Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Reading

Speak Up — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

Donald Trump’s two immediate predecessors as President, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both gave speeches on Thursday that, if you filled in the blanks, could be heard as criticizing him. Neither one of them mentioned Trump’s name. They both had valuable, even strong things to say. Obama, for example, in a rally in Richmond, Virginia, for Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor there, which had been billed as Obama’s return to the campaign trail, talked about wanting someone with “honesty, integrity,” to make decisions, and at one point asked, almost plaintively, “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other, and put each other down?” Bush, at an event in New York sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, was less subtle. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” he said—though there was no particular conspiracy theory or lie that he named, and no particular liar.

Each man could say, fairly enough, that former Presidents tend to avoid direct criticism of the sitting one, but this rule, in practice, would seem to be a recent one, and not indispensible. (Theodore Roosevelt attacked, belittled, and mounted a primary challenge against a successor whom he had handpicked.) Bush could say that his speech, at a forum on liberty sponsored by the George W. Bush Center, was not the appropriate forum—that it had more reflective goals than narrowly partisan ones. Obama could also have offered a parallel reservation—since the goal was to turn out the vote for Northam without spurring Trump supporters to show up—that his speech had more narrowly partisan goals than reflective ones. But then where and when is the right time and place for something more?

Northam, in his opening remarks, wasn’t shy about saying that his opponent, Ed Gillespie, who has worked as a lobbyist, would be “Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist,” and that he and Trump were “cut from the same cloth.” This is a useful issue, which the Democrats need to practice raising for the midterms next year: Republican leaders have been willing support Trump, whatever they think of him personally or of his tweets. Obama, referring to Gillespie only as “Ralph’s opponent,” said that the ads that Gillespie was running against Northam, who, before going into politics, worked as a doctor at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center while serving in the military, and then as a pediatric neurologist, were “phony and divisive.” One ad is a montage of images of the MS-13 drug cartel, juxtaposing its motto—“Kill, Rape, Control”—with Northam’s support for sanctuary cities. (One shot shows a wall with a mural—a street-style painting of Northam and an MS-13 graffiti tag.) “I don’t think that anybody really thinks that somebody who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children suddenly is cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said. “That strains credulity—that sounds like a fib!” True—but maybe it would be helpful to note who else it sounds like? If Obama wants to campaign for his party—and wants his party to present a coherent alternative to Trumpism—he may need to be more than allusive.

This may come at the cost of a certain post-Presidential glow. It is valuable to have someone above the fray, but Obama, whether he likes it or not, is in it. Trump, in his press conference on Monday, portrayed himself as being in an open fight against Obama’s legacy, and he derides and even smears his predecessor at almost every turn. (Obama’s most direct response to this week’s theme, his supposed inattentiveness to military families, came when he mentioned, in relation to Northam’s career, his own frequent visits to Walter Reed.) Obama was so committed, on Thursday, to conveying the message that politics could and should be a sunny place that he cited the aftermath of the violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville as a moment when “the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.” And they did; but President Trump’s affinity for bigotry came out, too.

The elder-statesman stage of life is an appealing one. Bush, in his speech, mentioned his painting hobby. But this is a time when each man’s party needs him, if in different ways: the Democrats to organize their despair and anger, the Republicans to articulate the nature of their doubt and compromises. And others have set the stage for them. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of his current term, recently said that almost everyone in his caucus knows “the volatility we’re dealing with” when it come to Trump, even if they don’t say so. Senator Jeff Flake is one of the few others who have been willing to say so and, in response, he has been subject to attacks from the President, with too few Republicans coming to his defense. John McCain gave a powerful speech in which he talked about “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” That speech didn’t name Trump, either. But McCain, who is gravely ill, has a prerogative to speak beyond the current political moment while he can. McCain has also criticized Trump by name, and put his own name down in a key vote protecting health-care coverage, knowing that the President would lash out at him. Bush echoed McCain’s language, no doubt deliberately, when he said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism—forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” But both Bush and Obama have more room to maneuver; they can take up McCain’s challenge and carry it further, if they want to.

This is particularly urgent because of what the White House has said recently about who does and doesn’t have a right to criticize the President directly. In Trump’s efforts to suppress complaints about the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico, he has suggested that a Puerto Rican politician who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of the job he is doing is a liar and should be shut out. This view was also on display in the press conference that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, gave yesterday, in which he lashed out against what he saw as the presumption of a congresswoman who had conveyed a young military widow’s sense that Trump had been callous in a condolence call about the death of her husband. Kelly connected this complaint to the loss of the “sacred” in America, yet he ignored the voice of Johnson’s mother, who also said that she found Trump disrespectful. This suggests that the problem was less protocol than dissent. In Kelly’s litany of lost values, he included this puzzling line: “Gold Star families, I think that left in the Convention over the summer.” In fact, the most notable moment concerning Gold Star families in last year’s conventions came at the Democratic gathering, when Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq, spoke out against Trump. The next round of conventions is sooner than one might think. Obama and Bush—if he is invited—might have powerful things to say at them. They’ve at least made a start. But they, more than most, can make their voices heard, and shouldn’t wait until 2020 to use them.

The Darkness Reaching Out — Charles P. Pierce.

This strikes me as a terribly sad moment. Everything and everybody this president* touches goes bad from the inside out. And it doesn’t matter to me whether people volunteered to work for him or not. In Oliver Stone’s Nixon, there’s a great scene on the Key Bridge at night where Ed Harris’s Howard Hunt warns a very tremulous John Dean, played by David Hyde-Pierce. Nixon, Hunt tells Dean, “is the darkness reaching out for the darkness in everyone.” That was true, but this is what we know now: in this, Nixon was a rank amateur. From The New York Times:

Mr. Kelly said that he was stunned to see the criticism, which came from a Democratic congresswoman, Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, after Mr. Trump delivered a similar message to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. Mr. Kelly said afterward that he had to collect his thoughts by going to Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour. In a remarkable, somber appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, said he had told the president what he was told when he got the news.

“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.” “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” he said. “What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth.”

That’s how he gets absolved. That’s how he always gets absolved. There’s always somebody willing to step up and push their soul to the middle of the table for him to gamble with and, when he loses, because he always loses at the game of being human, he reneges on the bet because that’s what he always does. Of all the “generals,” Kelly always was the one closest to being a true Trumpian; his tenure at Homeland Security overseeing ICE showed that Kelly at least was sympatico with the president*’s Id-driven hardbar approach to immigration.

And now, by deploying the memory of his son, he’s given his inexcusable boss that boss’s most recent alibi for that boss’s most recent offense against human decency and the dignity of his office. There’s a great sadness in that.

It’s True — Facts from Sarah Hutto.

IN “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” the “zombies” were in fact very much alive, as the studio chose not to go through the Zombie Actors Equity. In retaliation, union zombies went on to overtake local drinking establishments, playing fantasy football for hours, dominating the jukebox with college rock and tipping poorly.

STEPHEN KING WAS INSPIRED to write “Pet Sematary” when he found out one of his sons had been sacrificing small animals in the family barn. When Mr. King confronted him, his son transformed into a weird clown who had the power of bringing forth all of Mr. King’s most deeply held insecurities at any given moment, prompting Mr. King to drive off wildly into the Maine woods in his car, which he also believed to be possessed. Soon after, he retired to Florida to write inappropriate children’s books under a different name.

WHILE FILMING “THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” the director Wes Craven felt that Freddy Kruger’s original costume of just fingernail extensions and a striped sweater wasn’t scary enough, so he decided to permanently melt Robert Englund’s face at the last moment for effect. The actor claims to have been typecast ever since as a result, as well as generally inconvenienced by the whole melted face thing.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK RELEASED “The Birds” in 1963 only to die 17 years later. Though it did not involve birds in any way, his death at age 80 was felt by many to be more than just coincidence.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER WAS first cousins with the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” They shared a congenital defect of stiff joints and were both prescribed an oil can. Only the Tin Man got to use his oil can on set, and as a result was able to go on to star in “The Iron Giant,” “RoboCop” and “Mad Max.” Frankenstein’s monster unfortunately succumbed to his defect as well as the rust caused by his ungalvanized neck bolt.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER FILMING “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Snoopy was rushed into surgery for a buildup of urethral crystals. He survived the surgery and was put on a low-starch diet, but was never quite the same after.

THE “OCT” PART OF OCTOBER means “eight” in Latin, which is now a dead language because it went skinny dipping at dusk in the lake, unlike French and German, which chose to remain at the bonfire with the rest of the group.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING as ghosts, but there are bugs that crawl into your ear canal while you’re sleeping and emit negative subliminal messages, ever eating away at your sense of well-being.

MOST PEOPLE KNOW more about Jamie Lee Curtis’s bowel issues than they do about Nafta.

THE REAL COSTUMES are the ones we wear the other 364 days of the year.

YOU’RE TURNING into your mother. Or your father. Whichever one is worse, you’re turning into.

CLIMATE CHANGE is real.

PUMPKINS are a fruit.

Doonesbury — Flashback.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pearl-Clutching Sessions

Watch Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) grill Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III over his four different versions about meeting with the Russians (“The Russian ambassador is a Russian”) and see how he goes all Aunt Pittypat on him.

“I do declare!”

I know it won’t happen, but I would love it if Al Franken ran for president.

Stiffed

Via the Washington Post:

Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were fatally shot by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed — shot by someone he was training.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds a dimension to his relationships with Gold Star families, and the disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to the parents or spouses of those killed.

[…]

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Post interviewed the families of 13. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

It’s not that he hasn’t called everyone.  It’s that he lied about it and also said that other presidents didn’t call when he did.

This pattern is in keeping with how he did business before he was elected.; he’d refuse to pay bills for services rendered.  He’d make up all sorts of bullshit excuses and wait it out, thinking that the creditors would just give up and he’d get away with it.  He still works that way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

That’s What He Said

From the New York Post:

Trump told the widow of a Green Beret who died in Niger that the soldier “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway” during a phone call on Tuesday.

The widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson received the five-minute call from Trump, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson told The Post, one day after the commander in chief falsely suggested that former President Barack Obama did not phone the families of fallen soldiers.

“They were astonished,” Wilson said about the Florida family’s reaction. “It was almost like saying, ‘You signed up to do this, and if you didn’t want to die, shouldn’t have signed up.’ ”

Wilson said the widow, Myeshia Johnson, spoke to Trump for about five minutes and her only words were “thank you” at the end of the conversation.

“I wanted to curse him out,” Wilson said of Trump. “I asked the family to give me the phone so that I could, but they wouldn’t.”

Sgt. Johnson had been a member of a mentorship program started by the congresswoman.

A White House official later said, “The president’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.”

Myeshia, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, collapsed in tears on her husband’s flag-draped coffin at Miami International Airport Tuesday.

What did you honestly expect him to say?  We all know he has the empathy and the sensitivity of a scorpion, so why expect anything different than this?

It would have been better if he hadn’t called at all.

In Keeping With National Character Counts Week

The Senate has confirmed Callista Gingrich as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

You remember her.  She is the third wife of Newt Gingrich, the woman he was having an affair with while his second wife was in the hospital for cancer treatment.

While that may raise some heat under the collar at the Holy See, she’s a perfect representative of the Trump administration’s character and family values.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

That Was Then

It was just about two years ago when Hillary Clinton spent 11 hours in front of a congressional committee getting grilled about her role in Benghazi! and what about her e-mails and her private accounts and state secrets and ohmigod?

My, how times have changed.

The White House brushed off a bipartisan request from House investigators for details of senior administration officials’ use of private email and encrypted messaging apps for government work, including possible violations of federal record-keeping laws, a letter obtained by POLITICO shows.

In a terse letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — leaders of the House oversight committee — President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short declined to indicate whether any administration officials had used personal email accounts or messaging services, despite reports suggesting such communications were common in the West Wing.

“The White House and covered employees endeavor to comply with all relevant laws,” Short wrote in a two-page reply delivered late last week and obtained Monday by POLITICO.

Short’s statement comes despite recent revelations that several senior aides to President Donald Trump routinely used private email addresses and personal devices for government business. Among the current and former aides who POLITICO found at least occasionally relied on private email addresses were Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and Reince Priebus.

In a similarly brief letter, Short also declined to provide records in response to a separate inquiry by Gowdy and Cummings into the use of costly private air travel by top administration officials.

If this had come from the Obama administration — or any Democrat, for that matter — there would be Tiki torches mounted atop the Rascal scooters of the Tea Party — hey, remember them? — until MSNBC stopped live coverage.

But now it’s *shrug* and “Whatever….”  Like it should have been the first time.

Pathological

From TPM:

The President first told reporters that he had written letters to the families of soldiers who died in the recent attack in Niger and said he would soon call the families as well. He then claimed that his approach was unique, and that not all past presidents made those calls.

“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them.”

Former aides to Obama quickly pushed back on Trump’s claim, calling it a “lie.”

[…]

A reporter followed up with Trump later in the press conference, prompting Trump to walk back his claim and say that he “was told” that Obama didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers.

“I don’t know if he did. No, no. I was told that he didn’t often and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters,” Trump said.

“President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals,” the President continued. “Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters and some presidents didn’t do anything.”

He can’t help lying and blaming other people for his own troubles.  It’s a pattern he’s followed that’s been traceable since he came into public view nearly 50 years ago and still continues, now as automatic and as incontrovertible as closing your eyes when sneezing.

Our system of government has the depth and the flexibility to absorb and recover from terrible shocks.  We made it through the throes of nation-founding and setting out on a new course when the idea of representative democracy founded on a constitution of laws and rights was unheard of.  We survived — barely — a civil war, the scars of which are still visible and not fully healed, and we have made it through misguided and ill-informed leaders and presidents and dealt with them without rancor or retribution.  But this pathological pattern of lying and deliberate deception, of ruling by spite as if each act was to erase the recent past and lay waste to what’s left for no other reason than personal animus, is not something we have had to endure before, and it seems as if our system of governance has little recourse but to let him continue until either madness or nature takes its course.

Simply put, our country was not designed to handle being led by a pathological liar.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Reading

Under The Cloak — Jelani Cobb on how sexual predators keep up appearances.

The great mystery of evil is not that it persists but, rather, that so many of its practitioners wish to do so while being thought of as saints. Consider the fact that such a bizarre, oxymoronic accolade as the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples once existed—and that it was created after his plans for agricultural collectivization resulted in the deaths of some four million Ukrainians. Once considered a hallmark of Soviet ineptitude, the starvation now appears, Anne Applebaum writes in her new book, “Red Famine,” to have been the deliberate result of a plan to rid the state of a rebellious peasantry. Or think of Leopold II, the nineteenth-century Belgian king who carefully cultivated a reputation for outsized philanthropy and Christian devotion while overseeing the ruthless subjugation of the population of the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, and commanding an army that committed massacres and routine disfigurements of locals. These are hypocrisies on the grand brutal scale, but, as the past week has demonstrated once again, there is no shortage of smaller tyrannies and compromised altruism in our times and in our midst.

In a matter of days, Harvey Weinstein went from being heralded as a formidable media titan to being accused as a serial sexual predator. The charges of sexual harassment levelled against him last Thursday in a New York Times report, followed by further allegations in Ronan Farrow’s article published by The New Yorker, five days later, bracketed a period that saw a maelstrom of social-media outrage and Weinstein’s firing from the prestigious film company that he had helped found. There have since been reports that his wife is leaving him, and he has come under investigation by police in New York City and London, and been accused of rape by a fourth woman. Last Saturday, in a statement that appeared to prove that, like Einsteinian space-time, irony is capable of bending to dimensions that we cannot fully grasp, Donald Trump remarked that he had known Weinstein for a long time and “I am not at all surprised.” Game, as the adage says, recognizes game.

What is perhaps more notable than the fact that Weinstein’s alleged transgressions could persist for so long with so little scrutiny is that they coexisted with his reputation as a stalwart of progressive causes. Weinstein’s films generated more than three hundred Oscar nominations and earned Best Actress honors for several women in films that he produced. In any other context, this would be a banner legacy of helping women achieve standing and power in an industry that, as the director Ava DuVernay has said, was “created by men, for men, to tell stories about men.” Last week, it was reported that Weinstein had pledged five million dollars to the University of Southern California film school toward a scholarship fund for female filmmakers. (The school is reportedly rejecting the pledge.) He also championed Hillary Clinton’s bid to be the first female President of the United States, and donated to the campaigns of a number of other women, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Both women are now donating the money to charities.)

Weinstein’s palette of giving earned him the standing as a man who was, if not an embodiment of male progressivism, at least someone willing to stand on its periphery. In that way, Weinstein’s public demise recalls Hugh Hefner’s mortal one, last month. Hefner, whose great realization, as my colleague Adam Gopnik has pointed out, was that virtually anything, even pornography, can be mainstreamed in America if it is paired with a measure of upper-class aspiration, contained contradictions similar to Weinstein’s, though they were a great deal more transparent. Critics maintained that Hefner innovated the tradition of female objectification and hijacked the idea of women’s sexual autonomy for his own agenda of furthering male prerogatives. His defenders claimed that he “empowered” women—a vague term that can be deployed to camouflage the fact that one group of people is getting rich while the “empowered” group is getting hustled—and was a strong advocate of women’s reproductive rights and of civil rights. The reality, though, is that it’s possible, maybe even typical, for all these things to be true.

It’s not uncommon for people to tangentially benefit groups that they’re simultaneously exploiting. Note that of the boldface names recently associated with charges of sexual harassment or assault—Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Weinstein—every one of them could, and some did, argue that they’d hired and promoted women in their professional enterprises. None of this obviates the possibility that any of them harassed or assaulted women in those same enterprises.

It’s striking that a former temporary employee at the Weinstein Company reported to Farrow that Weinstein had said that “he’d never had to do anything like Bill Cosby”—apparently a reference to the fact that some of Cosby’s accusers have said that he drugged them prior to assaulting them—though otherwise there are distinct similarities in the accounts of how both men used their positions of power against vulnerable women whose careers they purported to help. Another commonality extends to their relationships with philanthropy.

Bill Cosby was particularly hailed for his largesse in the nineteen-eighties, when he paid college tuition for students in need who wrote to him, created scholarships, and gave broadly to causes connected to African-Americans. The donation that cemented his status as a minor deity among African-Americans came when he and his wife, Camille, donated twenty million dollars to Spelman College, in Atlanta, in 1988. At the time, it was the largest single donation ever given to a historically black college. The fact that Spelman is also a women’s college seemed to certify Cosby as a man whose credentials as a humanitarian were beyond impeachment. (Amid the swirling controversy over Cosby’s behavior, the college terminated a professorship endowed in his name and returned related funds in 2015.)

One view is that philanthropy can operate as a kind of penance mechanism. The individual who recognizes that he has done wrong attempts to make good in equal measure, to place a thumb on the scale of karma. This kind of moral licensing—do-gooding to offset wrongdoing—is not unusual. We just recognized the annual awarding of an international peace prize created by a man who grew rich from the sales of dynamite and the attendant war munitions. Many of the great name-brand foundations were created in honor of individuals whose personal character or wealth was connected to deeply morally compromising actions.

Yet this is not quite what seems to be happening here. Both Weinstein and Cosby gave publicly and visibly, and that inevitably created situations which also left their beneficiaries vulnerable. When Fareed Zakaria interviewed Hillary Clinton earlier this week, she denied any knowledge of Weinstein’s alleged history of predation, which prompted Anthony Bourdain, who is currently in a relationship with one of Weinstein’s accusers, to suggest on Twitter that Clinton’s claim strained credulity. (Clinton seems fated to be in close proximity to men who both assist her career and undermine it through their alleged sexual impropriety.)

A Weinstein Company executive told Farrow that she was particularly disturbed that Weinstein seemed to use female employees as “a honeypot to lure these women in, to make them feel safe.” In that light, the philanthropy can be seen as a sort of honeypot scheme, in which a concern for social issues lulls people into seeing only one side of the giver. In some cases, charity doesn’t contradict monstrosity. It enables it.

Governing By Disruption — Dan Balz in the Washington Post.

Nine months into his first term, President Trump is perfecting a style of leadership commensurate with his campaign promise to disrupt business as usual in Washington. Call it governing by cattle prod.

It is a tactic borne of frustration and dissatisfaction. Its impact has been to overload the circuits of government — from Capitol Hill to the White House to the Pentagon to the State Department and beyond. In the face of his own unhappiness, the president is trying to raise the pain level wherever he can.

The permanent campaign has long been a staple of politics in this country, the idea that running for office never stops and that decisions are shaped by what will help one candidate or another, one party or another, win the next election.

President Trump has raised this to a high and at times destructive art. He cares about ratings, praise and success. Absent demonstrable achievements, he reverts to what worked during the campaign, which is to depend on his own instincts and to touch the hot buttons that roused his voters in 2016. As president, he has never tried seriously to reach beyond that base.

The past week was a perfect example of the Trump school of governing. Start with the end of the week. In rapid succession between late Thursday and midday Friday, he took steps to break the Affordable Care Act and then potentially end the Iran nuclear agreement.

These moves will earn him accolades from the people who supported his candidacy last year, which might be the principal objective. But neither action solved a problem. It will be left to others to do that, if they can. In a few hours, the nation and the world got a double dose of what Trump’s frustrations can mean in terms of their impact on important issues.

Those were only two of the moments that defined the president’s disruptive style of leadership in just one week. It was, after all, only a week ago that the president started a Twitter war with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The tweets resulted in Corker firing off a snarky tweet in return and then bluntly calling out the president’s character and fitness in a New York Times interview in which he warned that the president’s recklessness could result in World War III.

It was also within that week that the president, with an assist from Vice President Pence, escalated and perhaps seized the advantage in his feud with professional football players who kneel during the national anthem. Amid outrage from his critics, Trump has managed to turn an issue that once was about police violence in minority communities into a cultural battle about patriotism, the flag and pride in the military. His critics are now on the defensive.

The week saw one other example of Trump’s governing by pique. Hours before the steps he took on health care, he lashed out again at critics of his handling of the hurricane cleanup in Puerto Rico, tweeting that he would cut back the federal response. Like many of his tweets, it is no doubt an idle threat, but one nonetheless designed to give a jolt of displeasure to the status quo.

Trump’s Twitter feed is an obsession, both for a president who finds release through 140-character blasts at opponents or enemies and for a media trained to jump at the moment the tweets light up smartphones. But his actions on health care and Iran were reminders that the most consequential steps are those in which he is attempting to reverse course on policies without a clear sense of a path to success.

There’s little doubt that part of the president’s motivation is to undo what former president Barack Obama did. He campaigned against Obamacare, although his prescriptions for what should replace it lacked consistency or, for that matter, clear alternatives. He railed against the Iran nuclear deal and now is trying to undo it despite the fact that all relevant parties say the Iranians are adhering to its terms.

Trump prefers to look past that history. He wants his supporters to believe that he is trying to fulfill his campaign promises in the face of resistance from entrenched powers. If it doesn’t get done, pin the blame on others. It’s still the president vs. the swamp.

The president asks much — of the Congress and of his own team. Congress is flailing, and now the president has added to the burdens on the backs of legislators. Lawmakers still must deal with funding the government and acting on the debt ceiling. Trump also wants a big tax bill, as do Republicans, and the work on that has been going on for months without any major action.

Beyond that, Trump has tossed the issue of the “dreamers” into the laps of lawmakers, with a clock ticking on action. He made a tentative deal with Democrats, but there is disagreement on the terms. So far there’s no sign of an accord. Now he has decided to force Congress to act on whether to fund the insurance subsidies that help lower-income Americans purchase health insurance. That’s another way he’s trying to bring the Democrats to the table, but the potential political costs to his party in 2018 could be significant.

The policy initiative aimed at Iran has some merit. The Obama administration tried to say that the nuclear agreement should be seen as a separate issue from other bad actions by the Iranians and that making the deal to block the Iranian path to nuclear weapons didn’t lessen concerns about the funding of terrorism and other activities.

Trump is trying to ratchet up attention to those problems but by threatening to walk away from the nuclear agreement has created a rift with U.S. partners to that pact that will necessarily complicate prospects for overall success.

But there is another element related to the Iran initiative that should not be overlooked, which is the danger of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. That is a far more dangerous situation at the moment and one that requires constant attention from the president’s national security team. Foreign policy experts worry that by opening up a new confrontation with Iran, the administration may be stretching its capacity to handle both matters with the patience, skill and delicacy they require. Presidential tweets aimed at Kim Jong Un have not and probably will not resolve the North Korea standoff.

The president has proved himself capable and willing to start controversies and policy confrontations. That’s what being a disrupter is all about. But there is more to the presidency than initiating conflict, and on that measure, Trump has much to prove.

Final Approach — Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker remembers the 747.

How much do I, a Boeing 747 pilot, love the airplane that I fly? It’s tough, and maybe a little embarrassing, to answer. But as the iconic jet’s eventual retirement draws closer, I am surely not the only 747 fan who’s taking some very long flights down memory lane.

To share with you the jumbo dimensions of my 747 obsession, I could describe my wedding cake (hint: it had wings of marzipan, and four chocolate engines). I could share my Twitter moniker, @markv747. Or I could go farther back, to the day when I, an awkward 14-year-old, stood with my mom and dad atop the Pan Am terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and stared in wonder at the towering tail fins of the 747s all around us, as proud and promising to my wide-opened eyes as masts in a harbor.

I could tell you pretty much everything about my first passenger flight on a 747, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight to Amsterdam, on June 25, 1988 (in 33A — a window seat, of course). And I’d certainly describe the marvelous night of Dec. 12, 2007, when I first piloted a 747, for British Airways, the airline I now fly for, from London to Hong Kong. That night the majesty of the 747 made the experience of takeoff new again, as joyful as it had been on my first flying lesson years earlier, when a steely-eyed instructor and I strapped ourselves into a Cessna, rumbled down the runway of my hometown airport in Pittsfield, Mass., and lifted into an autumn-blue Berkshire sky.

Recent news reports have suggested that the last 747s in passenger service with U.S. airlines will be retired this year. It’s worth noting that other 747s — including refurbished, newer and cargo versions — will fly for years to come. New passenger 747s took flight as recently as this summer, and cargo models continue to roll off the assembly line. Nevertheless, as many 747 pilots start to ponder which aircraft we’ll fly next (personally, I am drawn to the sleek lines and “Star Trek”-caliber cockpit of the Boeing 787), it is a good time to reflect on the outsize importance of the plane known as “Queen of the Skies” — not just to its most passionate and geekiest, pilots, but to billions of passengers and to the world it helped change.

For those who grew up under 747-crossed skies, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary the jet’s dimensions were when it first (and improbably, to some observers) got airborne in 1969. The inaugural model, the 747-100, was the world’s first wide-bodied airliner. The jet weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds more than its predecessors (the Boeing 707, for example), and carried more than twice as many passengers. Born in a factory so large that clouds once formed within it, the 747-100 was nearly twice as long as the Wright brothers’ entire first flight.

The aviation historian Martin Bowman has written that during the 747’s first takeoff, from Paine Field, in Everett, Wash., in February 1969, the blast of its engines knocked over a photographer. Indeed, the jet’s elephantine proportions were both a gift and a challenge to the travel industry. Peter Walter, who retired in 2011 after 47 years in ground-based aviation jobs, shared with me his memories of the day the 747 first came to the airport in Freeport, Bahamas. “The aircraft did not look all that big on the runway, but once it was on the ramp it looked enormous,” he wrote. The mobile steps that had serviced a previous generation of airliners were too short, so crews stacked one set of steps atop another in order to reach the lofty doors of the new leviathan.

For pilots, crew members and passengers who love the 747, it’s easy to forget that the airliner was first of all a business proposition, one that aimed to harness economies of scale and a raft of new technologies to cut the seat-per-mile cost of air travel by about 30 percent. Yet on a planet that previously only the richest could cross at will, the 747’s most lasting impact may have been on everyday notions of distance and difference. Having inaugurated the “age of mass intercontinental travel,” wrote the scholar Vaclav Smil, the 747 “became a powerful symbol of global civilization.” The writer J.G. Ballard compared the jet to nothing less than the Parthenon — each the embodiment of “an entire geopolitical world-view.” Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s legendary founder, called the 747 “a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.”

The hopes and fears of the era that gave us the 747 can seem distant. Nor is it easy, in the age of the internet, to feel the same awe at the 747’s ability to shrink and connect the world. Looking back, it’s perhaps enough to marvel at the billions of reunions, migrations, exchanges and collaborations of all manner that were made possible, or at least more affordable, by this aircraft. Today, the equivalent of around half the planet’s population has flown on a 747. The jets have also served in firefighting, military and humanitarian roles. In 1991, as part of Operation Solomon, about 1,100 Ethiopian Jews boarded the 747 that would take them to Israel. Never before had an aircraft carried so many passengers — including, by the time the jet touched down, several babies born midair.

If the 747’s place in history is assured, so too, it seems, is its cultural stature. The jet remains a go-to synonym for aerial enormity, one that a “Game of Thrones” director recently deployed to suggest the dimensions of a dragon. The 747 also endures as a symbol of speed, escape and, frankly, sexiness, one that — along with the pleasingly palindromic rhythm of its number-name — has appealed in particular to singers. A 747 playlist might include Prince (“you are flying aboard the seduction 747”); Earth, Wind and Fire (“just move yourself and glide like a 747”); and Joni Mitchell, who gave perhaps my favorite tribute to 747s (“…over geometric farms.”)

The jet also seems certain to be remembered as an icon of modern design. “This is one of the great ones,” said Charles Lindbergh of the aircraft that many consider to be uniquely good-looking. I am surely not the first to speculate that the jet’s distinctive hump (fashioned to facilitate cargo-loading in a future that many expected to be dominated by supersonic passenger jets) suggests the graceful head of an avian archetype. Frequently, looking up from my cockpit paperwork, I’ll spot several passengers in the terminal photographing the very jet in which I am sitting. I often see even senior 747 pilots disembark the aircraft that they’ve just spent 11 hours flying to Cape Town or Los Angeles, and then pause, turn around and photograph it.

Indeed, the jet may be most esteemed by those who have been lucky enough to fly it. The very first to do so, the test pilot Jack Waddell, described it as “a pilot’s dream” and a “two-finger airplane” — one that can be flown with just the forefinger and thumb on the control wheel; it is hard to imagine higher praise for such an enormous aircraft. Personally, I find the aircraft to be both smooth and maneuverable, a joy to fly and to land.

Like every 747 pilot since, Mr. Waddell also took a keen interest in how the plane looked. Remarkably, he did so even as he was piloting the new jet on that first-ever flight. “What kind of a looking ship is this from out there, Paul?” he said over the radio to Paul Bennett, a pilot in the “chase” aircraft that was following the newborn 747 through the skies of the Pacific Northwest. The reply from Mr. Bennett echoes through aviation history: “It’s very good looking, Jack. Fantastic!”

Many 747 pilots feel the same, and are pleased, but not surprised, to hear that the British architect Norman Foster once named the aircraft his favorite building of the 20th century. Now, well into the 21st century, I asked Mr. Foster for an update. The 747 “still moves me now as it did then,” he told me in an email. “Perhaps with the passage of time, and in an age of ‘look-alikes,’ even more so.”

Mr. Foster has plenty of company. At the start of my first book, a sort of love letter to my job as a pilot, I invited readers to send me their favorite window seat photographs. Many also wrote to share their particular passion for the 747. One reader detailed his first 747 flight, on Alitalia, bound for Rome in 1971. “I have been hooked ever since,” he said. Another, Andrew Flowers, a 42-year-old South African writer who lives in Helsinki, wrote that the 747s he saw as a child in Cape Town stood for what “I wanted most in the world: a way to Europe, to adventure, to freedom.”

When Mr. Foster emailed me, he also attached a transcript of remarks he made about the 747 in a 1991 BBC documentary. “I suppose it’s the grandeur, the scale; it’s heroic, it’s also pure sculpture,” he said then of the jet. “It does not really need to fly, it could sit on the ground, it could be in a museum.”

Today the first 747 is indeed in a museum — the Museum of Flight in Seattle. When I last visited, I couldn’t stay long. (Inevitably, I had a flight to catch.) But if you see me there another time — perhaps in a few decades when I myself am retired, with more time, I hope, to sit on benches and listen to Joni Mitchell — come say hello. I’ll tell you how much I loved this plane, and how sorry I was that my parents did not live to join me on one of my flights. Perhaps you’ll tell me about the first time you ever saw a 747, or flew on one, and together we’ll marvel at how it towers above us even at its lowest altitude, even as it rests on the world.

Doonesbury — Ink now, regret later.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

When a challenge falls flat, the way to recover is to try to suggest it was all a joke, right?

Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried Tuesday to smooth over tensions in their relationship during a White House lunch after the president proposed an “IQ tests” faceoff with his top diplomat, who earlier had privately called Trump a “moron” and disparaged his grasp of foreign policy.

In an interview with Forbes magazine published Tuesday morning, Trump fired a shot at Tillerson over the “moron” revelation, first reported by NBC News and confirmed by several other news organizations, including The Washington Post.

“I think it’s fake news,” Trump said, “but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later insisted that Trump’s comment was “a joke and nothing more than that.”

The problem with Trump is that you can never tell when he’s making a joke.  He has no discernible sense of humor, so what’s the basis of comparison?

This, however, is not a joke.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Stagecraft vs. Statecraft

The Trump administration went to great taxpayer expense yesterday to alienate an awful lot of people and demonstrate that yes, they truly do disrespect the opinions of several million people while at the same time dividing the country.

Trump reignited his feud with the N.F.L. on Sunday by telling Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of a game in his home state of Indiana after nearly two dozen players from the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the national anthem.

Mr. Pence lavishly documented his early departure in a series of tweets and an official statement issued by his office. On Twitter, he declared, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”

While the vice president portrayed his decision as a gesture of patriotic principle, it had the distinct appearance of a well-planned, if costly, political stunt. He doubled back from a trip to the West Coast to take a seat in the stands in Indianapolis, where the 49ers — the team most associated with the N.F.L. protest movement against racial injustice — were suiting up to play the Colts.

Shortly after Mr. Pence issued his statement, Mr. Trump said on Twitter, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”

For Mr. Trump, the vice president’s walkout keeps alive a dispute that has proved popular with his political base, even if he has drawn criticism from the N.F.L. and some of its owners for being divisive and politicizing professional sports. On Sunday, a spokesman for the N.F.L., Joe Lockhart, declined to comment on Mr. Pence’s statement.

While politicians from both parties concoct situations for political gain, some criticized Mr. Pence’s walkout as transparently premeditated. The vice president did not take a pool reporter traveling with him into the stadium; a member of Mr. Pence’s staff told the reporter, Vaughn Hillyard, that the vice president might be leaving the game early.

“Manipulation of faux patriotism took new turn today with VP Pence. Preplanned early exit from Colts game after 49ers kneeled, then tweets,” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote on Twitter.

Others pointed out the expense involved: Mr. Pence flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas, where he had attended a memorial service for victims of last Sunday’s mass shooting, and was immediately flying back to Los Angeles.

“After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, said in a tweet.

There was little doubt, given the presence of the 49ers, that Mr. Pence would be given an opportunity to make his political statement. The former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the dispute over the national anthem last year by taking a knee to highlight the plight of black Americans, particularly the killing of black men by police officers.

Mr. Kaepernick left the 49ers in March and has not been signed by any other team — a situation seen by many as a blacklisting by other team owners. But other 49ers have continued the protest in a show of solidarity with their former teammate.

In America — at least the country that I believe in — no one dictates to anyone else how to show patriotism, be it a salute to a flag or the recitation of a pledge, and certainly not with a stunt that was deliberately staged to inflame the issue.

A grown-up and inclusive administration would have worked to find out what could be done to bring people together and to understand the grievance.  Someone who understands statecraft would have said that while they may not agree with the act, they have every right to show their true feelings.  Or, best of all, they would have said absolutely nothing in public to make the situation worse.

But that’s not the America Trump and his puppet Pence believe in.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Reading

How The Draft Reshaped America — Amy J. Rutenberg in the New York Times.

“Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States.” In 1967, more than 300,000 American men opened envelopes with this statement inside. Few pieces of mail ever incited the same combination of panic, anticipation and resignation as a draft notice. The words struck terror in the hearts of many recipients. Others found them comforting after years of waiting for the Selective Service System to come calling.

The Vietnam generation came of age with the threat of military service hovering in the background. Although the Selective Service called relatively few men between the end of the Korean War in 1953 and American escalation in Southeast Asia in 1965, the draft had been in almost continuous operation since before the United States joined World War II. During that time Selective Service, under the leadership of Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, faced little public criticism. In fact, Hershey had shaped it into a venerated institution. Although most men may not have wanted to dedicate two years of their life to active military service, draftees generally acquiesced to Uncle Sam’s wishes.

After President Lyndon Johnson mobilized ground troops in 1965, draft calls tripled. With each passing year, more men faced conscription to fight a war with whose goals and methods a significant number disagreed. Stories of privileged men finding ways to beat the draft began to circulate. Newspaper articles with headlines like “Young Men Dream Up Some Ingenious Ways to Avoid the Draft” and “Avoiding the Draft Is Becoming the Favorite Sport Among Youth” horrified Americans who believed military service should be an equal obligation of male citizenship. At least as portrayed by reporters, these men were almost always middle class, with seemingly All-American families.

Critics at the time and since have identified the Selective Service’s system of deferments as the main cause of military inequity during the Vietnam War. Although the Department of Defense did not keep records on the socio-economic status or racial identification of service personnel beyond whether they were African-American or not, there’s no doubt that men with fewer resources were less likely to obtain deferments than those with more. As a result, they were more likely to be drafted, serve in combat and die in Vietnam. Long Island’s war dead, for example, hailed overwhelmingly from working-class backgrounds.

But why? How is it that the Selective Service, which had used deferments during both World Wars and the Korean War, allowed the situation to become so bad that by 1967 fewer than half of Americans polled believed that the draft operated fairly? For this answer, one must look to the goals of Cold War liberals, both Republican and Democrat. The deferment policies that created such havoc during the Vietnam War were the direct outgrowth of Washington’s desire to fight Communism at home as well as abroad.

Deferments are a necessary element of any system of selective military service. If a nation does not require all of its citizens to participate in the armed forces, then someone must decide who goes and who stays. Deferments allow those with skills needed on the home front to exempt themselves from their military obligations because, especially during the upheaval of war, they ensure a viable domestic economy and stable society. Factories, hospitals and schools, for example, can operate only when fully staffed with skilled employees. Farmers and agricultural workers maintain necessary food supplies. In theory, deferments should be limited only to those considered more valuable to war aims as civilians than as soldiers.

But the nature of the Cold War, especially early on, complicated things. Defeating Communism was more than a military endeavor; the home front became a crucial site of defense operations. Americans believed that triumph over the Soviet Union required a prolonged ideological, technological and economic struggle. The circumstances of the Cold War, therefore, granted the Selective Service System license to use deferments as a tool of social engineering.

Hershey believed that all able-bodied American men had the obligation to serve the nation, but he began to advocate a definition of service that included civilian pursuits, particularly in science, mathematics and engineering. Throughout the 1950s, the perception that the United States was in danger of falling behind the Soviets caused national panic, especially after the U.S.S.R. successfully launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957. According to politicians and intellectuals, American superiority rested on outpacing Soviet technological development, both in the domestic realm and in the military sector. The Army’s strategic plans for countering atomic attack depended on the invention of new weapons, while consumer capitalism required new products to buy and sell. The United States needed a steady supply of men in STEM fields to develop the state-of-the-art appliances and futuristic weapons systems that it so desperately wanted.

In Hershey’s view, the Selective Service was the “storekeeper” of America’s manpower supply. He believed that the promise of deferments could be used as a tool to coerce — or bribe — men to go to college and enter occupations defined as in the national interest. In the words of one planning memo, the Selective Service could use the “club of induction” to “drive” individuals into “areas of greater importance.” This policy, known as manpower channeling, specifically defined these pursuits as service to the state on a par with military service.

The availability of deferments for men attending college and in professional fields ballooned. Occupational deferments increased by 650 percent between 1955 and 1963. But men had to qualify for higher education and be able to pay for it. Since part-time students did not receive deferments, men could not take semesters off to earn tuition money or recover from academic probation. Eligible occupations skewed toward those with college degrees. Unlike during World War II, most factory and agricultural workers could not gain occupational deferments by the late 1950s. Such dispensations were reserved for scientists, engineers, doctors and teachers.

Even those deferments theoretically available to anyone really were not. Medical deferments, for example, were harder for poorer men to obtain. The doctors performing the cursory exams at pre-induction physicals often failed to detect health defects that would have guaranteed exemptions from military service. And if men did not have a record of private medical care, they had little recourse when declared available for service.

By 1965, many middle-class men had come to expect deferments. Military service, to them, was for “suckers” who had made poor choices. Working-class men, of course, were not “suckers.” Rather, Great Society policies meant to strengthen the economy by alleviating poverty ended up targeting them for military service.

Policy makers in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations began to focus on America’s poor as the weak link between national strength and the promise of democracy. Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz identified the Selective Service as an “incomparable asset” in locating men who could benefit from government aid. Virtually all American men underwent a pre-induction exam. Approximately one-third failed. Such “rejectees” were overwhelmingly from poor and minority backgrounds. In early January 1964, less than two months after taking office, Johnson ordered the Selective Service, the Department of the Army, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to address the problem.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara actively wanted the armed forces to be part of the solution. He firmly believed that military service could be used to “rehabilitate” men caught in the cycle of poverty. He, along with Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, argued that military training freed poor men from the “squalid ghettos of their external environment” and the “internal and more destructive ghetto of personal disillusionment and despair.” McNamara wanted a program that would bolster national security by eliminating a source of social unrest and benefit American combat readiness by boosting the number of men in uniform.

In August 1966, he announced the Defense Department’s intention to bring up to 100,000 previously ineligible men into the military each year to “salvage” them. Project 100,000, as it came to be known, would “rescue” poor and especially minority men from the “poverty-encrusted environments” in which they had been raised. These so-called New Standards men — who were otherwise ineligible for military service — were to be admitted into all branches of the armed forces, both voluntarily through enlistment and involuntarily through the draft.

Over all, all branches of service added a combined total of 354,000 New Standards men to their active-duty rosters between 1966 and 1971, when the program ended. Forty percent of these men were black, at a time when the entire military averaged only 9 percent African- American. McNamara hoped that a stint in the military would make New Standards men better husbands, better fathers and better breadwinners, and thus better citizens. Most ended up as infantrymen in Vietnam.

It was no coincidence that those men who already fit the middle-class mold of domestic masculinity — those men who were college students or teachers or scientists — received deferments. Midcentury liberals believed such men did not need the military to lift them up. Meanwhile, every slot filled by a New Standards man was one a middle-class man avoided.

Ultimately, what made sense during the militarized peace of the Cold War did not during a hot war. Many middle-class men did not consider it their responsibility to serve in the military, especially in a war they often categorized as somewhere on the continuum between unnecessary and immoral. Instead, they learned to work a system designed to encourage them to see military service as a personal choice rather than an obligation. Working-class men simply were not offered the same option.

Diagnosing Trump — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

The question is not whether the President is crazy but whether he is crazy like a fox or crazy like crazy. And, if there is someone who can know the difference, should this person, or this group of people, say something—or would that be crazy (or unethical, or undemocratic)?

Jay Rosen, a media scholar at New York University, has been arguing for months that “many things Trump does are best explained by Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” and that journalists should start saying so. In March, the Times published a letter by the psychiatrists Robert Jay Lifton and Judith L. Herman, who stated that Trump’s “repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted” suggest that, “faced with crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.” Herman, who is a professor at Harvard Medical School, also co-authored an earlier letter to President Obama, in November, urging him to find a way to subject President-elect Trump to a neuropsychiatric evaluation.

Lifton and Herman are possibly the greatest living American thinkers in the field of mental health. Lifton, who trained both as a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, is also a psychohistorian; he has written on survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, on Nazi doctors, and on other expressions of what he calls “an extreme century” (the one before this one). Herman, who has done pioneering research on trauma, has written most eloquently on the near-impossibility of speaking about the unimaginable—and now that Donald Trump is, unimaginably, President, she has been speaking out in favor of speaking up. Herman and Lifton have now written introductory articles to a collection called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” It is edited by Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who, earlier this year, convened a conference called Duty to Warn.

Contributors to the book entertain the possibility of applying a variety of diagnoses and descriptions to the President. Philip Zimbardo, who is best known for his Stanford Prison Experiment, and his co-author, Rosemary Sword, propose that Trump is an “extreme present hedonist.” He may also be a sociopath, a malignant narcissist, borderline, on the bipolar spectrum, a hypomanic, suffering from delusional disorder, or cognitively impaired. None of these conditions is a novelty in the Oval Office. Lyndon Johnson was bipolar, and John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton might have been characterized as “extreme present hedonists,” narcissists, and hypomanics. Richard Nixon was, in addition to his narcissism, a sociopath who suffered from delusions, and Ronald Reagan’s noticeable cognitive decline began no later than his second term. Different authors suggest that America “dodged the bullet” with Reagan, that Nixon’s malignant insanity was exposed in time, and that Clinton’s afflictions might have propelled him to Presidential success, just as similar traits can aid the success of entrepreneurs. (Steve Jobs comes up.)

Behind the obvious political leanings of the authors lurks a conceptual problem. Definitions of mental illness are mutable; they vary from culture to culture and change with time. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is edited every few years to reflect changes in norms: some conditions stop being viewed as pathologies, while others are elevated from mere idiosyncrasies to the status of illness. In a footnote to her introduction, Herman acknowledges the psychiatric profession’s “ignominious history” of misogyny and homophobia, but this is misleading: the problem wasn’t so much that psychiatrists were homophobic but that homosexuality fell so far outside the social norm as to virtually preclude the possibility of a happy, healthy life.

Political leadership is not the norm. I once saw Alexander Esenin-Volpin, one of the founders of the Soviet dissident movement, receive his medical documents, dating back to his hospitalizations decades earlier. His diagnosis of mental illness was based explicitly on his expressed belief that protest could overturn the Soviet regime. Esenin-Volpin laughed with delight when he read the document. It was funny. It was also accurate: the idea that the protest of a few intellectuals could bring down the Soviet regime was insane. Esenin-Volpin, in fact, struggled with mental-health issues throughout his life. He was also a visionary.

No one of sound mind would suspect Trump of being a visionary. But is there an objective, value-free way to draw the very subjective and generally value-laden distinction between vision and insanity? More to the point, is there a way to avert the danger posed by Trump’s craziness that won’t set us on the path of policing the thinking of democratically elected leaders? Zimbardo suggests that there should be a vetting process for Presidential candidates, akin to psychological tests used for “positions ranging from department store sales clerk to high-level executive.” Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Rethinking Narcissism,” suggests relying on “people already trained to provide functional and risk assessment based entirely on observation—forensic psychiatrists and psychologists as well as ‘profilers’ groomed by the CIA, the FBI, and various law enforcement agencies.” This is a positively terrifying idea. As Mark Joseph Stern wrote in Slate in response to last December’s calls for the Electoral College to un-elect Trump, it “only made sense if you assumed as a starting point that America would never hold another presidential election.”

Psychiatrists who contributed to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” are moved by the sense that they have a special knowledge they need to communicate to the public. But Trump is not their patient. The phrase “duty to warn,” which refers to a psychiatrist’s obligation to break patient confidentiality in case of danger to a third party, cannot apply to them literally. As professionals, these psychiatrists have a kind of optics that may allow them to pick out signs of danger in Trump’s behavior or statements, but, at the same time, they are analyzing what we all see: the President’s persistent, blatant lies (there is some disagreement among contributors on whether he knows he is lying or is, in fact, delusional); his contradictory statements; his inability to hold a thought; his aggression; his lack of empathy. None of this is secret, special knowledge—it is all known to the people who voted for him. We might ask what’s wrong with them rather than what’s wrong with him.

Thomas Singer, a psychiatrist and Jungian psychoanalyst from San Francisco, suggests that the election reflects “a woundedness at the core of the American group Self,” with Trump offering protection from further injury and even a cure for the wound. The conversation turns, as it must, from diagnosing the President to diagnosing the people who voted for him. That has the effect of making Trump appear normal—in the sense that, psychologically, he is offering his voters what they want and need.

Knowing what we know about Trump and what psychiatrists know about aggression, impulse control, and predictive behavior, we are all in mortal danger. He is the man with his finger on the nuclear button. Contributors to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” ask whether this creates a “duty to warn.” But the real question is, Should democracy allow a plurality of citizens to place the lives of an entire country in the hands of a madman? Crazy as this idea is, it’s not a question psychiatrists can answer.

Democrats Can Win — Charles P. Pierce on contesting every race.

I’m reluctant to point this out, lest I blow the covert aspects of some good news, but it seems that, almost without anyone’s noticing, very progressive African-American candidates have been getting elected to be mayors in cities in the very deepest parts of the deep South. First, it was Chokwe Lumumba, an actual Socialist, who was elected mayor in Jackson in Mississippi Goddamn. From Oxford American:

In Lumumba’s successful campaigns for city council in 2009 and for mayor in 2013, “Free the land” had been a common refrain of his supporters. His platform, too, echoed the vision he and his fellow New Afrikans had harbored for their new society on Land Celebration Day. He pledged that his office would support the establishment of a large network of cooperatively owned businesses in Jackson, often describing Mondragon, a Spanish town where an ecosystem of cooperatives sprouted half a century ago. In debates and interviews, he promised that Jackson, under the leadership of a Lumumba administration, would flourish as the “Mondragon of the South”—the “City of the Future.”

If I may repeat, this is Jackson. The one in Mississippi. Goddamn.

Then, on Tuesday, a man named Randall Woodfin challenged and beat the incumbent mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, William Bell. Woodfin is 36, which will make him the youngest mayor of that city in over a century. More significantly, Woodfin had the active support of Bernie Sanders and the people allied with Sanders’ late campaign for president. Sanders recorded a robo-call on Woodfin’s behalf late in the race and Nina Turner, the head of Our Revolution, the Sanders-affiliated political operation, made two trips to Birmingham on Woodfin’s behalf.

(It should be noted that the Sanders folks also scored victories on Tuesday night in preliminary contests for mayor of Albuquerque and for an open seat in the California Assembly.)

If the Democratic Party weren’t so terminally bumfuzzled, and if many of its activists could get over the wounds their delicate fee-fees suffered during the 2016 presidential primaries, the party could see a great advantage in coordinating efforts between the formal party apparatus and what could be described as the progressive shock troops that carried Woodfin to victory in Birmingham.

Right now, for example, if you can believe it, the Democratic National Committee seems to be slightly baffled about what to do as regards the race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. The Democratic candidate is Douglas Jones, the former U.S. Attorney who sent to prison the last of the terrorists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. The Republican candidate is a lawless theocratic nutball named Roy Moore, who lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice because of flagrant judicial misconduct.

It would seem to the casual observer that people generally should realize it to be their patriotic duty to keep Moore out of the Senate for the good of the country. However, as reported by The Daily Beast, the Democratic Party apparatus can’t even decide if it should go all in for Jones.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said only that the group is closely monitoring the race and providing support if necessary to the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones. The spokesman also said that Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the DSCC, had made a personal contribution to the Jones campaign. Democratic super PACs, meanwhile, are evaluating their options when it comes to the Alabama general election, which isn’t until December. Before making any investments in the race, they first want to assess how vulnerable Moore is in the state. The former chief justice has emerged from a primary during which virtually every establishment Republican institution was against him. Democratic operatives said on Wednesday that they’re looking to see if some GOP voters keep their distance from Moore before deciding to come to Jones’ aid.

Good god, how is this even a question? Roy Moore is a howling extremist, if that word has any meaning at all anymore. Why would the Democratic Party worry about whether or not Republicans in Alabama are going to “keep their distance” from their party’s lunatic candidate? (Pro Tip: They almost never do.) Get in there with both feet immediately and don’t get out until the job’s done.

Or, if you insist on overthinking yourselves into paralysis, turn Nina Turner and the people allied with her loose and then come in at the end—cooperatively, mind you—and drown the race with money and ads. And if the Our Revolution people hold back because they don’t want somebody on the Internet to get mad at them for “selling out,” they should tell that person to shut up and dance. This is too important. There are now two mayors who’ve proven that progressive candidates can win just about anywhere. Learn that lesson or you deserve to lose forever.

Doonesbury — Hits keep coming.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Poor Reception

So, how did Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico go?  To hear himself or his minions, he was treated like a rock star.  So he came to mingle with the peasants.  And he made a good show of pretending he liked it.  But in reality…

In a frequently abnormal afternoon on the island, Trump showed none of the scripted gravitas of his sombre Monday response to the massacre in Las Vegas. Speaking without notes, he behaved as if the ongoing crisis had long since been fixed by his own doing.

It was vintage Trump — informal, freewheeling, self-centred, detached from facts, wholly unlike the behaviour of any other modern president.

His supporters applauded again, pointing to his authenticity and moments of empathy. Puerto Ricans already upset with him before he landed were infuriated.

“He takes two weeks to visit a disaster zone where 3.5 million American citizens live. He arrives with a smile on his face, makes fun of the situation, shows no empathy, lies and lies on camera as he does 24-7. And then throws paper towel rolls to people in need as if he was playing Go Fetch with dogs,” said Joel Isaac, 27, a New York actor who moved from Puerto Rico three years ago.

Most of Isaac’s family is still on the island. He said he had never felt humiliated as a Puerto Rican until he watched Trump’s visit.

“It’s the whole scene where the privileged white man comes to save the brown peasants after they’ve been begging, thirsty and hungry. It’s super disgusting to see, honestly,” he said.

I honestly believe Trump found out that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory last week.

Next To Go

My money — if I had any — would be on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to be the next one out the door to spend more time with his family.  And not just because of this little spat that emerged via NBC News yesterday and wound up with a news conference to deny the whole thing.

Trump has undercut his cabinet secretary at every turn with his Twitter outbursts that have brought us to the brink of war with North Korea, pissed off Australia, embarrassed us with Europe, and basically played the drunk toaster at the rehearsal dinner at the United Nations.

And as Tillerson has traveled the globe, Trump believes his top diplomat often seems more concerned with what the world thinks of the United States than with tending to the president’s personal image.

Calling Trump a moron was putting it nicely.

Give it a couple of weeks for things to cool down and for the short-term memory lapses to make us forget that Mr. Tillerson joined the chorus of Americans who think Trump is a moron.  I’m pretty sure the Secretary is already working on a post-Trump administration gig with some global oil corporation with nice benefits like his own private jet and less public humiliation.