso. And while you’re at it, go back and reread the presidential campaign announcement speech when he mentioned rapists and drug smugglers from Mexico. It’s not just an aria but an entire opera of grievance, its unalloyed fury trained on supposedly unprincipled actors from places where people’s skin is darker and their names less bluntly phonetic than Donald Trump. If fits with eerie neatness into the “replacement theory” that animated the El Paso gunman, and it’s not meant to inspire or instruct. It’s meant to inflame.

My Times colleague Peter Baker, who covers the White House for The Times, was precisely right when he wrote a few weeks ago that in regard to race, Trump “plays with fire like no other president in a century.” I’ll say. He’s a moral arsonist, and if he determined that the only way to hold on to power was to burn everything to the ground, he’d gladly be king of ashes. To paraphrase Milton: Better to reign over a ruined country than to be just another crass plutocrat in a noble one.

On Monday he had the audacity to talk about “the perils of the internet and social media,” saying that we must “shine light” on their “dark recesses.” His Twitter account is one of those recesses. He rued how “hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” It was the ultimate distraction, decrying what he embodies.

The biggest lies aren’t discrete. They’re overarching. They’re not incidental. They’re spiritual. And when Trump, having lit one match after another, professes distress over the inferno, that’s a charade as grotesque as they come. As dangerous, too.

“we take the path of fraternity,” President Iván Duque of Colombia

Would that we could be like Colombia, like us, Venezuela’s near neighbor, who is offering Citizenship to some 24,000 new born children of Venezuelan Refugees.

Unlike PresidentTrump who would wall off our southern border with Mexico President Iván Duque of Colombia would “open bridges” for the refugees to enter his country. Imagine instead of a wall separating us from the countries of the South, imagine bridges such as in the picture bringing the refugées to us.

Venezuelans crossing into Colombia, which has announced that it will give citizenship to children of Venezuelan refugees born in Colombia.
Venezuelans crossing into Colombia, which has announced that it will give citizenship to children of Venezuelan refugees born in Colombia.
CreditCreditFernando Vergara/Associated Press

But just as Donald Trump is without knowledge of the world, so is he without imagination, not to mention generosity, decency, sympathy. Now it seems to me that Trump is almost to be pitied for not having realized that what he wants most of all, to be re-elected in 2020, could happen, could still happen, if he were to experience his own Road to Damascus.* In the picture below our president doesn’t look well. Has he reached the end of his presidency?

To be Pitied?

*The Road to Damascus refers to a sudden turning point in one’s life. It’s in reference to the conversion to Christianity of the apostle Paul while literally on the road to Damascus from Jerusalem. Prior to that moment, he had been called Saul, and was a Pharisee who persecuted followers of Jesus.

But given Trump’s well proven character of white supremacy ideology there is probably not much chance of his conversion to what, tolerance? ever happening. One can only imagine a Trump, instead of spewing hateful bigoted words in his tweets, suddenly leaving his tweets behind, in a past not to be visited again or ever “restored”, and instead of building a wall between us a series of bridges into our country from Mexico in the South. What if he were to get behind, say, Trump bridges instead of the usual lineup of Trump Towers and Trump gold courses? Others, other than his own also to be pitied evangelical and white supremacist base, might then begin to vote for him.

I take the following few passages from the article in the Times, “Colombia Offers Citizenship to 24,000 Children of Venezuelan Refugees.” by Anatoly Kurmanaev and Jenny Carolina González, of August 5, ‘2019:

Colombia will give citizenship to more than 24,000 undocumented children of Venezuelan refugees born in the country. “Today Colombia we take the path of fraternity,” President Iván Duque of Colombia said in a speech announcing the measure in Bogotá, the capital, on Monday.

The Trump administration, which has made toppling Venezuela’s authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro, a foreign policy priority, has not granted the country’s refugees protected status.

About four million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years to escape food shortages, blackouts and hyperinflation caused by the country’s catastrophic economic collapse — the largest migratory crisis in the region’s history, according to the United Nations. Neighboring Colombia has borne the brunt of the exodus, receiving about 1.4 million Venezuelans, according to the Colombian government.

Colombia has bucked the trend, keeping its borders open to Venezuelan migrants despite growing pressure on social services and an increasing number of xenophobic outbreaks. Colombian officials have argued that closing its porous 1,400-mile border with Venezuela will only boost human trafficking and provide new revenue streams to guerrillas and armed gangs operating in those areas.

“No country should have kids growing up without access to health care and education, or a chance of a decent life,” said Andrew Selee, the president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, who closely studies Colombian migration. “Colombia has found a way of dealing with that.”


Roger Cohen’s choice of Kamala Harris to defeat Trump in 2020

Do I even have one single idea of my own?

I hardly miss a single day when I don’t read the op ed writers in the Times and the Post. What does that mean? There’s no hope for me? I’ve become pretty much in their hands their creation, losing myself to their ideas. I wonder, do I ever have a thought, an idea of my own? I wonder that especially as more and more I post on my own blogs the writings of others, as the recent op ed of Roger Cohen that I post in part below, another must read for Democrats.

But what I ask is the big deal? Aren’t we all more or less dependent of those who come before us, on those who have done better the things we would like to have done ourselves. In my own case the ideas I have probably without exception come from the writers and scientists I read. No less than the music from the musicians I know and listen to and love.

Anyway these idle thoughts came to me today as I was reading Roger Cohen’s latest op ed piece in the Times, The Who-Can-Beat Trump Test Leads to Kamala Harris. He speaks for me. I agree with pretty much everything he says, most importantly that Kamala is our best hope of defeating Trump in 2020, and that Joe Biden, currently leading the pack, while clearly “a good and honorable man of great personal courage, no longer has the needed energy, mental agility and nimbleness to defeat Trump.”

Senator Kamala Harris of California at a town hall campaign event in February at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C.
Senator Kamala Harris of California at a town hall campaign event in February at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C.
CreditCreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

The Who-Can-Beat Trump Test Leads to Kamala Harris
Roger Cohen, NYTimes, August 2, 2019

Nations, like people, may change somewhat, but not in their essential characteristics. The United States is defined by space and hope. It is an optimistic country of can-do strivers. They took the risk of coming to a new land. They are suspicious of government, inclined to self-reliance. Europeans ask where you came from. Americans ask what you can do.

The Declaration of Independence posited a universal idea, that human beings are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Americans, then, embraced an idea, however flawed in execution, when they became a nation. Their government, whatever else it does, exists to safeguard and further that idea, in the United States and beyond.

President Trump, in the name of making American great again, has trampled on America’s essence. He is angry, a stranger to happiness, angrier still for not knowing the source of his rage. He is less interested in liberty than the cash of his autocratic cronies. As for life, he views it as a selective right, to which the white Christian male has priority access, with women, people of color and the rest of humanity trailing along behind for scraps….

The gravest thing Trump has done is to empty this idea of meaning. His has been an assault on honesty, decency, dignity, tolerance and civility. … Any victorious Democratic Party candidate in 2020 has to counter that negative energy with a positive energy that lifts Americans from Trump’s web.

I watched the Democratic Party debates among presidential contenders through a single prism: Who can beat Trump? In the end, nothing else matters because another five and a half years of this will drag Americans into an abyss of moral collapse….

Kamala Harris does that for me. The California senator is a work in progress, with uneven debate performances, and policies, notably health care, that she has zigzagged toward defining. But she’s tough, broadly of the center, has a great American story, is passionate on issues including immigrants, African-Americans and women, and has proved she is not averse to risk. She has a former prosecutor’s toughness and the ability to slice through Trump’s self-important bluster…

Last month Harris said Trump was a “predator.” She continued: “The thing about predators you should know, is that they prey on the vulnerable. They prey on those who they do not believe are strong. And the thing you must importantly know, predators are cowards.”


Marianne williamson knows how to beat donald trump

We need an uprising of decency.

Another Must Read, this one by
David Brooks, Opinion Columnist

Marianne Williamson may have some wacky ideas, but she also understands Donald Trump
.Credit CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

If only … 

If only Donald Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over whether private health insurance should be illegal. If only Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over who was softest on crime in the 1990s. If only Trump were not president, we could have a nice argument about the pros and cons of NAFTA.

But Trump is president, and this election is not about those things. This election is about who we are as a people, our national character. This election is about the moral atmosphere in which we raise our children.

Trump is a cultural revolutionary, not a policy revolutionary. He operates and is subtly changing America at a much deeper level. He’s operating at the level of dominance and submission, at the level of the person where fear stalks and contempt emerges.

He’s redefining what you can say and how a leader can act. He’s reasserting an old version of what sort of masculinity deserves to be followed and obeyed. In Freudian terms, he’s operating on the level of the id. In Thomistic terms, he is instigating a degradation of America’s soul.

We are all subtly corrupted while this guy is our leader. And throughout this campaign he will make himself and his values the center of conversation. Every day he will stage a little drama that is meant to redefine who we are, what values we lift up and who we hate.

The Democrats have not risen to the largeness of this moment. They don’t know how to speak on this level. They don’t even have the language to articulate what Trump represents and what needs to be done.

Part of the problem is that the two leading Democratic idea generators are both materialistic wonks. Elizabeth Warren is a social scientist from Harvard Law School who has a plan for everything — except the central subject of this election, which is cultural and moral. Bernie Sanders has been a dialectical materialist all his life and is incapable of adjusting his economics-dominated mind-set.

They are what Michael Dukakis would be if he emerged in an era when the party had swung left. This model has always had appeal to a certain sort of well-educated Democrat.

The bigger problem is simply the culture of the Democratic Party. The modern version of the party emerged during the Great Depression to solve one problem: material want. It is a secular party, trapped in a Lockean prison: Politics should be separate from faith. Politics should be separate from soulcraft. Democrats believe they can win votes by offering members of different groups economic benefits and are perpetually shocked when they lose those voters.

It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort. Many of her ideas are wackadoodle, but Marianne Williamson is right about this:

“This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

And she is right about this too:

“We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it. … The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.”

They are unready for it, but it falls on the Democrats to rebuild the moral infrastructure of our country. That does not mean standing up and saying, “Donald Trump is a racist!” 500 times a day. It means reminding Americans of the values we still share, and the damage done when people are not held accountable for trampling on them. The values are pretty basic and can be simply expressed:

Unity: We’re one people. Our leader represents all the people. He doesn’t go around attacking whole cities and regions.

Honesty: We can’t have deliberative democracy without respect for the truth. None of us want congenital liars in our homes or our workplaces.

Pluralism: Human difference makes life richer and more interesting. We treasure members of all races and faiths for what they bring to the mosaic.

Sympathy: We want to be around people with good hearts, who feel for those who are suffering, who are faithful friends, whose daily lives are marked by kindness.

Opportunity: We want all children to have an open field and a fair chance in the great race of life.

Trump has put himself on the wrong side of all these values. So Democrats, go ahead and promote your plans. But also lead an uprising of decency. There must be one Democrat who, in word and deed, can do that.

Our land is exceptional. Let’s keep it that way.

And we’ll do that by keeping the country open to the successive waves of immigrants, made up of peoples of all ethnic and racial origins, who have always come here, and who always will if we don’t try to stop them. For our greatness as a country has always depended on people wanting to come here, and our having “open,” not closed borders, no walls.The wall of Robert Frost is the only wall in my own life I’ve ever acknowledged. No, there’s also the wall that keeps my neighbor’s dog off my front yard.

Think about it, what has the Great Wall ever done for China, other than bring on, if only in part, the tourist trade? Did it ever stop the invasion of barbarian peoples from the North that it was intended to do? Do you know? I don’t have any idea myself but I’d say probably not.  In the history books haven’t barbarians always won? If Trump’s wall were ever built it would at best, including the tunnels underneath it, become a tourist attraction. I can see it now, going with friends for a great lunch in Tijuana by the tunnel route.

Isn’t it well known (except by our president and cronies) that the strength of our country has always been based on two factors. The one is the richness of the land, land that was just meant to be settled and worked (and well treated). Other lands, I think of Canada and Australia, that are probably not as rich and welcoming as ours, and have not drawn the numbers of immigrants we have.

The other factor is the wave after wave of immigrants that we have known, beginning with the very oldest Americans who came here some tens of thousands of years ago, and then going right up to the second (or third or fourth) discovery of America) in 1492 which “discovery” was almost immediately followed by the coming here quite illegally of the western Europeans. Actually aren’t the white supremacists mostly descendants of illegal immigrants? In any case these peoples, the Europeans, came here, settled here, and finally turned against, revolted from their countries of origin, and wasted no time in Philadelphia in 1787 drawing up the detailed plans for a new country of their own.

This new country is the one that most of us know as America, where we are now living. What was left out of consideration at the time of its creation, however, at the moment of our Declaration of Independence, were the huge waves of migrants, well not migrants but immigrants, the hundreds of thousands of black Africans, who were brought here by hired help, as it were, held in chains and upon their arrival made up the slave populations of the uncompensated workers of the Americas. Between 1525 and 1866 12.5 million Africans were shipped (the ship’s hold being like a ship’s container boxes, holding in cramped spaces, men and women, not the material goods of China and the United States) to the new world. Of these numbers of men, women, and children some 10.7 million survived the trip, or “Middle Passage,” to get here. A least at that time no one ever told them,  there was no more room. Like now there was plenty of room.

It almost seems there have been three populations of newcomers to America, starting with what I’m calling the second or third discovery of America, in 1492. First were those who came freely, without vetting, without papers of any sort, but usually with white skin, and who when once here took pretty much what they were able to seize for themselves, although with the consent of the authorities, what there were of these at the time, of available land and resources.

These light skinned populations of immigrants are no longer coming here. But it’s not because there’s no more room, no more resources to be expropriated. Maybe at the time of the next European Civil War, which will be World War III, the Europeans  will begin again to come, but for the moment they seemed fixed and content where they are in Europe and even presidential Tweets, wanting Norwegians and other light skinned Northern Europeans, and not wanting the dark skinned peoples from the South, is going to change that.

The second population or wave, contemporaneous with the Europeans and in many instances coming to meet the Europeans’ needs for workers, were the Blacks, whom I’ve already spoken of. The third wave, one that we’re still very much experiencing, in spite of Donald Trump’s clumsy attempts to end it, is that of the Central Americans.

In regard to immigration it’s as if the country has finally realized that it wanted and needed new immigrants, and that these would be easiest to find among the populations of the oppressed, from Ireland, from Eastern Europe, from Southern Europe, again from Africa, from India, from Indochina, from China, and now in great numbers from Central America. These are the populations who want to come here, to live and to work, to have a good life. Nothing wrong with that.

Trump calls them gang members and rapists. Do they look like that to you?

migrant-caravan4

These are the peoples who were not wanted where they were and they chose to leave. And we have become once again as it were the safety valve to all the dangerous and insupportable pressure points of the world. Those who are here, and doing well, and who would turn their back to these peoples, saying such unthinking and unfeeling things as, we need a wall between us, we don’t have any room for them, they’re threatening us,…  how do they who say these things live with themselves? (Perhaps by watching television for hours on end, by eating cheese burger after cheese burger, and drinking diet cokes, (even when visiting Shinzō Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan), by never reading a history book….

For in fact we have plenty of room and we need the peoples who want to come. And we know well from our own experience over centuries that these Central Americans, like those migrants of the past, including the dispossessed Native Americans and the enslaved Africans, will add great wealth to the country. Why ever would we try or even want to stop them with barriers of any kind?

childr

Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.      From Vol 2 of Bob Mueller’s “The Report”</p>

Is Democracy Dying?

A few additional thoughts on a second reading of Bret Stephens’ How Trump Wins Next Year

In what he writes Bret Stephens implies that Trump will win in 2020. And his main argument for saying so is the growing number of authoritarian states springing up everywhere, and, even more troubling, the fact that we see this happening to our own allies, and most troubling of all to our own land and country in the person of Donald Trump.

It almost seems that people don’t want to be free. Stephens is not talking about the much older dictatorships in China and Russia, in Cuba and Egypt. He’s talking about the democracies in Italy, Brazil, Hungary, Poland, and the what used to be democracies in Turkey and Israel, lands that are being seriously threatened if not undone by authoritarian heads of state.

Now you may believe as Bret does that the world, and in particular the Western world of which we are a part, is hell bent on establishing authoritarian governments, and that our own authoritarian president, Donald Trump, is hell bent on getting on board this ship of a new state,  and that his reelection in 2020 is now likely, in spite of the fact that he himself is less and less liked.

Why is that? What is the origin of the new authoritarianism? And why is America sticking with Trump, allowing his autocratic tendencies and impulses, if indeed it is as Bret says? For aren’t we all, or most of us, in this country underneath it all real democrats?

In any case we ought to remember that democracy doesn’t have much of a history in the West, nor in the East. Authoritarian governments everywhere have been the rule for most of recorded history, thousands, tens of thousands of years.

What’s the expression, we’re falling back into line, returning to an ancestral type, we’re reverting to the mean. The mean being a dictatorship. Reverting to the mean meaning to go back, as to a former condition, period, or subject, to monarchy, empire or other dictatorship. This perhaps is the real meaning of Trump’s MEGA hat, making America great again, making our president a sovereign.

It’s not that all these good people in all these lands are giving up on democratic governance, it’s rather that true democracies have not yet been established anywhere, and in the process of trying to get there people find themselves in chaotic and insecure circumstances. Authoritarians do bring a kind of security, as in Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s.

Democracies have always been works in progress, admirable at times, as in Philadelphia in 1787, as in the passage of the 14th. amendment to the Constitution, the Rights of Citizenship in 1868. And at other times, the works of democracies have been man made disasters, as in Andrew Jackson’s enforced relocation of tribes of native Americans from their ancestral homes in the South to the West, … as in the Confederate states response to the emancipation of the Blacks, by its Jim Crow laws, a kind of second enslavement of the “colored,” laws not taken off the books until 1965, and still influential and widespread in regard to the myriad racists and white supremacists still with us in the country today.

Bret Stephens: How Trump Wins Next Year

Doesn’t it seem that America is losing it?

Losing the country of the Founding Fathers (of the Constitution and the rule of law), of Abraham Lincoln (all men are created equal), of FDR (it’s the role of government, in addition to keeping all of us secure, extending a helping hand to all those who need help)?

Instead, we seem now to be a country of adolescents, people following the example of the president and thinking of no one but themselves, wanting satisfaction now, not wanting to give up anything even, for a better future for their children, not willing to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to bring about a better future, all this being now out of style.

This is why so many Americans are listening to Donald Trump. He promises them satisfaction now, and asks nothing of them in return. This is why Donald Trump, himself, never went to Vietnam, not understanding then or now what it means to sacrifice for the future.

The same selfishness is why Americans are ignoring the world, ignoring the millions seeking asylum from impossible living conditions, ignoring the threat to the earth itself, at risk of dying from their own more and more abusive, exploitive, and irresponsible actions.

Well Bret Stephens tells us in the piece below that the result of all this, of democracy dying, here and elsewhere, in fact as he tells it, of the whole world turning to authoritarian rather than democratic or self rule, … the result being the probable 2020 reelection of Donald Trump, to a second (or third? for what is to stop him?) term. He doesn’t tell us why, just that this is happening.

If he’s right, what can we do? Other than, “Cry, the Beloved Country”.

Bret Stephens: What’s happened in India and Australia is a warning to the left.

 

Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

President Trump at a rally in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday.

More than 600 million Indians cast their ballots over the past six weeks in the largest democratic election in the world. Donald Trump won.

A week ago, several million Australians went to the polls in another touchstone election. Trump won.

Citizens of European Union member states are voting in elections for the mostly toothless, but symbolically significant, European Parliament. Here, too, Trumpism will mark its territory.

Legislative elections in the Philippines this month, which further cemented the rule of Rodrigo Duterte, were another win for Trumpism. Ditto for Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel last month, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil last October, and Italy’s elevation of Matteo Salvini several months before that.

If past is prologue, expect the Trumpiest Tory — Boris Johnson — to succeed Theresa May as prime minister of Britain, too.

 

In 2016, at a campaign rally in Albany, Trump warned: “We’re gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, please, please, it’s too much winning, we can’t take it anymore.”

Tell us about it.

Trump’s name, of course, was on none of the ballots in these recent elections. His critics should take no comfort in that fact.

In India, Narendra Modi won his re-election largely on the strength of his appeals to Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment. In Australia, incumbent Scott Morrison ran against the high cost of climate action, including in lost jobs, and won a stunning upset. In the U.K., Trump surrogate Nigel Farage looks like he and his Brexit Party will be the runaway victors in the European elections. In Brazil and the Philippines, the political appeal of Bolsonaro and Duterte seems to be inversely correlated to their respect for human rights and the rule of law, to say nothing of modern ethical pieties.

The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.

When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” it went, while “we are concerned with the end of the month.”

This is a potent form of politics, and it’s why I suspect Trump will be re-elected next year barring an economic meltdown or foreign-policy shock. You may think (as I often do) that the administration is a daily carnival of shame. You may also think that conservatives are even guiltier than liberals and progressives of them-before-us politics: the 1-percenters before the 99 percent; the big corporations before the little guy, and so on.

But the left has the deeper problem. That’s partly because it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it’s a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.

Progressives are now speeding, Thelma and Louise style, toward the same cliff they went over in the 1970s and ’80s. But unlike the ’80s, when conservatives held formidable principles about economic freedom and Western unity, the left is flailing in the face of a new right that is increasingly nativist, illiberal, lawless, and buffoonish. It’s losing to losers.

It needn’t be this way. The most successful left-of-center leaders of the past 30 years were Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. They believed in the benefits of free markets, the importance of law and order, the superiority of Western values, and a healthy respect for the moral reflexes of ordinary people. Within that framework, they were able to achieve important liberal victories.

Political blunders and personal shortcomings? Many. But neither man would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.

Anyone who thinks the most important political task of the next few years is to defeat Trump in the United States and his epigones abroad must give an honest account of their stunning electoral successes. Plenty has been said about the effects of demagoguery and bigotry in driving these Trumpian victories, and the cultural, social, and economic insecurities that fuel populist anxiety. Not so often mentioned is that the secret of success lies also in having opponents who are even less appealing.

In the contest of ugly, the left keeps winning. To repurpose that line from Trump, “Please, please, it’s too much winning.

How to Defeat Trump For starters, we need a patriotic Republican on the right to run as a third-party candidate.

Thomas L. Friedman

By Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the magician-psychic Uri Geller, who was famous for bending spoons with his supposed supernatural powers. How did he do that? I wondered. I’ve been thinking about him lately as I’ve watched an even more profound magic trick playing out in our politics. We have a president who can bend people.

In so many cases, Donald Trump has been able to take people who came into his orbit and just bend them to his lying ways the way Uri Geller bent spoons. The latest is Attorney General William Barr, who, in only a few weeks, got bent into becoming Trump’s personal lawyer. But Barr is in good company. Trump took Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, who’d actually been bent against him, and bent them into fawning sycophants. It’s awesome!

How does he do that trick? Surely the answer lies partly in Trump’s energy source: Fox News, Breitbart and Trump’s own Twitter feed keep his base in a state of constant agitation and high partisanship, and Trump, seemingly with no hands, leverages that energy into bending so many Republicans to his will. With a few exceptions, like Jim Mattis, Trump also has a knack for picking people who are bendable.

And bendable people — people who, like Trump, were always outsiders or never on the A-team — are attracted to him to get ahead.

“Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from,” former F.B.I. Director James Comey explained in The Times. “It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

What worries me most right now is that if Trump gets a second term he’ll also bend all the key institutions that govern us. Already he’s softening the steel in many of them so they can be bent more easily.

Look at the dishonest crusade he has begun against the F.B.I. for “spying” on his campaign and how we need to “investigate the investigators.” Trump and his bent spoons are ready to wreck any institution that gets in the way of his re-election or unfettered exercise of power.

For America to stay America, Trump has to be defeated.

<p class=”highlight”>

I don’t want him impeached. He has to be voted out. Only that will restore the faith of the world that America has not lost its mind and maybe, maybe, will force a much-needed debate among Republicans, titled, “How did we let this grifter take over our party?”</p>

But defeating Trump won’t be easy, so I am hoping for three things. First, we desperately need a third party. No, no, no — not that kind of third party!

I don’t mean a third party that sits between Democrats and Republicans. We need a Republican third-party candidate who won’t just primary Trump but will get on the general election ballot and challenge him in 2020 in all 50 states — but do it from his right, not from the center.

Yes, we need a Republican who will do the most high-minded, patriotic thing I can imagine today — fall on the Trump grenade. That is, run against Trump from the right in the national election as, say, a libertarian — who could oppose Trump for his tariffs, his piling up of the national debt, his opposition to immigration and his immorality. This could siphon off just enough Republican votes for Trump to lose close races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Florida. We need a Republican who will do to Trump what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000.

“Even if you believe (as I do) that the Supreme Court improperly stopped a Florida recount that could well have given the race to Gore, the fact remains that without Nader on the ballot, there would have been no protracted recount spectacle and no Supreme Court involvement,” noted Bill Scher on RealClearPolitics. “The official Florida tally gave Bush the win by 537 votes (48.847 percent to 48.838 percent), while Nader racked up 97,488 votes.”

Second, we need some dutiful people to bear witness. There is now a club of people who have served at the top of Trump’s administration in the past two years who either quit, because they would not bend, or were forced out after Trump could bend them no longer: Mattis, Don McGahn, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly, Jeff Sessions and Reince Priebus. (We also need to hear from Robert Mueller.)

We need them all to bear witness to the dishonesty, indecency and dysfunction they saw while serving Trump and to his unfitness for high office. We can’t wait for their memoirs or anonymous, ineffective leaks. They don’t have to take sides left or right. We need them to side with the truth. That is the essence of acting honorably.

It is high time they stopped holding their tongues while Trump lashes them all with his. If all those people bear witness at the right time, it could have a major impact. Elie Wiesel put it well: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Finally, most important, we need a Democratic candidate who can appeal not only to Democrats but also hold the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women whose votes shifted the House to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections and whose support will be vital for any Democrat to win the presidency.

I’m not endorsing anyone now, but I appreciated how Joe Biden launched his campaign by quoting from the Declaration of Independence and arguing that “the core values of this nation … our standing in the world … our very democracy … everything that has made America — America — is at stake. That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president.”

I think that is the right broad message for Democrats, because this election is not just about who will deliver “Medicare for all” but about who can deliver “all for one and one for all.”

I think a lot of people today are frightened that the country is getting pulled apart at the seams. It starts with Trump: His extreme language and behavior, amplified by social media, fuels extreme reactions. And this is clearly heating up the society and stimulating some fringe actors on the right to physically attack people they believe Trump has identified as “enemies” of the state.

Surely one reason Trump’s favorability rating is nowhere near as high as it should be — given the soaring economy — is that many Americans are worried that another Trump term will bring us to a political civil war.

So Biden was not waxing nostalgic. He was saying in effect: “Let’s remind ourselves who we were on our best days and rededicate ourselves to doing big, hard things, which can only be done together.” To go forward together we have to look back. We have to get reattached to what we were when we were at our best.

Yes, virtually the entire G.O.P. political/media apparatus is now a Trump-bent spoon ready to serve up whatever alternate universe he constructs. But the country is not. If Democrats don’t fight fire with fire, they lose. But if they just fight fire with fire, we burn the whole house down.

You also have to summon people with a message of unity and respect; there are moderate Republicans and independents whose support is vital. It’s a tricky balance, and the Democrat who gets it wins.

 

 

Two Fake News Pieces but Must Reads

May 1, 2019

James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr

Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.

(Mr. Comey is the former F.B.I. director.)
NYTimes,  May 1, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 6.49.50 PM

CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times

People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?
How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?

And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?
What happened to these people?
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.

Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.
I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.
From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.
Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.
Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.
You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.
You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.
And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.
James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”


April 30, 2019

Andrew Restuccia: The sanctification of Donald Trump

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this year.

saint DonaldNicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

For his closest advisers, President Donald Trump is a godsend — literally.
Trump’s campaign manager says the president was sent by God to save the country. The White House press secretary thinks God wanted Trump to be president. And the secretary of State believes it’s possible that Trump is on a holy mission to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Iran.

Forget the allegations of extramarital affairs, the nonstop Twitter insults and the efforts to close the southern border to migrants. Trump’s allies insist that his presidency is divinely inspired.
“There has never been and probably never will be a movement like this again,” Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.

“Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation, and only God could allow me to help. God bless America!”

Parscale’s tweet, the latest example of a Trump adviser casting the president as a savior, comes as the White House is preparing to host religious leaders on Wednesday and Thursday for the National Day of Prayer, an annual event in which people of all faiths are encouraged to pray for the nation.
The president, who doesn’t regularly attend church services, has emerged as an unlikely ally of the evangelical right, building close relationships with influential conservative religious figures. The White House screened an anti-abortion movie earlier this month, part of a broader strategy to energize evangelical voters ahead of the 2020 elections by amplifying false claims about late-term abortions.

But for observers of American history and advocates for the separation of church and state, the assertions that Trump’s presidency is endorsed by God are alarming.
“Christians should beware of a political use of the word ‘savior,’ which goes to the very heart of our faith. This particular statement is a gross expression of Christian nationalism, which I define as equating Christian and American identities,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “People of faith know that God is much larger than any one candidate, party, election or country.”
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian, said, “What these political lieutenants are saying to the faithful is that, ‘You have no choice; God has told you how you must vote.’
“Republican administrations historically have talked about individual rights, the autonomy of the individual, preventing government from dictating political choice,” he said. “By bringing the sacred into politics, they are actually imposing a view onto his followers and depriving them of a freedom of choice.”
And even some of Trump’s most vocal evangelical backers have some qualms with the notion that God wanted him to win the presidency.
“If you give God credit for a good president, then you’ve got to blame God when you have a bad one. So I don’t think that’s the way to look at it,” Jerry Falwell Jr. told POLITICO, adding later: “I don’t think you can say that God gives us good leaders. What do you do when you get a bad one, say, ‘God messed up’? That’s silly.”…

Falwell said he would be attend a National Day of Prayer dinner at the White House on Wednesday with the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Parscale, who did not respond to a text seeking comment, isn’t the first Trump ally to make the case that Trump is carrying out God’s will.
“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network News earlier this year. Sanders did not comment for this story.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in March that Trump might have been sent to protect the Jewish people from Iran.
“Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo during a visit to Israel.