Category Archives: President Trump

A Higher Loyalty. Truth Lies and Leadership – James Comey.

Who am I to tell others what ethical leadership is? Anyone claiming to write a book about ethical leadership can come across as presumptuous, even sanctimonious. All the more so if that author happens to be someone who was quite memorably and publicly fired from his last job.

I understand the impulse to think that any book written about one’s life experience can be an exercise in vanity, which is why I long resisted the idea of writing a book of my own. But I changed my mind for an important reason. We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized, and unethical behavior is ignored, excused, or rewarded. This is not just happening in our nation’s capital, and not just in the United States. It is a troubling trend that has touched institutions across America and around the world, boardrooms of major companies, newsrooms, university campuses, the entertainment industry, and professional and Olympic sports. For some of the crooks, liars, and abusers, there has been a reckoning. For others, there remain excuses, justifications, and a stubborn willingness by those around them to look the other way or even enable the bad behavior.

So if there ever was a time when an examination of ethical leadership would be useful, it is now. Although I am no expert, I have studied, read, and thought about ethical leadership since I was a college student and struggled for decades with how to practice it. No perfect leader is available to offer those lessons, so it falls to the rest of us who care about such things to drive the conversation and challenge ourselves and our leaders to do better.

Ethical leaders do not run from criticism, especially self-criticism, and they don’t hide from uncomfortable questions. They welcome them. All people have flaws and I have many. Some of mine, as you’ll discover in this book, are that I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego. I’ve struggled with those my whole life. There are plenty of moments I look back on and wish I had done things differently, and a few that I am downright embarrassed by. Most of us have those moments. The important thing is that we learn from them and hopefully do better.

I don’t love criticism, but I know I can be wrong, even when I am certain I am right. Listening to others who disagree with me and are willing to criticize me is essential to piercing the seduction of certainty. Doubt, I’ve learned, is wisdom. And the older I get, the less I know for certain. Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgments or perspectives, are a danger to the organizations and people they lead. In some cases, they are a danger to the nation and the world.

I have learned that ethical leaders lead by seeing beyond the short-term, beyond the urgent, and take every action with a view toward lasting values. They might find their values in a religious tradition or a moral worldview or even an appreciation of history. But those values, like truth, integrity, and respect for others, to name just a few, serve as external reference points for ethical leaders to make decisions, especially hard decisions in which there is no easy or good option. Those values are more important than what may pass for prevailing wisdom or the groupthink of a tribe. Those values are more important than the impulses of the bosses above them and the passions of the employees below them. They are more important than the organization’s profitability and bottom line.

Ethical leaders choose a higher loyalty to those core values over their own personal gain.

Ethical leadership is also about understanding the truth about humans and our need for meaning. It is about building workplaces where standards are high and fear is low. Those are the kinds of cultures where people will feel comfortable speaking the truth to others as they seek excellence in themselves and the people around them.

Without a fundamental commitment to the truth-especially in our public institutions and those who lead them-we are lost. As a legal principle, if people don’t tell the truth, our justice system cannot function and a society based on the rule of law begins to dissolve. As a leadership principle, if leaders don’t tell the truth, or won’t hear the truth from others, they cannot make good decisions, they cannot themselves improve, and they cannot inspire trust among those who follow them.

The good news is that integrity and truthtelling can be modeled in powerful ways, shaping cultures of honesty, openness, and transparency. Ethical leaders can mold a culture by their words and, more important, by their actions, because they are always being watched. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Dishonest leaders have the same ability to shape a culture, by showing their people dishonesty, corruption, and deception. A commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the title of this book. In one sense, it came out of a bizarre dinner meeting at the White House, where a new president of the United States demanded my loyalty to him, personally over my duties as FBI director to the American people. But in another, deeper sense, the title is the culmination of four decades in law, as a federal prosecutor, business lawyer, and working closely with three U.S. presidents. In all those jobs, I learned from those around me and tried to pass on to those I worked with that there is a higher loyalty in all of our lives, not to a person, not to a party, not to a group. The higher loyalty is to lasting values, most important the truth. I hope this book is useful in stimulating all of us to think about the values that sustain us, and to search for leadership that embodies those values.


Introduction

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr

THERE ARE TEN BLOCKS between FBI headquarters and Capitol Hill, and each of them is fixed in my memory from countless shuttle missions up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Riding past the National Archives, where tourists were lined up to see America’s documents, the New serum, with the words of the First Amendment carved into its stone front, and the T-shirt vendors and food trucks had become something of a ritual.

It was February 2017, and I was in the back row of a fully armored black FBI Suburban. The middle row of seats had been removed, so I sat in one of the two seats in the back. I had gotten used to watching the world pass by through the small dark bulletproof side windows. I was on the way to yet another classified congressional briefing on the 2016 Russian election interference.

Appearing in front of members of Congress was difficult on a good day, and usually disheartening. Nearly everyone appeared to take a side and seemed to listen only to find the nuggets that fit their desired spin. They would argue with each other through you: “Mr. Director, if someone said X, wouldn’t that person be an idiot?” And the reply would come through you as well: “Mr. Director, if someone said that someone who said X was an idiot, wouldn’t that person be the real idiot?”

When the subject involved the most contentious election in memory, the discussion in the immediate aftermath was even more vicious, with few willing, or able, to put aside their political interests to focus on the truth. Republicans wanted to be assured that the Russians hadn’t elected Donald Trump. Democrats, still reeling from the election results weeks before, wanted the opposite. There was little common ground. It was like having Thanksgiving dinner with a family eating together by court order.

The FBI, with me as its director, was caught in the middle of the partisan bile. This was not really new. We had been sucked into the election starting in July 2015, when our seasoned professionals at the FBI began a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information on her personal email system. It was a time when even using the terms “criminal” and “investigation” was a source of needless controversy. A year later, in July 2016, we began an investigation into whether there was a massive Russian effort to influence the presidential vote by hurting Clinton and helping elect Donald Trump.

This was an unfortunate, if unavoidable, situation for the Bureau. Though it is part of the Executive Branch, the FBI is meant to stand apart from politics in American life. Its mission is to find the truth. To do that, the FBI can’t be on anyone’s side except the country’s. Of course, members of the Bureau may have their own private political views, like anybody else, but when its people rise in a courtroom or in Congress to report what they have found, they can’t be seen as Republicans or Democrats or part of anyone’s tribe. Forty years ago, Congress created a ten-year term for the FBI director to reinforce that independence. But in a capital city, and a country, torn by partisan conflict, the FBI’s separateness was both alien and confusing, and constantly tested. This placed an enormous strain on career professionals in the agency, especially as their motives were routinely being questioned.

I glanced over at Greg Brower, the FBI’s new head of congressional affairs, who was riding to the Hill with me. Greg was a fiftythree-year-old Nevadan with salt-and-pepper hair. We had hired him from a law firm. Prior to that, he had been the chief federal prosecutor in Nevada and also an elected state legislator. He knew the business of law enforcement and also the challenging and very different business of politics. His job was to represent the FBI in the shark tank of Congress.

But Brower hadn’t signed up for this kind of turmoil, which only grew after the shocking result of the 2016 election. Greg hadn’t been part of the Bureau for long, so I was worried this craziness and stress might be getting to him. I half wondered whether he might fling open the door of the Suburban and head for the hills. At a younger age, with fewer turns at the witness table in Congress, I might have considered exactly the same thing. As I looked at him, I assumed he was thinking what I was thinking: How did I end up here?

I could see that worry on Brower’s face, so I broke the silence.

“HOW GREAT IS THIS?” I said in a booming voice that no doubt caught the attention of the agents in the front seats.

Brower looked at me.

“We’re in the SHIT,” I said.

Now he seemed confused. Did the FBI director just say “shit”?

Yup, I had.

“We’re waist deep in the shit,” I added with an exaggerated smile, holding my arms out to show just how deep it was. “Where else would you want to be?” Mangling the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare, I added, “People abed in England tonight will wish they were here.”

He laughed and visibly lightened. I lightened, too. Although I’m sure the thought of leaping from the speeding car still crossed Greg’s mind, the tension was broken. We took a breath together. For a moment, we were two people on a road trip. Everything was going to be okay.

Then the moment passed, and we pulled up to the U.S. Capitol to talk about Putin and Trump and collusion allegations and secret dossiers and who knew what else. It was just another high-pressure moment in what was one of the craziest, most consequential, and even educational periods of my, and, some might say, the country’s, life.

And more than once I found myself thinking that same question: How on earth did I end up here?


Chapter 1

THE LIFE

To not think of dying, is to not think of living. Jann Arden.

THE LIFE BEGINS with a lie.

In 1992, I was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York City, and those were the words I heard from a senior member of one of the most notorious crime families in the United States.

Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano was the highest ranking American mobster ever to become a federal witness. He’d flipped to avoid a life sentence in jail, and also because he had heard government tapes in which his boss, John Gotti, said bad things about him behind his back. Now in our custody, Gravano introduced me to the rules of Mafia life.

Membership in La Cosa Nostra-“this thing of ours”, became official only after an oath taken in a secret ceremony in front of the boss, underboss, and consigliere of the family. After the ceremony, the criminal would be known as a “made man.” The first question of the secret initiation was “Do you know why you are here?” The chosen one was required to answer “No,” despite the fact that, as Gravano explained, only an idiot wouldn’t know why the leaders of the family were gathered with him in the basement of some nightclub.

For nearly two decades, the leaders of the American Mafia agreed there would be no new members. In 1957, they “closed the books”, a term reflecting that the process involved the actual sharing of paper among the Mafia families containing the aliases and real names of their members, because of serious concerns about quality control and penetration by informants. But in 1976 they agreed that each family could make ten new members and then the books would be closed again, with new members only admitted to replace those who died. For each family these ten were the most hardened allstar gangsters who had been frozen out for years. Gravano came into the Mafia as part of that “super class.”

Inducting ten new members after so long a shutdown obviously put burdens on the criminal enterprise. In a typical induction ceremony, an initiate is expected to hold in his cupped hands a flaming picture of a Catholic saint, stained with blood dripped from his trigger finger, and recite, “My soul should burn like this saint if I ever betray Cosa Nostra.” Gravano recalled that when they reached the dramatic conclusion of his ceremony, he was forced to recite those words while holding a flaming bloodstained tissue instead. The Gambino family hadn’t bothered to get enough saint pictures to burn.

Gravano’s induction ceremony not only began with lies, it also ended with them. The boss reviewed for him the rules of American Cosa Nostra: no killing with explosives; no killing law enforcement; no killing other made men without official permission; no sleeping with another made man’s wife; and no dealing in narcotics. As a general rule, the Mafia did a good job following the first two rules. The American government would crush anyone who harmed innocents with explosions or killed law enforcement. But the promises not to kill made guys, bed their wives, or deal dope were lies. Gravano and his fellow Mafia members routinely did all three. As my fellow prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald explained it, they were like the rules against fighting in hockey, on the books as a no-no, but still a regular feature of the game.

The closely related Sicilian Mafia had a different rule, one that highlighted the centrality of dishonesty to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic. Newly inducted members were told that they were forbidden to lie to another “made member”, called a “man of honor” in Sicily, unless, and this was a big unless, it was necessary to lure him to his death. I once questioned another government witness, Sicilian Mafia killer Francesco Marino Mannoia, about this rule.

“Franco,” I said, “that means you can trust me unless we are about to kill you.”

“Yes,” he replied, confused by my question. “Men of honor may only lie about the most important things.”

The Life of Lies. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. Loyalty oaths. An us-versus-them worldview. Lying about things, large and small, in service to some warped code of loyalty. These rules and standards were hallmarks of the Mafia, but throughout my career I’d be surprised how often I’d find them applied outside of it.

My early career as a prosecutor, especially my role in confronting the Mafia, reinforced my belief that I’d made the right career choice. The law hadn’t been an obvious route for me. Ultimately I chose a career in law enforcement because I believed it was the best way I could help other people, especially those suffering at the hands of the powerful, the crime bosses, the bullies. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s possible that a life-altering experience I had when l was sixteen years old, with a gun literally pointed to my head, made that choice inevitable.

* * *

The gunman didn’t know I was home that night. He had been watching through a basement window and saw my parents say good-bye to the figure lying on the floor of the family room, lit only by the television’s light. He probably thought that figure was my sister, Trish. But it actually was my younger brother, Pete (Trish had returned to college after fall break and our youngest brother, Chris, was out at a Boy Scouts meeting). Minutes after my parents drove away, he kicked in the front door of our modest ranch style house and headed straight downstairs.

October 28, 1977, the day that changed my life, was a Friday. For most of the New York area, the prior few months were known as the Summer of Sam, when the city and its suburbs were gripped by a serial killer preying on couples sitting in cars. But for northern New Jersey, it was the summer-and fall-of the Ramsey Rapist. The attacker was named for the dozen attacks that had begun in a town called Ramsey; our town, sleepy Allendale, was just to the south.

Hearing heavy steps on the creaking basement stairs and a low growl from our dog, Pete jumped up and moved out of view. But the gunman knew he was there. He pointed a handgun and ordered my brother to come out from his hiding place. He asked if anyone else was home. Pete lied and said no.

At the time, I was a high school senior and a nerd with few close friends. As if to prove it, I was home that night, finishing a piece for the school’s literary magazine. It was to be a brilliant social satire of the cool kids, the bullies, and the suffocating peer pressure of high school. The piece was late, and short on brilliance, but I had nothing else to do on a Friday night. So I sat at the desk in my little bedroom, writing.

In the basement with Pete, the gunman demanded to be taken up to the master bedroom. Shortly I heard two sets of footsteps just outside my door, headed for my parents’ room. Then I heard more sounds, as the closet and dresser drawers opened and closed. Out of annoyance and curiosity, I stood and opened the sliding wood door to the bathroom that connected my room to my parents’. Their room was brightly lit, and through the bathroom I could see Pete lying on the side of the bed, his head turned toward me, but with his eyes tightly closed.

I stepped into the room, looked to my right, and froze. A stocky, middle-aged white guy wearing a knit cap was holding a gun and looking in my parents’ closet. Time slowed down in a way I have never again experienced. I lost my sight for an instant; it returned in a strange haze and my entire body pulsed, as if my heart had grown too big for my chest. Spotting me, the gunman moved quickly to Pete and put his knee in the middle of his back, using his left hand to push the gun barrel against my fifteen-year-old brother’s head. He turned to me.

“You move, kid, and I’ll blow his head off.”

I didn’t move.

The gunman had angry words for Pete. “I thought you told me nobody else was home.”

The gunman then stepped off Pete and ordered me to lie on the bed next to my brother. Standing at my feet, he demanded to know where he might find money. I later learned Pete had money in his jeans pocket as we lay there, and never gave it up. I gave it all up. I told him every place I could possibly think of, piggy banks, wallets, dollar coins received from grandparents for special events, everything. Armed with my leads, the gunman left us lying on the bed and went searching.

A short time later, he returned and simply stood above us, pointing his gun in our direction. I don’t know how long he pointed it without a sound, but it was long enough that the moment changed me. I was certain I was about to die. Hopelessness, panic, and fear smothered me. I began to pray silently, knowing that my life was about to end. In the next instant, a strange wave of cold washed over me, and my fear disappeared. I began reasoning, thinking that if he shot Pete first, I would roll off the bed and try to grab the gunman’s legs. And then I began to speak, to lie, more precisely. The lies came pouring out. I explained how estranged we were from our parents, hated them, actually, didn’t care what he took from them, and wouldn’t tell anyone he had been there. I lied again and again and again.

The gunman told me to shut up and ordered both of us to our feet. He then began pushing us down the narrow hallway from my parents’ room, pausing to search rooms and closets he passed. I was now convinced, temporarily at least, that l was going to live and began trying to get a clear look at his face so I could tell the police about him. He jammed me in the back several times with the gun barrel, telling me to turn my head away from him.

I again began talking, telling him over and over that he should just put us someplace and we would stay there so he could get away. I began racking my brain, trying to think of such a place in the house, a place where we could be locked. Against all reason, I suggested the basement bathroom, telling him we couldn’t open the small window because my father had sealed it for the winter. That was only partly true: my dad had put clear plastic on the window frame to reduce the draft, but the window opened simply by raising the bottom half.

He took us to the basement bathroom, motioned us inside, and said, “Tell your mommy and daddy you’ve been good little boys.” He wedged something against the bathroom door to keep us from escaping.

We heard the door to the garage open and close as the gunman left. I started to shudder as the adrenaline wore off. Shaking, I looked at the little window and suddenly the gunman’s face filled it. He was checking the window from the outside. The sight made me gasp for air. After his face disappeared, I told Pete that we were going to stay there until Mom and Dad came home. Pete had other ideas. He said, “You know who that is. He is going to hurt other people. We’ve got to get help.” In my shaky state, I don’t think it fully dawned on me what Pete was saying, or how the evening might have played out if our nineteen-year-old sister, Trish, actually had been home.

Instead I resisted. I was afraid. Pete argued with me briefly and then announced that he was leaving. He pulled the plastic from the window, turned the half-moon latch, and raised the window open. He swung himself out feetfirst and into the backyard.

Though it was probably only a second or two, in my memory I stood for a long time contemplating the open window and the dark night. Should I stay or should I follow? I swung my feet through the window. The moment they hit the cold dirt of my mother’s garden, I heard the gunman shouting. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled furiously into thick bushes at the back of the house. The gunman already had grabbed Pete and now was shouting toward me, “Come out of there, kid, or your brother is getting hurt.” I emerged, and the gunman berated me for lying to him. Fresh out of another clever lie, I replied, “We’ll go right back in,” and I moved toward the open window.

“Too late,” he said. “Against the fence.”

For the second time that night I thought I was going to die. That was, until I heard our neighbor’s huge Siberian husky, Sundance, bound into our backyard with his owner, Steve Murray, the high school German teacher and football coach, bounding in after him.

The next seconds are a blur in my memory. I remember running from the gunman into my house with Pete and Coach Murray close behind and then slamming the door behind me. We locked the door, leaving the gunman outside to terrorize Coach’s wife and mother, who had followed him toward the commotion at our house, a move that makes me cringe with guilt even decades later.

We then raced up the stairs, turning out all the lights and arming ourselves. I held a large butcher knife. We didn’t have 911 in those days, so we dialed the operator and I asked to be connected to the police. I spoke to a dispatcher, who kept telling me to calm down. I explained that I couldn’t calm down, that a man with a gun was at our house and he was coming back in and we needed help now. We waited by the front door in the dark and debated going after the gunman. A police car pulled up in front of my house. We blinked the front lights and the car came to a stop. We ripped open the front door and ran straight at the officer, me barefoot and holding a large butcher knife. The officer quickly stepped from his car and his hand went to his weapon. I shouted, “No, no!” and pointed toward the Murrays’ house. “There he goes. He has a gun!” The gunman burst out from the Murrays’ front door and took off running toward the nearby woods.

As police cars from many jurisdictions converged on our little street, I jumped on my Schwinn ten-speed, barefoot, and pedaled the quarter mile to the church hall where my parents were taking ballroom dancing lessons. I jumped off the bike, letting it crash, ripped open the church hall door, and yelled “Dad!” at the top of my lungs. Everyone stopped and the crowd moved toward me, my mother and father in the lead. My mother started crying the moment she saw my face.

The police didn’t find the Ramsey Rapist that night. A suspect was arrested days later, but the case was never made and he was released. But that night the long string of Ramsey Rapist robberies and sexual assaults stopped.

My encounter with the Ramsey Rapist brought me years of pain. I thought about him every night for at least five years not most nights, every night, and I slept with a knife at hand for far longer. I couldn’t see it at the time, but the terrifying experience was, in its own way, also an incredible gift. Believing, knowing, in my mind that I was going to die, and then surviving, made life seem like a precious, delicate miracle. As a high school senior, I started watching sunsets, looking at buds on trees, and noticing the beauty of our world. That feeling lasts to this day, though sometimes it expresses itself in ways that might seem corny to people who fortunately never had the experience of measuring their time on this earth in seconds.

The Ramsey Rapist taught me at an early age that many of the things we think are valuable have no value. Whenever I speak to young people, I suggest they do something that might seem a little odd: Close your eyes, I say. Sit there, and imagine you are at the end of your life. From that vantage point, the smoke of striving for recognition and wealth is cleared. Houses, cars, awards on the wall? Who cares? You are about to die. Who do you want to have been?

I tell them that I hope some of them decide to have been people who used their abilities to help those who needed it, the weak, the struggling, the frightened, the bullied. Standing for something. Making a difference. That is true wealth.

The Ramsey Rapist didn’t drive me to law enforcement in any conscious way, at least not immediately. I still thought I wanted to be a doctor, and became a premed student with a chemistry major at the College of William & Mary. But one day I was headed to a chem lab and noticed the word DEATH on a bulletin board. I stopped. It was an advertisement for a class in the religion department, which shared the building with the chemistry department. I took the course, and everything changed. The class allowed me to explore a subject of intense interest to me and see how religions of the world dealt with death. I added religion as a new second major.

*

from

A Higher Loyalty. Truth Lies and Leadership

by James Comey

get it at Amazon.com

Inside The Epic Fantasy That’s Driven Donald Trump For 33 Years – Randall Lane.

This story appeared in the October 19, 2015 issue of Forbes.

For a man who has driven the national news cycle pretty much every day for the past four months with his disruptive presidential campaign, Donald Trump works out of an office suite that is shockingly calm. No yelling, no running, no extraneous advisors or flunkies, it has the sleepy, orderly pace of an accounting firm in Boise, albeit one with a taste for mirrors, regal gold and lots and lots of framed articles about Donald Trump.

On this Monday in late September only the most important of the important requests seep into the corner office. “I have the Stephen Colbert pre-interview,” one of his assistants reports. Responds Trump: “Would you do me a favor? We’ll call them back.” His daughter Ivanka apparently wants to follow up about something. “Little Ivanka,” he smiles, before relaying that he’ll get back to her later. Someone from 60 Minutes, which will tape Trump the following day and broadcast its interview with him that Sunday, asks to talk. The iconic show will have to wait, too.

The most in demand person on the planet has gone into hold-all-my-calls mode for nearly two hours to sit down with FORBES and tackle, piece by piece, a subject that he cares about to the depths of his soul: how much FORBES says he’s worth. Since The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans debuted in 1982, the dynamism of the US. economy and the hand of the grim reaper have resulted in exactly 1,538 people making the cut at one time or another. Of those 1,538 tycoons, not one has been more fixated with his or her net worth estimate on a year-in, year-out basis than Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s valuation this year holds extra importance, of course, due to his audacious second act: his highly unlikely, but no longer inconceivable-path to the presidency. Trump has filed statements claiming he’s worth at least $10 billion or, as he put in a press release, TEN BILLION DOLLARS (capitalization his). After interviewing more than 80 sources and devoting unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune, we’re going with a figure less than half that, $4.5 billion, albeit still the highest figure we’ve ever had for him.

“I’m running for President,” says Trump. “I’m worth much more than you have me down for. I don’t look good, to be honest. I mean, I look better if I’m worth $10 billion than if I’m worth $4 billion.”

To The Forbes 400 crowd, perhaps. But when pushed, even Trump concedes that, for voters, the difference between $4 billion and $10 billion is as abstractly irrelevant as a star that’s either 4 billion or 10 billion light years away. Ultimately, Trump’s beef with our numbers is driven by Trump: how his peers view him and, more acutely, how he views himself. It always has been. The paradoxical Trump that now transfixes American political culture is the same one that The Forbes 400 has been dancing with for 33 years. And the history of his net worth fixation opens windows into Trump the entrepreneur, the candidate and the person.

The Inaugural Edition of The Forbes 400 in 1982 introduced all sorts of names into the national discourse, and many of these previously under the radar tycoons fought back against their newfound recognition. Florida land baron William Graham asked FORBES to move his decimal one place to the left. The lawyer for an Oklahoma titan offered to dig up a replacement if his client was taken off the list. Then there was New York real estate developer Donald Trump, 36, whose very first entry, which estimated that he and his father, Fred, equally split a $200 million fortune, ends thusly: “Donald claims $500 million.”

Trump has measured himself by lining up assets against liabilities for his entire adult life. In his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal, he recalled his net worth when he graduated from college (“perhaps $200,000,” probably the only time he ever low-balled his stash), publicly memorializing a benchmark for measuring his future success.

He added three and almost four zeroes to that figure during the 1980s as a tabloid caricature. As “The Donald” he honed the art of net worth lobbying. Financial summaries would arrive at the FORBES offices, often on gilded Trump embossed letterheads for extra pop. “We soon learned to take the number he threw out to us for his net worth, immediately divide it by three and refine it from there,” remembers Harold Seneker, who ran The Forbes 400 for the first 15 years of its existence. And, indeed, the “divide by three” rule seemed to hold throughout the 1980s, including 1988, when we pegged him at an even $1 billion. The Donald, not content with his new billionaire status, countered with $3.74 billion.

As the years went on, Trump adopted a more personal touch, via phone calls and lunches, enlisting his longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, in the process. Good with names and dishing out tidbits like candy, Trump can be quite charming. The first time I interviewed him for FORBES, more than 20 years ago, he called me from a hospital waiting room. His second wife, Marla Maples, had just given birth to a daughter Tiffany, he confided.

Trump’s motivations for inflating his net worth were partially driven by dollars and cents. “It was good for financing,” Trump now acknowledges, echoing what other developers have told us over the years: that slapping a high Forbes 400 estimate on a banker‘s desk can sometimes help secure bigger loans and better rates. When I was a $27,000-a-year cub reporter on The Forbes 400, the largest stripmall developer in Texas, the late Jerry J. Moore, offered me a six-figure p.r. job “with lots of golf” if l would only nudge his number closer to billionaire status.

Trump was also a pioneer at turning his eponymous developments into a luxury brand umbrella. His financial success defined what the brand “Trump” meant. When a reporter named Timothy O’Brien came out with a book, TrumpNation, in 2005, a huge excerpt appeared in the New York Times alleging that Trump was worth $250 million tops (versus the $2.7 billion FORBES estimated and the $7.8 billion Trump fancied). Trump sued for a fantastical $5 billion in damages. While O’Brien’s methodology was faulty, the case was dismissed. But Trump’s lengthy deposition, obtained by FORBES, underscores the connection he sees between his wealth and his brand. “I wasn’t doing poorly then, but I was perceived Trump testified. As a result, “I think that article hurt my brand, and it hurt me.”

As in personally. “For the record, he regards the 400 as something of a bible,” says a note in FORBES’ Trump file, following a 1990s power lunch with Forbes 400 staffers at New York’s Gotham Bar & Grill, “and is convinced others do, too.”

When fully engaged, the Donald Trump net worth experience is a full show-and-tell affair, complete with sketches of buildings, aerial photography and guided tours. The latter starts in the Trump Tower gym, which looks like a Sheraton workout room, save for the staggering view, and is somehow supposed to persuade us to juice the $530 million we ascribe to The Donald’s holdings within his signature building by a factor of five or six. The only exercising going on occurs when Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, hustles in and whispers urgently in his boss’ ear.

Trump turns to me. “Scott Walker just quit the race,” he says, referring to the Wisconsin governor, who, until Trump upended everything, had been considered a top-tier presidential hopeful. “I think that’s good.” Surely, every other candidate is convening a war room, figuring out how this changes the landscape. Not Trump. “Not much to divvy up,” he shouts at the retreating Lewandowski. “See if you can get his one vote, Corey.”

Trump would rather take me up to his three story penthouse and prove it’s surely worth twice the $100 million value we put on it. An offer to see the over-the-top Versailles-in-the-sky needs no arm twisting, but Trump sells it anyway: “I’ll show you the first floor of my apartment, which I’ve never done before, I don’t do that.”

Except he has. To Access Hollywood . And Newsweek. And Extra . And a FORBES photographer way back in 2000. Heck, his 60 Minutes interview would take place in the first floor of the penthouse the next day, to be shared with 15 million people on Sunday. Trump has never let small details get in the way of good pitch.

In 1990, however, Trump hyperbole blew back on him. The New York real estate market was crashing, his Atlantic City casinos began struggling, and he was underwater with his new toy, the Trump Shuttle airline. In 1989 FORBES had his net worth at $1.7 billion. By spring 1990 FORBES figured it was $500 million at best. By that fall the overleveraged Trump was “within hailing distance of zero” and dropped from The Forbes 400.

As with today, Trump sat in his corner office and provided a rebuttal. It wasn’t very convincing. “I’m going to show you cashflow numbers I’ve never shown anyone before,” he said back then, in familiar spin mode, but he folded the pages to obscure the final column. And while he insisted he was worth between $4 billion and $5 billion, FORBES obtained records that Trump had submitted to a governmental body, professing that as of May 1989 his net assets were only $1.5 billion, one-third of what he had told us and even a bit less than the number FORBES, which strives for conservative estimates, had arrived at the previous year.

The fibbing was more brazen when they delved into specifics. In 1988 Trump sent FORBES a document listing his personal residences, including Mar-aLago, his Palm Beach mansion, with a total net value of $50 million. At the same time sworn statements placed their total asset value at $30 million, along with a debt load of $40 million, a net liability. Trump also said he owned $159 million in stock and bonds, all unencumbered. But documents filed with the SEC showed that he borrowed big-time to buy the stock, which subsequently dipped.

Trump did not like this challenge to his reputation. He published an essay for the Los Angeles Times syndicate: “Forbes Carried Out Personal Vendetta in Print.” He argued that the “willfully wrong” piece was driven by the desire to sell magazines and damage his reputation. He told ABC’s Sam Donaldson that “Forbes has been after me for years, consistently after me.”

“Forbes is doing everything they can, possibly, to make me look as bad as possible.”

Fast-forward 25 years. Trump is famously loath to apologize. (Ask John McCain.) But he does now admit the obvious: that he stretched the facts in those dark days. Then, without irony, he criticizes FORBES because “you were actually high.” Adds Trump: “I deserved to be off the list.”

“By the way, I never complained.” When reminded that he did indeed complain. Trump shrugs.

“Yeah, whatever.”

Other than in some version of a joke about people who walk into a bar, the pope and Donald Trump have probably never appeared in the same sentence. But providence intervened at the end of September when Pope Francis, on his first visit to America, decided to hold evening prayers at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the papal planners decided that the formal procession down Fifth Avenue, led by the Popemobile, would commence below Trump Tower.

And so Trump asks if we can truncate a FORBES cover shoot in favor of an impromptu viewing party. As the Holy Father’s motorcade approaches, Trump leads a half-dozen people down to a fifth-floor corner balcony attached to his campaign headquarters, the “best-located political floor in history.” At $2,170-per-square-foot (or $10,580 if you take Trump’s number), no exaggeration there. Yet aside from posters and a forlorn table or two, it’s completely dead. The richest man ever to run for President oversees a skeletal operation, based on gut instincts and free media. “I literally have spent $543,000 on my campaign,” says Trump. “Other people have spent $20 million, $25 million already. Like Bush and all these people. They’re spending a fortune.”

The famous Popemobile idles perhaps 50 feet under us, waiting for its passenger. (Trump isn’t a fan of its open sides: “That’s a dangerous-looking sucker.” And he’s even less impressed by the very modest, un-Trump-like Fiat that Francis is arriving in. “I don’t like the little car. He’s trying to be ‘of the people,’ but I don’t know. It just doesn’t look right”)

Also 50 feet below: thousands of people who’ve lined Fifth Avenue for a papal glimpse. Given the pool of New York City Catholics and the visit of an Argentinian pope, they’re roughly half Latino. (“Francis-co, Fran-cis-co,” went the cheers as the pontiff approached.) Not exactly Trump’s base. For once, Trump wasn’t looking for attention: “I’ll look like an idiot. This is the pope’s day.” But lately, especially at 6-foot-3, with that mane, he doesn’t have a choice. So Trump waves from his perch, an orange haired Juan Peron.

Jeers and whistles ensue. Undaunted, Trump turns to me. “Ninety percent positive,” he says. “Ninety percent is pretty good. You’ll take that in an election right away.”

Did Trump hear what everyone else heard, yet immediately spin toward the absurd? (While there was a smattering of applause, the catcalls clearly carried the day.) Or did he just hear what he wanted to?

In some ways it doesn’t matter. Colleagues of Steve Jobs famously described his “reality-distortion field”, his ability to see what he wanted to see and then will the delusion into truth. Way before that another master capitalist, Andrew Carnegie, declared that “all riches, and all material things that anyone acquires through self-effort, begin in the form of a clear, concise mental picture of the thing one seeks.”

Trump has a healthy dose of this gene. In the O’Brien deposition, taken in 2007, Trump declared that his estimates of personal net worth were subject to day-to-day whims. “Even my own feelings affect my value to myself,” he said. When asked to specify, he described it as “my general attitude at the time that the question may be asked.” And if that general attitude is negative? “You wouldn’t tell a reporter you’re doing poorly.”

As the pope rolls below Trump’s perfect aerie, Trump’s general attitude is extra-positive. “You see what I mean about this real estate? This is really a great piece of real estate. Boy, do we have a good location.” During an earlier conversation Trump at different times said he could sell his stake in Trump Tower for $2 billion or $2.5 billion or $3 billion. When an extra $1 billion is created that easily (much less the difference compared with our appraisal for the building of $530 million), it’s easy to see how he conjures $10 billion.

This just-do-it business worldview provides a feasible explanation to what’s perhaps the greatest riddle surrounding candidate Trump: How can someone who’s quite clever and smart (as he’ll quickly remind you) also promote know-nothing, sometimes dangerous bunk, whether a disproven link between vaccinations and autism or the Obama-might-have-been-born-in-Kenya lie?

And by keeping his message simple and repeating it with conviction over and over, Trump has the ability to shape facts. When Trump appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the following day, the liberal host states that Trump is worth $10 billion, with nary a caveat.

Since Trump’s return to the list in 1996 he has had a more nuanced relationship with The Forbes 400. From the FORBES side the policy channels Reagan: Trust but verify. Trump shares more information than almost anyone else on the list, and we accept the basics. But without proof of ownership or debt or specific assets, we err on the side of caution. Usually Trump’s team shows us their liquid investments. Last year we saw documentation for cash and cash equivalents of $307 million. Now they’re claiming $793 million but are unwilling to show it. So we play it safe with $327 million (grossed up to include proceeds from of the Miss Universe sale.)

Similarly, in real estate, FORBES values Trump’s using models of net operating income, or direct comps. Trump’s team assumes cash-rich buyers will emerge, zoning permits will be granted and that golf course homes will be built at no cost to him. Just like the old days, our estimates run roughly one-third of his.

And as for the worth of the Trump brand, which his camp often values in phantom billions, we now consistently give it a value of zero (see below). We say the value of it to these deals is already built into his net worth and don’t assign it a present-day theoretical value to future deals.

But Trump and his team also corrected us on things like Niketown’s square footage (too low) and debt loads at Trump Park Avenue and the Old D.C. Post Office ($170 million down to $8 million). We also, at his urging, reanalyzed Trump Tower and the Doral golf course. All told we added $700 million to our initial net worth estimate.

Meanwhile, Trump, as is his wont, talks tough. “He’s an alpha male-in spades,” says Phil Ruffln, a fellow Forbes 400 member whose Las Vegas partnership with Trump has yielded each man $96 million. “He’s strong. He’s competitive, extremely competitive.”

“I think you’re trying to make me as poor as possible,” says Trump, whose campaign filings claim that this year alone his worth has risen from $8.7 billion ($3.3 billion of that from brand goodwill) to more than $10 billion. Over the course of our interviews, he raises that to “much more than 10 billion” and says that another “respected magazine that’s coming out” is going with $11.5 billion.

“You’re gonna look bad,” he adds. “And look, all I can say is FORBES is a bankrupt magazine, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s all I’m gonna say. ‘Cause it’s embarrassing to me.”

My overarching question for Trump is a simple one: Does he think FORBES uses a different methodology to value him than it uses for every other real estate titan on The Forbes 400? “Yes, I do,” he responds. “Yes, I do.”

Really? Why? “Because I’m famous, and they’re not. Because when Richard LeFrak had dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, he calls me up and he says, ‘Could you help me get a reservation?’”

But make no mistake, Trump cares. Over the past few years he’s taken to sending handwritten notes to Forbes 400 reporters, atop articles favorable to him. (“Insurance cos. + other developers put this much money in-not me,” he scrawls in Magic Marker in the margins of his personal issue of Golf, Inc. , which he sends over.) On an evening when he should have been boning up for 60 Minutes and Colbert, he calls me to clarify the status of one mortgage on one building in his portfolio. And on the Monday he announces his tax plan, his assistant scans and e-mails a personal note from him suggesting ranges for his brand value.

And at the end of our last interview he asks if I have a headline in mind for the story. I tell him, truthfully, that I don’t. Then I ask him what he would suggest. The populist who wants to be President, with the billionaire’s bank account and the papal perch, barely pauses to think: “The King.”

Populism isn’t a dirty word it’s time for the left to reclaim it * Populism Now! – David McKnight.

When the political class adopted Neoliberalism, it effectively transferred significant amounts of political power, the democratic power of governments, to private corporations.

We need to take it back! (Hans)

David McKnight makes the case for a people power that doesn’t scapegoat immigrants or minorities.

INTRODUCTION

Here’s a quick quiz. What do the following political figures have in common: Pauline Hanson, Bill Shorten, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders?

Answer: all have been accused of populism. Whether they’ve bashed banks, billionaires or boat people, they’ve been damned as populists. Yet these political figures come from wildly different parts of the Left and Right. Can they all be populists?

Mostly, when I hear people damning someone as a populist, they are talking about a right-wing version. But it’s not that simple. In this book, I argue that a progressive version of populism exists too.

A progressive populism takes up the genuine economic grievances of everyday Australians without scapegoating migrants or minorities in the way Donald Trump and the proBrexit forces have done. In fact, a progressive form of populism is the best way of defeating the racist backlash of right-wing populism because it addresses the social and economic problems which partly drive the rise of right-wing populism. As well, it asserts our common humanity, whatever diversity we also express.

I first discovered populism when I began teaching investigative journalism in the late 1990s at university. I had some understanding of the subject already, having worked on the ABC’s investigative TV program Four Corners. Like other journalists, I knew about the role of investigative journalism in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. However, to teach it as an academic course I needed to know about its historical origins. I found that investigative journalism (originally called muckraking) began in the United States around 1900 during what Americans call ‘the Progressive Era’. It was called this because it was a period of radical ideas and activism about social reform. One expression of this was the emergence of a new political party, the People’s Party, in 1890-91. It stood for the interests of ordinary people farmers and workers against the ‘robber barons’ in the privately owned banking, oil and railway industries. Friends and enemies alike described the approach of the People’s Party as Populism and its supporters as Populists.

The muckraking journalists were crusaders on issues which they shared with the Populists. For example, in his book The Jungle, writer Upton Sinclair exposed the dangerous and filthy conditions endured by the Chicago meatworkers. Years later his book was recognised as one of the forces behind the introduction of food safety laws. One of the first female muckrakers, Ida Tarbell, exposed the ruthless practices of Standard Oil in crushing rival companies in a series of articles published in McClure’s Magazine, and eventually a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company. Today, Standard Oil is better known as Exxon and remains a ruthless corporation. Lincoln Steffens’ book The Shame of the Cities exposed the corruption of political machines linked to gambling, prostitution and bribery. Other muckrakers attacked the role of big money in government and the power of Wall Street. Their journalism, I realised, was a key contribution to the progressive causes shared with the Populists.

The key idea of the Populists was that the interests of ordinary people were in conflict with those of the elite. Some of the Populists had conspiratorial ideas about money and power but their movement was a powerful challenge to aggressive, unregulated big business. Having been on the Left of politics since my teens, I found this history of a forgotten reform movement fascinating. its goals of economic and social justice for ordinary people are still relevant today.

Years later I rediscovered American populism when I read a book by journalist Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Published in the wake of the election of George W Bush, his book pointed out that Kansas, now a conservative Republican state, was once a centre of radical activity. One Kansas town produced a socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In the 1890s its farmers, driven to the brink of ruin by years of bad prices and debt, held huge meetings where Kansas radicals like Mary Elizabeth Lease urged the farmers to ‘raise less corn and more hell’. From this situation, the People’s Party emerged as the enemy of the ‘money power’ and as an alternative to both Democrats and Republicans. It advocated publicly owned railways and banks along with a progressive income tax on the rich. For this, Frank tells us, they were reviled ‘for their bumpkin assault on free market orthodoxy’.

In 2015 and 2016 I found myself hearing commentators talk about the rise of modern forms of populism during the looming US presidential election. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were referred to as populists. Sanders had opened his campaign with the statement: ‘This country and our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires’. It was a modern echo of the progressive side of the American populist tradition. Although he didn’t win the Democrats’ presidential nomination, Sanders shifted the political agenda and challenged the untrammelled power of the wealthy in the name of ordinary people.

Trump, a right-wing populist, represented the worst aspects of popular prejudice. Yet he won. Like many others, I was stunned as I read the first online news reports announcing this. How could it have happened? One of the most illuminating insights came from Thomas Frank, who argued that Trump’s populist campaign on economic issues was far more important than most people realised at the time and had been the key to him winning crucial states. The abandoned factories and crumbling buildings in cities devastated by free trade deals had created a ‘heartland rage’ that swamped the Democrats.

All of this was ‘the utterly predictable fruit of the Democrats’ neoliberal turn’, he said. ‘Every time our liberal leaders signed off on some lousy trade deal, figuring that working-class people had “nowhere else to go”, they were making what happened last November, Trump’s win, a little more likely.’

Such sentiments inspired this book. And all of this is relevant to Australia because both our Labor and Liberal politicians have, in recent decades, largely accepted the principles of deregulation, privatisation and small government, together known as neoliberalism. In part, this book is an investigation into the failures of these principles in Australia.

The final reason for writing this book is more personal. I grew up in a single-income, bluecollar family with my mother suffering from a severe mental illness. Yet we survived and thrived thanks in part to a strong public sector, especially in health and education. This public sector was grounded in the major parties’ consensus that it was both morally obligatory and economically sound that important public services should be equally available to all and provided collectively. Now this consensus is being broken apart and discarded. This is not some misty-eyed memory about a non-existent golden age, an error often made by right-wing populists when they equate the White Australia Policy years with better conditions overall. Australia is a better and more open society today, not least because it is more culturally diverse. But in terms of simple practical things such as expecting a secure wellpaid job, social services and a home to live in, we are going backwards.

When I started researching this book in the wake of the shock Trump victory and the vote for Brexit I was already a critic of neoliberalism. But as I probed more deeply I grew angrier and angrier. My research revealed that the orthodoxies of deregulation and privatisation, regarded as supreme common sense by the political and economic elite, are radically transforming Australia. The gulf between billionaires and the poor is widening as old egalitarian Australia crumbles; deregulated banks have become parasitic to the rest of the economy; corporate tax avoidance is out of control; and our pay and conditions are being eroded. As it had with me, this has angered many ordinary Australians. Some falsely blame migrants and refugees while others rightly blame a corporate and political elite. To change things, we need to rebuild a new progressive agenda which unites ordinary Australians against these elitedriven policies.

Of prime importance in such a renewed progressive agenda is genuine action on the biggest danger of all, irreversible climate change, which will hit ordinary Australians first. A progressive populist approach aims to unite Australians in the broadest possible new movement one that will provide the necessary people power to avert the worst kinds of changes in the future. Nothing less than the survival of humanity is at stake.

CHAPTER 1

THE POLITICS OF POPULISM

We forced discussions on issues the establishment had swept under the rug for too long. We brought attention to the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country and the importance of breaking up the large banks, we are stronger when we stand together and do not allow demagogues to divide us by race, gender, sexual orientation or where we were born.

US presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders

*

The establishment complains I don’t play by the rules. By which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game. We don’t fit in their cosy club. We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers, and we don’t accept that the British people just have to take what they’re given.

British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn

*

With Donald Trump’s successful campaign to win the US presidency and Britain’s decision to ‘Brexit’ from Europe, we suddenly began to hear a lot of the word ‘populism’ in the political discourse. At first it was used to describe the attack Donald Trump made on illegal Mexican immigration when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in mid 2015. With his trademark bombast, he declaimed, ‘When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best They’re sending people who have lots of problems They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists’. He then added, ‘and some, I assume, are good people’. His call to build a wall on the US-Mexico border (‘which Mexico will pay for’) became a recurrent theme of his campaign and later, his presidency.

Nor was his abuse limited to Mexicans. After a Muslim US citizen committed a terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, Trump called for a ban preventing Muslims from entering the United States, at one point including those who were American citizens currently abroad. Trump’s campaign received what seemed to be a certain death blow in October 2016, when the Washington Post revealed an audio tape of his boast that, because he was ‘a star’, he could grab women ‘by the pussy’ and get away with it.

By the normal rules of elections in the United States and elsewhere, his popular support should have shrunk. Trump’s coded appeals to racism, crude misogyny and calculated abuse should have fatally wounded his bid for the White House. But his popular support grew and Trump eventually attained the most powerful position in the world. In office, he has confirmed the worst expectations, responding to North Korea’s threat to the United States with a warning that North Korea ‘will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen before’, a thinly disguised threat to unleash a nuclear war.

How did we get into this situation? Trump’s election victory owed a lot to two factors. One was his economic populism, which criticised free trade and globalisation. This received a warm response from many working Americans. He threatened to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement. He promised to impose high tariffs on runaway US companies which moved production overseas. He threatened restrictions on imported Chinese goods. Globalisation, he said, helped ‘the financial elite’ while leaving ‘millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache’. All the while he targeted the states hardest hit by economic globalisation. Much of this was downplayed or never reported by both social media and the traditional news media, which preferred to concentrate on his more colourful outbursts and tweets.

The second key to his victory was his skilful use of social media, which he credited with being a way to counteract what he called the ‘fake news’ propagated by mainstream news media. On Facebook and Twitter his popularity eclipsed that of Hillary Clinton and it was there that he circulated his own ‘alternative facts’. The algorithms of social media, which suggest news based on past activity, transformed this popularity into self-reinforcing echo chambers of Trump supporters. And all of this was fed by the crisis in traditional journalism, whose capacity to report news had been eroded by the power of that selfsame social media.

The election of Donald Trump has taken us all into a new and dangerous place. If it had been an isolated incident it would not matter so much. But it was far from that. A few months before Trump’s election, Britain went to the polls to decide whether or not to leave the European Union (EU). The vote was voluntary but the turnout was high. More than 30 million people voted, with a majority in favour of Britain’s exit, styled Brexit. Another victory for populism, said the commentators.

The British vote to leave the EU spanned traditional Right and Left and drew support from unexpected places. While the ‘Leave’ vote was highest in traditionally Conservative areas, it was also high in some working-class Labour strongholds. For some, voting to leave the EU was a protest against the economic effects of the globalised economy, with its problems of unemployment and low wages. For others, their main concern was the immigration which had ensued from open borders. ‘We want our country back!’ was a common cry. Donald Trump, then campaigning for president, hailed the Brexit vote as a ‘great victory’ and drew parallels to his own opposition to ‘rule by the global elite’. A new populist Right was on the move globally.

Soon populism seemed to be everywhere. In Europe the established parties saw their dominance challenged by right-wing populism. In France in 2017 the antiimmigrant and anti-Muslim National Front achieved 34 per cent of the presidential vote, its highest yet. That same year the far right Alternative for Germany won an unprecedented 13 per cent of the vote and 90 seats in the Bundestag. In the Netherlands Geert Wilders’ xenophobic Party for Freedom advanced in the 2017 general elections.

In Australia too Trump-style political disaffection is taking hold. A reputable study by academics at the Australian National University (ANU) shows that key indicators, including satisfaction with democracy, trust in government and loyalty to major parties are at record lows among Australians. The study was conducted following the July 2016 election and found that only 26 per cent of Australians think the government can be trusted (the lowest level since it was first measured in 1969). Forty per cent of Australians were not satisfied with democracy (the lowest level since the period after Gough Whitlam was dismissed in 1975); and there was a record low level of interest (30 per cent) in the 2016 election.

The study’s lead researcher, Professor Ian McAllister, said that we are seeing ‘the stirrings among the public of what has happened in the United States of the likes of Trump, Brexit in Britain, in Italy and a variety of other European countries, it’s coming here and I would have thought this a wake-up call for the political class’. Australian conservatives, hoping to take advantage of this disillusion, welcomed Trump’s victory, with Tony Abbott tweeting: ‘Congrats to the new president who appreciates that Middle America is sick of being taken for granted’. Mining magnate Gina Rinehart urged Australia to follow Trump’s lead and Andrew Bolt told his audience: ‘The revolution is on!’ Very much part of this phenomenon, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party achieved an unprecedented four seats in the Senate in the 2016 election.

But what is populism?

To many, ‘populism’ is a shorthand term for pandering to people’s baser instincts, exemplified in Trump’s campaign and his presidency. It inflames a desire to blame ethnic and religious minorities; it is a lust for cheap popularity and it is a phony hostility to the Establishment and to ‘the elite’, such is the common understanding. Populist leaders are seen to be posing as outsiders and as representatives of the underdog. Above all, populism is regarded as a right-wing phenomenon.

But it’s not that simple. This book argues that a progressive version of populism exists too. A progressive populism fights for the genuine economic grievances of everyday people without blaming minorities or migrants. In fact, a progressive populism is a very good way to neutralise this sort of scapegoating because it addresses the social and economic problems which partly drive the rise of right-wing populism.

Populism is a notoriously loose description of a political stance. In many ways it is a style of doing politics rather than a series of particular policies. Some people think populism means trying to be popular, but this is misleading. The words populist and populism come from the Latin word for ‘the people’ (populus) what today we’d call the public. The meaning survives in the expression vox populi, the voice of the people. Generally speaking, populism is a style of politics which frames politics as a conflict between the people and an elite. But the identity of the people and the nature of the elite can vary widely. On this basis populism can be either a right-wing or a left-wing phenomenon. In some countries today, the traditional battle between right and left is being channelled through a populist filter.

Academic Margaret Canovan conducted one of the early studies of populism. She argues that there are two broad strands to populist movements. The first is rural, based on organisations of peasants or farmers, a kind which typically emerges when these people are confronting modernisation. The second is characterised by highlighted tensions between the elite and the grassroots. This can take the form of ‘idealisations of the man in the street or of politicians’ attempts to hold together shaky coalitions in the name of “the people”’. Canovan concludes that populism can take right-wing or left-wing forms but that ‘all forms of populism without exception involve some kind of exaltation of and appeal to “the people” and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist’.

The American writer John Judis, author of the recent book The Populist Explosion, also argues that populism is ‘not an ideology but a way of thinking about politics’. He too supports the view that populism can exist in both left and right forms. Left-wing populists champion the people against an elite or establishment (as in Occupy Wall Street’s slogan about the One Per Cent versus the 99 per cent). Right-wing populists are against an elite ‘that they accuse of coddling a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, lslamists or African American militants’.

Judis notes that the original US People’s Party was formed in the 1890s when Kansas farmers united with an early workers’ organisation and challenged the existing establishment of Republicans and Democrats. The People’s Party developed policies against monopolistic railroads and greedy banks and in favour of progressive income tax and expanding public controls. As one populist writer said, they aimed to get rid of ‘the plutocrats, the aristocrats, and all the other rats’. To the Australian Labor Party, emerging in the same tumultuous decade of the 1890s, the US People’s Party was something of a model and there were early proposals to call the new Australian party the People’s Party, rather than the Labour Party.

This progressive strand within American populism re-emerged in 2015-16 when Bernie Sanders competed with Hillary Clinton to become the Democrats’ presidential candidate. At the start of that campaign he was seen as little more than an eccentric, rumpled, 70-plus year old running an unusual campaign. One newspaper described him as a ‘grumpy grandfather type’ who ‘embraces his reputation for being gruff, abrupt and honest and promises to be bold’. As time went on, observers began to note the cheering, youthful crowds that he drew, his calls for a ‘political revolution’ and his strong social media campaign on Facebook.

Although he did not win the Democratic nomination, Sanders surprised everyone by doing well enough in the battle for the presidential nomination to win 23 primary and caucus races to Clinton’s 34. With no big corporate donors, he raised millions of dollars in small donations from a growing support base, especially from the young. Most surprising of all were his campaign’s public statements and appeals. Sanders attacked ‘the One Per Cent’ of super-rich people who had benefitted enormously from the globalised economy while others struggled to survive. In one speech at Liberty University, he said: ‘In my view there is no economic justice when the 15 wealthiest people in this country in the last two years saw their wealth increase by $170 billion’. It was a fact he repeated all through his energetic campaign.

Another Sanders target was the deregulated banking system that had caused the global financial crisis. Sanders charged: ‘Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when Wall Street collapsed, they used their wealth and power to get bailed out’.‘ The contrast he pointed out in several speeches was with the 41 per cent of American workers who didn’t take a single day of paid vacation in 2015 and with the third of workers in the private sector who cannot even claim paid sick leave.

Like Trump, Bernie Sanders was also widely regarded as a populist, reviving a long American tradition in which the central conflict is seen to be between the people and the elite.

Sanders happily described himself as a democratic socialist and pointed to the socialdemocratic states of Scandinavia as models. In his platform, Sanders said he supported: a national public healthcare system; an end to corporate welfare; abolishing fees for college degrees; a full employment policy; raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and preventing ‘greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry’. The money to achieve these aims was to be raised by compelling wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of tax.

All of these policies, advocating a stronger role for government, effectively rejected the decades-long dominance of the ideology known as neoliberalism the ideology of small government, of globalising in the form of deregulated markets and of faith in market forces to guide and manage the economy.

Progressive populism in the Sanders mould attributes today’s social and economic problems not to migrants or minorities nor to the ‘politically correct’ mainstream media, but to the failure of neoliberal policies. And because progressive populism addresses the forces driving the rise of right-wing populism, it is the most effective antidote.

The political theorist Chantal Mouffe is not surprised by the rise of right-wing populism:

In a context where the dominant discourse proclaims that there is no alternative to the current neoliberal form of globalisation and that we have to submit to its diktats, it is small wonder that more and more workers are keen to listen to those who claim that alternatives do exist, and that they will give back to the people the power to decide.

And this is just what Trump promised. Unlike the campaign of Hillary Clinton, issues of economic injustice featured heavily in his winning campaign. Just a few days before the November election, Trump told a huge crowd in an aircraft hangar in Pittsburgh: ‘When we win, we are bringing steel back, we are going to bring steel back to Pennsylvania, like it used to be. We are putting our steel workers and miners back to work’. Trump touched a raw nerve. No steel mills now exist in Pittsburgh and hundreds of thousands of steelworkers had lost their jobs since the 1980s, in part due to freer global trade. Whether Trump was sincere in (or even capable of delivering) his promise to bring steel jobs back to Pittsburgh is not the point. Identifying economic grievances and blaming them on free trade and globalisation is almost unprecedented by a Republican candidate. More importantly, it was a challenge which Hillary Clinton, as a long time supporter of neoliberal free trade, could not rebut. As it turned out, Trump did win in Pennsylvania. It was one of the three ‘rust belt’ states that made the difference to victory or defeat in the presidential election.

Both Trump and Sanders were outsiders in US politics. Both denounced the domination of big business and the banks and blamed them for much of US economic woes. Both based their campaign on appeals to ordinary Americans and both were described as populists. Unlike Trump, Sanders was a progressive populist. When he talked about the elite and the establishment, he meant the economic elite and the corporate establishment. Unlike Trump, Sanders did not scapegoat immigrants or ethnic minorities.

The groundswell grows

The groundswell of populism soon saw Sanders joined by the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. When he began his election campaign in April 2017, Corbyn faced deep opposition from many of his fellow Labour members of parliament. Like most media commentators, they also believed that because of his leftwing history and left-wing policies he could not possibly win. And certainly he was in trouble at the beginning of the campaign, when polls were placing Labour up to 24 points behind the Conservatives.

From the start of the 2017 election campaign Corbyn framed the contest in the language of progressive populism. He described the election as a battle of ‘the establishment versus the people’ and promised to overturn ‘a rigged system’ that favoured the rich and powerful. Under him, Labour would not be part of the ‘cosy club’ whose members think it is natural for Britain to be ‘governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax dodgers’, he said. His opponents believed such deeply controversial rhetoric was guaranteed to result in a huge loss.

But his message was straightforward and cut through the spin and PR fog of traditional political rhetoric. And these policies proved popular among the British people. Early opinion polling showed that up to 71 per cent of people supported his proposal to raise the minimum wage to ten pounds an hour. A similar proportion of the British public (62 per cent) supported his plan to raise taxes on the rich and high income earners.

Corbyn’s manifesto broke other unspoken rules of the economic consensus of neoliberalism. He argued that the railways and water supply should return to public ownership. He promised to extend free school meals by a tax on private school fees. He also urged increased funding for social housing, and his pledge to abolish university fees helped build a powerful momentum among young people, who registered to vote at unprecedented levels and voted Labour on election day.

The Conservatives had called the election, confident they would increase their majority in parliament, and Corbyn’s campaign of progressive populism destroyed their majority and almost beat them.

There were close parallels between the movements around Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Officials from Sanders’ campaign helped Corbyn with ideas on strategy and fundraising. Sanders himself visited Britain just days before the election campaign and drew comparisons between his own policies and Corbyn’s:

Too many people run away from the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality that exist in the United States, the UK and all over the world Globalisation has left far too many people behind. Workers all over the world are seeing a decline in their standard of living. Unfettered free trade has allowed multinational companies to enjoy huge profits and make the very rich even richer while workers are sucked into a race for the bottom.

The spread of progressive populist ideas has not been confined to the United States and Britain. In Spain the progressive populist party Podemos emerged in 2014 and grew so rapidly that it secured 20 per cent in the 2015 elections, campaigning on an anti-austerity platform, supporting increased public spending and strong anti-corruption measures. In the 2016 election it retained its electoral support. In Greece, another new progressive party, Syriza, formed out of a coalition of left-wing and environment groups and received 35 per cent of the vote in the 2015 elections, later forming government. While the majority trend within European populism is rightwing, the significance of a new left populism should not be underestimated.

Neoliberal globalisation

Driving the emergence of right and left-wing populism is the set of policies known as neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism became the mindset of the political class in the 1980s and was a very deliberate project to wind back the welfare state, reducing the public sphere with its public goods of health, education, transport and culture, along with the tax system which paid for it.

The neoliberal project is based on the idea that the market is the most efficient distributor of goods because it combines the profit motive and competition. It takes no account of justice, inequality or social cohesion. Ultimately this promotes the transformation of all human relationships (not just economic ones) into commercial transactions.

It was neoliberalism with its floating currencies and deregulated markets which drove the present form of globalisation. But neoliberal globalisation means much more than a loosening of trade. It means the unplanned transfer of blue and white-collar jobs from erstwhile industrial countries to less developed nations. It also means national governments are less able to control what happens in their own society and economy.

When the political class adopted neoliberalism, it effectively transferred significant amounts of political power, the democratic power of governments, to private corporations. While benefitting a corporate elite, the neoliberal experiment demonstrably failed in the global financial crisis and the effects of that failure are still with us.

What had been a crisis of private debt was transformed by government bail-outs into an alleged crisis of public debt. This sleight of hand reinforced the neoliberal dogma that the problem was always governments. The ideology of ‘small government’ meant that governments imposed even more stringent cost-cutting measures.

The failure of neoliberalism in Australia

The populist groundswell in the United States, Britain and Europe and elsewhere is reflected by similar movements in Australia, prompted by similar causes. In the following chapters I examine the ways in which Neo-liberalism has failed to produce a good society, as well as its role in fostering a populist backlash.

First and most significantly, 30 years of neoliberal globalisation and deregulation have produced a polarisation of wealth which has undermined Australia’s egalitarian ethos. The gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us is widening. We are becoming a more divided society with a tiny wealthy elite at one extreme and a significant group of poor at the other.

Nor is it solely a matter of fuelling material inequality. As important as inequality (and more important in the long term) is climate change. The ideology of small government and deregulation is impeding our response to accelerating climate change despite the clear warning signs in record high temperatures and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Whatever combination of market and state arrangements is best at fostering renewable energy, it will need tough government action to implement this and to defeat the power of the coal and oil industries. To support such action we need a broad populist coalition of all the diverse forces demanding real action on climate.

And just as it has in the United States and Britain, privatisation is spreading throughout Australian society, changing services that used to be provided to all citizens into profitmaking enterprises. The sale of public assets like seaports, airports and electricity poles and wires has simply created expensive monopolies. Billions have also been wasted in attempting to privatise technical and vocational education. Despite these failures, private companies are now being encouraged to move deeper into education, aged care and disability services.

Likewise, Australia has its own rust belt of closed factories and, for those in employment, jobs are increasingly casual, part time and less secure. The deregulation of Australian workplaces means that for younger workers, jobs with paid holidays and fair wages are becoming less common. And thanks to a variety of temporary overseas visa schemes a casualised, cashinhand underclass is spreading in the agriculture, retail and hospitality sectors. Such workers are exploited and their labour conditions undermine those of local workers. This is not occurring accidentally but because economic orthodoxy (backed by employers) demands this labour deregulation. The resulting job insecurity combined with low wages is one factor stoking a right-wing populist backlash based on xenophobia and hostility to overseas workers.

While low-paid workers are made increasingly vulnerable, at the other end of the scale big corporations do everything they can to avoid paying tax, a practice made easier in the globalised world of neoliberalism. In 2014, the Australian branch of the tech giant Apple paid $80 million in tax just 1 per cent of its total Australian income of $6 billion. Its rival, Microsoft, paid just 5 per cent of its income. Over several years big mining companies like BHP and Rio Tinto shifted billions through Singapore, where tax rates can be a mere 2.5 per cent. Nor is it just corporations. Some of Australia’s richest families and individuals pay little or no tax. When the Panama Papers were leaked, up to 800 wealthy Australians were associated with shell companies in tax havens like Panama. Meanwhile, ordinary Australians are left to pick up the tab for hospitals, roads and schools, effectively subsidising those who refuse to pay their share.

Finally, compounding the problem of wealth inequality, the banking and finance sector has swollen enormously since it was deregulated. In Australia we have some of the biggest and most profitable banks in the world. Together they form a rapacious oligopoly which extracts more than $30 billion in profits each year from the rest of Australia.

In their zeal to lend money, deregulated banks have fuelled a housing price boom, the result of which is that fewer Australians now own their own home than 40 years ago.

It’s now time to look again at regulating banks and the finance industry to ensure that they act in the public interest.

Overall, the spread of neoliberal orthodoxy through society has corroded many of the institutions and relationships on which citizens rely and which offer protection from the vagaries of the market. This orthodoxy has shrunk the democratic space by removing all sorts of functions from the public to the private sphere. The real meaning of ‘small government’ is that we have ended up with a small democracy, because governments are still the only institutions we have for exercising our democratic, collective voice. The zealous advocacy of theories of selfinterest, competition and small government has led to a dead end.

All of this spawns populisms of both the Right and Left. The crucial point of difference between them concerns the meaning of and response to globalisation. Are the problems of globalisation primarily issues of economics and economic justice or are they mainly an issue of immigrants and of changing the ethnic mix? Progressive populists are alarmed by the damage that open economic borders, which import cheap products and export jobs, do to local jobs and the national economy. Right-wing populism dredges the deepest and most dangerous emotions to reject the changing ethnic mix which results after years of relatively open immigration.

When right-wing populists define what they mean by the ‘elite’ they take aim at the progressive middle class, the so-called politically correct, who abhor racism and gender inequality. Progressive populists, by contrast, define the ‘elite’ in economic terms as the super-rich and corporate moguls. When talking about ‘the people’, progressives seek to unify the middle class and working class in an alliance for reform. Progressive populists emphasise the common ground which the majority of people share on issues of economic justice.

By focussing attention on genuine economic grievances, a progressive populist agenda can undercut the way ethnic and religious minorities are demonised.

Some see progressive populism as the natural continuation and revival of social-democratic and labour politics which have been compromised by their turn to ‘third way’ politics. One critic is political theorist Chantal Mouffe. She argues that the neoliberal consensus between conservative and once-radical workers’ parties has created a favourable ground for the rise of populism because many people feel their voices are unheard and ignored in the representative system. The problem is that this often takes the form of a right-wing populism which sees ‘the people’ defined to exclude immigrants and minorities.

On this basis many people criticise ‘populism’ negatively. She responds:

This is a mistake, because populism represents an important dimension of democracy. Democracy understood as ‘the power of the people’ requires the existence of a ‘demos’ a people. Instead of rejecting the term populist, we should reclaim it.

In this book my intention is to reclaim populism by fostering a progressive version of it which puts the interests of the common man and woman first, ahead of the priorities of a wealthy global elite whose interests and priorities have dominated for far too long.

CHAPTER 2

THE RISE AND RISE OF THE SUPER-RICH

There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war and we ’re winning.

Warren Buffett, billionaire investor

*

With their collective wealth estimated at $US7.7 trillion, the global elite of the super-rich are the natural opponents of progressive populism. Some of that global elite are household names in Australia. In July 2016 over 200 of them gathered for a huge celebration in the dazzling blue waters of the Mediterranean. Trucking billionaire Lindsay Fox was throwing an all expenses paid birthday party and had invited his closest friends to enjoy a cruise from Athens to Venice via Corfu. Fox’s ship of choice was Seabourn Odyssey, renting for over a million dollars a week and containing 225 luxury suites.

Lindsay Fox’s own wealth totals $2.9 billion. His fellow passengers included the mining billionaires Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest.

According to the Australian Financial Review’s 2017 Rich List they are worth (in Australian dollars) $10.4 billion and $6.8 billion respectively. Shopping centre king John Gandel ($6.1 billion) and retail giant Solomon Lew ($2.3 billion) also took part in the exclusive celebration on the high seas. Further down the guest list for the stylish cruise were former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey, former Liberal Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, media businessman Harold Mitchell and golfer Greg Norman.‘

This public airing of the details of a party for Australian billionaires is rare. It’s not always easy to get information on the super-rich. A key source is the Financial Review’s annual Rich List. The 2017 edition identified 60 Australian billionaires, headed by the paper manufacturing magnate Anthony Pratt ($12.6 billion). The most modest billionaire (scraping in at just $1 billion) is Melbourne-based Peter Gunn, who owns PGA Group, a private investment business that holds a property empire in office and industrial blocks and is also involved in cattle production. Others among the ten wealthiest are James Packer ($4.75 billion), whose money is in casinos; Harry Triguboff ($11.45 billion), who made a fortune from building tower blocks; and Frank Lowy ($8.26 billion), the Westfield shopping centre magnate. The eighth wealthiest Australian is Hui Wang Mau ($6 billion), who made much of his money in Hong Kong property and took out Australian citizenship after studying in South Australia in the early 1990s.


from

Populism Now!

by David McKnight

get it at Amazon.com

It’s Time to Panic Now! – Fred Kaplan.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser puts us on a path to war.

.

It’s time to push the panic button.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser, a post that requires no Senate confirmation, puts the United States on a path to war. And it’s fair to say President Donald Trump wants us on that path.

After all, Trump gave Bolton the job after the two held several conversations (despite White House chief of staff John Kelly’s orders barring Bolton from the building). And there was this remark that Trump made after firing Rex Tillerson and nominating the more hawkish Mike Pompeo to take his place:

”We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things I want.”

Bolton has repeatedly called for launching a first strike on North Korea, scuttling the nuclear arms deal with Iran, and then bombing that country too. He says and writes these things not as part of some clever ”madman theory” to bring Kim Jong-un and the mullahs of Tehran to the bargaining table, but rather because he simply wants to destroy them and America’s other enemies too.

His agenda is not ”peace through strength,” the motto of more conventional Republican hawks that Trump included in a tweet on Wednesday, but rather regime change through war. He is a neocon without the moral fervor of some who wear that label, i.e., he is keen to topple oppressive regimes not in order to spread democracy but rather to expand American power.

In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney finagled Bolton a job as undersecretary of state for arms control, an inside joke, since Bolton has never read an arms, control treaty that he liked. But his real assignment was to serve as Cheney’s spy in Foggy Bottom, monitoring and, when possible, obstructing any attempts at peaceful diplomacy mounted by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When Powell got the boot, Cheney wanted to make Bolton deputy secretary of state, replacing Richard Armitage, who resigned along with his best friend Powell. But Powell’s replacement, Condoleezza Rice, who had been Bush’s national security adviser, blocked the move, fully aware of Bolton’s obstructionist ideology.

As a compromise, Bush nominated Bolton to be United Nations ambassador, but that move proved unbearable to even the Republican controlled Senate at the time. It was one thing to be critical of the U.N., it’s a body deserving of criticism, but Bolton opposed its very existence. ”There is no such thing as the United Nations,” he once said in a speech, adding, ”If the UN. Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference.”

More than that, he was hostile to the idea of international law, having once declared, ”It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so, because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”

These might be quaint notions for some eccentric midlevel aide to espouse, but the United Nations is founded on international law, Security Council resolutions are drafted to enforce international law, and, as even Bush was beginning to realize by the start of his second term, around the time of Bolton’s nomination, some of those resolutions were proving useful for expressing, and sometimes enforcing, US. national security interests. How could someone with these views serve as the US. ambassador to the U.N.?

In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton put on a dreadful show, grumbling and scowling through his walrus mustache. Finally, in a tie vote, the committee sent Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate ”without recommendation.” Properly fearing that this foretold a rejection on the floor, Bush gave Bolton the job as a ”recess appointment” after Congress went on holiday. But the law allowing this evasion gave the Senate a chance to take a vote 18 months later. In the second round of hearings, Bolton behaved even more obnoxiously than in the first. When one Republican senator asked him whether his year and a half in the UN. had altered his ideas about the place, Bolton, rather than seizing the chance to mollify skeptics, replied, ”Not really.” The head counters in the White House withdrew the nomination, and Bolton headed back to neocon central at the American Enterprise Institute.

During Trump’s presidential transition, Bolton made the short list of candidates for deputy secretary of state, but Tillerson, who would soon get the nod for secretary, expressed misgivings about working with the guy. (Trump might have recalled that conversation earlier this month, when he decided to fire Tillerson.) After Michael Flynn flamed out as national security adviser, Bolton was also on the short list to replace him. Gen. H.R. McMaster got the nod, but Trump publicly said he liked Bolton and that he too would soon be working for the White House ”in some capacity.” And now, here he is.

In his one year and one month on the job, McMaster, who is still an active-duty Army three-star general, proved a deep disappointment to his friends and erstwhile admirers. He’d made his reputation 20 years ago, as the author of a dissertation turned book, Dereliction of Duty, which lambasted the top generals of the Vietnam era for failing to give their honest military advice to President Lyndon Johnson. And now, in his only tour as a policy adviser in Washington, McMaster has wrecked that reputation, committing his own derelictions by pandering to Trump’s proclivities and tolerating his falsehoods.

But at least McMaster assembled, and often listened to, a professional staff at the National Security Council and insisted on ousting amateur ideologues, several of them acolytes of Flynn.

Bolton is not likely to put up with a professional staff, and the flood of White House exiles will soon intensify.

One subject of discussion at Bolton’s Senate hearings, back in 2005, was his intolerance of any views that differed from his own. He displayed this trait most harshly when, as undersecretary of state, he tried to fire two intelligence analysts who challenged his (erroneous) view that Cuba was developing biological weapons and supplying the weapons to rogue regimes.

Nor is Bolton at all suited to perform one of a national security adviser’s main responsibilities, assembling the Cabinet secretaries to debate various options in foreign and military policy, mediating their differences, and either hammering out a compromise or presenting the choices to the president.

Then again, there may now no longer be many differences to mediate in this administration. The last of the grown ups is Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Marine four-star general, who got that job mainly because Trump had heard his nickname was ”mad dog.” He didn’t know that Mattis regularly consulted a personal library of some 7,000 volumes on history and strategy, that (like most generals) he’s not too keen to go to war unless he really has to, and that (also like most generals) he takes the Geneva Conventions seriously and opposes torture.

In recent weeks, Trump was said to be tiring of aides who kept telling him no. He might soon tire of Bolton, who, whatever else he is, can’t be pegged as a yes man. But in the short term, Bolton may be just the man to excite Trump’s darker instincts, to actualize the frustrated hitman who raged about pelting Kim Jong-un with ”fire and fury like the world has never seen” or fomenting ”the total collapse of the Iranian regime,” which he somehow believes was about to happen, if only Obama hadn’t signed the nuclear deal and lifted sanctions.

With Tillerson out, Bolton in, and Pompeo waiting in the wings for confirmation, Trump is feeling his oats, coming into his own, like Trump is free to be Trump. Finding out just who that is may make the rest of us duck and cover.

Real Facts about Tariffs. Trump’s plan brings a gun to a knife fight, a gun aimed at his foot – Greg Jericho.

It wasn’t a total surprise that Australia was spared the steel and aluminium tariffs as Trump’s bluster of levelling tariffs for everyone is weakening.

This week saw leaders around the world trying to remember whether they were meant to take Donald Trump seriously, but not literally, or literally but not seriously, and also wondering if they have a Greg Norman somewhere they could use.

When US president Trump announced early in the week he was going to levy a 25% tariff on steel and a 15% tariff on aluminium imports, he suggested it was in order to protect national security. As with most Trump utterances, it left everyone trying to decipher just what he meant, because the US imports nearly half its steel from four nations Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico which are hardly enemies of the US.

Was he doing this to attack China? He did write a series of tweets that suggested trade with China is in his sights, but while China is the biggest producer of steel, it only exports a small percentage of it to the US.

Some of his other tweets suggested that Trump was instead targeting Europe, but again, hitting steel imports was an odd way to go about it, given Europe made it quickly obvious that it would retaliate with tariffs of its own and the European Union is one of the few economies with enough grunt not to get pushed around by the US.

Then came the suggestion that Trump was using this to negotiate with Canada and Mexico over Nafta but that was also odd because that shot down his national security reasoning and opened the US up to retaliation under the World Trade Organisation rules (which would be likely anyway, given his national security reasoning was clearly bogus).

And using the threat of increasing tariffs in free trade negotiations is a weird way to go about things.

The tariffs do hurt the countries that export steel and aluminium to the US, because they force them to charge more for their product, thereby giving American steel companies an advantage, but they also hurt the US.

Tariffs are effectively consumption taxes designed to give local industries an advantage (or at least an equal footing with international competitors), and they work by raising the price of imports. Now that is great for the owners and possibly workers of those industries, but not so good for anyone else who wants to buy those goods, because now they have to pay more.

A tariff on steel and aluminium imports might help create a few extra jobs in the steel industry, but it also increases the price of all things made with steel and aluminium. That leads to job losses in those industries and also reduces the living standards for everyone because suddenly they have to pay more for things like canned goods, beer, and cars.

One study suggested that for every job gained in the steel and aluminium industries, five would be lost elsewhere.

That does not mean all free trade is a win for everyone and international trade does not occur in a textbook, but rather in the real world where governments subsidise and assist industries. But the general rule is that the costs to the economy increase with the size of the tariff and the number of industries affected (and similarly the benefits of lowering them reduce as the tariff gets closer to zero). A 25% tariff on steel is thus a rather hefty whack.

Trump is in effect going to the negotiating table with a massive weapon, a bit like taking a gun to a knife fight. The only problem is he has the gun aimed at his own foot.

And so it wasn’t a total surprise to see Trump back down and exempt Canada and Mexico, and then later give one to Australia. As the trade minister, Steve Ciobo noted this week, our steel exports to the US amount to about 0.800 of the US market and our aluminium exports account for about 1.5% so exempting Australia makes little difference.

To that end, reports that we have engaged Greg Norman to do some lobbying on our behalf seem eminently sensible. Not because Norman is some master trade negotiator, but because when dealing with Trump, nations always need to realise he is an insecure, ego driven fool who needs praise for doing the most ordinary of activities, and who sees every discussion and issue through the prism of how it makes him look.

Norman is probably the only Australian Trump has heard of, and the fact that Norman is famous and successful and would be seeking a favour from Trump would appeal to Trump’s vanity.

We could bemoan the fact that America’s electoral college system has selected this vainglorious ignoramus, or we can suck it up and use it to our advantage.

For now it appears his bluster of levelling tariffs for everyone is weakening. Trump clearly believes this the best way to negotiate trade deals, like any good swindler he’ll ignore the costs and talk only of the benefits.

The danger for Australia has always been not from a direct US tariff but should retaliation come from Europe and China. The last thing a small open economy needs is for the large economies of the world to start playing like it is 1930.

For now everyone is trying to work out just what Trump is after, mostly he is after things that he can call a win (even if they are really not). So I; nations will be thinking of things they give Trum that don’t matter in order for him to claim victory in the negotiation.

Or they can see if Greg Norman is available for hire.

The Guardian

What happened when the US last introduced tariffs? – Dominic Rushe.

Anyone?

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot were reviled for a bill blamed for triggering the Great Depression. Will Trump follow their lead?

America inches towards a potential trade war over steel prices, can Donald Trump hear whispering voices?

Alone in the Oval Office in the wee dark hours, illuminated by the glow of his Twitter app, does he feel the sudden chill flowing from those freshly hung gold drapes? It is the shades of Smoot and Hawley.

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.

Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Successful presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have campaigned on the perils of free trade only to drop the rhetoric once installed in the White House. Trump called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. And China? “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump said.

As commander in chief he has shown no signs of softening and this week took major action announcing steel imports would face a 25% tariff and aluminium 10%.

Canada and the EU said they would bring forward their own countermeasures. Mexico, China and Brazil have also said they are considering retaliatory steps.

Trump doesn’t seem worried. “Trade wars are good,” he tweeted even as the usually friendly Wall Street Journal thundered that “Trump’s tariff folly ”is the “biggest policy blunder of his Presidency”.

It is not his first protectionist move. In his first days in office the president has vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in a generation, said he will review the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a deal he has called “the worst in history”, and had his visit with Mexico’s president cancelled over his plans to make them pay for a border wall.

Free traders may have become complacent after hearing tough talk on trade from so many presidential candidates on the campaign trail only to watch them furiously back pedal when they get into ofhce, said Dartmouth professor and trade expert Douglas Irwin. “Unfortunately that pattern may have been broken,” he says. “It looks like we have to take Trump literally and seriously about his threats on trade.”

Not since Herbert Hoover has a US president been so down on free trade. And Hoover was the man who signed off on Smoot and Hawley’s bill.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor a history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risque poems and similar texts as “worse than opium I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.

Foreign demand for US produce had soared during the first world war, and farm prices doubled between 1915 and 1918. A wave of land speculation followed and farmers took on debt as they looked to expand production. By the early 1920s farmers had found themselves heavily in debt and squeezed by tightening monetary policy and an unexpected collapse in commodity prices.

Nearly a quarter of the American labor force was then employed on the land, and Congress could not ignore heartland America. Cheap foreign imports and their toll on the domestic market became a hot issue in the 1928 election. Even bananas weren’t safe. Irwin quotes one critic in his book Peddling Protectionism: Smoot Hawley and the Great Depression: “The enormous imports of cheap bananas into the United States tend to curtail the domestic consumption of fresh fruits produced in the United States.”

Hoover won in a landslide against Albert E Smith, an out of touch New Yorker who didn’t appeal to middle America, and soon after promised to pass “limited” tariff reforms.

Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti trade. Until today.

Franklin D Roosevelt swept into power in 1933 and for the first time the president was granted the authority to undertake trade negotiations to reduce foreign barriers on US exports in exchange for lower US tariffs.

The backlash against Smoot and Hawley continued to the present day. The average tariff on dutiable imports was 45% in 1930; by 2010 it was 5%.

The lessons of Smoot Hawley used to be taught in high schools. Presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan have enlisted the unhappy duo when facing off with free trade critics. “I have been around long enough to remember that when we did that once before in this century, something called Smoot Hawley, we lived through a nightmare,” Reagan, who came of age during the Great Depression, said in 1984.

They even got a mention in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when actor Ben Stein’s teacher bores his class with it. “I don’t think the current generation are taught it. It’s in the past and we are more interested in the future.”

But that might be about to change. “The main lesson is that you have to worry about what other countries do. Countries will retaliate,” said Irwin. “When Congress was considering Smoot Hawley in the 1930s they didn’t consider what other countries might do in reaction. They thought other countries would remain passive. But other countries don’t remain passive.”

The consequences of a trade war today are far worse than in the 1930s. Exports of goods and services account for about 13% of US gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of an economy. It was roughly 5% back in 1920.

“The US is much more engaged in trade, it’s much more a part of the fabric of the country, than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. That means the ripple effects are widespread. Many more industries will be hit by it and the scope for foreign retaliation, which in the case of Smoot Hawley was quite limited, is going to be much more widespread if a trade war was to start.”

“When you start talking about withdrawing from trade agreements or imposing tariffs of 35%, if you are doing that as a protectionist measure, that would be blowing up the system.”

That the promise of “blowing up the system” got Trump elected may be why the ghosts of Smoot and Hawley are once again walking the halls of Congress.

The Guardian

The president is a disgrace to his country at so many levels. The Observer view on Donald Trump. 

It is almost one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president. Will he last another 12 months? Day after tumultuous day since 20 January 2017, Trump has provided fresh evidence of his unfitness for America’s highest office.

It is not only that his politics and policies, from tax cuts and climate change to Palestine and nuclear weapons, are disastrously wrong-headed. It is not just that his idea of leadership is divisive, confrontational and irresponsible. Nor does the problem lie solely with his blatant racism, misogyny and chauvinism, though these are indeed massive problems.

His latest foul-mouthed outrage – describing developing countries as “shitholes” – is appalling even by his crude standards.

The fundamental failing underlying Trump’s presidency is his wilful ignorance. His frequently petulant, childish behaviour combines with a staggering lack of knowledge and contempt for facts to produce serial, chronic misjudgments. Trump, in power, cannot be trusted. He has been exposed as lacking in empathy, shamelessly mendacious, cynical and unversed or uninterested in the enduring human and constitutional values his office is sworn to uphold. Trump is the first and hopefully the last of his kind: an anti-American president. He is a disgrace and a danger to his country. The sooner he is sent packing, the better.

How much longer will Americans tolerate his embarrassing presence in the White House? His tenancy runs until November 2020, when he could seek a second term. But the problem is getting worse, not better. A series of scenarios, fuelled by his endlessly damaging, unacceptable words and actions, is beginning to unfold that could bring about his early departure.

The first and, democratically speaking, the most desirable scenario is that the electorate will simply reject Trump. This process is already well under way, if opinion polls are to be believed. Trump’s personal approval rating has averaged below 40% over the past year, a record for presidential unpopularity. More telling, perhaps, were the findings of a Pew Research Center poll last month that debunked the myth that Trump’s “base” – his core support – is impervious to his daily blundering. Trump’s backing among key groups that helped elect him – white men, Protestant evangelicals, the over-50s and the non-college educated – has fallen significantly across the board. At the same time, a Gallup survey found the number of voters redefining themselves as uncommitted “independents” rose to 42%.

Trump’s fading electoral appeal was cruelly exposed in shock defeats in Virginia and Alabama. Anger and disappointment with Trump among white voters was said to be a decisive factor, assisted by record turnout among African Americans. Nationally, evidence that the Trump rump is shredding is on the rise. A Monmouth University poll last August found that 61% of Trump voters said they could not think of anything he might do that would turn them against him. A poll last month put that figure at 37%. It is plain that many ordinary voters who trusted Trump to make a positive difference have been repelled and disgusted.

Pollsters and pundits are looking to November’s midterm congressional elections. Forecasts suggest a stunning repudiation of a “toxic” Trump, with the Alabama upset being replicated nationwide. The GOP could lose control of the House of Representatives, where large numbers of moderate Republicans are retiring, and its grip on the Senate may be loosened by an anti-Trump tsunami. No party since 1950 has hung on to the house in a midterm poll when the president’s approval was below 40%.

A humiliating nationwide slap in the face from voters this year, coupled with the loss of Congress, could bring Trump’s presidency shuddering to a halt, leaving him wounded, deserted by most Republicans and doomed to one-term ignominy. Meanwhile, another scenario prospectively leading to his political demise is playing out simultaneously. Nobody knows, as yet, whether the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russian agents in 2016 will ultimately irretrievably compromise the president himself. But claims that Trump conspired to obstruct justice by putting pressure on the FBI and firing its unbiddable director, James Comey, appear to have substance and are potentially fatal to his presidency. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is proposing a formal interview under oath.

It’s not over yet. Supporters of Trump point to what they see as a string of successes. They cite a stock market that has added $7tn in value, 2m new jobs and radical tax reform. They credit Trump with defeating Islamic State (a vain boast) and reducing illegal immigration. The number of Americans saying the US economy is in “excellent shape” has jumped from 2% in November 2016 to 18%. About 48% say the economy is “good”, up 11% in the same period. By these measures, his trademark vow to “make America great again” may be beginning to work – and this is likely to slow the pace of desertions from his electoral base.

Elsewhere, conservatives will point to some significant triumphs that give the lie to the idea that Trump has been a hapless figure unable to bend America to his will. On many fronts, his administration is landing significant blows to the Obama-Clinton legacy. The environment secretary, Scott Pruitt, has effectively disembowelled the Environment Protection Agency, sacking scores of advisers and scientists. He is intent on scrapping many Obama-era regulations on water, climate, pollution and more. There has been a bonfire of environmental rules. New rules on chemicals previously declared toxic are being relaxed.

The president is busy appointing predominantly young, white male, conservative judges to federal appeal and district courts. While the supreme court hears only a handful of cases a year, it is in these lower courts where America’s settlement on issues of gender, race, work, relationships and much more is decided.

Meanwhile, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is shrinking America’s national monuments. Part of the Obama-designated Bears Ears in Utah (1.3m acres) and the Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante (1.9m acres) will likely be opened up for mining and other industrial pursuits. (Trump was lobbied by the uranium mining company Energy Fuels to open up Bears Ears for its uranium rich deposits.)

Then there are the quiet revolutions under way by Betsy DeVos at the education department, while former presidential candidate Ben Carson, at the department of housing and urban development, is slashing government spending on affordable housing. And on and on. These are some of the wins that conservatives are happy to bank while tolerating the intolerable in the White House.

The overwhelming impression of Trump’s first 12 months is not of steady progress but chaos. Tantrums, tears and irrational rage dominate the reality TV scene inside the White House, according to Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury. On the national stage, Trump has displayed open bigotry over migrant and race issues. His lowest point, among numerous low points, was his implied support for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Internationally, Trump made nuclear war with North Korea more likely, dismayed the entire world by rejecting the Paris climate accord, insulted and threatened the UN over Jerusalem, did his best to wreck the landmark 2015 treaty with Iran and did next to nothing to halt the terrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan. Worse still, in a way, he has scorned US friends and allies in Europe and cosied up to authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and the Middle East. Britain has been treated with condescension and contempt, as in his abrupt (but welcome) cancellation of next month’s London visit.

Is this dysfunction evidence of an unhinged personality, as many people suggest? Rather than invoking the 25th amendment and dumping Trump, it would be better if he was held responsible for his actions. For his wilful ignorance, his dangerous lies and his unAmerican bigotry, Trump must be held to account. Perhaps 2018 will be the year.

The Guardian 

How to Spot a Psychopath: Three Traits You Should Look For – Melissa Burkley Ph.D.

When we think of the word “psychopath,” what usually comes to mind first are commonplace media portrayals of crazed killers. The kind you see in Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But these depictions are a far cry from what actual psychopaths are like. In fact, most psychopaths are not murderers. That’s the good news.


The bad news is that this fact makes psychopaths harder to spot in a crowd than you might think (Hint: He’s usually not the crazy-eyed guy in the black trench coat walking down the abandoned street). Research suggests that 1 percent of the population meets the criteria for psychopathy. That may not sound like a lot, but it means that 1 in every 100 people you know is a psychopath. They could be your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend, or maybe even your favorite blogger. Perhaps there’s one sitting next to you right now as you read this! And to make things worse, the percentage doubles or even quadruples if we are talking about people in high-power positions, like business leaders, lawyers, and surgeons.

With all these psychopaths running around, how do you spot one? After all, the quicker you can identify a psychopath in your midst, the less likely you are to become one of their victims. Fortunately, psychologists have been conducting research on psychopathic traits for years.

Although theories of psychopathy may vary, most researchers tend to agree that real-world psychopaths demonstrate a cluster of three personality characteristics. This cluster is referred to as the “Dark Triad,” because people who possess these three traits often exhibit malevolent behaviors (e.g., crime, ethical violations, etc.).

1. Machiavellianism

People high in Machiavellianism are duplicitous, cunning, and manipulative. They place a higher priority than most on power, money, and winning. They easily disregard moral and social rules, and as a result, lie to others and manipulate them with little to no guilt. Think Gordon Gekko from Wall Street or Frank and Claire Underwood from House of Cards.
For people high in this trait, manipulating others is an impulse, much like an alcoholic has an impulse to drink. Sometimes this manipulation is done to achieve personal gain (e.g., to get a promotion), but other times it is just done for fun, or because they can’t stop themselves (e.g., internet trolling). Depending on type, these people’s tools of the trade are deception, guilt, bullying, feigned weakness, or flattery. But whichever they choose, they regularly wield these tools in an attempt to twist the emotions and behaviors of those around them.

Because such people are master manipulators, they are often charming and well-liked, at least on a superficial level. They may feign interest and compassion for a short time, but that façade wears off quickly, and it becomes clear that they only really care about themselves.
A perfect literary example of this trait is Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Amy Dunne goes to extreme lengths to victimize the men in her life, often because their only sin was not giving her the attention she thought she deserved. Her particular tools of manipulation are sex, lies, guilt, fame, and of course her well-crafted diary. Even we as the readers get duped by Amy’s lies, and it isn’t until midway through the book that we see her for what she really is: a master manipulator.

2. Lack of Conscience or Empathy

You know that little voice in your head that tells you to return a found wallet or treat others as you want to be treated? Well, people high in psychopathy don’t have that voice, or if they do, its volume is turned down very low. As a result, they lack many of the social emotions that normal people take for granted, including guilt, remorse, sympathy, and pity.
It is this lack of a conscience that enables psychopaths to engage in behaviors that normal people may secretly fantasize about, but never actually do. When someone hurts us or makes us mad, we may think, “I just want to punch him!” or “I could kill him!” but we would never actually do it. Psychopaths don’t have that brake pedal. Generally speaking, if they want to do it, they’ll do it.
This also hints at another quality associated with psychopathy — low impulse control. People high in psychopathy are quick to violence and aggression, they have many casual sex partners, and they engage in risky or dangerous behaviors. Their mantra is “Act first, think later.”
Once again, Gillian Flynn crafted an excellent representation of this trait with Amy Dunne. Amy is cold and calculating and almost reptilian-like in her lack of compassion. She seems to lack any sense of right and wrong or empathy for what she puts others through. Instead, she has a calculating, pragmatic nature, regardless of whether she is lying to the police or getting rid of a human obstacle. Through her actions and lack of emotions, the reader finally sees Amy Dunne as a glacial beauty who lacks even a hint of warmth or humanity underneath.

3. Narcissism

People high in narcissism are self-centered, vain, and have an inflated sense of their qualities and achievements. They see themselves as perfect. Any flaws they may have they refuse to see in themselves and instead project onto those around them. For example, a narcissist who secretly worries she isn’t smart enough will accuse those around her of being dumb as a way to boost her own ego.

Narcissists love compliments — they can’t get enough and lavishly praise anyone who admires or affirms them. The flip side of this coin means they are extremely sensitive to insults and often respond to criticism with seething rage and retribution. They have what psychologists refer to as “unstable self-esteem.” This means they put themselves on a very high pedestal, but it doesn’t take much to topple them to the ground. What a normal person would perceive as constructive criticism, narcissists see as a declaration of war.

Because of their self-focus, they don’t get along well with others. They have problems sustaining healthy, satisfying relationships, and so they tend to seek positions of authority where they can work over, rather than beside, their colleagues. Such authority also helps, because narcissists never blame themselves for their problems. It is ALWAYS someone else’s fault.

There are lots of examples of narcissists in popular literature (and many more in historical literature), but in my opinion, one that holds true to this description in a non-obvious and non-stereotypical way is Annie Wilkes from Misery. Annie doesn’t immediately come off as arrogant or boastful (although her claim to be Paul Sheldon’s “number-one fan” is our first hint of her inflated sense of self). But as the book unfolds, we are subjected to her constant complaining about the world and those in it. These rants demonstrate that she does see herself as superior. Everyone else is a “lying ol’ dirty birdy,” and anyone who falls into this dreaded category is not worthy of sympathy or even basic human dignity. The character of Annie Wilkes is an excellent example of how to incorporate narcissism (or any of these three traits) in a way that is subtle and unique, but still clearly present.

Now, let’s put it all together. Keep in mind that just being high in one of these traits doesn’t automatically mean a person is a psychopath. People can be risk-seekers or arrogant and not necessarily engage in malevolent behavior. In fact, some research suggests that real-world heroes share some, but not all, of these traits. What matters is the combination of these three traits. Real-world psychopaths are the perfect storm of egotism, manipulation, and a lack of conscience.

Psychology Today 

Mirror Neuron Activity May Predict How We Respond to Moral Dilemmas – Traci Pedersen. 

In a new study published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, researchers found that they were able to predict a person’s ethical actions based on their mirror neuron activity.

Mirror neurons are brain cells that fire equally whether a person is performing an action or watching another person perform the same action. These neurons play a vital role in how people feel empathy for others or learn through mimicry. For example, if you wince while seeing another person in pain — a phenomenon called “neural resonance” — mirror neurons are responsible.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) wanted to know whether neural resonance might play a role in how people make complicated choices that require both conscious deliberation and consideration of another’s feelings.

The findings suggest that by studying how a person’s mirror neurons respond while watching someone else experience pain, scientists can predict whether that person will be more likely to avoid causing harm to others when faced with a moral dilemma.

“The findings give us a glimpse into what is the nature of morality,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, director of the Neuromodulation Lab at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center and the study’s senior author. “This is a foundational question to understand ourselves, and to understand how the brain shapes our own nature.”

The researchers showed 19 volunteers two videos: one of a hypodermic needle piercing a hand, and another of a hand being gently touched by a cotton swab. During both videos, the scientists used a functional MRI machine to measure activity in the participants’ brains.

The participants were later asked how they would behave in a variety of moral dilemmas: Would they smother and silence a baby to keep enemy forces from finding and killing everyone in their group? Would they torture another person to prevent a bomb from killing several other people? Would they harm research animals to cure AIDS?

Participants also responded to scenarios in which causing harm would make the world worse — for example, causing harm to another person in order to avoid two weeks of hard labor — to gauge their willingness to inflict harm for moral reasons as well as less-noble motives.

As expected, the findings reveal that people who showed greater neural resonance while watching the hand-piercing video were less likely to choose direct harm, such as smothering the baby in the hypothetical dilemma.

No link was found between brain activity and participants’ willingness to hypothetically harm one person in the interest of the greater good, such as silencing the baby to save more lives. Those decisions are thought to stem from more cognitive, deliberative processes.

The findings confirm that genuine concern for others’ pain plays a causal role in moral dilemma judgments, Iacoboni said. In other words, a person’s refusal to silence the baby is due to concern for the baby, not just the person’s own discomfort in taking that action.

Iacoboni’s next study will investigate whether a person’s decision-making in moral dilemmas can be influenced by decreasing or enhancing activity in the areas of the brain that were targeted in the current study.

“It would be fascinating to see if we can use brain stimulation to change complex moral decisions through impacting the amount of concern people experience for others’ pain,” Iacoboni said. “It could provide a new method for increasing concern for others’ well-being.”

The research could point to a way to help people with mental disorders such as schizophrenia that make interpersonal communication difficult, Iacoboni said.

Source: University of California. Los Angeles

Psych Central 

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Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand 

Schizophrenia

When a person has schizophrenia they go through patches where it is hard to think clearly, manage their emotions, distinguish what is real and what is not, and relate to others.

They may have times when they lose contact with reality. This can all be very frightening.

Schizophrenia most often begins between the ages of 15 and 30 years, occurring for the first time slightly earlier in men than in women. Schizophrenia happens in approximately the same numbers across all ethnic groups.

The onset of schizophrenia can be quite quick. Someone who has previously been healthy and coped well with their usual activities and relationships can develop psychosis (loss of contact with reality) over a number of weeks. That said, symptoms may also develop slowly, with the ability to function in everyday life declining over a number of years.

The course of schizophrenia is very variable

Everyone experiences it differently and most will make a reasonable recovery, going on to lead a fulfilling life. About one third of people experiencing schizophrenia will have ongoing problems, perhaps with continuing symptoms such as hearing voices.

The effects of the illness do reduce with time. With early, effective, recovery-oriented treatment and care (including knowing how to look after yourself well), schizophrenia can be successfully managed. There is also some suggestion that as people progress into their later years, that the signs and symptoms of schizophenia may lessen.

It’s very important to get a diagnosis and treatment as early as possible. Schizophrenia can be effectively treated and you can recover. It is now an accepted fact that the earlier effective treatment is started, the better your chances of recovery.

Recovery is not defined as the complete absence of symptoms, but living well with or without symptoms – and will have a different meaning for each person.

If you think you have schizophrenia, or you are worried about a loved one, it’s important to talk to your doctor or counsellor, or someone else you can trust as a first step to getting the important help you or they need.

Myths about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia means the person has a split personality.

NOT TRUE Split or multiple personality is an extremely rare condition that does not cause psychosis. So this statement is untrue. On the other hand, the behaviour of people with acute psychosis does change, but this is due to the illness not to any personality change. When the illness resolves the behaviour returns to normal.

People with schizophrenia are aggressive violent people.

NOT TRUE It is clear that outside times of acute illness, people with schizophrenia are no more violent than any other member of the community. With good care and treatment, risk during times of acute illness can be minimised. However, people with schizophrenia, especially if it’s not treated well, can be violent or victims of violence.

What causes schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Different causes may operate in different people. This may be why there is wide variation in the way the condition develops, in its symptoms and in the way it develops.

It is known that there is genetic (inherited) component to schizophrenia. If someone in your family/whānau has schizophrenia, you and your relatives have an increased chance of developing it – about a one in 10 chance. Childhood stresses and trauma, such as abuse, are also being shown to be linked to increased chance of developing mental illnesses in adults.

Signs to look for (symptoms)

The symptoms of schizophrenia can vary between individuals and, over time, within an individual. They are often divided into two categories – psychotic symptoms and mood symptoms.

Psychotic symptoms

These symptoms are not there all the time and occur when you are having a severe, or acute episode. They include the following:

– Delusions – an unusual belief that seems quite real to you, but not to those around you. A delusional person is convinced their belief is true. An example might be they strongly believe the FBI are trying to hunt them down.

– Thought disturbances – how you process thoughts or your ability to concentrate and maintain a train of thought may be affected. For example, you may feel like your thoughts are racing and friends may notice you constantly changing the topic of conversation or that you are easily distracted, or may laugh at irrational times. Your speech may become quite disorganised, and you may use made up words that only you understand.

– Hallucinations – this is when someone hears, sees, feels or smells something that is not there. Hearing voices that others cannot hear or when there is no-one else in the room is very typical of psychosis. Sometimes these voices will talk about or to you. They will sometimes command you to do things. For some, these voices can be inside their head; occasionally they may seem to come from within their body.

Mood symptoms

These could include:

– Loss of motivation, interest or pleasure in things. Everyday tasks such as washing up become difficult.

– Mood changes –You’ll tell friends you’re feeling great or never better. However, your ‘happy’ behaviour will be recognised as excessive by friends or family. You may also be quite unresponsive and be unable to express joy or sadness.

– Social withdrawal –people may notice that you become very careless in your dress and self-care, or have periods of seeming to do little and periods of being extremely active.

Other symptoms include subtle difficulties with tasks like problem solving or you may show signs of depression – commonly experienced by people with schizophrenia.

The strongest feature of schizophrenia is loss of insight – the loss of awareness that the experiences and difficulties you have are the result of your illness. It is a particular feature of psychotic illnesses, and is the reason why the Mental Health Act (1992) has been developed to ensure people with these conditions can get the assessment and treatment they need.

How the doctor tests for schizophrenia (diagnosis)

Once you have spent some time talking to your doctor, they will refer you to a psychiatrist qualified to diagnose and treat people with this condition. Psychiatrists diagnose schizophrenia when a person has some or all of the typical symptoms described above. For this reason it is important the psychiatrist gets a full picture of the difficulties you have had, both from you and your family/whānau or others who know you well.

Before schizophrenia can be diagnosed, the symptoms or signs must have been present for at least six months, with symptoms of psychosis for at least one month.

Treatment options

The best treatment for schizophrenia involves a number of important components, each of which can be tailored to your needs and the stage of the condition. The main components are psychosocial (talking) therapies, medication, with complementary therapies potentially valuable as well.

Talking therapies and counselling (psychosocial treatments)

Talking therapies are effective in the treatment of schizophrenia, especially for the treatment of depressive symptoms. Sessions may be held on a one to one basis, sometimes include partners or family, or be held in a group.

The focus of psychological therapy or counselling is on education and support for you to understand what is happening to you, to learn coping strategies and to pursue a path of recovery. Sessions help you regain the confidence and belief in yourself that is critical to recovery.

All types of therapy/counselling should be provided in a manner which is respectful to you and with which you feel comfortable and free to ask questions. It should be consistent with and incorporate your cultural beliefs and practices.

Medication

In treating schizophrenia, medicines are most often used for making your mood more stable and for helping with depression (anti-depressants). If you are prescribed medication, you are entitled to:

– know the names of the medicines

– what symptoms they are supposed to treat

– how long it will be before they take effect

– how long you will have to take them for

– and understand the side effects.

Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error. There is no way to predict exactly how medicines will affect you but it is worth persevering to find what medication works best for you.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding no medication is entirely safe. Before making any decisions about taking medication in pregnancy you should talk with your doctor.

Complementary therapies

The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.

Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.

When considering taking any supplement, herbal or medicinal preparation you should consult your doctor to make sure it is safe and will not harm your health, for example, by interacting with any other medications you are taking.

Physical health

It’s also really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual check up with your doctor. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.

Thanks to Janet Peters, Registered Psychologist, for reviewing this content. Date last reviewed: September, 2014.

Trump is now Dangerous That makes his mental health a matter of public interest – Bandy Lee. 

A world authority in psychiatry, consulted by US politicians, argues that the president’s mental fitness deserves scrutiny. 

Bandy Lee is on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine and is an internationally recognised expert on violence. She is editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.

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Eight months ago, a group of us put our concerns into a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. It became an instant bestseller, depleting bookstores within days. We thus discovered that our endeavours resonated with the public.

While we keep within the letter of the Goldwater rule – which prohibits psychiatrists from diagnosing public figures without a personal examination and without consent – there is still a lot that mental health professionals can tell before the public reaches awareness. These come from observations of a person’s patterns of responses, of media appearances over time, and from reports of those close to him. Indeed, we know far more about Trump in this regard than many, if not most, of our patients. Nevertheless, the personal health of a public figure is her private affair – until, that is, it becomes a threat to public health.

To make a diagnosis one needs all the relevant information – including, I believe, a personal interview. But to assess dangerousness, one only needs enough information to raise alarms. It is about the situation rather than the person. The same person may not be a danger in a different situation, while a diagnosis stays with the person.

It is Trump in the office of the presidency that poses a danger. Why? 

Past violence is the best predictor of future violence, and he has shown: verbal aggressiveness, boasting about sexual assaults, inciting violence in others, an attraction to violence and powerful weapons and the continual taunting of a hostile nation with nuclear power. 

Specific traits that are highly associated with violence include: impulsivity, recklessness, paranoia, a loose grip on reality with a poor understanding of consequences, rage reactions, a lack of empathy, belligerence towards others and a constant need to demonstrate power.

There is another pattern by which he is dangerous. His cognitive function, or his ability to process knowledge and thoughts, has begun to be widely questioned. Many have noted a distinct decline in his outward ability to form complete sentences, to stay with a thought, to use complex words and not to make loose associations. This is dangerous because of the critical importance of decision-making capacity in the office that he holds. 

Cognitive decline can result from any number of causes – psychiatric, neurological, medical, or medication-induced – and therefore needs to be investigated. Likewise, we do not know whether psychiatric symptoms are due to a mental disorder, medication, or a physical condition, which only a thorough examination can reveal.

A diagnosis in itself, as much as it helps define the course, prognosis, and treatment, is Trump’s private business, but what is our affair is whether the president and commander-in-chief has the capacity to function in his office. Mental illness, or even physical disability, does not necessarily impair a president from performing his function. Rather, questions about this capacity mobilised us to speak out about our concerns, with the intent to warn and to educate the public, so that we can help protect its own safety and wellbeing.

Indeed, at no other time in US history has a group of mental health professionals been so collectively concerned about a sitting president’s dangerousness. This is not because he is an unusual person – many of his symptoms are very common – but it is highly unusual to find a person with such signs of danger in the office of presidency. For the US, it may be unprecedented; for parts of the world where this has happened before, the outcome has been uniformly devastating.

Pathology does not feel right to the healthy. It repels, but it also exhausts and confuses. There is a reason why staying in close quarters with a person suffering from mental illness usually induces what is called a “shared psychosis”. Vulnerable or weakened individuals are more likely to succumb, and when their own mental health is compromised, they may develop an irresistible attraction to pathology. No matter the attraction, unlike healthy decisions that are life-affirming, choices that arise out of pathology lead to damage, destruction, and death. This is the definition of disease, and how we tell it apart from health.

Politics require that we allow everyone an equal chance; medicine requires that we treat everyone equally in protecting them from disease. That is why a liberal health professional would not ignore signs of appendicitis in a patient just because he is a Republican. Similarly, health professionals would not call pancreatic cancer something else because it is afflicting the president. When signs of illness become apparent, it is natural for the physician to recommend an examination. But when the disorder goes so far as to affect an individual’s ability to perform her function, and in some cases risks harm to the public as a result, then the health professional has a duty to sound the alarm.

The progress of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations was worrisome to us for the effects it would have on the president’s stability. We predicted that Trump, who has shown marked signs of psychological fragility under ordinary circumstances, barely able to cope with basic criticism or unflattering news, would begin to unravel with the encroaching indictments. And if his mental stability suffered, then so would public safety and international security.

Indeed, that is what began to unfold: Trump became more paranoid, espousing once again conspiracy theories that he had let go of for a while. He seemed further to lose his grip on reality by denying his own voice on the Access Hollywood tapes. Also, the sheer frequency of his tweets seemed to reflect an agitated state of mind, and his retweeting some violent anti-Muslim videos showed his tendency to resort to violence when under pressure.

Trump views violence as a solution when he is stressed and desires to re-establish his power. Paranoia and overwhelming feelings of weakness and inadequacy make violence very attractive, and powerful weapons very tempting to use – all the more so for their power. His contest with the North Korean leader about the size of their nuclear buttons is an example of that and points to the possibility of great danger by virtue of the power of his position.

It does not take a mental health professional to see that a person of Trump’s impairments, in the office of the presidency, is a danger to us all. What mental health experts can offer is affirmation that these signs are real, that they may be worse than the untrained person suspects, and that there are more productive ways of handling them than deflection or denial.

Screening for risk of harm is a routine part of mental health practice, and there are steps that we follow when someone poses a risk of danger: containment, removal from access to weapons and an urgent evaluation. When danger is involved, it is an emergency, where an established patient-provider relationship is not necessary, nor is consent; our ethical code mandates that we treat the person as our patient.

In medicine, mental impairment is considered as serious as physical impairment: it is just as debilitating, just as objectively observable and established just as reliably through standardised assessments. Mental health experts routinely perform capacity or fitness for duty examinations for courts and other legal bodies, and offer their recommendations. This is what we are calling for, urgently, in doing our part as medical professionals. The rest of the decision is up to the courts or, in this case, up to the body politic.

The Guardian 

Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears – Jonathan Freedland. 

What did you think would be the Republican reaction to the latest revelations about Donald Trump? Did you expect the party’s luminaries to drop their collective head into their hands, or to crumple into a heap in despair at the state of the man they anointed as president of the United States?

They’d certainly have had good reason. In the book Fire and Fury, which on Thursday received the greatest possible endorsement – namely a “cease and desist” order from Trump’s personal lawyers – the journalist Michael Wolff paints a picture of a man whose own closest aides, friends and even family believe is congenitally unfit to be president.
The Trump depicted in the book is ignorant: the adviser who tried to teach him about the constitution could get no further than the fourth amendment before Trump’s eyes glazed over. He doesn’t read, or even skim, barely having the patience to take in a headline. Some allies try to persuade Wolff that attention deficit disorder is part of Trump’s populist genius: he is “post-literate – total television”.

The Republicans have predicted many times that Trump would change. They’ve been wrong every time. He won’t change

He is also loathsome: we read that a favourite sport of Trump’s was tricking friends’ wives to sleep with him. He is weird, especially in the bedroom: having clashed with his secret service bodyguard over his insistence that he be able to lock himself into his quarters (Melania has separate accommodation), he demanded the installation of two extra TV sets, so he could watch three cable news channels at once. He heads back under the covers as early as 6.30pm, munching a cheeseburger as he soaks up hours of Fox and CNN. If there are crumbs, the chambermaid can’t change the sheets: he insists that he strip the bed himself.

We learn that Trump believes Saturday Night Live is damaging to the nation and that it is “fake comedy”; that daughter Ivanka wants to be president herself and that privately she mocks her father’s nature-defying combover. 

And, perhaps most amusingly, we get an answer to the question that has long enraged Trump: the identity of the mystery leaker behind the stream of stories of White House chaos and fratricidal dysfunction that have appeared since he took office. It turns out that the president rants endlessly on the phone to his billionaire friends, who feel no duty of confidentiality. In other words, the leaker Trump seeks is … himself.
Given all this material, you’d forgive congressional Republicans for being glum. Alternatively, you’d understand if they tried to denounce the book, perhaps joining those who question Wolff’s methods, believing he too often strays from corroborated facts and cuts journalistic corners. But that has not been the reaction.

Instead, the official campaign account for Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, tweeted a gif of McConnell grinning mightily. And that smirk captured the mood of many of his colleagues. What do they have to smile about? They’re pleased because they believe Fire and Fury marks the downfall of Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to Trump and source of some of the book’s most scathing lines. It was Bannon who told Wolff that Trump had “lost it”, and Bannon who described the meeting Donald Trump Jr had with a Russian lawyer – convened for the express purpose of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton – as “treasonous”.

Trump’s response came in the form of a long and furious statement that loosely translates into New Yorkese as “You’re dead to me” – which delighted establishment Republicans who have long seen Bannon as the enemy within.

It would be nice if this loathing were rooted in ideological principle, with Republicans despising Bannon as the apostle of an ultra-nationalist isolationism and xenophobia that could tip the US and the world towards a 1930s-style catastrophe. (Recall that Bannon once promised Wolff the Trump administration would be “as exciting as the 1930s”.)

But the truth is that Bannon posed a threat to McConnell and his ilk, vowing to run insurgent, Trump-like candidates against establishment Republicans in primary contests (just as he did, in vain, in Alabama last year). If Bannon is broken, they can sleep more easily.

Some go further, believing that, as Bannon dies, so does Bannonism. They speculate that, with the ties to his onetime evil genius severed, Trump might now moderate, becoming a more conventional, focused occupant of the Oval Office. This is delusional, twice over.

First, it’s true that things look bad for Bannon now: he has apparently lost the financial backing of the billionaire Mercer family, and it’s possible he stands to lose control of his far-right Breitbart media empire. But he understands Trump and knows that, if you’re ready to grovel and flatter, a rapprochement is always possible. Hence Bannon’s declaration on Thursday that Trump is a “great man”.

But the more enduring delusion is that Trump is poised to moderate. Republicans predicted he would change once the primaries of 2016 were under way. Then they said he would change once he’d won the party nomination. Or when the presidential election campaign proper began. Or when he’d won the election. Or once he’d taken the oath of office. They were wrong every time. He won’t change. Trump is Trump.

The sheer persistence of this delusion points to another one: the hope that Republicans will finally decide enough is enough and do the right thing by ousting this unfit president. The Wolff book has prompted another flurry of that speculation, focused this time on the 25th amendment of the constitution, which allows for the removal of a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

In an article this week, Wolff provides arresting evidence of mental deterioration. He writes that Trump would tell the same three stories, word-for-word, inside 30 minutes, unaware he was repeating himself. “Now it was within 10 minutes.” He adds: “At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognise a succession of old friends.” 

But the 25th amendment requires the agreement of the vice-president, a majority of the cabinet and, ultimately, both houses of Congress. We are, once again, up against the sobering truth of the US constitution: it is only as strong as those willing to enforce it. And, today, that means the Republican party.

These latest revelations prove – yet again – what a vile, narcissistic and dangerous man we have in the Oval Office, wielding, among other things, sole, unchecked authority over the world’s mightiest nuclear arsenal. But the reaction to them proves something else too. That he remains in place only thanks to the willing connivance of his Republican enablers. As culpable as he is, they share in his damnation.

The Guardian 

THE NEW BOOK TRUMP IS TRYING TO BAN. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. 

Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President.


One year ago: the plan to lose, and the administration’s shocked first days
.

Election Night: It “looked as if he had seen a ghost.”

On the afternoon of November 8, 2016, Kellyanne Conway settled into her glass office at Trump Tower. Right up until the last weeks of the race, the campaign headquarters had remained a listless place. All that seemed to distinguish it from a corporate back office were a few posters with right-wing slogans.

Conway, the campaign’s manager, was in a remarkably buoyant mood, considering she was about to experience a resounding, if not cataclysmic, defeat. Donald Trump would lose the election — of this she was sure — but he would quite possibly hold the defeat to under six points. That was a substantial victory. As for the looming defeat itself, she shrugged it off: It was Reince Priebus’s fault, not hers.

She had spent a good part of the day calling friends and allies in the political world and blaming Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Now she briefed some of the television producers and anchors whom she had been carefully courting since joining the Trump campaign — and with whom she had been actively interviewing in the last few weeks, hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election.

Even though the numbers in a few key states had appeared to be changing to Trump’s advantage, neither Conway nor Trump himself nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the effective head of the campaign, wavered in their certainty: Their unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. “I can be the most famous man in the world,” he had told his aide Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. His longtime friend Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, liked to say that if you want a career in television, first run for president. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumors about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.

“This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,” he told Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”

From the start, the leitmotif for Trump about his own campaign was how crappy it was, and how everybody involved in it was a loser. In August, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 12 points, he couldn’t conjure even a far-fetched scenario for achieving an electoral victory. He was baffled when the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, a Ted Cruz backer whom Trump barely knew, offered him an infusion of $5 million. When Mercer and his daughter Rebekah presented their plan to take over the campaign and install their lieutenants, Steve Bannon and Conway, Trump didn’t resist. He only expressed vast incomprehension about why anyone would want to do that. “This thing,” he told the Mercers, “is so fucked up.”

Bannon, who became chief executive of Trump’s team in mid-August, called it “the broke-dick campaign.” Almost immediately, he saw that it was hampered by an even deeper structural flaw: The candidate who billed himself as a billionaire — ten times over — refused to invest his own money in it. Bannon told Kushner that, after the first debate in September, they would need another $50 million to cover them until Election Day.

“No way we’ll get 50 million unless we can guarantee him victory,” said a clear-eyed Kushner.
“Twenty-five million?” prodded Bannon.
“If we can say victory is more than likely.”

In the end, the best Trump would do is to loan the campaign $10 million, provided he got it back as soon as they could raise other money. Steve Mnuchin, the campaign’s finance chairman, came to collect the loan with the wire instructions ready to go so Trump couldn’t conveniently forget to send the money.

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy.

There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.

From the moment of victory, the Trump administration became a looking-glass presidency: Every inverse assumption about how to assemble and run a White House was enacted and compounded, many times over. The decisions that Trump and his top advisers made in those first few months — from the slapdash transition to the disarray in the West Wing — set the stage for the chaos and dysfunction that have persisted throughout his first year in office. This was a real-life version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, where the mistaken outcome trusted by everyone in Trump’s inner circle — that they would lose the election — wound up exposing them for who they really were.

On the Saturday after the election, Trump received a small group of well-­wishers in his triplex apartment in Trump Tower. 
Even his close friends were still shocked and bewildered, and there was a dazed quality to the gathering. But Trump himself was mostly looking at the clock. Rupert Murdoch, who had promised to pay a call on the president-elect, was running late. When some of the guests made a move to leave, an increasingly agitated Trump assured them that Rupert was on his way. “He’s one of the greats, the last of the greats,” Trump said. “You have to stay to see him.” Not grasping that he was now the most powerful man in the world, Trump was still trying mightily to curry favor with a media mogul who had long disdained him as a charlatan and fool.

Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: He was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”

The day after the election, the bare-bones transition team that had been set up during the campaign hurriedly shifted from Washington to Trump Tower. The building — now the headquarters of a populist revolution —­ suddenly seemed like an alien spaceship on Fifth Avenue. 
But its otherworldly air helped obscure the fact that few in Trump’s inner circle, with their overnight responsibility for assembling a government, had any relevant experience.

Ailes, a veteran of the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41 administrations, tried to impress on Trump the need to create a White House structure that could serve and protect him. “You need a son of a bitch as your chief of staff,” he told Trump. “And you need a son of a bitch who knows Washington. You’ll want to be your own son of a bitch, but you don’t know Washington.” Ailes had a suggestion: John Boehner, who had stepped down as Speaker of the House only a year earlier.
“Who’s that?” asked Trump.

As much as the president himself, the chief of staff determines how the Executive branch — which employs 4 million people — will run. The job has been construed as deputy president, or even prime minister. 
But Trump had no interest in appointing a strong chief of staff with a deep knowledge of Washington. Among his early choices for the job was Kushner — a man with no political experience beyond his role as a calm and flattering body man to Trump during the campaign.

It was Ann Coulter who finally took the president-elect aside. “Nobody is apparently telling you this,” she told him. “But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children.”

Bowing to pressure, Trump floated the idea of giving the job to Steve Bannon, only to have the notion soundly ridiculed. 
Murdoch told Trump that Bannon would be a dangerous choice. Joe Scarborough, the former congressman and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, told the president-elect that “Washington will go up in flames” if Bannon became chief of staff.

So Trump turned to Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, who had became the subject of intense lobbying by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If congressional leaders were going to have to deal with an alien like Donald Trump, then best they do it with the help of one of their own kind.

Jim Baker, chief of staff for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and almost everybody’s model for managing the West Wing, advised Priebus not to take the job. 
Priebus had his own reservations: He had come out of his first long meeting with Trump thinking it had been a disconcertingly weird experience. Trump talked nonstop and constantly repeated himself.

“Here’s the deal,” a close Trump associate told Priebus. “In an hour meeting with him, you’re going to hear 54 minutes of stories, and they’re going to be the same stories over and over again. So you have to have one point to make, and you pepper it in whenever you can.”

But the Priebus appointment, announced in mid-November, put Bannon on a co-equal level to the new chief of staff. Even with the top job, Priebus would be a weak figure, in the traditional mold of most Trump lieutenants over the years. There would be one chief of staff in name — the unimportant one — and others like Bannon and Kushner, more important in practice, ensuring both chaos and Trump’s independence.

Priebus demonstrated no ability to keep Trump from talking to anyone who wanted his ear. The president-elect enjoyed being courted. On December 14, a high-level delegation from Silicon Valley came to Trump Tower to meet him. Later that afternoon, according to a source privy to details of the conversation, Trump called Rupert Murdoch, who asked him how the meeting had gone.

“Oh, great, just great,” said Trump. “These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favorable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.”
“Donald,” said Murdoch, “for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”

“Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.”
Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, “We’ll figure it out.”
“What a fucking idiot,” said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.

*

Steve Bannon, suddenly among the world’s most powerful men, was running late. It was the evening of January 3, 2017 — a little more than two weeks before Trump’s inauguration — and Bannon had promised to come to a small dinner arranged by mutual friends in a Greenwich Village townhouse to see Roger Ailes.

Snow was threatening, and for a while the dinner appeared doubtful. But the 76-year-old Ailes, who was as dumbfounded by his old friend Donald Trump’s victory as everyone else, understood that he was passing the right-wing torch to Bannon. 
Ailes’s Fox News, with its $1.5 billion in annual profits, had dominated Republican politics for two decades. Now Bannon’s Breit­bart News, with its mere $1.5 million in annual profits, was claiming that role. For 30 years, Ailes — until recently the single most powerful person in conservative politics — had humored and tolerated Trump, but in the end Bannon and Breitbart had elected him.

At 9:30, having extricated himself from Trump Tower, Bannon finally arrived at the dinner, three hours late. Wearing a disheveled blazer, his signature pairing of two shirts, and military fatigues, the unshaven, overweight 63-year-old immediately dived into an urgent download of information about the world he was about to take over.

“We’re going to flood the zone so we have every Cabinet member for the next seven days through their confirmation hearings,” he said of the business-and-military, 1950s-type Cabinet choices. “Tillerson is two days, Sessions is two days, Mattis is two days …”

Bannon veered from James “Mad Dog” Mattis — the retired four-star general whom Trump had nominated as secretary of Defense — to the looming appointment of Michael Flynn as national-security adviser. “He’s fine. He’s not Jim Mattis and he’s not John Kelly … but he’s fine. He just needs the right staff around him.” Still, Bannon averred: “When you take out all the Never Trump guys who signed all those letters and all the neocons who got us in all these wars … it’s not a deep bench.” 
Bannon said he’d tried to push John Bolton, the famously hawkish diplomat, for the job as national-security adviser. Bolton was an Ailes favorite, too.

“He’s a bomb thrower,” said Ailes. “And a strange little fucker. But you need him. 
Who else is good on Israel? Flynn is a little nutty on Iran. Tillerson just knows oil.”

“Bolton’s mustache is a problem,” snorted Bannon. “Trump doesn’t think he looks the part. You know Bolton is an acquired taste.”
“Well, he got in trouble because he got in a fight in a hotel one night and chased some woman.”
“If I told Trump that,” Bannon said slyly, “he might have the job.”

Bannon was curiously able to embrace Trump while at the same time suggesting he did not take him entirely seriously. Great numbers of people, he believed, were suddenly receptive to a new message — the world needs borders — and Trump had become the platform for that message.
“Does he get it?” asked Ailes suddenly, looking intently at Bannon. Did Trump get where history had put him?

Bannon took a sip of water. “He gets it,” he said, after hesitating for perhaps a beat too long. “Or he gets what he gets.”

Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon” — Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender — “is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. 
Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”

“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”

“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” said an amused Ailes.
Bannon snorted. “Too much, too little — doesn’t necessarily change things.”

“What has he gotten himself into with the Russians?” pressed Ailes.

“Mostly,” said Bannon, “he went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin. But Putin couldn’t give a shit about him. So he’s kept trying.”

Again, as though setting the issue of Trump aside — merely a large and peculiar presence to both be thankful for and to have to abide — Bannon, in the role he had conceived for himself, the auteur of the Trump presidency, charged forward. The real enemy, he said, was China. China was the first front in a new Cold War.

“China’s everything. Nothing else matters. We don’t get China right, we don’t get anything right. This whole thing is very simple. China is where Nazi Germany was in 1929 to 1930. The Chinese, like the Germans, are the most rational people in the world, until they’re not. And they’re gonna flip like Germany in the ’30s. You’re going to have a hypernationalist state, and once that happens, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

“Donald might not be Nixon in China,” said Ailes, deadpan.

Bannon smiled. “Bannon in China,” he said, with both remarkable grandiosity and wry self-deprecation.

“How’s the kid?” asked Ailes, referring to Kushner.

“He’s my partner,” said Bannon, his tone suggesting that if he felt otherwise, he was nevertheless determined to stay on message.

“He’s had a lot of lunches with Rupert,” said a dubious Ailes.

“In fact,” said Bannon, “I could use your help here.” He then spent several minutes trying to recruit Ailes to help kneecap Murdoch. Since his ouster from Fox over allegations of sexual harassment, Ailes had become only more bitter toward Murdoch.
Now Murdoch was frequently jawboning the president-elect and encouraging him toward Establishment moderation. Bannon wanted Ailes to suggest to Trump, a man whose many neuroses included a horror of senility, that Murdoch might be losing it.

“I’ll call him,” said Ailes. “But Trump would jump through hoops for Rupert. Like for Putin. Sucks up and shits down. I just worry about who’s jerking whose chain.”

*

Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears. Throughout the day, he wore what some around him had taken to calling his golf face: angry and pissed off, shoulders hunched, arms swinging, brow furled, lips pursed.

The first senior staffer to enter the White House that day was Bannon. On the inauguration march, he had grabbed 32-year-old Katie Walsh, the newly appointed deputy chief of staff, and together they had peeled off to inspect the now-vacant West Wing. The carpet had been shampooed, but little else had changed. It was a warren of tiny offices in need of paint, the décor something like an admissions office at a public university. Bannon claimed the non­descript office across from the much grander chief of staff’s suite and immediately requisitioned the whiteboards on which he intended to chart the first 100 days of the Trump administration. He also began moving furniture out. The point was to leave no room for anyone to sit. Limit discussion. Limit debate. This was war.

Those who had worked on the campaign noticed the sudden change. Within the first week, Bannon seemed to have put away the camaraderie of Trump Tower and become far more remote, if not unreachable. “What’s up with Steve?” Kushner began to ask. “I don’t understand. We were so close.” Now that Trump had been elected, Bannon was already focused on his next goal: capturing the soul of the Trump White House.

He began by going after his enemies. Few fueled his rancor toward the standard-issue Republican world as much as Rupert Murdoch — not least because Murdoch had Trump’s ear. It was one of the key elements of Bannon’s understanding of Trump: The last person the president spoke to ended up with enormous influence. Trump would brag that Murdoch was always calling him; Murdoch, for his part, would complain that he couldn’t get Trump off the phone.

“He doesn’t know anything about American politics, and has no feel for the American people,” Bannon told Trump, always eager to point out that Murdoch wasn’t an American. Yet in one regard, Murdoch’s message was useful to Bannon. 
Having known every president since Harry Truman — as Murdoch took frequent opportunities to point out — the media mogul warned Trump that a president has only six months, max, to set his agenda and make an impact. After that, it was just putting out fires and battling the opposition.

This was the message whose urgency Bannon had been trying to impress on an often distracted Trump, who was already trying to limit his hours in the office and keep to his normal golf habits. Bannon’s strategic view of government was shock and awe. In his head, he carried a set of decisive actions that would not just mark the new administration’s opening days but make it clear that nothing ever again would be the same. He had quietly assembled a list of more than 200 executive orders to issue in the first 100 days. The very first EO, in his view, had to be a crackdown on immigration. After all, it was one of Trump’s core campaign promises. Plus, Bannon knew, it was an issue that made liberals batshit mad.

Bannon could push through his agenda for a simple reason: because nobody in the administration really had a job. Priebus, as chief of staff, had to organize meetings, hire staff, and oversee the individual offices in the Executive-branch departments. But Bannon, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump had no specific responsibilities — they did what they wanted. And for Bannon, the will to get big things done was how big things got done. 
“Chaos was Steve’s strategy,” said Walsh.

On Friday, January 27 — only his eighth day in office — Trump signed an executive order issuing a sweeping exclusion of many Muslims from the United States. In his mania to seize the day, with almost no one in the federal government having seen it or even been aware of it, Bannon had succeeded in pushing through an executive order that overhauled U.S. immigration policy while bypassing the very agencies and personnel responsible for enforcing it.

The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? You have to undo this! 
You’re finished before you even start! But Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between Trump’s America and that of liberals. 
Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?

“Errr … that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.

On the Sunday after the immigration order was issued, Joe Scarborough and his Morning Joe co-host, Mika Brzezinski, arrived for lunch at the White House. 
Trump proudly showed them into the Oval Office. “So how do you think the first week has gone?” he asked the couple, in a buoyant mood, seeking flattery. When Scarborough ventured his opinion that the immigration order might have been handled better, Trump turned defensive and derisive, plunging into a long monologue about how well things had gone. “I could have invited Hannity!” he told Scarborough.

After Jared and Ivanka joined them for lunch, Trump continued to cast for positive impressions of his first week. Scarborough praised the president for having invited leaders of the steel unions to the White House. At which point Jared interjected that reaching out to unions, a Democratic constituency, was Bannon’s doing, that this was “the Bannon way.”

“Bannon?” said the president, jumping on his son-in-law. “That wasn’t Bannon’s idea. That was my idea. It’s the Trump way, not the Bannon way.”

Kushner, going concave, retreated from the discussion.

Trump, changing the topic, said to Scarborough and Brzezinski, “So what about you guys? What’s going on?” He was referencing their not-so-secret secret relationship. The couple said it was still complicated, but good.

“You guys should just get married,” prodded Trump.

“I can marry you! I’m an internet Unitarian minister,” Kushner, otherwise an Orthodox Jew, said suddenly.

“What?” said the president. “What are you talking about? Why would they want you to marry them when I could marry them? When they could be married by the president! At Mar-a-Lago!”

The First Children couple were having to navigate Trump’s volatile nature just like everyone else in the White House. And they were willing to do it for the same reason as everyone else — in the hope that Trump’s unexpected victory would catapult them into a heretofore unimagined big time. Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump.

Bannon, who had coined the term “Jarvanka” that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him. “They didn’t say that?” he said. “Stop. 
Oh, come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my God.”

The truth was, Ivanka and Jared were as much the chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. The couple had opted for formal jobs in the West Wing, in part because they knew that influencing Trump required you to be all-in. 

From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. 

He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance — without making him angry or petulant.

Ivanka maintained a relationship with her father that was in no way conventional. She was a helper not just in his business dealings, but in his marital realignments. If it wasn’t pure opportunism, it was certainly transactional. For Ivanka, it was all business — building the Trump brand, the presidential campaign, and now the White House. 
She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men — the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.

Kushner, for his part, had little to no success at trying to restrain his father-in-law. Ever since the transition, Jared had been negotiating to arrange a meeting at the White House with Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president whom Trump had threatened and insulted throughout the campaign. On the Wednesday after the inauguration, a high-level Mexican delegation — the first visit by any foreign leaders to the Trump White House — met with Kushner and Reince Priebus. That afternoon, Kushner triumphantly told his father-in-law that Peña Nieto had signed on to a White House meeting and planning for the visit could go forward.

The next day, on Twitter, Trump blasted Mexico for stealing American jobs. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall,” the president declared, “then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” At which point Peña Nieto did just that, leaving Kushner’s negotiation and statecraft as so much scrap on the floor.

*

Nothing contributed to the chaos and dysfunction of the White House as much as Trump’s own behavior. The big deal of being president was just not apparent to him. Most victorious candidates, arriving in the White House from ordinary political life, could not help but be reminded of their transformed circumstances by their sudden elevation to a mansion with palacelike servants and security, a plane at constant readiness, and downstairs a retinue of courtiers and advisers. But this wasn’t that different from Trump’s former life in Trump Tower, which was actually more commodious and to his taste than the White House.

Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom — the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms. In the first days, he ordered two television screens in addition to the one already there, and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the Secret Service, who insisted they have access to the room. He reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” Then he imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.) 
Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed.

If he was not having his 6:30 dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls — the phone was his true contact point with the world — to a small group of friends, who charted his rising and falling levels of agitation through the evening and then compared notes with one another.

As details of Trump’s personal life leaked out, he became obsessed with identifying the leaker. The source of all the gossip, however, may well have been Trump himself. In his calls throughout the day and at night from his bed, he often spoke to people who had no reason to keep his confidences. He was a river of grievances, which recipients of his calls promptly spread to the ever-attentive media.

On February 6, in one of his seething, self-pitying, and unsolicited phone calls to a casual acquaintance, Trump detailed his bent-out-of-shape feelings about the relentless contempt of the media and the disloyalty of his staff. The initial subject of his ire was the New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, whom he called “a nut job.” Gail Collins, who had written a Times column unfavorably comparing Trump to Vice-President Mike Pence, was “a moron.”

Then, continuing under the rubric of media he hated, he veered to CNN and the deep disloyalty of its chief, Jeff Zucker.

Zucker, who as the head of entertainment at NBC had commissioned The Apprentice, had been “made by Trump,” Trump said of himself in the third person. He had “personally” gotten Zucker his job at CNN. 
“Yes, yes, I did,” said the president, launching into a favorite story about how he had once talked Zucker up at a dinner with a high-ranking executive from CNN’s parent company. “I probably shouldn’t have, because Zucker is not that smart,” Trump lamented, “but I like to show I can do that sort of thing.” Then Zucker had returned the favor by airing the “unbelievably disgusting” story about the Russian “dossier” and the “golden shower” — the practice CNN had accused him of being party to in a Moscow hotel suite with assorted prostitutes.

Having dispensed with Zucker, the president of the United States went on to speculate on what was involved with a golden shower. And how this was all just part of a media campaign that would never succeed in driving him from the White House. Because they were sore losers and hated him for winning, they spread total lies, 100 percent made-up things, totally untrue, for instance, the cover that week of Time magazine — which, Trump reminded his listener, he had been on more than anyone in history — that showed Steve Bannon, a good guy, saying he was the real president. “How much influence do you think Steve Bannon has over me?” Trump demanded. He repeated the question, then repeated the answer: “Zero! Zero!” And that went for his son-in-law, too, who had a lot to learn.

The media was not only hurting him, he said — he was not looking for any agreement or even any response — but hurting his negotiating capabilities, which hurt the nation. And that went for Saturday Night Live, which might think it was very funny but was actually hurting everybody in the country. And while he understood that SNL was there to be mean to him, they were being very, very mean. It was “fake comedy.” He had reviewed the treatment of all other presidents in the media, and there was nothing like this ever, even of Nixon, who was treated very unfairly. “Kellyanne, who is very fair, has this all documented. You can look at it.”

The point is, he said, that that very day, he had saved $700 million a year in jobs that were going to Mexico, but the media was talking about him wandering around the White House in his bathrobe, which “I don’t have because I’ve never worn a bathrobe. And would never wear one, because I’m not that kind of guy.” And what the media was doing was undermining this very dignified house, and “dignity is so important.” But Murdoch, “who had never called me, never once,” was now calling all the time. So that should tell people something.

The call went on for 26 minutes.

Without a strong chief of staff at the White House, there was no real up-and-down structure in the administration — merely a figure at the top and everyone else scrambling for his attention. It wasn’t task-based so much as response-oriented — whatever captured the boss’s attention focused everybody’s attention. Priebus and Bannon and Kushner were all fighting to be the power behind the Trump throne. 
And in these crosshairs was Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff.

Walsh, who came to the White House from the RNC, represented a certain Republican ideal: clean, brisk, orderly, efficient. A righteous bureaucrat with a permanently grim expression, she was a fine example of the many political professionals in whom competence and organizational skills transcend ideology. To Walsh, it became clear almost immediately that “the three gentlemen running things,” as she came to characterize them, had each found his own way to appeal to the president. Bannon offered a rousing fuck-you show of force; Priebus offered flattery from the congressional leadership; Kushner offered the approval of blue-chip businessmen. 
Each appeal was exactly what Trump wanted from the presidency, and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t have them all.
He wanted to break things, he wanted Congress to give him bills to sign, and he wanted the love and respect of New York machers and socialites.

As soon as the campaign team had stepped into the White House, Walsh saw, it had gone from managing Trump to the expectation of being managed by him. Yet the president, while proposing the most radical departure from governing and policy norms in several generations, had few specific ideas about how to turn his themes and vitriol into policy. And making suggestions to him was deeply complicated. Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. 
Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate. He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”

By the end of the second week following the immigration EO, the three advisers were in open conflict with one another. For Walsh, it was a daily process of managing an impossible task: Almost as soon as she received direction from one of the three men, it would be countermanded by one or another of them.

“I take a conversation at face value and move forward with it,” she said. “I put what was decided on the schedule and bring in comms and build a press plan around it … And then Jared says, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I say, ‘Because we had a meeting three days ago with you and Reince and Steve where you agreed to do this.’ And he says, ‘But that didn’t mean I wanted it on the schedule …’ It almost doesn’t matter what anyone says: Jared will agree, and then it will get sabotaged, and then Jared goes to the president and says, see, that was Reince’s idea or Steve’s idea.”

If Bannon, Priebus, and Kushner were now fighting a daily war with one another, it was exacerbated by the running disinformation campaign about them that was being prosecuted by the president himself. When he got on the phone after dinner, he’d speculate on the flaws and weaknesses of each member of his staff. 
Bannon was disloyal (not to mention he always looks like shit). Priebus was weak (not to mention he was short — a midget). Kushner was a suck-up. Sean Spicer was stupid (and looks terrible too). Conway was a crybaby. Jared and Ivanka should never have come to Washington.

During that first month, Walsh’s disbelief and even fear about what was happening in the White House moved her to think about quitting. Every day after that became a countdown toward the moment she knew she wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. To Walsh, the proud political pro, the chaos, the rivalries, and the president’s own lack of focus were simply incomprehensible. In early March, not long before she left, she confronted Kushner with a simple request. “Just give me the three things the president wants to focus on,” she demanded. “What are the three priorities of this White House?”

It was the most basic question imaginable — one that any qualified presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer.

“Yes,” he said to Walsh. “We should probably have that conversation.”

*

HOW HE GOT THE STORY

This story is adapted from Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, to be published by Henry Holt & Co. on January 9. 

Wolff, who chronicles the administration from Election Day to this past October, conducted conversations and interviews over a period of 18 months with the president, most members of his senior staff, and many people to whom they in turn spoke. 

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Wolff says, he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” — an idea encouraged by the president himself. 

Because no one was in a position to either officially approve or formally deny such access, Wolff became “more a constant interloper than an invited guest.” There were no ground rules placed on his access, and he was required to make no promises about how he would report on what he witnessed.

Since then, he conducted more than 200 interviews. In true Trumpian fashion, the administration’s lack of experience and disdain for political norms made for a hodgepodge of journalistic challenges. 
Information would be provided off-the-record or on deep background, then casually put on the record. Sources would fail to set any parameters on the use of a conversation, or would provide accounts in confidence, only to subsequently share their views widely. And the president’s own views, private as well as public, were constantly shared by others. 

The adaptation presented here offers a front-row view of Trump’s presidency, from his improvised transition to his first months in the Oval Office.

New York Magazine 

The Tax Bill That Inequality Created – NYTimes. 

THE EDITORIAL Board, December 16, 2017

Most Americans know that the Republican tax bill will widen economic inequality by lavishing breaks on corporations and the wealthy while taking benefits away from the poor and the middle class. What many may not realize is that growing inequality helped create the bill in the first place.

As a smaller and smaller group of people cornered an ever-larger share of the nation’s wealth, so too did they gain an ever-larger share of political power. They became, in effect, kingmakers; the tax bill is a natural consequence of their long effort to bend American politics to serve their interests.

As things stand now, the top 1 percent of the population by wealth — the group that would primarily benefit from the tax bill — controls nearly 40 percent of the country’s wealth. The bottom 90 percent has just 27 percent, according to the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.  Just three decades ago these numbers were almost exactly the reverse: The bottom 90 percent owned nearly 40 percent of all wealth. To find a time when such a tiny minority was so dominant, you have to go back to the Great Depression.

As kingmakers, rich families have supported candidates who share their hostility to progressive taxation, welfare programs and government regulation of any kind. These big-money donors have pushed the Republican Party in particular further to the right by threatening well-funded primary challenges against anybody who doesn’t toe the line on tax cuts for the rich and other pro-aristocracy policies. The power of donors has contributed to political polarization and made the federal government less responsive to the needs of most voters, a new book by Benjamin Page of Northwestern University and Martin Gilens of Princeton University argues.

The power of the one-percenters may help explain why President Trump, who ran as a populist, has not only abandoned any pretense of fighting for the working class but also joined Republicans in Congress in ripping up regulations that protect families and the environment — in order to help business tycoons. Together, they’ve tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Its repeal would have deprived millions of people of health insurance while trimming taxes for high-income families. Now, they want to cut taxes on corporations and offer new loopholes to the rich, even if that means hurting their own constituents by limiting the ability of middle-class families to deduct state and local taxes on their tax returns.

Most political campaigns now rely on a small group of wealthy donors who give tens of thousands of dollars or more per election cycle. About 40 percent of contributions to campaigns during the 2016 federal election came from an elite group of 24,949 donors, equivalent to 0.01 percent of the adult population. In 1980, the top 0.01 percent accounted for only 15 percent of all contributions, according to an analysis by Adam Bonica, a Stanford professor, and his collaborators.

Of course, the growing importance of wealthy donors is not exclusively a Republican phenomenon. Democratic candidates have also benefited from the largess of wealthy donors like George Soros, Tom Steyer and James Simons. But on economic and tax issues, big-money liberal donors have not really shoved their party to the far left. Donations from Wall Street and corporate America have, in fact, pushed many Democrats to the center or even to the right on issues like financial regulation, international trade, antitrust policy and welfare reform.

Further, liberal donors have been nowhere near as skillful at coordinating their giving as conservative donors have been. No liberal organization comes close to rivaling the network of donors and political activists created by the conservative Koch brothers, says Theda Skocpol, a professor at Harvard, who has written extensively about these issues. The Koch network has spent years methodically pushing state and federal lawmakers to cut regulations, taxes and government programs for the poor and the middle class. The leading donor network on the left, the Democracy Alliance, is smaller and much less successful.

Even allowing for money “wasted” on losing candidates and failed causes, the donor class has notched many impressive wins. Tax rates have fallen substantially, with the top marginal income tax rate now just below 40 percent, from 70 percent when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. The top corporate tax rate has dropped to 35 percent, from 46 percent in 1980, and many businesses pay an effective rate that is much lower than that. While supply-side economics remain mostly a Republican fiction, politicians from both parties have supported the effort to reduce taxes on capital — profits, capital gains and dividends — on the grounds that this would spur investment and make American businesses more competitive.

But the cuts have done little to bolster the economy or the working class. In fact, incomes have stagnated, and workers have been forced to part with a larger share of their pretax earnings in the form of payroll taxes.

Meanwhile, where are the political champions of poor Americans? Whoever they are, they haven’t been producing results. Wages for the poorest have languished, partly because Congress has been so slow to raise the minimum wage — $7.25 an hour since 2009 — that its purchasing power is now about 10 percent less than it was in 1968. Lawmakers and conservative judges have also undermined workers by making it harder for them to unionize, so they are not in a position to demand better pay and better working conditions.

This tax bill would exacerbate all these trends. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Centre and the Joint Committee on Taxation. both respected, both nonideological, say the bill would primarily benefit the wealthy and would leave most poor and middle-class Americans worse off over the long run. That’s without Congress doing anything else to widen the gap. But even now, Mr. Trump and Republicans in Congress are talking about cutting government programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security next year to help make up for the more than $1 trillion the tax bill would add to the federal deficit.

Inequality in America does not have to be self-perpetuating. When people turn up at the polls, as they did recently in Alabama, they can produce unexpected results. That’s why Republican lawmakers might want to think again about whether they want to be the means through which their wealthy donors pull off this heist.

New York Times

An honest Republican’s view. Jeff Flake’s full speech.

Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles. Let me begin by noting a somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours to hold indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office. And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.
Now is such a time.
It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order — that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue — with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? — what are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

Here, today, I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” — Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote.

But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Now, I am aware that more politically savvy people than I caution against such talk. I am aware that a segment of my party believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen’s relationship to the office:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holier-than-none. But too often, we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing—until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.

In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice almost any principle. I’m afraid that is where we now find ourselves.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.

Leadership lives by the American creed: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American leadership looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have also been at our most principled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.

These articles of civic faith have been central to the American identity for as long as we have all been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously, and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them, or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership. And to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now, the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping the countries that had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now, it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it.

The implications of this abandonment are profound. And the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum. And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?

The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.

I have decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself from the political considerations that consume far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

To that end, I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal — but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a heathy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does.

I plan to spend the remaining fourteen months of my senate term doing just that.

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women — none of us here is indispensable. Nor were even the great figures from history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape this country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career doesn’t mean much if we are complicit in undermining those values.

I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today, and will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healing enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time, and are no less so in ours:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

President Donald Trump, Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism – Philip Zimbardo and Rosemary Sword.

In Donald Trump, we have a frightening Venn diagram consisting of three circles: the first is extreme present hedonism; the second, narcissism; and the third, bullying behavior.

These three circles overlap in the middle to create an impulsive, immature, incompetent person who, when in the position of ultimate power, easily slides into the role of tyrant, complete with family members sitting at his proverbial “ruling table.”

Like a fledgling dictator, he plants psychological seeds of treachery in sections of our population that reinforce already negative attitudes.

To drive home our point, here are what we consider to be two of Trump’s most dangerous quotes:

• “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know” (remark made during a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, August 9, 2016); and

• “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” (remark made during a campaign appearance in Sioux City, Iowa, January 23, 2016).

Before Donald Trump, it was unfathomable for American citizens to consciously consider voting for, and then inaugurating, a person as unbalanced as this president.

Admittedly, it’s possible, as Guy Winch points out in his February 2, 2016, Psychology Today article, “Study: Half of All Presidents Suffered from Mental Illness.” According to Winch, many of our previous presidents may have suffered from mental health issues, including depression (Abraham Lincoln), bipolar disorder (Lyndon Johnson), alcoholism (Ulysses S. Grant), Alzheimer’s disease (Ronald Reagan), and transient bouts of extreme present hedonism (John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton). We have also survived a president who blatantly lied to cover his criminal tracks before he was caught in those lies (Richard Nixon).

In the past, Americans have pulled together and worked to overcome our differences. We moved forward collectively as one great country. Unfortunately, in more recent times, it appears we have become a bipolar nation, with Donald Trump at the helm as his followers cheer him on and others try to resist him.

Whether or not Donald Trump suffers from a neurological disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder, or any other mental health issue, for that matter, will, undeniably, remain conjecture unless he submits to tests, which is highly unlikely given his personality.

However, the lack of such tests cannot erase the well-documented behaviors he has displayed for decades and the dangers they pose when embodied in the president of the United States.

In line with the principles of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California 17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976), known as the “Tarasoff doctrine,” it is the responsibility of mental health professionals to warn the citizens of the United States and the people of the world of the potentially devastating effects of such an extreme present-hedonistic world leader, one with enormous power at his disposal.

On the whole, mental health professionals have failed in their duty to warn, in a timely manner, not only the public but also government officials about the dangers of President Donald Trump.

Articles and interviews intent on cautioning the masses prior to the election fell on deaf ears, perhaps in part because the media did not afford the concerned mental health professionals appropriate coverage, perhaps because some citizens discount the value of mental health and have thrown a thick blanket of stigma over the profession, or perhaps because we as mental health professionals did not stand united. Whatever the reason, it’s not too late to follow through.

In presenting our case that Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president of the United States, we would be remiss if we did not consider one more factor: the possibility of a neurological disorder such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which the president’s father, Fred Trump, suffered from.

We are not trying to speculate diagnoses from afar, but comparing video interviews of Trump from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s to current video, we find that the differences (significant reduction in the use of essential words; an increase in the use of adjectives such as very, huge, and tremendous; and incomplete, run-on sentences that don’t make sense and that could indicate a loss of train of thought or memory) are conspicuously apparent. Perhaps this is why Trump insists on being surrounded by family members who love and understand him rather than seasoned political advisers, who may note, and then leak, his alarming behavior.

When an individual is psychologically unbalanced, everything can teeter and fall apart if change does not occur. We wonder how far-reaching, in our society over time, the effects of our unbalanced president’s actions will be and how they will continue to affect us as individuals, communities, a nation, and a planet.

We believe that Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world! A powerful leader of a powerful nation who can order missiles fired at another nation because of his (or a family member’s) personal distress at seeing sad scenes of people having been gassed to death.

We shudder to imagine what actions might be taken in broader lethal confrontations with his personal and political enemies. We are gravely concerned about Trump’s abrupt, capricious 180-degree shifts and how these displays of instability have the potential to be unconscionably dangerous to the point of causing catastrophe, and not only for the citizens of the United States.

There are two particularly troubling examples:

1. His repeatedly lavishing praise on FBI director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and then, in early May 2017, abruptly and abusively firing Comey for the very investigation that garnered such praise, but in this case actually because of Comey’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia; and

2 His stating during the campaign that NATO was obsolete and then, later, unexpectedly stating that NATO was necessary and acceptable.

As is the case with extreme present hedonists, Trump is “chumming” for war, possibly for the most selfish of reasons: to deflect attention away from the Russia investigation.

If another unbalanced world leader takes the bait, Trump will need the formerly “obsolete” and now-essential NATO to back him up.

We as individuals don’t have to follow our nation’s leader down a path headed in the wrong direction, off a cliff and into a pit of past mistakes. We can stand where we are at this moment in history and face forward, into a brighter future that we create. We can start by looking for the good in one another and for the common ground we share.

In the midst of the terrorist attacks on places of worship and cemeteries mentioned earlier, something wonderful emerged from the ashes: a spirit of overwhelming goodness in humanity. In the wake of the attacks, Jews and Muslims united: they held fund-raisers to help each other repair and rebuild; they shared their places of worship so that those burned out of theirs could hold gatherings and services; and they offered loving support to those who’d faced hatred.

By observing ordinary people engaging in acts of everyday heroism and compassion, we have been able to witness the best aspects of humanity. That’s us! That’s the United States of America!

A final suggestion for our governmental leaders: corporations and companies vet their prospective employees. This vetting process frequently includes psychological testing in the form of exams or quizzes to help the employer make more informed hiring decisions and determine if the prospective employee is honest and/or would be a good fit for the company.

These tests are used for positions ranging from department store sales clerk to high-level executive. Isn’t it time that the same be required for candidates for the most important job in the world?

*

from:

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President
Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV

get it at Amazon.com

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President – Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV.

Our Witness to Malignant Normality

ROBERT JAY LIFTON, M.D.

Concerning malignant normality, we start with an assumption that all societies, at various levels of consciousness, put forward ways of viewing, thinking, and behaving that are considered desirable or “normal.”

Yet, these criteria for normality can be much affected by the political and military currents of a particular era. Such requirements may be fairly benign, but they can also be destructive to the point of evil.

I came to the idea of malignant normality in my study of Nazi doctors. Those assigned to Auschwitz, when taking charge of the selections and the overall killing process, were simply doing what was expected of them. True, some were upset, even horrified, at being given this task. Yet, with a certain amount of counseling—one can call it perverse psychotherapy—offered by more experienced hands, a process that included drinking heavily together and giving assurance of help and support, the great majority could overcome their anxiety sufficiently to carry through their murderous assignment.

This was a process of adaptation to evil that is all too possible to initiate in such a situation. Above all, there was a normalization of evil that enhanced this adaptation and served to present participating doctors with the Auschwitz institution as the existing world to which one must make one’s adjustments.

There is another form of malignant normality, closer to home and more recent. I have in mind the participation in torture by physicians (including psychiatrists), and by psychologists, and other medical and psychological personnel. This reached its most extreme manifestation when two psychologists were revealed to be among architects of the CIA’s torture protocol. More than that, this malignant normality was essentially supported by the American Psychological Association in its defense of the participation of psychologists in the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques that spilled over into torture.

I am not equating this American behavior with the Nazi example but, rather, suggesting that malignant normality can take different forms. And nothing does more to sustain malignant normality than its support from a large organization of professionals.

There is still another kind of malignant normality, one brought about by President Trump and his administration. Judith Herman and I, in a letter to the New York Times in March 2017, stressed Trump’s dangerous individual psychological patterns: his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crises that face an American president.

He has also, in various ways, violated our American institutional requirements and threatened the viability of American democracy. Yet, because he is president and operates within the broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process—that is, as politically and even ethically normal.

In this way, a dangerous president becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing (or, one could say, our antigoverning) dynamic.

But that does not mean we are helpless. We remain a society with considerable openness, with institutions that can still be life-enhancing and serve truth. Unlike Nazi doctors, articulate psychological professionals could and did expose the behavior of corrupt colleagues and even a corrupt professional society. Investigative journalists and human rights groups also greatly contributed to that exposure.

As psychological professionals, we are capable of parallel action in confronting the malignant normality of Trump and his administration. To do so we need to combine our sense of outrage with a disciplined use of our professional knowledge and experience.

This brings me to my second theme: that of witnessing professionals, particularly activist witnessing professionals. Most professionals, most of the time, operate within the norms (that is, the criteria for normality) of their particular society. Indeed, professionals often go further, and in their practices may deepen the commitment of people they work with to that normality. This can give solace, but it has its perils.

It is not generally known that during the early Cold War period, a special governmental commission, chaired by a psychiatrist and containing physicians and social scientists, was set up to help the American people achieve the desired psychological capacity to support U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons, cope with an anticipated nuclear attack, and overcome the fear of nuclear annihilation. The commission had the task, in short, of helping Americans accept malignant nuclear normality.

There have also been parallel examples in recent history of professionals who have promoted equally dangerous forms of normality in rejecting climate change. But professionals don’t have to serve these forms of malignant normality. We are capable of using our knowledge and technical skills to expose such normality, to bear witness to its malignance—to become witnessing professionals.

When I did my study of Hiroshima survivors back in 1962, I sought to uncover, in the most accurate and scientific way I could, the psychological and bodily experience of people exposed to the atomic bomb. Yet, I was not just a neutral observer. Over time, I came to understand myself as a witnessing professional, committed to making known what an atomic bomb could do to a city, to tell the world something of what had happened in Hiroshima and to its inhabitants. The Hiroshima story could be condensed to “one plane, one bomb, one city.” I came to view this commitment to telling Hiroshima’s story as a form of advocacy research. That meant combining a disciplined professional approach with the ethical requirements of committed witness, combining scholarship with activism.

I believe that some such approach is what we require now, in the Trump era. We need to avoid uncritical acceptance of this new version of malignant normality and, instead, bring our knowledge and experience to exposing it for what it is. This requires us to be disciplined about what we believe we know, while refraining from holding forth on what we do not know. It also requires us to recognize the urgency of the situation in which the most powerful man in the world is also the bearer of profound instability and untruth.

As psychological professionals, we act with ethical passion in our efforts to reveal what is most dangerous and what, in contrast, might be life-affirming in the face of the malignant normality that surrounds us.

Finally, there is the issue of our ethical behavior. We talk a lot about our professional ethics having to do with our responsibility to patients and to the overall standards of our discipline. This concern with professional ethics matters a great deal. But I am suggesting something more, a larger concept of professional ethics that we don’t often discuss: including who we work for and with, and how our work either affirms or questions the directions of the larger society. And, in our present situation, how we deal with the malignant normality that faces us.

This larger ethical model applies to members of other professions who may have their own “duty to warn.” I in no way minimize the significance of professional knowledge and technical skill. But our professions can become overly technicized, and we can be too much like hired guns bringing our firepower to any sponsor of the most egregious view of normality.

We can do better than that. We can take the larger ethical view of the activist witnessing professional. Bandy Lee took that perspective when organizing the Yale conference on professional responsibility, and the participants affirmed it. This does not make us saviors of our threatened society, but it does help us bring our experience and knowledge to bear on what threatens us and what might renew us.

A line from the American poet Theodore Roethke brings eloquence to what I have been trying to say: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

***

Professions and Politics

JUDITH LEWIS HERMAN, M.D., and

BANDY X. LEE, M.D., M.DIV.

Soon after the presidential election of 2016, alarmed by the apparent mental instability of the president-elect, we both separately circulated letters among some of our professional colleagues, expressing our concern. Most of them declined to sign. A number of people admitted they were afraid of some undefined form of governmental retaliation, so quickly had a climate of fear taken hold.

They asked us if we were not wary of being “targeted,” and advised us to seek legal counsel. This was a lesson to us in how a climate of fear can induce people to censor themselves.

Others who declined to sign our letters of concern cited matters of principle. Psychiatry, we were warned, should stay out of politics; otherwise, the profession could end up being ethically compromised. The example most frequently cited was that of psychiatrists in the Soviet Union who collaborated with the secret police to diagnose dissidents as mentally ill and confine them to prisons that fronted as hospitals (Medvedev and Medvedev 1971).

This was a serious consideration. Indeed, we need not look beyond our own borders for examples of ethics violations committed by professionals who became entangled in politics. We have recently witnessed the disgrace of an entire professional organization, the American Psychological Association, some of whose leadership, in cooperation with officials from the U.S. military, the CIA, and the Bush White House, rewrote its ethical guidelines to give legal cover to a secret government program of coercive interrogation and to excuse military psychologists who designed and implemented methods of torture (Hoffman et al. 2015; Risen 2014).

Among the many lessons that might be learned from this notorious example, one in particular stayed with us. It seemed clear that the government officials responsible for abusive treatment of prisoners went to some lengths to find medical and mental health professionals who would publicly condone their practices. We reasoned that if professional endorsement serves as important cover for human rights abuses, then professional condemnation must also carry weight.

In 2005 the Pentagon organized a trip to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp for a group of prominent ethicists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. Participants toured the facility and met with high-ranking military officers, including the commanding general. They were not allowed to meet or speak with any of the detainees. Dr. Steven Sharfstein, then the president of the American Psychiatric Association, was one of the invited guests on this trip.

Apparently, what he saw and heard failed to convince him that the treatment of detainees fell within the bounds of ethical conduct. “Our position is very direct,” he stated on return. “Psychiatrists should not participate on these [interrogation] teams because it is inappropriate” (Lewis 2005). Under Dr. Sharfstein’s leadership, the American Psychiatric Association took a strong stand against any form of participation in torture and in the “interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere” (American Psychiatric Association 2006).

Contrast this principled stand with the sorry tale of the American Psychological Association. Its involvement in the torture scandal illustrates how important it is for leaders in the professions to stand firm against ethical violations, and to resist succumbing to the argument that exceptional political circumstances, such as “the war on terror,” demand exceptions to basic ethical codes. When there is pressure from power is exactly when one must abide by the norms and rules of our ethics.

Norms and Rules in the Political Sphere

Norms and rules guide professional conduct, set standards, and point to the essential principles of practice. For these reasons, physicians have the Declaration of Geneva (World Medical Association 2006) and the American Medical Association Principles of Medical Ethics (2001), which guide the American Psychiatric Association’s code for psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association 2013).

The former confirms the physician’s dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine, while the latter defines honorable behavior for the physician. Paramount in both is the health, safety, and survival of the patient. Psychiatrists’ codes of ethics derive directly from these principles. In ordinary practice, the patient’s right to confidentiality is the bedrock of mental health care dating back to the ethical standards of the Hippocratic Oath.

However, even this sacrosanct rule is not absolute. No doubt, the physician’s responsibility is first and foremost to the patient, but it extends “as well as to society” (American Psychiatric Association 2013, p. 2). It is part of professional expectation that the psychiatrist assess the possibility that the patient may harm himself or others. When the patient poses a danger, psychiatrists are not merely allowed but mandated to report, to incapacitate, and to take steps to protect.

If we are mindful of the dangers of politicizing the professions, then certainly we must heed the so-called “Goldwater rule,” or Section 7.3 of the APA code of ethics (American Psychiatric Association 2013, p. 6), which states: “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

This is not divergent from ordinary norms of practice: the clinical approaches that we use to evaluate patients require a full examination. Formulating a credible diagnosis will always be limited when applied to public figures observed outside this intimate frame; in fact, we would go so far as to assert that it is impossible.

The Goldwater rule highlights the boundaries of practice, helps to preserve professional integrity, and protects public figures from defamation. It safeguards the public’s perception of the field of psychiatry as credible and trustworthy. It is reasonable to follow it. But even this respectable rule must be balanced against the other rules and principles of professional practice.

A careful ethical evaluation might ask: Do our ordinary norms of practice stop at the office of the president? If so, why? If the ethics of our practice stipulate that the health of our patient and the safety of the public be paramount, then we should not leave our norms at the door when entering the political sphere. Otherwise, a rule originally conceived to protect our profession from scandal might itself become a source of scandal.

For this very reason, the “reaffirmation” of the Goldwater rule in a separate statement by the American Psychiatric Association (2017) barely two months into the new administration seems questionable to us. The American Psychiatric Association is not immune to the kind of politically pressured acquiescence we have seen with its psychological counterpart. A psychiatrist who disregards the basic procedures of diagnosis and treatment and acts without discretion deserves reprimand. However, the public trust is also violated if the profession fails in its duty to alert the public when a person who holds the power of life and death over us all shows signs of clear, dangerous mental impairment.

We should pause if professionals are asked to remain silent when they have seen enough evidence to sound an alarm in every other situation. When it comes to dangerousness, should not the president of a democracy, as First Citizen, be subject to the same standards of practice as the rest of the citizenry?

Assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis: it is dependent on the situation, not the person. Signs of likely dangerousness due to mental disorder can become apparent without a full diagnostic interview and can be detected from a distance, and one is expected to err, if at all, on the side of safety when the risk of inaction is too great.

States vary in their instructions. New York, for example, requires that two qualifying professionals agree in order to detain a person who may be in danger of hurting himself or others. Florida and the District of Columbia require only one professional’s opinion. Also, only one person need be in danger of harm by the individual, and the threshold is even lower if the individual has access to weapons (not to5 mention nuclear weapons).

The physician, to whom life-and-death situations are entrusted, is expected to know when it is appropriate to act, and to act responsibly when warranted. It is because of the weight of this responsibility that, rightfully, the physician should refrain from commenting on a public figure except in the rarest instance. Only in an emergency should a physician breach the trust of confidentiality and intervene without consent, and only in an emergency should a physician breach the Goldwater rule.

We believe that such an emergency now exists.

Test for Proper Responsibility

When we circulated our letters of concern, we asked our fellow mental health professionals to get involved in politics not only as citizens (a right most of us still enjoy) but also, specifically, as professionals and as guardians of the special knowledge with which they have been entrusted.

Why do we think this was permissible? It is all too easy to claim, as we did, that an emergency situation requires a departure from our usual practices in the private sphere. How can one judge whether political involvement is in fact justified? We would argue that the key question is whether mental health professionals are engaging in political collusion with state abuses of power or acting in resistance to them.

If we are asked to cooperate with state programs that violate human rights, then any involvement, regardless of the purported justification, can only corrupt, and the only appropriate ethical stance is to refuse participation of any sort.

If, on the other hand, we perceive that state power is being abused by an executive who seems to be mentally unstable, then we may certainly speak out, not only as citizens but also, we would argue, as professionals who are privy to special information and have a responsibility to educate the public. For whatever our wisdom and expertise may be worth, surely we are obligated to share it.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised. Members of the press have come up with their own diagnostic nomenclature, calling the president a “mad king” (Dowd 2017), a “nut job” (Collins 2017), and “emotionally unhinged” (Rubin 2017). Conservative columnist George Will (2017) writes that the president has a “disorderly mind.”

By speaking out as mental health professionals, we lend support and dignity to our fellow citizens who are justifiably alarmed by the president’s furious tirades, conspiracy fantasies, aversion to facts, and attraction to violence. We can offer a hand in helping the public understand behaviors that are unusual and alarming but that can all too easily be rationalized and normalized.

An important and relevant question that the public has been asking is this: Is the man simply crazy, or is he crazy like a fox? Is he mentally compromised or simply vile? When he lies, does he know he is lying, or does he believe his own lies? When he makes wild accusations, is he truly paranoid, or is he consciously and cunningly trying to deflect attention from his misdeeds?

We believe that we can help answer these questions by emphasizing that the two propositions are not mutually exclusive. A man can be both evil and mentally compromised—which is a more frightening proposition.

Power not only corrupts but also magnifies existing psychopathologies, even as it creates new ones. Fostered by the flattery of underlings and the chants of crowds, a political leader’s grandiosity may morph into grotesque delusions of grandeur. Sociopathic traits may be amplified as the leader discovers that he can violate the norms of civil society and even commit crimes with impunity. And the leader who rules through fear, lies, and betrayal may become increasingly isolated and paranoid, as the loyalty of even his closest confidants must forever be suspect.

Some would argue that by paying attention to the president’s mental state, we are colluding with him in deflecting attention from that by which he should ultimately be judged: his actions (Frances 2017). Certainly, mental disturbance is not an excuse for tyrannical behavior; nevertheless, it cannot be ignored. In a court of law, even the strongest insanity defense case cannot show that a person is insane all the time.

We submit that by paying attention to the president’s mental state as well as his actions, we are better informed to assess his dangerousness. Delusional levels of grandiosity, impulsivity, and the compulsions of mental impairment, when combined with an authoritarian cult of personality and contempt for the rule of law, are a toxic mix.

There are those who still hold out hope that this president can be prevailed upon to listen to reason and curb his erratic behavior. Our professional experience would suggest otherwise; witness the numerous submissions we have received for this volume while organizing a Yale conference in April 2017 entitled “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?”

Collectively with our coauthors, we warn that anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.

***

Our Duty to Warn

BANDY X. LEE, M.D., M.DIV.

Possibly the oddest experience in my career as a psychiatrist has been to find that the only people not allowed to speak about an issue are those who know the most about it. Hence, truth is suppressed. Yet, what if that truth, furthermore, harbored dangers of such magnitude that it could be the key to future human survival? How can I, as a medical and mental health professional, remain a bystander in the face of one of the greatest emergencies of our time, when I have been called to step in everywhere else?

How can we, as trained professionals in this very area, be content to keep silent, against every other principle we practice by, because of a decree handed down from above? I am not speaking of the long-standing “Goldwater rule,” which is discussed in many places throughout this book and is a norm of ordinary practice I happen to agree with. I am rather speaking of its radical expansion, beyond the status we confer to any other rule, barely two months into the very presidency that has made it controversial.

This occurred on March 16, 2017, when our professional organization essentially placed a gag order on all psychiatrists (American Psychiatric Association 2017), and by extension all mental health professionals. I am also speaking of its defect, whereby it does not have a countervailing rule, as does the rest of professional ethics, that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure—which, in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.

Authors in this volume have been asked to respect the Goldwater rule and not to breach it unnecessarily, but I in turn respect their choices wherever their conscience has prompted them to take the professionally and socially radical step to help protect the public. Therefore, it would be accurate to state that, while we respect the rule, we deem it subordinate to the single most important principle that guides our professional conduct: that we hold our responsibility to human life and well-being as paramount.

My reasons for compiling this compendium are the same as my reasons for organizing the Yale conference by the title, “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?”: the issue merits discussion, not silence, and the public deserves education, not further darkness.

Over the course of preparing the conference, the number of prominent voices in the field coming forth to speak out on the topic astonished me. Soon after the 2016 presidential election, Dr. Herman (coauthor of the Prologue), an old colleague and friend, had written a letter urging President Obama to require that Mr. Trump undergo a neuropsychiatric evaluation before assuming the office of the presidency. Her cosignatories, Drs. Gartrell and Mosbacher (authors of the essay “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger”), helped the letter’s publication in The Huffington Post (Greene, 2016).

I also reached out to Dr. Lifton (author of the Foreword), whose “Mass Violence” meetings at Harvard first acquainted me with Dr. Herman years ago; together, they had sent a letter to the New York Times (Herman and Lifton 2017). His ready consent to speak at my conference sparked all that was to follow.

I encountered others along the way: Dr. Dodes (author of “Sociopathy”), who published a letter in the New York Times with thirty-five signatures (Dodes and Schachter 2017); Ms. Jhueck (author of “A Clinical Case for the Dangerousness of Donald J. Trump”), who cowrote and posted a letter to the head of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with seventy signatures; Dr. Fisher (author of “The Loneliness of Fateful Decisions”), who also expressed concerns in a letter to the New York Times (Fisher 2017); and Dr. Gartner (author of “Donald Trump Is: [A] Bad, [B] Mad, [C] All of the Above”), the initiator of an online petition, now with fifty-five thousand signatures, who cofounded the national coalition, “Duty to Warn,” of (as of this writing) seventeen hundred mental health professionals.

The Yale Conference

On April 20, 2017, Dr. Charles Dike of my division at Yale started the town hall–style meeting by reaffirming the relevance and reasons for the Goldwater rule. As assistant professor in law and psychiatry, former chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, chair of the Connecticut Psychiatric Society Ethics Committee, member of the Ethics Committee of the American Psychiatric Association, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, he was more than qualified to do so.

It was important that we start with a firm ethical foundation: whatever our conclusion, it could not hold if we were not scrupulous about our ethical grounding. I invited as additional panelists Drs. Lifton, Herman, and Gilligan (the last the author of “The Issue Is Dangerousness, Not Mental Illness”), with the purpose of bringing together the finest minds of psychiatry I could to address the quandary. They are all colleagues I have known for at least fifteen years and highly esteem not only for their eminence in the field but also for their ethics. They were beacons during other dark times.

They abided by the Goldwater rule in that they kept the discussion at the level of dangerousness, without attempting to diagnose. The transcript of the meeting can be found in an online appendix, the link to which is at the end of this book.

The conference was initially meant to be a collaboration between Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Public Health, and Yale School of Nursing, but when the other schools fell away as the date approached, I released the School of Medicine for what I correctly perceived would be “inevitable politicization.” In case something went wrong, I did not wish to imperil my alma mater and home institution.

Our nation is now living, in extremes, a paradigm that splits along partisan lines, and the quick conclusion will be that the speakers or contributors of this volume “must be Democrats” if they are casting a negative light on a Republican president.

However, there are other paradigms. For the mental health professional, the paradigm we practice by is one of health versus disease. We appeal to science, research, observed phenomena, and clinical skill developed over years of practice in order to promote life and to prevent death. These goals cannot be contained within the purposes of a political party or the campaigns of a candidate. Rather, we are constantly trained to bring medical neutrality—or, if we cannot, to recuse ourselves of the therapeutic situation. It is a glimpse of this perspective that we hope to bring to the reader.

Our meeting gained national and international attention (Milligan 2017; Bulman 2017). While only two dozen physically attended the conference in an atmosphere of fear, about a hundred tuned in online, and hundreds more got in touch with me for recordings or in a show of support. It felt as if we had tapped into a groundswell of a movement among mental health professionals, and also an army of people who wanted to speak about the issue (DeVega 2017).

What was intended as a publication of the proceedings led to this volume (initially so large that we had to reduce it by a third), and five top-tier publishers in the country vied for it.

Authors had to submit their manuscripts within three weeks of the meeting. It was a harrowing time, as the nation’s mood changed from relief as Mr. Trump seemed to settle into his office after the first one hundred days, to a new onslaught of scandals, starting with his firing of FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017.

Many of the contributors here do not need an introduction, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to present such an assembly of brilliant and principled professionals. A Compendium of Expertise This volume consists of three parts, the first being devoted to describing Mr. Trump, with an understanding that no definitive diagnoses will be possible.

In “Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism,” Zimbardo and Sword discuss how the Leader of the Free World has proven himself unfit for duty by his extreme ties to the present moment, without much thought for the consequences of his actions or for the future.

In “Pathological Narcissism and Politics,” Malkin explains that narcissism happens on a scale, and that pathological levels in a leader can spiral into psychosis and imperil the safety of his country through paranoia, impaired judgment, volatile decision making, and behavior called gaslighting.

In “I Wrote The Art of the Deal with Trump,” Schwartz reveals how what he observed during the year he spent with Trump to write that book could have predicted his presidency of “black hole-level” low self-worth, fact-free self-justification, and a compulsion to go to war with the world.

In “Trump’s Trust Deficit Is the Core Problem,” Sheehy highlights the notion that beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self-esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.

In “Sociopathy,” Dodes shows that someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic, empathy.

In “Donald Trump Is: (A) Bad, (B), Mad, (C) All of the Above,” Gartner emphasizes the complexity of Trump’s presentation, in that he shows signs of being “bad” as well as “mad,” but also with a hypomanic temperament that generates whirlwinds of activity and a constant need for stimulation.

In “Why ‘Crazy Like a Fox’ versus ‘Crazy Like a Crazy’ Really Matters,” Tansey shows that Trump’s nearly outrageous lies may be explained by delusional disorder, about which Tansey invites the reader to make the call; even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants and also the prospect of nuclear war.

In “Cognitive Impairment, Dementia, and POTUS,” Reiss writes that a current vulnerability in our political system is that it sets no intellectual or cognitive standards for being president, despite the job’s inherently requiring cognitive clarity; this lack of clarity can be even more serious if combined with other psychiatric disorders.

In “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person,” Herb explains how, as a guardianship attorney (in contrast to a mental health professional), he is required to come to a preliminary conclusion about mental incapacity before filing a petition, which he does in his essay, while reflecting on the Electoral College and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The second part of the book addresses the dilemmas that mental health professionals face in observing what they do and speaking out when they feel they must.

In “Should Psychiatrists Refrain from Commenting on Trump’s Psychology?” Glass argues against a technicality that would yield a simple yes-or-no answer to the Goldwater rule; instead, he advocates for a conscientious voicing of hazardous patterns, noting that the presence of mental illness is not as relevant as that of reliable functionality.

In “On Seeing What You See and Saying What You Know,” Friedman notes that technological advances that allow assessment and treatment from a distance, especially in underserved areas, have changed the clinician’s comfort level with remote evaluations, even when detecting a totalitarian mind-set or a multidimensional threat to the world.

In “The Issue Is Dangerousness, Not Mental Illness,” Gilligan discusses the ethics of not diagnosing a public figure versus the duty to warn potential victims of danger; when invoking the latter, he emphasizes, what matters is not whether a person is mentally ill but whether he is dangerous, which is possible to assess from a distance.

In “A Clinical Case for the Dangerousness of Donald J. Trump,” Jhueck notes that the United States legally confers mental health professionals and physicians considerable power to detain people against their will if they pose a danger due to likely mental illness—and Trump more than meets the requisite criteria.

In “Health, Risk, and the Duty to Protect the Community,” Covitz offers an ancient reference and two fables to illustrate just how unusual the mental health profession’s response is to a dangerous president, as we do not to speak up in ways that would be unthinkable for our role with other members of society.

In “New Opportunities for Therapy in the Age of Trump,” Doherty claims that the Trump era has ruptured the boundary between the personal and the public, and while clients and therapists are equally distressed, integrating our roles as therapists and citizens might help us better help clients.

The book’s third part speaks to the societal effects Mr. Trump has had, represents, and could cause in the future.

In “Trauma, Time, Truth, and Trump,” Teng points out the irony of seeing, as a trauma therapist, all the signs of traumatization and retraumatization from a peaceful election; she traces the sources of the president’s sudden military actions, his generation of crises, his shaken notions of truth and facts, and his role in reminding patients of an aggressive abuser.

In “Trump Anxiety Disorder,” Panning describes a unique post-election anxiety syndrome that has emerged as a result of the Trump presidency and the task that many therapists face with helping clients manage the stress of trying to “normalize” behavior that they do not feel is normal for a president.

In her essay “In Relationship with an Abusive President,” West illustrates the dynamics of “other blaming” in individuals who have feelings of low self-worth and hence poor shame tolerance, which lead to vindictive anger, lack of accountability, dishonesty, lack of empathy, and attention-seeking, of which Trump is an extreme example.

In “Trump’s Daddy Issues,” Wruble draws on his own personal experiences, especially his relationship with his strong and successful father, to demonstrate what a therapist does routinely: uses self-knowledge as an instrument for evaluating and “knowing” the other, even in this case, where the other is the president and his followers.

In “Birtherism and the Deployment of the Trumpian Mind-Set,” Kessler portrays the broader background from which “birtherism” began and how, by entering into the political fray by championing this fringe sentiment, Trump amplifies and exacerbates a national “symptom” of bigotry and division in ways that are dangerous to the nation’s core principles.

In “Trump and the American Collective Psyche,” Singer draws a connection between Trump’s personal narcissism and the American group psyche, not through a political analysis but through group psychology—the joining of group self-identity with violent, hateful defenses is as much about us as about Trump.

In “Who Goes Trump?” Mika explains how tyrannies are “toxic triangles,” as political scientists call them, necessitating that the tyrant, his supporters, and the society at large bind around narcissism; while the three factors animate for a while, the characteristic oppression, dehumanization, and violence inevitably bring on downfall.

In “The Loneliness of Fateful Decisions,” Fisher recounts the Cuban Missile Crisis and notes how, even though President Kennedy surrounded himself with the “best and the brightest,” they disagreed greatly, leaving him alone to make the decisions—which illustrates how the future of our country and the world hang on a president’s mental clarity.

In “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger,” Gartrell and Mosbacher note how, while military personnel must undergo rigorous evaluations to assess their mental and medical fitness for duty, there is no such requirement for their commander in chief; they propose a nonpartisan panel of neuropsychiatrists for annual screening.

A Disclaimer

In spite of its title, I would like to emphasize that the main point of this book is not about Mr. Trump. It is about the larger context that has given rise to his presidency, and the greater population that he affects by virtue of his position.

The ascendancy of an individual with such impairments speaks to our general state of health and well-being as a nation, and to how we can respond: we can either improve it or further impair it.

Mental disorder does not distinguish between political parties, and as professionals devoted to promoting mental health, including public mental health, our duty should be clear: to steer patients and the public on a path toward health so that genuine discussions of political choice, unimpeded by emotional compulsion or defense, can occur.

Embracing our “duty to warn,” as our professional training and ethics lead us to do at times of danger, therefore involves not only sounding an alarm but continually educating and engaging in dialogue our fellow human beings, as this compilation aspires to do.

***

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President
Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV

get it at Amazon.com

Noam Chomsky Diagnoses the Trump Era – Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian.

The president has abetted the collapse of a decaying system; Chomsky explains how.
This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.
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David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office?
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Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.
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At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.
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These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency—though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.
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That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.
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Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the US as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.
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The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base—voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.
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Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives—initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.
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The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear-weapons-modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else—and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.
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Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.
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DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party?
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NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of US political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate—those lower on the income scale—are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.
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The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.
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At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined US manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.
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There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.
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At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
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Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies—the corporations that dominate the economy—in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission—which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.
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These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived—or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler—in the West, at least—but concentrations of private power.
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The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump—though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”
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DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?
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NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales—greatly cheering the Constituency—and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.
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Iran has long been regarded by US leaders, and by US media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: It is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons—which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.
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That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip—a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the US government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.
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As for Iran’s nuclear-weapons programs, US intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: If they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.
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Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for US animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.
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It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came US support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the US-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a US ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.
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Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H.W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear-weapons production—an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.
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Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza—an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But US animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.
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DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict?
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NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.
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The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond—but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.
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Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea—which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.
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But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: We could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: It calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.
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The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by US bombing, and many may recall how US forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.
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The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by US commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.
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The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.
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DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the US and the UK?
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NC: The EU has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.
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The UK has often been a US surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.
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That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to US planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.
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Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her US counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.
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DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the US intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?
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NC: There is a national-security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national-security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office—the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy.
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DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity?
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NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going—fast.
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***
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Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor emeritus at MIT, has written many books and articles on international affairs, in particular on Israel and Palestine. His latest book, Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, will be published in December 2017.
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David Barsamian is the director of Alternative Radio in Boulder, Colorado
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The Nation

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From 9/11 to Humpty Dumpty – Roger Cohen. 

I watched my president perforate at the Pentagon and all I could think as he held forth about heroism on the 16th anniversary of 9/11 was how did we end up with Humpty Dumpty.

It was Humpty Dumpty, of course, who declared: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” At least Humpty Dumpty said it without that repetitive thumb-to-stubby-forefinger gesture of our esteemed leader.

Words cascade from that pinched mouth and they mean nothing, because when a man of moral emptiness tries to exhort a nation to moral greatness the only thing communicated is pitiful, almost comical, hypocrisy.

Between a hero and a huckster, between speaking and mouthing, the distance is great. Watching the esteemed leader’s head turning jerkily, like an old electric fan, from teleprompter to teleprompter, I almost felt pity. His is the Age of Indecency

President Trump seems lonely in his evident unfitness. Between him and his wife Melania I imagine what John Lanchester once described as “one of those silences which can only be incubated by at least two decades of attritional intimacy.” Well, they’ve known each other for 19 years. 

We’ve had a big fall. For the perpetrators of the attack on America, the biggest success has been the injection of fear into the national psyche. Not even they could imagine how social media could turn fear into contagion and how the politics of fear would help propel a buffoon with feral instincts to the White House.

Looking back over the years since the attack that bright September morning — it was my daughter Adele’s 4th birthday and she had just recovered from an infection so serious I had to hold her little body while doctors performed a spinal tap — I am reminded of lines from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

First, there was the downward glide: the misbegotten war, the soldiers and shoppers, financial implosion, impunity for the mighty, recession, anxiety and polarization. Then Americans, and not only Americans, decided it was better to blow things up than have more of the same. That’s when things precipitated.

The esteemed leader won even though Americans know he makes stuff up and wants a victorious small-to-medium-sized war that will allow him to proclaim American greatness restored. People do crazy things. They invade Russia, for example. Just look at history. Trump might think bombing Iran is his ticket in 2020.

What is all the fear about? It’s the loss of sanctuary. Menace could be anywhere since it came out of a clear blue sky. It’s the loss of victory. There is none to be had. It’s the loss of confidence. America’s power is greater than its ability to use it. It’s the loss of community. Technology is a great connector but also a great isolator. It’s the loss of self-worth. Life in the Facebook age can become an endless invitation to feel inferior or unloved.

All of this has fed a tissue of fear and disquiet easily exploited by the esteemed leader, whose instincts are above all for human weakness.

Hence Muslims and Mexicans and Mullahs and trade manipulators and all the other menaces to America that the leader deploys as needed.

In “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway wrote something else: “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”

It’s hard to shrug off the darkening skies. The worst of 9/11, almost a generation on, is the feeling that the perpetrators won. They didn’t buckle Western freedom and democracy, but they injured them. They disoriented the West. They sucked some of the promise out of a new century.

The assassins of Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King took the lives of great men but did not destroy their ideas. Perhaps they reinforced the immortality of those ideas. The assassin of Yitzhak Rabin and the mass murderers of 9/11 dispatched by Osama bin Laden were, however, more successful.

Yigal Amir, Rabin’s killer, uprooted the Oslo seeds of peace by assuring that Israeli Messianic-nationalist religious ideologues got the upper hand over secular pragmatists. They have never relinquished it. Bin Laden sapped America’s confidence, wove fear into the nation’s fabric, and inspired a metastasizing form of jihadi fanaticism that continues to terrorize the West in the crazed pursuit of a restored caliphate.

And Humpty Dumpty wants to build a wall he can sit on to contemplate xenophobia and Islamophobia.

I broke down a couple of days after 9/11 when I saw an image of a woman’s ultrasound stuck on a subway wall at 42nd Street with the words: “Looking for the father of this child.” Perhaps, in retrospect, my sobs were for all the innocence lost that day, the dreams unborn.

Adele was very brave through the spinal tap. Today she’s a brave young woman. They are out there: the brave, the stoical, the imaginative and the decent. Despite everything, they will have their day.

NY Times

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There Once Was a Great Nation With an Unstable Leader – Nicholas Kristof. 

What happens when the people of a great nation gradually realize that their leader may not be, er, quite right in the head?

When Caligula became Roman emperor in A.D. 37, the people rejoiced. “On all sides, you could see nothing but altars and sacrifices, men and women decked in their holiday best and smiling,” according to the first-century writer Philo.

The Senate embraced him, and he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after the dourness, absenteeism and miserliness of his great-uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Caligula was colorful and flamboyant, offering plenty of opportunities for ribald gossip. Caligula had four wives in rapid succession, and he was said to be sleeping with his sister. (Roman historians despised him, so some of the gossip should be treated skeptically.)

He was charming, impetuous and energetic, sleeping only three hours a night, and he displayed a common touch as he constantly engaged with the public. His early months as emperor brimmed with hope.

Initially, Caligula focused on denouncing his predecessor and reversing everything that he had done. Caligula also made popular promises of tax reform so as to reduce the burden on the public. He was full of grandiose pledges of infrastructure projects, such as a scheme to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth.

But, alas, Caligula had no significant government experience, and he proved utterly incompetent at actually getting things done. Meanwhile, his personal extravagance actually increased the need for tax revenue.

Suetonius, the Roman historian, recounted how Caligula’s boats had “sterns set with gems, parti-colored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades and banquet halls, and even a great variety of vines and fruit trees.”

Romans initially accepted Caligula’s luxurious tastes, perhaps intrigued by them. But Caligula’s lavish spending soon exhausted the surplus he had inherited, and Rome ran out of money.

This led to increasingly desperate, cruel and tyrannical behavior. Caligula reportedly opened a brothel in the imperial palace to make money, and he introduced new taxes. When this wasn’t enough, he began to confiscate estates, antagonizing Roman elites and sometimes killing them.

A coward himself, Caligula was said to delight in the torture of others; rumor had it that he would tell his executioners: “Kill him so that he can feel he is dying.”

Caligula, a narcissist and megalomaniac, became increasingly unhinged. He supposedly rolled around on a huge pile of gold coins, and he engaged in conversations with the moon, which he would invite into his bed. He replaced the heads of some statues of gods with his own head, and he occasionally appeared in public dressed as a god. He was referred to as a god in certain circumstances, and he set up a temple where he could be worshiped.

“Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” he told his grandmother, according to Suetonius.

Caligula had a thing for generals, and he periodically wore the garb of a triumphant military commander. He removed the breastplate of Alexander the Great from his sarcophagus and wore it himself at times.

The Senate, dignified and traditional, watched Caligula with increasing alarm. He scandalized the public by sometimes dressing as a woman, and he aggravated tensions by scathingly denouncing the Senate, relying on sarcasm and insult, and showing utter contempt for it.

One of Caligula’s last allies was his beloved racehorse, Incitatus, who wore a collar of precious stones and lived in a marble stall. Caligula would invite Incitatus to dine with him.

Edward Champlin, a historian of Rome at Princeton University, says that Caligula pursued “a love of pranks that a 4-year-old might disdain” and had a penchant for “blurting out whatever is on his mind” — such as suggesting that Incitatus could become consul. These rash statements rippled through Rome, for leaders of great powers are often taken not just seriously but also literally.

Yet as Caligula wreaked havoc, Rome also had values, institutions and mores that inspired resistance. He offended practically everyone, he couldn’t deliver on his promises, his mental stability was increasingly doubted and he showed he simply had no idea how to govern. Within a few years, he had lost all support, and the Praetorian Guard murdered him in January 41 (not a path I would ever condone).

Caligula was as abominable a ruler as a great nation could have, yet Rome proved resilient.

Likewise, Rome survived Emperor Nero a generation later, even as Nero apparently torched Rome, slaughtered Christians, slept with and then murdered his mother, kicked his pregnant wife to death, castrated and married a man and generally mismanaged the empire.

“If there’s a hero in the story of first-century Rome, it’s Roman institutions and traditional expectations,” reflects Emma Dench, a Harvard scholar of the period. “However battered or modified, they kept the empire alive for future greatness.”

To me, the lesson is that Rome was able to inoculate itself against unstable rulers so that it could recover and rise to new glories. Even the greatest of nations may suffer a catastrophic leader, but the nation can survive the test and protect its resilience — if the public stays true to its values, institutions and traditions. That was true two millennia ago, and remains true today.

New York Times 

Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence – Suzy Hansen. 

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. 

In Turkey the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

Who do we become if we don’t become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth?

My years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still don’t know myself.

The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house.

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (“bad” was enough). Religion, politics, race – they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History – America’s history, the world’s history – would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however – those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good – this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to America’s foremost intellectuals, “history” had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of “its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy” was dominating “op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists”. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. I’d had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasn’t necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: “white American”. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: “White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.”

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.

In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkey’s international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldn’t believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldn’t conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed America’s race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history – theirs with America – of which I knew nothing. If I didn’t know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about America’s role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkey’s and Greece’s economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the US’s manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered – and could not grasp – how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.

In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country – making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city – meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours – such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, “Did you vote for George W Bush?” Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing one’s own country seemed like a real possibility.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” I said.

“Why not?” he snapped. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

He laughed. “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

I ignored him. “I guess I have faith in American journalism,” I said. “Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.”

He smiled. “I’m sorry, there’s no way they didn’t have something to do with it. And now this war?” he said, referring to the war in Iraq. “It’s impossible that the United States couldn’t stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.”

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Güngören. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qa’ida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state – a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military – was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 – just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to people’s lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience – his reality – taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emre’s theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigner’s paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans’ paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.

The next time a Turk told me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, “Well, right, we can’t trust our journalism. We can’t take that for granted.”

The words “take that for granted” gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired people’s views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions – they didn’t have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional – it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the government’s line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself – which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were America’s misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldn’t know it – even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey – the liberal ones – were indeed questioning what “Turkishness” meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Ataturk, Turkey’s first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

“It is different in the United States,” I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. “We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isn’t propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isn’t nationalism, it’s patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we don’t know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.”

“Wow,” a friend once replied. “How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isn’t it?”

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could “influence policy”. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

The Guardian

Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away – Jonathan Freedland. 

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

It turns out Hillary Clinton was right to warn Americans 14 months ago that, “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” And here we are, Trump tweet-goading the North Koreans by declaring military solutions “locked an loaded”. We need imagine no longer.

Those who find themselves trembling at all this have spent the last few days grasping for a comfort blanket. A favourite has been the notion that those around Trump, especially the generals current and former, will not let him unleash nuclear Armageddon. This view holds that, yes, Trump may well be dangerously unhinged but fear not, the wiser heads of Washington will stay his hand. Indeed, this strain of thinking has been visible since Trump took the oath of office. Call it the deep state fantasy. It looks to the national security apparatus, the intelligence agencies and the permanent bureaucracy, the shadow government, to step in and do the right thing.

It hangs its hopes on a range of prospective saviours. It might be the trio of former generals made up of Jim Mattis, who heads the Pentagon, John Kelly, recently drafted in as chief of staff, and HR McMaster who serves as national security adviser. Alternatively, it looks to the loose alliance hailed this week by the influential Axios website as “The Committee to Save America”, consisting not only of the generals but also the cluster of New Yorkers that includes some of Trump’s less hot-headed economic advisers, with added reinforcements from the Republican ranks in Congress. The committee’s unofficial mission: to protect “the nation from disaster”. The ultimate deep state fantasy longs for the men in the shadows not merely to restrain Trump, but remove him from office. The designated hero of this story is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now heading what is reported to be a swift and penetrating probe into allegations of collusion with Russia as well as Trump’s wider business dealings.

Mueller’s role may indeed prove to be critical. But the deep state fantasy itself, while comforting, is surely a dead end for Trump’s opponents. For one thing, events have reached an odd pass when liberals are dreaming of unelected generals thwarting an elected head of government: that used to be the fantasy of the militaristic right.

But it also relies more on hope than evidence. All these supposedly wise heads around Trump: what restraint have they achieved so far? Kelly was meant to impose order and discipline, and yet we still have Trump tweeting threats that could easily be misinterpreted as the cue for war. On North Korea, the US administration continues to send conflicting signals by the hour, with Trump outriders like Sebastian Gorka slapping down secretary of state Rex Tillerson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, creating confusion when a nuclear standoff requires calm clarity.

And we cannot escape the basic fact. All these advisers can try to hold him back, but when it comes to it, nuclear authority is Trump’s and Trump’s alone. He is the nuclear monarch.

The glum truth is that the only people who can effectively check a democratically elected menace like Trump are other democratically elected leaders. Ultimately it will be up to the men and women of Congress to do their constitutional duty by impeaching Trump and removing him from office. If Republicans won’t do it, then voters need to replace them with Democrats who will, by voting for a new House in the midterm elections of November 2018. The trouble is, it’s not clear that the US – or the world – have that much time.

The Guardian 

G20: Does Donald Trump’s awkward performance indicate America’s decline as a world power? – Chris Uhlmann. 

The G20 became the G19 as it ended. On the Paris climate accords the United States was left isolated and friendless.

It is, apparently, where this US President wants to be as he seeks to turn his nation inward.

Donald Trump has a particular, and limited, skill-set. He has correctly identified an illness at the heart of the Western democracy. But he has no cure for it and seems to just want to exploit it.

He is a character drawn from America’s wild west, a travelling medicine showman selling moonshine remedies that will kill the patient.

And this week he underlined he has neither the desire nor the capacity to lead the world.

Given the US was always going to be one out on climate change, a deft American President would have found an issue around which he could rally most of the leaders.

He had the perfect vehicle — North Korea’s missile tests.

So, where was the G20 statement condemning North Korea? That would have put pressure on China and Russia? Other leaders expected it and they were prepared to back it but it never came.

There is a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Mr Trump with the thoughts of the man himself.

He did make some interesting, scripted, observations in Poland about defending the values of the West.

And Mr Trump is in a unique position — he is the one man who has the power to do something about it.

But it is the unscripted Mr Trump that is real. A man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as President at war with the West’s institutions — like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.

He was an uneasy, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense some other leaders were trying to find the best way to work around him.

Mr Trump is a man who craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that really matters. And there is no value placed on the meaning of words. So what is said one day can be discarded the next.

So, what did we learn this week?

We learned Mr Trump has pressed fast forward on the decline of the US as a global leader. He managed to diminish his nation and to confuse and alienate his allies.

He will cede that power to China and Russia — two authoritarian states that will forge a very different set of rules for the 21st century.

Some will cheer the decline of America, but I think we’ll miss it when it is gone.

And that is the biggest threat to the values of the West which he claims to hold so dear.

ABC

President Trump’s Lies to 21 June, the Definitive List – The New York Times. 

JAN. 21 “I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq.” (He was for an invasion before he was against it.)JAN. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)JAN. 23 “Between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.” (There’s no evidence of illegal voting.)JAN. 25 “Now, the audience was the biggest ever. But this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive.” (Official aerial photos show Obama’s 2009 inauguration was much more heavily attended.)JAN. 25 “Take a look at the Pew reports (which show voter fraud.)” (The report never mentioned voter fraud.)JAN. 25 “You had millions of people that now aren’t insured anymore.” (The real number is less than 1 million, according to the Urban Institute.)JAN. 25 “So, look, when President Obama was there two weeks ago making a speech, very nice speech. Two people were shot and killed during his speech. You can’t have that.” (There were no gun homicide victims in Chicago that day.)JAN. 26 “We’ve taken in tens of thousands of people. We know nothing about them. They can say they vet them. They didn’t vet them. They have no papers. How can you vet somebody when you don’t know anything about them and you have no papers? How do you vet them? You can’t.”(Vetting lasts up to two years.)JAN. 26 “I cut off hundreds of millions of dollars off one particular plane, hundreds of millions of dollars in a short period of time. It wasn’t like I spent, like, weeks, hours, less than hours, and many, many hundreds of millions of dollars. And the plane’s going to be better.” (Most of the cuts were already planned.)JAN. 28 “Thr coverage about me in the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost gas been so false and angry that the times actually apologized to its dwindling subscribers and readers.” (It never apologized.)JAN. 29 “The Cuban-Americans, I got 84 percent of that vote.” (There is no support for this.)JAN. 30 “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage” (At least 746 people were detained and processed, and the Delta outage happened two days later.)FEB. 3 “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (There is no evidence of paid protesters.)FEB. 4 “After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!” (It never apologized.)FEB. 5 “We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.” (About 60,000 people were affected.)FEB. 6 “I have already saved more than $700 million when I got involved in the negotiation on the F-35.” (Much of the price drop was projected before Trump took office.)FEB. 6 “It’s gotten to a point where it is not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.” (Terrorism has been reported on, often in detail.)FEB. 6 “The failing @nytimes was forced to apologize to its subscribers for the poor reporting it did on my election win. Now they are worse!” (It didn’t apologize.)FEB. 6 “And the previous administration allowed it to happen because we shouldn’t have been in Iraq, but we shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out. It created a vacuum, ISIS was formed.” (ISIS has existed since 2004.)FEB. 7 “And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years.” (It was higher in the 1980s and ’90s.)FEB. 7 “I saved more than $600 million. I got involved in negotiation on a fighter jet, the F-35.” (The Defense Department projected this price drop before Trump took office.)FEB. 9 “Chris Cuomo, in his interview with Sen. Blumenthal, never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave ‘service’ in Vietnam. FAKE NEWS!” (It was part of Cuomo’s first question.)FEB. 9 Sen. Richard Blumenthal “now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” (The Gorsuch comments were later corroborated.)FEB. 10 “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?” (Trump knew about Flynn’s actions for weeks.)FEB. 12 “Just leaving Florida. Big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road that the FAKE NEWS media refuses to mention. Very dishonest!” (The media did cover it.)FEB. 16 “We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all won bigger margins in the Electoral College.)FEB. 16 “That’s the other thing that was wrong with the travel ban. You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports.” (Delta’s problems happened two days later.)FEB. 16 “Walmart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives.” (The jobs are a result of its investment plans announced in October 2016.)FEB. 16 “When WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information.” (Not always. They have released classified information in the past.)FEB. 16 “We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision.” (The rollout was chaotic.)FEB. 16 “They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates. Which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.” (It was widely covered.)FEB. 18 “And there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing.” (Refugees receive multiple background checks, taking up to two years.)FEB. 18 “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” (Trump implied there was a terror attack in Sweden, but there was no such attack.)FEB. 24 “By the way, you folks are in here — this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks.” (There was no evidence of long lines.)FEB. 24 “ICE came and endorsed me.” (Only its union did.)FEB. 24 “Obamacare covers very few people — and remember, deduct from the number all of the people that had great health care that they loved that was taken away from them — it was taken away from them.” (Obamacare increased coverage by a net of about 20 million.)FEB. 27 “Since Obamacare went into effect, nearly half of the insurers are stopped and have stopped from participating in the Obamacare exchanges.” (Many fewer pulled out.)FEB. 27 “On one plane, on a small order of one plane, I saved $725 million. And I would say I devoted about, if I added it up, all those calls, probably about an hour. So I think that might be my highest and best use.” (Much of the price cut was already projected.)FEB. 28 “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that.” (NATO countries agreed to meet defense spending requirements in 2014.)FEB. 28 “The E.P.A.’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.” (There’s no evidence that the Waters of the United States rule caused severe job losses.)FEB. 28 “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials.” (They can’t lobby their former agency but can still become lobbyists.)MARCH 3 “It is so pathetic that the Dems have still not approved my full Cabinet.” (Paperwork for the last two candidates was still not submitted to the Senate.)MARCH 4 “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” (There’s no evidence of a wiretap.)MARCH 4 “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” (There’s no evidence of a wiretap.)MARCH 7 “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” (113 of them were released by President George W. Bush.)MARCH 13 “I saved a lot of money on those jets, didn’t I? Did I do a good job? More than $725 million on them.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 13 “First of all, it covers very few people.” (About 20 million people gained insurance under Obamacare.)MARCH 15 “On the airplanes, I saved $725 million. Probably took me a half an hour if you added up all of the times.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 17 “I was in Tennessee — I was just telling the folks — and half of the state has no insurance company, and the other half is going to lose the insurance company.” (There’s at least one insurer in every Tennessee county.)MARCH 20 “With just one negotiation on one set of airplanes, I saved the taxpayers of our country over $700 million.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 21 “To save taxpayer dollars, I’ve already begun negotiating better contracts for the federal government — saving over $700 million on just one set of airplanes of which there are many sets.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 22 “I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.” (Riots in Sweden broke out two days later and there were no deaths.)MARCH 22 “NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that.” (It has fought terrorism since the 1980s.)MARCH 22 “Well, now, if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong — in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people.” (There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.)MARCH 29 “Remember when the failing @nytimes apologized to its subscribers, right after the election, because their coverage was so wrong. Now worse!”(It didn’t apologize.)MARCH 31 “We have a lot of plants going up now in Michigan that were never going to be there if I — if I didn’t win this election, those plants would never even think about going back. They were gone.” (These investments were already planned.)APRIL 2 “And I was totally opposed to the war in the Middle East which I think finally has been proven, people tried very hard to say I wasn’t but you’ve seen that it is now improving.”(He was for an invasion before he was against it.)APRIL 2 “Now, my last tweet — you know, the one that you are talking about, perhaps — was the one about being, in quotes, wiretapped, meaning surveilled. Guess what, it is turning out to be true.”(There is still no evidence.)APRIL 5 “You have many states coming up where they’re going to have no insurance company. O.K.? It’s already happened in Tennessee. It’s happening in Kentucky. Tennessee only has half coverage. Half the state is gone. They left.” (Every marketplace region in Tennessee had at least one insurer.)APRIL 6 “If you look at the kind of cost-cutting we’ve been able to achieve with the military and at the same time ordering vast amounts of equipment — saved hundreds of millions of dollars on airplanes, and really billions, because if you take that out over a period of years it’s many billions of dollars — I think we’ve had a tremendous success.” (Much of the price cuts were already projected.)APRIL 11 “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.” (He knew Steve Bannon since 2011.)APRIL 12 “You can’t do it faster, because they’re obstructing. They’re obstructionists. So I have people — hundreds of people that we’re trying to get through. I mean you have — you see the backlog. We can’t get them through.” (At this point, he had not nominated anyone for hundreds of positions.)APRIL 12 “The New York Times said the word wiretapped in the headline of the first edition. Then they took it out of there fast when they realized.” (There were two headlines, but neither were altered.)APRIL 12 “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.” (NATO has been engaged in counterterrorism efforts since the 1980s.)APRIL 12 “Mosul was supposed to last for a week and now they’ve been fighting it for many months and so many more people died.” (The campaign was expected to take months.)APRIL 16 “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!” (There’s no evidence of paid protesters.)APRIL 18 “The fake media goes, ‘Donald Trump changed his stance on China.’ I haven’t changed my stance.” (He did.)APRIL 21 “On 90 planes I saved $725 million. It’s actually a little bit more than that, but it’s $725 million.” (Much of the price cuts were already projected.)APRIL 21 “When WikiLeaks came out … never heard of WikiLeaks, never heard of it.” (He criticized it as early as 2010.)APRIL 27 “I want to help our miners while the Democrats are blocking their healthcare.” (The bill to extend health benefits for certain coal miners was introduced by a Democrat and was co-sponsored by mostly Democrats.)APRIL 28 “The trade deficit with Mexico is close to $70 billion, even with Canada it’s $17 billion trade deficit with Canada.” (The U.S. had an $8.1 billion trade surplus, not deficit, with Canada in 2016.)APRIL 28 “She’s running against someone who’s going to raise your taxes to the sky, destroy your health care, and he’s for open borders — lots of crime.” (Those are not Jon Ossoff’s positions.)APRIL 28 “The F-35 fighter jet program — it was way over budget. I’ve saved $725 million plus, just by getting involved in the negotiation.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “They’re incompetent, dishonest people who after an election had to apologize because they covered it, us, me, but all of us, they covered it so badly that they felt they were forced to apologize because their predictions were so bad.” (The Times did not apologize.)APRIL 29 “As you know, I’ve been a big critic of China, and I’ve been talking about currency manipulation for a long time. But I have to tell you that during the election, number one, they stopped.” (China stopped years ago.)APRIL 29 “I’ve already saved more than $725 million on a simple order of F-35 planes. I got involved in the negotiation.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “We’re also getting NATO countries to finally step up and contribute their fair share. They’ve begun to increase their contributions by billions of dollars, but we are not going to be satisfied until everyone pays what they owe.” (The deal was struck in 2014.)APRIL 29 “When they talk about currency manipulation, and I did say I would call China, if they were, a currency manipulator, early in my tenure. And then I get there. Number one, they — as soon as I got elected, they stopped.” (China stopped in 2014.)APRIL 29 “I was negotiating to reduce the price of the big fighter jet contract, the F-35, which was totally out of control. I will save billions and billions and billions of dollars.” (Most of the cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “I think our side’s been proven very strongly. And everybody’s talking about it.” (There’s still no evidence Trump’s phones were tapped.)MAY 1 “Well, we are protecting pre-existing conditions. And it’ll be every good — bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare.” (The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing conditions.)MAY 1 “The F-35 fighter jet — I saved — I got involved in the negotiation. It’s 2,500 jets. I negotiated for 90 planes, lot 10. I got $725 million off the price.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)MAY 1 “First of all, since I started running, they haven’t increased their — you know, they have not manipulated their currency. I think that was out of respect to me and the campaign.” (China stopped years ago.)MAY 2 “I love buying those planes at a reduced price. I have been really — I have cut billions — I have to tell you this, and they can check, right, Martha? I have cut billions and billions of dollars off plane contracts sitting here.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MAY 4 “Number two, they’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.” (China stopped years ago.)MAY 4 “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.” (We’re not.)MAY 4 “Nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters.” (Polls show most Americans do care.)MAY 8 “You know we’ve gotten billions of dollars more in NATO than we’re getting. All because of me.” (The deal was struck in 2014.)MAY 8 “But when I did his show, which by the way was very highly rated. It was high — highest rating. The highest rating he’s ever had.”(Colbert’s “Late Show” debut had nearly two million more viewers.)MAY 8 “Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.” (Clapper only said he wasn’t aware of an investigation.)MAY 12 “Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.” (The F.B.I. was investigating before the election.)MAY 12 “When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?” (Clapper said he wouldn’t have been told of an investigation into collusion.)MAY 13 “I’m cutting the price of airplanes with Lockheed.” (The cost cuts were planned before he became president.)MAY 26 “Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.” (He’s referencing an arms deal that’s not enacted and other apparent deals that weren’t announced on the trip.)JUNE 1 “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.” (The agreement doesn’t allow or disallow building coal plants.)JUNE 1 “I’ve just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.” (Trump’s figures are inflated and premature.)JUNE 4 “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” (The mayor was specifically talking about the enlarged police presence on the streets.)JUNE 5 “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” (Trump signed this version of the travel ban, not the Justice Department.)JUNE 21 “They all say it’s ‘nonbinding.’ Like hell it’s nonbinding.” (The Paris climate agreement is nonbinding — and Trump said so in his speech announcing the withdrawal.)JUNE 21 “Right now, we are one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.” (We’re not.)

New York Times 

Recognise this poor fellow? 

No is not enough, defeating the new ‘shock politics’. Part 1: Trump Shock Therapy  – Naomi Klein. 

Shock Doctrine 

The term “shock doctrine” describes the quite brutal tactic of systematically using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock: wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes, or natural disasters, to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy.”

Trump and his top advisers are trying to pull off a domestic shock doctrine. The goal is all-out war on the public sphere and the public interest, whether in the form of antipollution regulations or programs for the hungry. In their place will be unfettered power and freedom for corporations. It’s a program so defiantly unjust and so manifestly corrupt that it can only be pulled off with the assistance of divide-and-conquer racial and sexual politics, as well as a nonstop spectacle of media distractions. And of course it is being backed up with a massive increase in war spending, a dramatic escalation of military conflicts on multiple fronts, from Syria to North Korea, alongside presidential musings about how “torture works.”

The goal? The “deconstruction of the administrative state” (the government regulations and agencies tasked with protecting people and their rights).

And “if you look at Trump’s Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.”

What’s happening in Washington is not the usual passing of the baton between parties. It’s a naked corporate takeover, one many decades in the making. It seems that the economic interests that have long since paid off both major parties to do their bidding have decided they’re tired of playing the game. Apparently, all that wining and dining of elected officials, all that cajoling and legalized bribery, insulted their sense of divine entitlement. So now they’re cutting out the middlemen— those needy politicians who are supposed to protect the public interest— and doing what all top dogs do when they want something done right: they are doing it themselves.

Up to now in US politics there’s been a mask on the corporate state’s White House proxies: the smiling actor’s face of Ronald Reagan or the faux cowboy persona of George W. Bush (with Dick Cheney/ Halliburton scowling in the background). Now the mask is gone. And no one is even bothering to pretend otherwise.

The Trump family’s business model is part of a broader shift in corporate structure that has taken place within many brand-based multinationals, one with transformative impacts on culture and the job market, trends that I wrote about in my first book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. What this model tells us is that the very idea that there could be— or should be— any distinction between the Trump brand and the Trump presidency is a concept the current occupant of the White House cannot begin to comprehend. The presidency is in fact the crowning extension of the Trump brand.

The fact that such defiant levels of profiteering from public office can unfold in full view is disturbing enough. As are so many of Trump’s actions in his first months in office. But history shows us that, however destabilized things are now, the shock doctrine means they could get a lot worse. The main pillars of Trump’s political and economic project are: the deconstruction of the regulatory state; a full-bore attack on the welfare state and social services (rationalized in part through bellicose racial fearmongering and attacks on women for exercising their rights); the unleashing of a domestic fossil fuel frenzy (which requires the sweeping aside of climate science and the gagging of large parts of the government bureaucracy); and a civilizational war against immigrants and “radical Islamic terrorism”(with ever-expanding domestic and foreign theaters).

A large-scale crisis— whether a terrorist attack or a financial crash— would likely provide the pretext to declare some sort of state of exception or emergency, where the usual rules no longer apply. This, in turn, would provide the cover to push through aspects of the Trump agenda that require a further suspension of core democratic norms— such as his pledge to deny entry to all Muslims (not only those from selected countries), his Twitter threat to bring in “the feds” to quell street violence in Chicago, or his obvious desire to place restrictions on the press. A large-enough economic crisis would offer an excuse to dismantle programs like Social Security. 

We don’t go into a state of shock when something big and bad happens; it has to be something big and bad that we do not yet understand. A state of shock is what results when a gap opens up between events and our initial ability to explain them. When we find ourselves in that position, without a story, without our moorings, a great many people become vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear one another and relinquish our rights for the greater good.

There’s one thing I’ve learned from reporting from dozens of locations in the midst of crisis, whether it was Athens rocked by Greece’s debt debacle, or New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or Baghdad during the US occupation: these tactics can be resisted. To do so, two crucial things have to happen. First, we need a firm grasp on how shock politics work and whose interests they serve. That understanding is how we get out of shock quickly and start fighting back. Second, and equally important, we have to tell a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs. This values-based vision must offer a different path, away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution. Most of all, that vision needs to offer those who are hurting—for lack of jobs, lack of health care, lack of peace, lack of hope—a tangibly better life.

Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion, a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century. Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability, and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. He is also the personification of the merger of humans and corporations, a one-man megabrand, whose wife and children are spin-off brands, with all the pathologies and conflicts of interest inherent in that. He is the embodiment of the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will on others, whether that entitlement is expressed by grabbing women or grabbing the finite resources from a planet on the cusp of catastrophic warming. He is the product of a business culture that fetishists “disruptors” who make their fortunes by flagrantly ignoring both laws and regulatory standards.

Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project, one embraced by centrist parties as well as conservative ones, that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

In 2002, George W. Bush threw a ninetieth-birthday party at the White House for the man who was the intellectual architect of that war on the public sphere, the radical free-market economist Milton Friedman. At the celebration, then US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.” He was right— and Donald Trump is a direct consequence of those ideas.

With US vice president Mike Pence or House speaker Paul Ryan waiting in the wings, and a Democratic Party establishment also enmeshed with the billionaire class, the world we need won’t be won just by replacing the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Naomi Klein

from her new book: No is not enough, defeating the new shock politics. 

Only Mass Deportation Can Save America – Bret Stephens, NYTimes. 

In the matter of immigration, mark this conservative columnist down as strongly pro-deportation. The United States has too many people who don’t work hard, don’t believe in God, don’t contribute much to society and don’t appreciate the greatness of the American system.

They need to return whence they came.

I speak of Americans whose families have been in this country for a few generations. Complacent, entitled and often shockingly ignorant on basic points of American law and history, they are the stagnant pool in which our national prospects risk drowning.

On point after point, America’s nonimmigrants are failing our country. Crime? A study by the Cato Institute notes that nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones.

Educational achievement? Just 17 percent of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search — often called the “Junior Nobel Prize” — were the children of United States-born parents. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, just 9.5 percent of graduate students in electrical engineering were nonimmigrants.

Religious piety — especially of the Christian variety? More illegal immigrants identify as Christian (83 percent) than do Americans (70.6 percent), a fact right-wing immigration restrictionists might ponder as they bemoan declines in church attendance.

Business creation? Nonimmigrants start businesses at half the rate of immigrants, and accounted for fewer than half the companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005. Overall, the share of nonimmigrant entrepreneurs fell by more than 10 percentage points between 1995 and 2008, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

Nor does the case against nonimmigrants end there. The rate of out-of-wedlock births for United States-born mothers exceeds the rate for foreign-born moms, 42 percent to 33 percent. The rate of delinquency and criminality among nonimmigrant teens considerably exceeds that of their immigrant peers. A recent report by the Sentencing Project also finds evidence that the fewer immigrants there are in a neighborhood, the likelier it is to be unsafe.

And then there’s the all-important issue of demographics. The race for the future is ultimately a race for people — healthy, working-age, fertile people — and our nonimmigrants fail us here, too. “The increase in the overall number of U.S. births, from 3.74 million in 1970 to 4.0 million in 2014, is due entirely to births to foreign-born mothers,” reports the Pew Research Center. Without these immigrant moms, the United States would be faced with the same demographic death spiral that now confronts Japan.

Bottom line: So-called real Americans are screwing up America. Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future. In other words, just the kind of people we used to be — when “we” had just come off the boat.

O.K., so I’m jesting about deporting “real Americans” en masse. Who would take them in, anyway? But then the threat of mass deportations has been no joke with this administration.

New York Times

.

Trump’s Rogue America – Joseph E. Stiglitz. 

Donald Trump has thrown a hand grenade into the global economic architecture that was so painstakingly constructed in the years after World War II’s end. The attempted destruction of this rules-based system of global governance – now manifested in Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – is just the latest aspect of the US president’s assault on our basic system of values and institutions.

The world is only slowly coming fully to terms with the malevolence of the Trump administration’s agenda. He and his cronies have attacked the US press – a vital institution for preserving Americans’ freedoms, rights, and democracy – as an “enemy of the people.” They have attempted to undermine the foundations of our knowledge and beliefs – our epistemology – by labeling as “fake” anything that challenges their aims and arguments, even rejecting science itself. Trump’s sham justifications for spurning the Paris climate agreement is only the most recent evidence of this.

For millennia before the middle of the eighteenth century, standards of living stagnated. It was the Enlightenment, with its embrace of reasoned discourse and scientific inquiry, that underpinned the enormous increases in standards of living in the subsequent two and a half centuries.

With the Enlightenment also came a commitment to discover and address our prejudices. As the idea of human equality – and its corollary, basic individual rights for all – quickly spread, societies began struggling to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and, eventually, other aspects of human identity, including disability and sexual orientation.

Trump seeks to reverse all of that. His rejection of science, in particular climate science, threatens technological progress. And his bigotry toward women, Hispanics, and Muslims (except those, like the rulers of Gulf oil sheikhdoms, from whom he and his family can profit), threatens the functioning of American society and its economy, by undermining people’s trust that the system is fair to all.

As a populist, Trump has exploited the justifiable economic discontent that has become so widespread in recent years, as many Americans have become downwardly mobile amid soaring inequality. But his true objective – to enrich himself and other gilded rent-seekers at the expense of those who supported him – is revealed by his tax and health-care plans.

Trump’s proposed tax reforms, so far as one can see, outdo George W. Bush’s in their regressivity (the share of the benefits that go to those at the top of the income distribution). And, in a country where life expectancy is already declining, his health-care overhaul would leave 23 million more Americans without health insurance.

While Trump and his cabinet may know how to make business deals, they haven’t the slightest idea how the economic system as a whole works. If the administration’s macroeconomic policies are implemented, they will result in a larger trade deficit and a further decline in manufacturing.

America will suffer under Trump. Its global leadership role was being destroyed, even before Trump broke faith with over 190 countries by withdrawing from the Paris accord. At this point, rebuilding that leadership will demand a truly heroic effort. We share a common planet, and the world has learned the hard way that we have to get along and work together. We have learned, too, that cooperation can benefit all.

So what should the world do with a babyish bully in the sandbox, who wants everything for himself and won’t be reasoned with? How can the world manage a “rogue” US?

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the right answer when, after meeting with Trump and other G7 leaders last month, she said that Europe could no longer “fully count on others,” and would have to “fight for our own future ourselves.” This is the time for Europe to pull together, recommit itself to the values of the Enlightenment, and stand up to the US, as France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, did so eloquently with a handshake that stymied Trump’s puerile alpha-male approach to asserting power.

Europe can’t rely on a Trump-led US for its defense. But, at the same time, it should recognize that the Cold War is over – however unwilling America’s industrial-military complex is to acknowledge it. While fighting terrorism is important and costly, building aircraft carriers and super fighter planes is not the answer. Europe needs to decide for itself how much to spend, rather than submit to the dictates of military interests that demand 2% of GDP. Political stability may be more surely gained by Europe’s recommitment to its social-democratic economic model.

We now also know that the world cannot count on the US in addressing the existential threat posed by climate change. Europe and China did the right thing in deepening their commitment to a green future – right for the planet, and right for the economy. Just as investment in technology and education gave Germany a distinct advantage in advanced manufacturing over a US hamstrung by Republican ideology, so, too, Europe and Asia will achieve an almost insurmountable advantage over the US in the green technologies of the future.

But the rest of the world cannot let a rogue US destroy the planet. Nor can it let a rogue US take advantage of it with unenlightened – indeed anti-Enlightenment – “America first” policies. If Trump wants to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, the rest of the world should impose a carbon-adjustment tax on US exports that do not comply with global standards.

The good news is that the majority of Americans are not with Trump. Most Americans still believe in Enlightenment values, accept the reality of global warming, and are willing to take action. But, as far as Trump is concerned, it should already be clear that reasoned debate will not work. It is time for action.

***

Joseph E. Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979, is University Professor at Columbia University, Co-Chair of the High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress at the OECD, and Chief Economist of the Roosevelt Institute. A former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and chair of the US president’s Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, in 2000 he founded the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, a think tank on international development based at Columbia University.

Project Syndicate

Debunking The Fool. Trump’s Paris climate speech claims analyzed – Oliver Milman. 

“So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.” 

So that’s that. After months of fevered speculation and lobbying, Trump sticks to his campaign pledge to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. He does so with a caveat that’s delivered rather casually – the US will renegotiate this pact, or maybe some other pact, aimed at ensuring the future liveability of the planet. But if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK.

“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7m lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.”

Trump’s vision of a hobbled America, ransacked by pointless environmental regulation, draws upon a highly disputed study published in March. National Economic Research Associates has done work for front groups for coal companies in the past and this study was at the behest of the American Council for Capital Formation, which counts Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Charles Koch as major donors.

The Paris agreement itself places no “energy restrictions” on the US – it’s a voluntary agreement that leaves it up to countries to decide how to cut their emissions. But several economists have warned that leaving the Paris agreement will stymie clean energy investment and ensure the production of solar panels and wind turbines – the very blue-collar jobs Trump claims to value – will take place in China rather than the US.

It could get worse still – some countries are mulling a carbon “tariff” on US goods over Trump’s decision to swim against the energy transition that is underway. None of this will help a coal industry that was in decline long before the Paris deal. This is perhaps why business support for Paris is broad, uniting the likes of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Apple and even BP.

“For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years – 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries. There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.”

Trump repeatedly touches on a familiar theme of the US being taken advantage of by foreign ingrates. The Paris deal was considered a breakthrough because it required all nations to curb their emissions – including, crucially, China and India. Given that both these countries do not have more than a century of mass industrialization behind them, unlike the US, their commitments should be seen in context. Indeed, recent analysis has shown that China may have already peaked its coal use and will be reducing its emissions sooner than expected, although suspicions linger over its accounting methods.

Either way, both China and India have reiterated their commitment to the Paris deal in recent weeks and are investing heavily in renewable energy. That they are doing this with tens of millions of their people still without electricity and other basic services shows that perhaps it isn’t terribly unfair to expect the world’s wealthiest nation to do likewise.

“In short, the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”

According to the Department of Energy there are about 373,000 Americans working in solar energy – more than double that of the coal industry. The coal sector has been shedding jobs for decades, driven by automation of work and, more recently, the abundance of cheap natural gas.

Major coal mining firms have conceded those jobs aren’t coming back and it’s not quite clear how American mining jobs can be shifted overseas given the US isn’t a coal exporter and US power plants aren’t crying out for extra minerals to keep the lights on. What’s more likely, according to economists, is that growth in renewable energy innovation and construction jobs will tip overseas, probably to China, which has committed to investing $360bn in the sector in the coming years.

“Our country will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts, our businesses will come to a halt in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.”

This dark vision would perhaps approach reality if a.) the only source of electricity in the US was coal, rather than a mix of nuclear, gas, coal and renewables, b.) the Paris agreement set any sort of binding limit on energy sources, and c.) the US government followed through with this by shutting down power plants rather than asking states to submit plans to transition away from polluting fossil fuels (as the Obama administration did). None of that has actually happened or was slated to happen.

“Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree – think of that; this much – Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”

White House “talking points” distributed before Trump’s speech cite MIT research for the 0.2-degree reduction. This prompted a swift rebuttal from the actual source, a collaboration between MIT and Climate Interactive. The researchers point out the reduction in expected warming from emissions cuts promised at Paris will be 0.9 degrees by 2100, not 0.2 degrees.

This still won’t be enough to avoid breaching the warming limit set out in the Paris deal but it’s worth considering that 0.9C is roughly the global temperature rise experienced since the industrial revolution. People living in southern Florida, or Bangladesh or beside a coral reef that provides food and a livelihood would have radically different lives if the global temperature increase was double its current level.

“The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth. We’ll be the cleanest. We’re going to have the cleanest air. We’re going to have the cleanest water.”

Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has paused or scrapped rules that prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams, curb emissions from vehicles and power plants and stop mercury and arsenic seeping into waterways. The EPA’s proposed budget also cuts measures that prevent lead in drinking water and also scraps clean-ups of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico and shrinks the funding of enforcement of pollution rules.

“And we’ll sit down with the Democrats and all of the people that represent either the Paris accord or something that we can do that’s much better than the Paris accord. And I think the people of our country will be thrilled, and I think then the people of the world will be thrilled. But until we do that, we’re out of the agreement.”

In common with some other policy areas, Trump seems to be believe his negotiating skills can overcome issues that leaders have grappled with for years. Paris came about after 20 years of often painful incremental manoeuvrings that included the disappointment of Copenhagen in 2009, and world leaders have already made clear they aren’t “thrilled” at the prospect of reversing this breakthrough.

France, Italy and Germany released a statement saying that the Paris deal can’t be redone, while the EU and China jointly declared the agreement was “irreversible”. The UK, Canada and Australia all reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, saying he is “deeply disappointed” with Trump’s decision. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called it a “major disappointment.”

The US may return to Paris, with Trump or a future president, but there will be lingering diplomatic damage that will haunt the country on the international stage far more than the Kyoto reversal under George W Bush.

“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

Well, at this point there’s certainly not much laughter.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Here, Trump seems to confuse the venue of the UN climate agreement signing for the actual subject of the accord. It’s also worth noting that Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, committed to the Paris deal, along with dozens of other US municipalities, after Trump’s announcement. About 65,000 people in Pennsylvania work in the renewable energy industry, more than mining, oil and gas combined.

“Of course, the world’s top polluters have no affirmative obligations under the green fund, which we terminated.”

Again Trump portrays the Paris deal as an onerous ball and chain around the ankle of a struggling America, which somehow isn’t now one of the world’s leading polluters. The climate fund is voluntary and Barack Obama pledged about $3bn to it. Given the scale of the climate challenge – rising seas, drought and disasters are already estimated to displace about 20 million people a year, according to the UN – even this funding is likely to be insufficient.

“And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”

One of the – ultimately successful – arguments put by opponents of the Paris deal to Trump was that his domestic agenda of revoking Obama-era environmental regulations would be jeopardised by the agreement. Architects of the deal have disputed this, pointing out that it is voluntary and non-binding and would carry no weight in a US court.

Ultimately, the only recourse to Trump’s decision will be through the ballot box. The notice period for withdrawing from the Paris deal expires in November 2020 – the month of the next presidential election. Climate change will likely be, for once, a live issue at the election.

Oliver Milman

The Guardian

Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve – E.J. Dionne Jr. – The Washington Post. 

What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?

Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.

In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.

It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.

The Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign.

As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

Washington Post

Trumpcare Is a Moral Travesty – Robert Reich. 

America has the only health care system in the world designed to avoid sick people.

Shame on every one of the 217 Republicans who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, and substitute basically nothing.

Trumpcare isn’t a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a transfer from the sick and poor to the rich and healthy.

The losers are up to 24 million Americans who under the Affordable Care Act get subsidies to afford health insurance coverage, including millions of people with pre-existing conditions and poor people who had access to Medicaid who may not be able to afford insurance in the future.

The winners are wealthy Americans who will now get a tax cut because they won’t have to pay to fund the Affordable Care Act, and healthy people who won’t have to buy health insurance to subsidize the sick.

House Republicans say they have protected people with pre-existing health problems. Baloney. Sick people could be charged premiums so high as to make insurance unaffordable. Trumpcare would even let states waive the Obamacare ban on charging higher premiums for women who have been raped — which actually occurred before the Affordable Care Act.

America has the only health care system in the world designed to avoid sick people. Private for-profit health insurers do whatever they can to insure groups of healthy people, because that’s where the profits are. They also make every effort to avoid sick people, because that’s where the costs are.

The Affordable Care Act puts healthy and sick people into the same insurance pool. But under the Republican bill that passed the House, healthy people will no longer be subsidizing sick people.  Healthy people will be in their own insurance pool. Sick people will be grouped with other sick people in their own high-risk pool – which will result in such high premiums, co-payments, and deductibles that many if not most won’t be able to afford.

Republicans say their bill creates a pool of money that will pay insurance companies to cover the higher costs of insuring sick people. Wrong. Insurers will take the money and still charge sick people much higher premiums. Or avoid sick people altogether.

The only better alternative to the Affordable Care Act is a single-payer system, such as Medicare for all, which would put all Americans into the same giant insurance pool. Not only would this be fairer, but it would also be far more efficient, because money wouldn’t be spent marketing and advertising to attract healthy people and avoid sick people.

Paul Ryan says the House vote was about fulfilling a promise the GOP made to American voters. But those voters have been lied to from the start about the Affordable Care Act. For years Republicans told them that the Act couldn’t work, would bankrupt America, and result in millions losing the health care they had before. All of these lies have been proven wrong.

Now Republicans say the Act is unsustainable because premiums are rising and insurers are pulling out. Wrong again. Whatever is wrong with the Affordable Care Act could be easily fixed, but Republicans have refused to do the fixing. Insurers have been pulling out because of the uncertainty Republicans have created.

The reason Republicans are so intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act is they want to give a giant tax cut to the rich who’d no longer have to pay the tab.

Here we come to the heart of the matter.

If patriotism means anything, it means sacrificing for the common good, participating in the public good. Childless Americans pay taxes for schools so children are educated. Americans who live close to their work pay taxes for roads and bridges so those who live farther away can get to work. Americans with secure jobs pay into unemployment insurance so those who lose their jobs have some income until they find another.

And under the Affordable Care Act, healthier and wealthier Americans pay a bit more so sicker and poorer Americans don’t die.

Trump and House Republicans aren’t patriots. They don’t believe in sacrificing for the common good. They don’t think we’re citizens with obligations to one another. To them, we’re just individual consumers who deserve the best deal we can get for ourselves. It’s all about the art of the deal.

So what do we do now? We fight.

To become law, Trumpcare has to go through 4 additional steps: First, a version must be enacted in the Senate. It must then go a “conference” to hammer out differences between the House and Senate. The conference agreement must then pass in the House again, and again in the Senate.

I hope you’ll be there every step of the way, until Trumpcare collapses under the weight of its own cruelty. House Republicans who voted for this travesty will rue the day they did. Any Senate Republican who joins them will regret it as well.

AlterNet

Trump Is Creating an Authoritarian Dictatorship – Here’s Why – bgerber. 

If there is an overarching pattern in the Trump regime’s first months, it is a steady move toward oligarchy verging on authoritarian dictatorship. I am a political scientist by training and I didn’t write the above sentence unthinkingly. Putting aside Trump’s Russian role model, Putin, the pattern is clear.

  • appointing wealthy businessmen (and one businesswoman) to key government positions)
  • refusing to release taxes
  • signing controversial executive orders out of the public eye
  • ignoring reporters’ questions
  • running the country by, to be kind, deceptive tweets
  • stopping publication of the White House guest list
  • living a rich lifestyle supported by public funds
  • benefiting personally from public office
  • placing family members in key governmental positions
  • appointing an FCC Chairman who will significantly reduce access to the Internet
  • attacking the press as the “enemy of the people”
  • claiming that the president cannot be held accountable for behaviors committed before or, potentially, after his election
  • thug-like behavior in relation to perceived political enemies
  • scapegoating of specific ethnic or religious groups directly or by implication
  • mysogynistic and anti-LGBTQ behaviors
  • engaging in grossly exaggerated policy swings
  • supporting massive fines and imprisonment for Inauguration Day protestors and protestors in general

Whether intentional or not, the above has the effect of creating an American Presidency very different from any we have ever seen and one that should frighten anyone who understands political, economic and social history.

Opednews

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People – Elizabeth Warren. 

The tale of America coming out of the Great Depression and not only surviving but actually transforming itself into an economic giant is the stuff of legend.

But the part that gives me goose bumps is what we did with all that wealth: over several generations, our country built the greatest middle class the world had ever known. We built it ourselves, using our own hard work and the tools of government to open up more opportunities for millions of people. We used it all, tax policy, investments in public education, new infrastructure, support for research, rules that protected consumers and investors, antitrust laws, to promote and expand our middle class.

The spectacular, shoot-off-the-fireworks fact is that we succeeded. Income growth was widespread, and the people who did most of the work, the 90 percent of America, also got most of the gains. In the 1960s and 1970s, I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of everything America was building, and to this day, I am grateful to the bottom of my soul.

But now, in a new century and a different time, that great middle class is on the ropes. All across the country, people are worried—worried and angry.

They are angry because they bust their tails and their income barely budges. Angry because their budget is stretched to the breaking point by housing and health care. Angry because the cost of sending their kid to day care or college is out of sight. People are angry because trade deals seem to be building jobs and opportunities for workers in other parts of the world, while leaving abandoned factories here at home. Angry because young people are getting destroyed by student loans, working people are deep in debt, and seniors can’t make their Social Security checks cover their basic living expenses. Angry because we can’t even count on the fundamentals, roads, bridges, safe water, reliable power, from our government.

Angry because we’re afraid that our children’s chances for a better life won’t be as good as our own. People are angry, and they are right to be angry. Because this hard-won, ruggedly built, infinitely precious democracy of ours has been hijacked.

Today this country works great for those at the top. It works great for every corporation rich enough to hire an army of lobbyists and lawyers. It works great for every billionaire who pays taxes at lower rates than the hired help. It works great for everyone with the money to buy favors in Washington. Government works great for them, but for everyone else, this country is no longer working very well.

This is the most dangerous kind of corruption. No, it’s not old-school bribery with envelopes full of cash. This much smoother, slicker, and better-dressed form of corruption is perverting our government and making sure that day after day, decision after decision, the rich and powerful are always taken care of. This corruption is turning government into a tool of those who have already gathered wealth and influence. This corruption is hollowing out America’s middle class and tearing down our democracy.

In 2016, into this tangle of worry and anger, came a showman who made big promises. A man who swore he would drain the swamp, then surrounded himself with the lobbyists and billionaires who run the swamp and feed off government favors. A man who talked the talk of populism but offered the very worst of trickle-down economics. A man who said he knew how the corrupt system worked because he had worked it for himself many times. A man who vowed to make America great again and followed up with attacks on immigrants, minorities, and women. A man who was always on the hunt for his next big con.

In the months ahead, it would become clear that this man was even more divisive and dishonest than his presidential campaign revealed.

Plenty of people were eager to describe the special appeal of Donald Trump and explain all the reasons why he won. But we need more than an explanation of just one election; we also need to understand how and why our country has gone so thoroughly wrong.

We need a plan to put us back on track, and then we need to get to work and make it happen. We need to live our values, to be the kind of nation that invests in opportunity, not just for some of us, but for all of us. We need to take our democracy back from those who would pervert it for their own benefit. We need to build the America of our best dreams.

If ever there was a time to fight, this is it.

Elizabeth Warren

From her new book:

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People


A directionless, foolish president has unlocked the weapons store. We are all in great peril – Observer Editorial. 

In the run-up to last November’s election, American voters were repeatedly warned that the inexperienced, volatile and impulsive Donald Trump would be a dangerous choice as next US president. Less than three months into his term, that prediction is coming true. Trump’s reckless behaviour is rapidly sucking the world into an alarming new era of extreme strategic instability, most evidently in the case of North Korea. 

Suddenly abandoning his pledge to pursue non-interventionist policies and eschew the role of global policeman, Trump has performed an astonishing volte-face. It began with a casually insouciant decision, taken over dinner in Palm Beach in January, to order a special forces ground operation in Yemen that Barack Obama had previously blocked as too risky. The operation went badly awry. 

Trump tried shoddily to distance himself from this failure and turned his attention to Syria and Iraq. Word went out from the White House that US field commanders would henceforth enjoy greater latitude in fighting Islamic State (Isis). There would be no more of Obama’s frustrating micro-management. Trump’s message: the gloves are off – not that they were ever really on.

Since then, civilian casualties in both countries have been rising, the result of US or US-led bombing. The Iraqi army’s slow and painful effort to retake Mosul from Isis has not been noticeably advanced by stepped-up American engagement. But the lethal impact of the siege on Mosul’s citizens has measurably grown, as in last months horrific American bombind of a basement shelter that killed up to 150 people.

Trump has significantly increased the number of US troops in Syria, ahead of an anticipated assault on the Isis stronghold of Raqqa. Then he upped the ante again, firing off 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian army base in an emotional retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province. This self-indulgent escapade has done little or nothing to further peace in Syria. But it did trigger a destabilising confrontation with Russia, Syria’s ally, with possible implications for security in eastern Europe, Nato and the Asian power balance.

Having greatly impressed himself by this grandiose show of might, Trump, now self-styled global enforcer-in-chief, swivelled his sights on to Afghanistan, setting off the biggest explosion he could manage without actually going nuclear. Last week’s detonation of a Moab monster bomb was gimmick warfare. It may have killed some Isis fighters. It may not. That was not the point. The aim, again, was to showcase US firepower and Trump’s supposed martial prowess. The target audience was not Isis or the Taliban but North Korea, where, to China’s justified alarm, Trump has deployed a nuclear-armed naval armada in a bid to bully Pyongyang into submission.

And so, in the space or 100 days or so, Trump’s crudely intimidatory, violent, know-nothing approach to sensitive international issues has encircled the globe from Moscow to the Middle East to Beijing, plunging foes and allies alike into a dark vortex of expanding strategic instability.

In switching sides and policies from one day to the next, Trump resembles a punter in a betting shop, rashly gambling on a hunch. In the North Korean case, if Trump guesses wrong, the results could be utterly calamitous. 

There is a place for deterrence in international affairs and, to work, deterrence must be backed by the possible use of force. That is how we survived the Cold War. It is possible that Syria’s regime will stop using chemical weapons because of Trump’s punitive response. It is arguable that China needed a jolt to get it more involved in containing North Korea and that Pyongyang may cease, for a time, its provocative behaviour. The defeat of Isis, wherever it lurks, is undoubtedly desirable.

But as every military strategist and experienced statesman knows, the uncertain means to these desirable ends are fenced about with deep complexities, subtleties and countless shades of political and military grey. Bombs and more bombs do not solve anything. Violence can and usually does make matters worse. The world beyond Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago is not a shooting gallery. War and diplomacy are not zero-sum games.

The US president is not hosting a television reality show – not any more, at least. This is all only too real. And if Bomber Trump has proved anything in the past three months, it is that he lacks the judgment, the common sense and the common humanity to be anybody’s commander in chief.

The Guardian

Assad Had the Upper Hand So Why Would He Gas His Own People? – Chris Ernesto.

On March 30, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the future leader of Syria should be determined by the people of Syria.

This major policy statement by the US took regime change off the table, and was obviously great news for Bashar al-Assad. Combined with Syrian military gains on the ground, Assad was in the strongest position he’d been in since the war in Syria began.

So, why 5 days later would he gas his own people?

But even without a thorough investigation, and less than 72 hours after the alleged chemical attack took place, American political leaders and establishment media claimed that Assad carried out the attack on April 4. Hours later, the US launched 59 tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield based on these unproven allegations, killing 9 civilians including 4 children in Idlib province.

Common sense, historical facts and circumstantial evidence suggest that it’s highly unlikely that Assad gassed his own people earlier this week. In fact, it’s much more likely that the chemical weapons were from al-Qaeda, ISIS and/or other anti-Assad factions. Indeed, a case can be made that the attack was coordinated by the White Helmets, with US neoconservatives providing the script.

In 2013, US-supported, anti-Assad forces were losing ground in the war in Syria. Assad claimed that the rebels were using chemical weapons in Aleppo in a last-ditch effort to hold territory. Assad asked the UN to investigate his claims, and they agreed, and began an investigation in Syria. Within days of the UN inspectors’ arrival, another chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria. Western media was quick to blame Assad, even though it defied logic that Assad would use chemical weapons when chemical weapons inspectors were inside Syria at his invitation.

As conservative columnist Pat Buchanan said, “I would not understand or comprehend that Bashar al-Assad, no matter how bad a man he may be, would be so stupid as to order a chemical weapons attack on civilians in his own country when the immediate consequence…might be that he would be at war with the United States. So this reeks of a false flag operation.”

Former member of Congress Ron Paul pointed out, “the group that is most likely to benefit from a chemical attack is Al-Qaeda. They ignite some gas, some people die and blame it on Assad.”

And Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “There is every reason to believe sarin gas was used, not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

Nonetheless, the Obama administration and other western leaders blamed Assad, and talk of US military action in Syria was contemplated.

Fortunately, journalists like Seymour Hersh helped put a halt to war talk, by revealing that it was indeed the US-supported rebels who used chemical weapons – weapons they received from Turkey, a US ally.

The sarin gas attack that just occurred in Syria is eerily similar to the attack that occurred in 2013: US-backed anti-Assad rebels are losing ground, a sarin gas attack occurs and US politicians quickly blame Assad without an investigation. One difference between today and 2013 is that the US military actually bombed a Syrian military target in “retaliation.” Another difference is that this time, Russian military is in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, so the risk of military confrontation with Russia is real.

The US announcement on March 30 that it would not seek regime change in Syria was a massive blow to neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, ISIS, al-Qaeda and all other anti-Assad factions who have been trying to oust Assad for years. In 2016 alone, the CIA reportedly spent $1 billion supplying and training the rebel forces attempting to overthrow the Syrian government.

The Assad opposition is willing to revert to any means necessary, as history showed in 2013, so it’s conceivable that this week’s chemical attack was perpetrated by one of those factions who saw the window of opportunity to oust Assad closing.

And the US has a long history of making false claims to go to war, such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the Iraq WMD claims — both of which led to major wars.

Given this, it is conceivable that the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week is a total hoax, perpetrated by The White Helmets, with the goal of tricking the US into taking military action against Assad, something the White Helmets have pushed for years.

As Max Blumenthal points out, The White Helmets, who call for a military imposed no-fly zone in Syria, were founded in collaboration with a wing of the USAID — the wing that has promoted regime change around the world — and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.

Money to the White Helmets is just part of the $339 million that the USAID has allotted for “supporting activities that pursue a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria.”

Russian deputy ambassador to the UN said on Wednesday that allegations that Assad used chemical weapons this week are based on “falsified reports from the White Helmets”, an organization that has been “discredited long ago”.

This doesn’t mean the White Helmets were involved in Tuesday’s attack, or that the attack itself didn’t really happen, we’re just asking the question.

With that said, clearly the neocons and all anti-Assad forces have a lot more to gain from this week’s chemical attack than does Assad. And Assad has much more to lose than any of those groups. And this week’s attack followed the same script used during the 2013 attack, and that attack was wrongly blamed on Assad, as we suspect this attack is as well.

Although, it is too early to know what really happened, one of the possibilities is that the Syrian military bombed an al-Qaeda hideout, not knowing that chemical weapons were in the building, and the gas spread, killing people, as Russian officials have pointed out. But it’s odd that the White Helmets just happened to be on the ground, and rapidly produced an HD video complete with a script that was read on most major media outlets within hours of the attack.

Other than the people responsible for the alleged chemical attack this week, nobody really knows what happened, including us. Now that the US has attacked Syria, Russia’s ally, the question is, will Russia back down? If they don’t, we may look back at this week’s attack as a flashpoint to the start of a military confrontation with Russia. And given that this could lead to World War 3, we think it’s worth the time to consider all possibilities, including the ones mapped out here.

Article co-authors Dina Formentini and Chris Ernesto are members of St. Pete for Peace, a non-partisan antiwar organization providing peace oriented education events and services to the Tampa Bay, FL community since 2003.

St. Pete for Peace

Syria Missile Attack: A Victory of Neo-conservatives – Ron Paul. 

“I don’t think the evidence is there, at least it hasn’t been presented, and they need a so-called excuse, they worked real hard, our government and their coalition.

If any of this was true, I don’t know why they couldn’t wait and take a look at it. In 2013, there were similar stories that didn’t go anywhere, because with a little bit of a pause, there was a resistance to it built in our Congress and in the American people. They thought that it was a fraud and nothing like that was happening, and right now, I just can’t think of how it could conceivably be what they claim, because it’s helping ISIS, because it’s helping Al-Qaeda.

There was no need to rush. There was no threat to national security. They have to give a reason to do these things.

I have no idea what his purpose was. Maybe he just didn’t want to hear the debate, because the last time they debated it, they lost. And this time, it was necessary for them to jump onto this, before people came to know what was really going on.

They want to get rid of him, and you have to look for who is involved in that. Unfortunately, they are the ones who are winning out on this, and the radicals, too! There is a bit of hypocrisy going on here, because at one minute we say, well, maybe Assad has to stay, the next day he has to go, and we’re there fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda. At the same time, what we end up doing is we actually strengthen them! It is a mess.

I don’t believe that our people or the American government should be the policemen of the world, it makes no sense, it causes us more trouble and more grief, it causes us more financial problems, and it’s hardly a way that we could defend our constitutional liberty.

The peace talks have ended now. They’re terrified that peace was going to break out! Al-Qaeda was on the run, peace talks were happening, and all of a sudden, they had to change, and this changes things dramatically! I don’t expect peace talks anytime soon or in the distant future.

I was wondering about the fact that the announcement came when Trump was talking to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. And of course, North Korea’s high on the list of targets for our president and our administration. It might be a warning: this is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do what we tell you. I just don’t like us being involved in so many countries, in their internal affairs; I think it’s so detrimental.”

Ron Paul

Part 3: Trump’s Authoritarian Vision – Los Angeles Times. 

by The Times Editorial Board

APRIL 4, 2017

Standing before the cheering throngs at the Republican National Convention last summer, Donald Trump bemoaned how special interests had rigged the country’s politics and its economy, leaving Americans victimized by unfair trade deals, incompetent bureaucrats and spineless leaders.

He swooped into politics, he declared, to subvert the powerful and rescue those who cannot defend themselves. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5 2017

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

Other institutions under attack include:

The electoral process.

Faced with certified election results showing that Hillary Clinton outpolled him by nearly 3 million votes, Trump repeated the unsubstantiated — and likely crackpot — assertion that Clinton’s supporters had duped local polling places with millions of fraudulent votes. In a democracy, the right to vote is the one check that the people themselves hold against their leaders; sowing distrust in elections is the kind of thing leaders do when they don’t want their power checked.

The intelligence community.

After reports emerged that the Central Intelligence Agency believed Russia had tried to help Trump win, the president-elect’s transition team responded: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” It was a snarky, dismissive, undermining response — and the administration has continued to belittle the intelligence community and question its motives since then, while also leaking stories about possibly paring and restructuring its ranks. It is bizarre to watch Trump continue to tussle publicly with this particular part of the government, whose leaders he himself has appointed, as if he were still an outsider candidate raging against the machine. It’s unnerving too, given the intelligence services’ crucial role in protecting the country against hidden risks, assisting the U.S. military and helping inform Trump’s decisions.

The media.

Trump has blistered the mainstream media for reporting that has cast him in a poor light, saying outlets concocted narratives based on nonexistent anonymous sources. In February he said that the “fake news” media will “never represent the people,” adding ominously: “And we’re going to do something about it.” His goal seems to be to defang the media watchdog by making the public doubt any coverage that accuses Trump of blundering or abusing his power.

Federal agencies.

In addition to calling for agency budgets to be chopped by up to 30%, Trump appointed a string of Cabinet secretaries who were hostile to much of their agencies’ missions and the laws they’re responsible for enforcing. He has also proposed deep cuts in federal research programs, particularly in those related to climate change. It’s easier to argue that climate change isn’t real when you’re no longer collecting the data that documents it.

In a way, Trump represents a culmination of trends that have been years in the making.

Conservative talk radio hosts have long blasted federal judges as “activists” and regulators as meddlers in the economy, while advancing the myth of rampant election fraud. And gridlock in Washington has led previous presidents to try new ways to circumvent the checks on their power — witness President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements to invalidate parts of bills Congress passed, and President Obama’s aggressive use of executive orders when lawmakers balked at his proposals.

What’s uniquely threatening about Trump’s approach, though, is how many fronts he’s opened in this struggle for power and the vehemence with which he seeks to undermine the institutions that don’t go along.

It’s one thing to complain about a judicial decision or to argue for less regulation, but to the extent that Trump weakens public trust in essential institutions like the courts and the media, he undermines faith in democracy and in the system and processes that make it work.

“He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.”

Trump betrays no sense for the president’s place among the myriad of institutions in the continuum of governance. He seems willing to violate long-established political norms without a second thought, and he cavalierly rejects the civility and deference that allow the system to run smoothly. He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.

Will Congress act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses as he moves forward? One test is the House and Senate intelligence committees’ investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election; lawmakers need to muster the courage to follow the trail wherever it leads. Can the courts stand up to Trump? Already, several federal judges have issued rulings against the president’s travel ban. And although Trump has railed against the decisions, he has obeyed them.

None of these institutions are eager to cede authority to the White House and they won’t do so without a fight. It would be unrealistic to suggest that America’s most basic democratic institutions are in imminent jeopardy.

But we should not view them as invulnerable either. Remember that Trump’s verbal assaults are directed at the public, and are designed to chip away at people’s confidence in these institutions and deprive them of their validity. When a dispute arises, whose actions are you going to consider legitimate? Whom are you going to trust? That’s why the public has to be wary of Trump’s attacks on the courts, the “deep state,” the “swamp.” We can’t afford to be talked into losing our faith in the forces that protect us from an imperial presidency.

LA Times

The full Russian MoFA statement in regards the US missile strike on Syria. 

The United States conducted strikes against Syrian government troops in the early hours of April 7, using chemical weapons attacks in Idlib Province as a pretext.

The US opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight.

It is not the first time that the US chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the US and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a UN Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified. While previous initiatives of this kind were presented as efforts to combat terrorism, now they are clearly an act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. Actions undertaken by the US today inflict further damage to the Russia-US relations.

Russia has expressed on numerous occasions that it was ready to cooperate on resolving the most urgent issues the world is facing today, and that fighting international terrorism was a top priority. However, we will never agree to unsanctioned action against the legitimate Syrian government that has been waging an uncompromising war on international terrorism for a long time.

Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The US could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts. This was the conclusion reached by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Over the recent years this organisation inspected almost all the facilities linked or possibly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme. As for Idlib, the terrorists operating there used to produce toxic land mines intended for use in Syria and Iraq. These manufacturing facilities were put out of operation in a military operation carried out by the Syrian air force.

The US pretends that it does not understand obvious things, turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, officially confirmed by Baghdad. The US refuses to believe the evidence provided by certified documents confirming the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in Aleppo. In doing so, the US is abetting international terrorism and making it stronger. New WMD attacks can be expected.

There is no doubt that the military action by the US is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by US-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.

It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force.

Russia suspends the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the US.

We call on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the latest developments.

What will Trump do next? – Alexander Gillespie.

• Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at Waikato University.

The United States has attacked a Syrian air base with 50 to 60 cruise missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack it blames on President Bashar Assad. The justification for this action is the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, about 50 kilometres south of the city of Idlib, in which 80 people died, including dozens of children, and hundreds more were injured. This attack was done with chemical weapons, which appear to have involved sarin gas. Chemical weapons are prohibited in international law due to their inhumane and indiscriminate killing methods. Sarin was the primary agent used in the Ghouta attacks in Syria in 2013 in which killed over 280 people. President Obama had warned earlier in 2012 that the use of such weapons would be a ‘red-line’ that Assad should not cross. When the attack happened, Obama did not strike Assad because a process was brokered through the United Nations that all of the chemical weapons that Assad possessed would be removed by the UN’s Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, and that an inquiry would be held to determine who was at fault for the incident at Ghouta. The Inquiry found that although it was likely that the weapons used at Ghouta came from military stockpiles of the Syrian armed forces, it stopped short of saying that the Syrian military were the actual perpetuators of the crime. The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons then, with the consent of all parties to the Syrian conflict, entered into Syria, collected all of the chemical weapons that were disclosed, destroyed them, and left.

It now appears that all of the chemical weapons were not handed over. Whether these were used by the rebels or the Syrian military is a matter of debate, although the weight of opinion suggests it is likely that the attack on Khan Sheikhoun was the result of the Syrian military. This is certainly the view of the Americans, British and French.

The problem is that to do an act of war such as President Trump has just done, the weight of evidence should be more than ‘likely’. It should also have been something that should have been done as a last resort.

However, there were other options on the table, as although tempers are running high at the Security Council in New York over this matter, a resolution calling for an independent investigation, to find out who was responsible, was possible. Why Mr Trump has short-circuited this process and acted now in such a deliberate manner is a matter of speculation.

The most pressing question from here is what happens next in the short term. For Bashar al-Assad, the option is to attack the 500 or so American troops in northern Syria helping with the attack on the ISIS held city of Raqqa. For Mr Putin, the choices are more nuanced. Russia is tied to Syria by a 1972 military alliance. It is this alliance which has been used as a spring-board for direct Russian intervention to prop up Assad. Even if Syria sees the American action as an act of war, this does not oblige Russia to do the same. Hopefully, Mr Putin will do what he does best, which is keep very calm in situations of stress, and serve his dish of revenge when it is cold. He last did this when a Russian aircraft was shot down over Turkey, subsequently breaking Turkey out of its close relationship to the United States and Europe. In this instance, it is likely that the Russians were informed in advance of what was going to happen, with a tightly orchestrated attack against those responsible for the action against Khan Sheikhoun, as opposed to other less related targets. Not to have informed the Russians, or to risk Russian casualties, could pull the two sides into direct conflict that could be cataclysmic.

Assuming that this conflict does not escalate and that Assad and the Russians accept the action without retaliating, the real problem for Mr Trump is what to do next ? Firing missiles is the easy part. Stopping weapons firing is much harder. Finding peace in Syria has been elusive since 2011. The fourth leg of the Geneva Peace Process recently concluded, with minimal progress. The same questions over what status Assad should have in any future government; what to do with terrorists; and whether the Kurds should have a separate homeland, continue to dominate the landscape. Without answering these questions there will never be peace in Syria. Mr Trump had earlier suggested said that the removal of Bashar al-Assad was not part of this priority. He was scathing of Mr Obama’s action in Syria and warned about conflict with Russia. Now, everything has changed.

NZ Herald

Part 2: Why Trump lies – Los Angeles Times. 

by The Times Editorial Board

APRIL 3, 2017

Donald Trump did not invent the lie and is not even its master. Lies have oozed out of the White House for more than two centuries and out of politicians’ mouths — out of all people’s mouths — likely as long as there has been human speech.

But amid all those lies, told to ourselves and to one another in order to amass power, woo lovers, hurt enemies and shield ourselves against the often glaring discomfort of reality, humanity has always had an abiding respect for truth.

In the United States, born and periodically reborn out of the repeated recognition and rejection of the age-old lie that some people are meant to take dominion over others, truth is as vital a part of the civic, social and intellectual culture as justice and liberty. Our civilization is premised on the conviction that such a thing as truth exists, that it is knowable, that it is verifiable, that it exists independently of authority or popularity and that at some point — and preferably sooner rather than later — it will prevail.

Even American leaders who lie generally know the difference between their statements and the truth. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” but by that point must have seen that he was. Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but knew that he did.

“He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes.”

The insult that Donald Trump brings to the equation is an apparent disregard for fact so profound as to suggest that he may not see much practical distinction between lies, if he believes they serve him, and the truth.

His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

If we harbor latent racism or if we fear terror attacks by Muslim extremists, then he elevates a rumor into a public debate: Was Barack Obama born in Kenya, and is he therefore not really president?

If his own ego is threatened — if broadcast footage and photos show a smaller-sized crowd at his inauguration than he wanted — then he targets the news media, falsely charging outlets with disseminating “fake news” and insisting, against all evidence, that he has proved his case (“We caught them in a beauty,” he said).

If his attempt to limit the number of Muslim visitors to the U.S. degenerates into an absolute fiasco and a display of his administration’s incompetence, then he falsely asserts that terrorist attacks are underreported. (One case in point offered by the White House was the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, which in fact received intensive worldwide news coverage. The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the subject).

If he detects that his audience may be wearying of his act, or if he worries about a probe into Russian meddling into the election that put him in office, he tweets in the middle of the night the astonishingly absurd claim that President Obama tapped his phones. And when evidence fails to support him he dispatches his aides to explain that by “phone tapping” he obviously didn’t mean phone tapping. Instead of backing down when confronted with reality, he insists that his rebutted assertions will be vindicated as true at some point in the future.

Trump’s easy embrace of untruth can sometimes be entertaining, in the vein of a Moammar Kadafi speech to the United Nations or the self-serving blathering of a 6-year-old.

“He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.”

But he is not merely amusing. He is dangerous. His choice of falsehoods and his method of spewing them — often in tweets, as if he spent his days and nights glued to his bedside radio and was periodically set off by some drivel uttered by a talk show host who repeated something he’d read on some fringe blog — are a clue to Trump’s thought processes and perhaps his lack of agency. He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.

He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy. He is a stranger to the concept of verification, the insistence on evidence and the standards of proof that apply in a courtroom or a medical lab — and that ought to prevail in the White House.

There have always been those who accept the intellectually bankrupt notion that people are entitled to invent their own facts — consider the “9/11 was an inside job” trope — but Trump’s ascent marks the first time that the culture of alternative reality has made its home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If Americans are unsure which Trump they have — the Machiavellian negotiator who lies to manipulate simpler minds, or one of those simpler minds himself — does it really matter? In either case he puts the nation in danger by undermining the role of truth in public discourse and policymaking, as well as the notion of truth being verifiable and mutually intelligible.

In the months ahead, Trump will bring his embrace of alternative facts on the nation’s behalf into talks with China, North Korea or any number of powers with interests counter to ours and that constitute an existential threat. At home, Trump now becomes the embodiment of the populist notion (with roots planted at least as deeply in the Left as the Right) that verifiable truth is merely a concept invented by fusty intellectuals, and that popular leaders can provide some equally valid substitute. We’ve seen people like that before, and we have a name for them: demagogues.

Our civilization is defined in part by the disciplines — science, law, journalism — that have developed systematic methods to arrive at the truth. Citizenship brings with it the obligation to engage in a similar process. Good citizens test assumptions, question leaders, argue details, research claims.

Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.

LA Times

Part 1: Our Dishonest President – Los Angeles Times. 

by The Times Editorial Board

APRIL 2, 2017

It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”

Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.

Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

His attempt to de-insure millions of people who had finally received healthcare coverage and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has been put on hold for the moment. But he is proceeding with his efforts to defang the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat the Pentagon’s budget even as he supposedly retreats from the global stage.

“It is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.”

These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken this country’s moral standing in the world, imperil the planet and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency.

What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

Although his policies are, for the most part, variations on classic Republican positions (many of which would have been undertaken by a President Ted Cruz or a President Marco Rubio), they become far more dangerous in the hands of this imprudent and erratic man. Many Republicans, for instance, support tighter border security and a tougher response to illegal immigration, but Trump’s cockamamie border wall, his impracticable campaign promise to deport all 11 million people living in the country illegally and his blithe disregard for the effect of such proposals on the U.S. relationship with Mexico turn a very bad policy into an appalling one.

In the days ahead, The Times editorial board will look more closely at the new president, with a special attention to three troubling traits:

1. Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. Since Jan. 20, he has repeatedly disparaged and challenged those entities that have threatened his agenda, stoking public distrust of essential institutions in a way that undermines faith in American democracy. He has questioned the qualifications of judges and the integrity of their decisions, rather than acknowledging that even the president must submit to the rule of law. He has clashed with his own intelligence agencies, demeaned government workers and questioned the credibility of the electoral system and the Federal Reserve. He has lashed out at journalists, declaring them “enemies of the people,” rather than defending the importance of a critical, independent free press. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.

2. His utter lack of regard for truth.Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd or his unsubstantiated assertion that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, the new president regularly muddies the waters of fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know whether he actually can’t distinguish the real from the unreal — or whether he intentionally conflates the two to befuddle voters, deflect criticism and undermine the very idea of objective truth. Whatever the explanation, he is encouraging Americans to reject facts, to disrespect science, documents, nonpartisanship and the mainstream media — and instead to simply take positions on the basis of ideology and preconceived notions. This is a recipe for a divided country in which differences grow deeper and rational compromise becomes impossible.

3. His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas. Again, it is not clear whether he believes them or merely uses them. But to cling to disproven “alternative” facts; to retweet racists; to make unverifiable or false statements about rigged elections and fraudulent voters; to buy into discredited conspiracy theories first floated on fringe websites and in supermarket tabloids — these are all of a piece with the Barack Obama birther claptrap that Trump was peddling years ago and which brought him to political prominence. It is deeply alarming that a president would lend the credibility of his office to ideas that have been rightly rejected by politicians from both major political parties.

Where will this end? Will Trump moderate his crazier campaign positions as time passes? Or will he provoke confrontation with Iran, North Korea or China, or disobey a judge’s order or order a soldier to violate the Constitution? Or, alternately, will the system itself — the Constitution, the courts, the permanent bureaucracy, the Congress, the Democrats, the marchers in the streets — protect us from him as he alienates more and more allies at home and abroad, steps on his own message and creates chaos at the expense of his ability to accomplish his goals? Already, Trump’s job approval rating has been hovering in the mid-30s, according to Gallup, a shockingly low level of support for a new president. And that was before his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, offered to cooperate last week with congressional investigators looking into the connection between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

“Those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard.”

On Inauguration Day, we wrote on this page that it was not yet time to declare a state of “wholesale panic” or to call for blanket “non-cooperation” with the Trump administration. Despite plenty of dispiriting signals, that is still our view. The role of the rational opposition is to stand up for the rule of law, the electoral process, the peaceful transfer of power and the role of institutions; we should not underestimate the resiliency of a system in which laws are greater than individuals and voters are as powerful as presidents. This nation survived Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. It survived slavery. It survived devastating wars. Most likely, it will survive again.

But if it is to do so, those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. Protesters must raise their banners. Voters must turn out for elections. Members of Congress — including and especially Republicans — must find the political courage to stand up to Trump. Courts must safeguard the Constitution. State legislators must pass laws to protect their citizens and their policies from federal meddling. All of us who are in the business of holding leaders accountable must redouble our efforts to defend the truth from his cynical assaults.

The United States is not a perfect country, and it has a great distance to go before it fully achieves its goals of liberty and equality. But preserving what works and defending the rules and values on which democracy depends are a shared responsibility. Everybody has a role to play in this drama.

LA Times

Senator Feinstein Just Hinted Trump Is Headed Towards Impeachment

You just looked white as a ghost yesterday when you came out of that meeting. And we don’t know what’s happening. But we know that he is breaking laws everyday. He’s making money on Mar-a-Lago. He’s getting copyrights in China. He has obvious dealings with Russia. The Dakota pipeline. There’s so many things he is doing that are unconstitutional. How are we gonna get him out? That’s what I want to know.

Natalie Dickinson, Occupy Democrats

Well, we have a lot of people working at this. Technical people. And I think he’s gonna get himself out. I think sending sons to another country to make a financial deal for his company and then have that covered with government expenses — I think those government expenses should not be allowed.

We are working on a bill that will do that now. We’re working on a couple of bills that would deal with conflict of interest. It’s difficult because this is a field that relates to some extent to the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. And there’s no preceding legislation to do this. But we’ve got good people looking at it. And we’re going to some of the ethicists along the line.

I’ve been doing what I do for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like this.

Senator Diane Feinstein, Senate Judiciary Committee

President Trump has been violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution since the moment he was inaugurated. He has refused to divest himself from his businesses, uses taxpayer money to send his sons on Trump Organization business trips, holds meetings at his private Mar-a-lago club every weekend…the list goes on and on.
Occupy Democrats

An Example for NZ. The Dutch GreenLeft party shows new ideas can turn the tide of populism – Rutger Bregman. 

Wake Up Andrew! Labour is fast becoming irrelevant. 

Let’s be honest, rightwing, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders is this election’s real winner.

We seem to be forgetting that his party gained five additional seats in the Dutch parliament. And more importantly: over the past 10 years, Wilders has wrenched most of the other parties toward his position on the fringes – particularly the fiscally conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the culturally conservative Christian Democratic party (CDA), both mainstream parties with widespread support.

Suppose a denizen of the 1980s had stepped into a time machine and travelled to watch the runup to these Dutch elections. Imagine how surprised – or, more accurately, dismayed – they would be. So-called progressive and moderate politicians are currently making pronouncements that would have put them behind bars for inciting hate 30 years ago.

In 1997, a Dutch judge sentenced the far-right politician Hans Janmaat for saying “As soon as we have the power and the opportunity, we will eliminate multiculturalism.” Pretty tame compared to Wilders, who’s constantly denouncing “palaces of hatred” (mosques) and “Street terrorists” (Moroccan youth).

At the start of his campaign, current prime minister Mark Rutte of the VVD said he hated the idea of a “multicultural society”. Rutte hasn’t prevailed over the populist right, he has joined its ranks.

Remember: real politics isn’t about figureheads and seats in parliament. Real politics is about ideas. And there can be no doubt regarding the extreme ideas that have been gaining ground in the Netherlands for decades.

This election’s outcome also offers little that’s new on the economic front. A neoliberal, technocratic cabinet is departing, and a new one will take its place.

As always, the business-friendly VVD will cater to the banking and tobacco lobbies, big business and high finance. The more progressive D66 is still toeing the economic line of the 1990s. And this election barely touched on the real challenges of the 21st century: climate change, growing inequality and the rot at the heart of our banking industry.

So is there no hope? There’s always hope.

The Netherlands’ proportional democracy offers a wide menu of political flavours, and it functions significantly better than the US and British systems. And the party with the gravest dearth of ideas – the social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA) – has been mercilessly punished for it. Never before in Dutch history has a party lost so many seats.

Meanwhile, the big winners on the left are GreenLeft and the radical Party for the Animals (PvdD). Their victory isn’t enough to compensate for the swerve to the right, but it has increased the chance that the Netherlands will take serious new steps toward a sustainable economy.

The big question now is how we can turn the tide. How can history once again move in the other direction – the direction of bridges over walls, open over closed? As always, change will have to start with new ideas. Radical ones, because ideas tempered by “as long as” and “except for” won’t change the world. We now know where the strategy of the middle, of the Hillary Clintons, Tony Blairs and Lodewijk Asschers (the leader of the Dutch Labour party), leads: nowhere.

New ideas rarely come from the moderate parties in The Hague or Washington, in Brussels or Westminster. The world’s political centres are not the breeding ground for true change, but rather where it comes home to roost. Just as Wilders has been yanking the Netherlands rightward for years, Dutch politicians such as GreenLeft’s Jesse Klaver and Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals can pull things in the opposite direction. To do so, they can draw on new ideas – from a participatory democracy to a universal basic income, from a progressive system of taxation to a healthcare system based on cooperation and trust.

“This is not the end, but the beginning of our movement,” Klaver wrote yesterday. But for that to be true, it’s essential to avoid the freefall that has plagued the country’s Labour party since it joined the ranks of those in power: the plunge into moderation, into monotony, into wine watered down to the point of tastelessness.

Today, in the afterglow of the people’s endorsement, the heady aroma of power is understandably intoxicating. But consider this: the most influential Dutch politician of the past 15 years – Geert Wilders – has never been a part of the country’s ruling coalition.

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Rutger Bregman is the author of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There

The Guardian

Dangerously Unhinged – Robert Reich.

By this point in his Presidency, Barack Obama had passed a $831 billion stimulus bill. By early April his first federal budget had passed both chambers of Congress, laying the groundwork for his overhauls of health care and government spending on education. The following year came the re-set of Wall Street, known as Dodd-Frank. Then Obamacare. It was the most significant period of legislating since Lyndon Johnson’s first few years in office.

As Trump hits 50 days in office this week, health-care reform is hobbled by divisions between conservatives who want to cut Medicaid deeper and faster and moderates who want to preserve the Obama-era expansion. Yesterday Trump released a budget with unprecedented cuts to discretionary spending that many Republicans describe as dead on arrival. Trump’s second attempt at an executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries is again being successfully challenged in the courts, eating up more time and resources in an overwhelmed White House. Trump’s “Wall” is a bizarre folly. The Russia investigation, which will begin on Monday with potentially damaging testimony from the F.B.I. director James Comey, is only beginning.

Trump has also persuaded large numbers of Americans – including many of Republican persuasion – that he’s dangerously unhinged.

No matter the criteria by which presidencies are judged, Trump’s is on the way to being a total debacle.

How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S. – David Frum. 

How to Build an Autocracy.

The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.

It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.

Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever—provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter. Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.

Trump-critical media do continue to find elite audiences. Their investigations still win Pulitzer Prizes; their reporters accept invitations to anxious conferences about corruption, digital-journalism standards, the end of nato, and the rise of populist authoritarianism. Yet somehow all of this earnest effort feels less and less relevant to American politics. President Trump communicates with the people directly via his Twitter account, ushering his supporters toward favorable information at Fox News or Breitbart.

Despite the hand-wringing, the country has in many ways changed much less than some feared or hoped four years ago. Ambitious Republican plans notwithstanding, the American social-welfare system, as most people encounter it, has remained largely intact during Trump’s first term. The predicted wave of mass deportations of illegal immigrants never materialized. A large illegal workforce remains in the country, with the tacit understanding that so long as these immigrants avoid politics, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, nobody will look very hard for them.

“The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

African Americans, young people, and the recently naturalized encounter increasing difficulties casting a vote in most states. But for all the talk of the rollback of rights, corporate America still seeks diversity in employment. Same-sex marriage remains the law of the land. Americans are no more and no less likely to say “Merry Christmas” than they were before Trump took office.

People crack jokes about Trump’s National Security Agency listening in on them. They cannot deeply mean it; after all, there’s no less sexting in America today than four years ago. Still, with all the hacks and leaks happening these days—particularly to the politically outspoken—it’s just common sense to be careful what you say in an email or on the phone. When has politics not been a dirty business? When have the rich and powerful not mostly gotten their way? The smart thing to do is tune out the political yammer, mind your own business, enjoy a relatively prosperous time, and leave the questions to the troublemakers.

In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.

Everything imagined above—and everything described below—is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it. It can all be stopped, if individual citizens and public officials make the right choices. The story told here, like that told by Charles Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a story not of things that will be, but of things that may be. Other paths remain open. It is up to Americans to decide which one the country will follow.

No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.

If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

You could tell a similar story of the slide away from democracy in South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s successors, in Venezuela under the thug-thief Hugo Chávez, or in the Philippines under the murderous Rodrigo Duterte. A comparable transformation has recently begun in Poland, and could come to France should Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate, win the presidency.

Outside the Islamic world, the 21st century is not an era of ideology. The grand utopian visions of the 19th century have passed out of fashion. The nightmare totalitarian projects of the 20th have been overthrown or have disintegrated, leaving behind only outdated remnants: North Korea, Cuba. What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.

The United States is of course a very robust democracy. Yet no human contrivance is tamper-proof, a constitutional democracy least of all. Some features of the American system hugely inhibit the abuse of office: the separation of powers within the federal government; the division of responsibilities between the federal government and the states. Federal agencies pride themselves on their independence; the court system is huge, complex, and resistant to improper influence.

Yet the American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit. What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities?

Over the past generation, we have seen ominous indicators of a breakdown of the American political system: the willingness of congressional Republicans to push the United States to the brink of a default on its national obligations in 2013 in order to score a point in budget negotiations; Barack Obama’s assertion of a unilateral executive power to confer legal status upon millions of people illegally present in the United States—despite his own prior acknowledgment that no such power existed.

Donald Trump, however, represents something much more radical. A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” With those words, written more than 200 years ago, the authors of the Federalist Papers explained the most important safeguard of the American constitutional system. They then added this promise: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Congress enacts laws, appropriates funds, confirms the president’s appointees. Congress can subpoena records, question officials, and even impeach them. Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president.

But will it?

As politics has become polarized, Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party. Recent presidents enjoying a same-party majority in Congress—Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, George W. Bush from 2003 through 2006—usually got their way. And congressional oversight might well be performed even less diligently during the Trump administration.

The first reason to fear weak diligence is the oddly inverse relationship between President Trump and the congressional Republicans. In the ordinary course of events, it’s the incoming president who burns with eager policy ideas. Consequently, it’s the president who must adapt to—and often overlook—the petty human weaknesses and vices of members of Congress in order to advance his agenda. This time, it will be Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, doing the advancing—and consequently the overlooking.

Trump has scant interest in congressional Republicans’ ideas, does not share their ideology, and cares little for their fate. He can—and would—break faith with them in an instant to further his own interests. Yet here they are, on the verge of achieving everything they have hoped to achieve for years, if not decades. They owe this chance solely to Trump’s ability to deliver a crucial margin of votes in a handful of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—which has provided a party that cannot win the national popular vote a fleeting opportunity to act as a decisive national majority. The greatest risk to all their projects and plans is the very same X factor that gave them their opportunity: Donald Trump, and his famously erratic personality. What excites Trump is his approval rating, his wealth, his power. The day could come when those ends would be better served by jettisoning the institutional Republican Party in favor of an ad hoc populist coalition, joining nationalism to generous social spending—a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland. Who doubts Trump would do it? Not Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. For the first time since the administration of John Tyler in the 1840s, a majority in Congress must worry about their president defecting from them rather than the other way around.

A scandal involving the president could likewise wreck everything that Republican congressional leaders have waited years to accomplish. However deftly they manage everything else, they cannot prevent such a scandal. But there is one thing they can do: their utmost not to find out about it.

“Do you have any concerns about Steve Bannon being in the White House?,” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Ryan in November. “I don’t know Steve Bannon, so I have no concerns,” answered the speaker. “I trust Donald’s judgment.”

Asked on 60 Minutes whether he believed Donald Trump’s claim that “millions” of illegal votes had been cast, Ryan answered: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

What about Trump’s conflicts of interest? “This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress,” Ryan said on CNBC. Trump should handle his conflicts “however he wants to.”

Ryan has learned his prudence the hard way. Following the airing of Trump’s past comments, caught on tape, about his forceful sexual advances on women, Ryan said he’d no longer campaign for Trump. Ryan’s net favorability rating among Republicans dropped by 28 points in less than 10 days. Once unassailable in the party, he suddenly found himself disliked by 45 percent of Republicans.

As Ryan’s cherished plans move closer and closer to presidential signature, Congress’s subservience to the president will likely intensify. Whether it’s allegations of Russian hacks of Democratic Party internal communications, or allegations of self-enrichment by the Trump family, or favorable treatment of Trump business associates, the Republican caucus in Congress will likely find itself conscripted into serving as Donald Trump’s ethical bodyguard.

The Senate historically has offered more scope to dissenters than the House. Yet even that institution will find itself under pressure. Two of the Senate’s most important Republican Trump skeptics will be up for reelection in 2018: Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texas’s Ted Cruz. They will not want to provoke a same-party president—especially not in a year when the president’s party can afford to lose a seat or two in order to discipline dissenters. Mitch McConnell is an even more results-oriented politician than Paul Ryan—and his wife, Elaine Chao, has been offered a Cabinet position, which might tilt him further in Trump’s favor.

Ambition will counteract ambition only until ambition discovers that conformity serves its goals better. At that time, Congress, the body expected to check presidential power, may become the president’s most potent enabler.

Discipline within the congressional ranks will be strictly enforced not only by the party leadership and party donors, but also by the overwhelming influence of Fox News. Trump versus Clinton was not 2016’s only contest between an overbearing man and a restrained woman. Just such a contest was waged at Fox, between Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly. In both cases, the early indicators seemed to favor the women. Yet in the end it was the men who won, Hannity even more decisively than Trump. Hannity’s show, which became an unapologetic infomercial for Trump, pulled into first place on the network in mid-October. Kelly’s show tumbled to fifth place, behind even The Five, a roundtable program that airs at 5 p.m. Kelly landed on her feet, of course, but Fox learned its lesson: Trump sells; critical coverage does not. Since the election, the network has awarded Kelly’s former 9 p.m. time slot to Tucker Carlson, who is positioning himself as a Trump enthusiast in the Hannity mold.

A president determined to thwart the law to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

From the point of view of the typical Republican member of Congress, Fox remains all-powerful: the single most important source of visibility and affirmation with the voters whom a Republican politician cares about. In 2009, in the run-up to the Tea Party insurgency, South Carolina’s Bob Inglis crossed Fox, criticizing Glenn Beck and telling people at a town-hall meeting that they should turn his show off. He was drowned out by booing, and the following year, he lost his primary with only 29 percent of the vote, a crushing repudiation for an incumbent untouched by any scandal.

Fox is reinforced by a carrier fleet of supplementary institutions: super pacs, think tanks, and conservative web and social-media presences, which now include such former pariahs as Breitbart and Alex Jones. So long as the carrier fleet coheres—and unless public opinion turns sharply against the president—oversight of Trump by the Republican congressional majority will very likely be cautious, conditional, and limited.

Trump will not set out to build an authoritarian state. His immediate priority seems likely to be to use the presidency to enrich himself. But as he does so, he will need to protect himself from legal risk. Being Trump, he will also inevitably wish to inflict payback on his critics. Construction of an apparatus of impunity and revenge will begin haphazardly and opportunistically. But it will accelerate. It will have to.

If Congress is quiescent, what can Trump do? A better question, perhaps, is what can’t he do?

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who often articulates Trumpist ideas more candidly than Trump himself might think prudent, offered a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to enforce laws against an uncooperative president. During a radio roundtable in December, on the topic of whether it would violate anti-nepotism laws to bring Trump’s daughter and son-in-law onto the White House staff, Gingrich said: The president “has, frankly, the power of the pardon. It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

That statement is true, and it points to a deeper truth: The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

The power of the pardon, deployed to defend not only family but also those who would protect the president’s interests, dealings, and indiscretions, is one such means. The powers of appointment and removal are another. The president appoints and can remove the commissioner of the IRS. He appoints and can remove the inspectors general who oversee the internal workings of the Cabinet departments and major agencies. He appoints and can remove the 93 U.S. attorneys, who have the power to initiate and to end federal prosecutions. He appoints and can remove the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and the head of the criminal division at the Department of Justice.

There are hedges on these powers, both customary and constitutional, including the Senate’s power to confirm (or not) presidential appointees. Yet the hedges may not hold in the future as robustly as they have in the past.

Senators of the president’s party traditionally have expected to be consulted on the U.S.-attorney picks in their states, a highly coveted patronage plum. But the U.S. attorneys of most interest to Trump—above all the ones in New York and New Jersey, the locus of many of his businesses and bank dealings—come from states where there are no Republican senators to take into account. And while the U.S. attorneys in Florida, home to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, surely concern him nearly as much, if there’s one Republican senator whom Trump would cheerfully disregard, it’s Marco Rubio.

The traditions of independence and professionalism that prevail within the federal law-enforcement apparatus, and within the civil service more generally, will tend to restrain a president’s power. Yet in the years ahead, these restraints may also prove less robust than they look. Republicans in Congress have long advocated reforms to expedite the firing of underperforming civil servants. In the abstract, there’s much to recommend this idea. If reform is dramatic and happens in the next two years, however, the balance of power between the political and the professional elements of the federal government will shift, decisively, at precisely the moment when the political elements are most aggressive. The intelligence agencies in particular would likely find themselves exposed to retribution from a president enraged at them for reporting on Russia’s aid to his election campaign. “As you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people.” So New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joked to a roomful of Republican donors at the party’s national convention in July. It would be a mighty power—and highly useful.

The courts, though they might slowly be packed with judges inclined to hear the president’s arguments sympathetically, are also a check, of course. But it’s already difficult to hold a president to account for financial improprieties. As Donald Trump correctly told reporters and editors from The New York Times on November 22, presidents are not bound by the conflict-of-interest rules that govern everyone else in the executive branch.

Presidents from Jimmy Carter onward have balanced this unique exemption with a unique act of disclosure: the voluntary publication of their income-tax returns. At a press conference on January 11, Trump made clear that he will not follow that tradition. His attorney instead insisted that everything the public needs to know is captured by his annual financial-disclosure report, which is required by law for executive-branch employees and from which presidents are not exempt. But a glance at the reporting form will show their inadequacy to Trump’s situation. They are written with stocks and bonds in mind, to capture mortgage liabilities and deferred executive compensation—not the labyrinthine deals of the Trump Organization and its ramifying networks of partners and brand-licensing affiliates. The truth is in the tax returns, and they will not be forthcoming.

Even outright bribe-taking by an elected official is surprisingly difficult to prosecute, and was made harder still by the Supreme Court in 2016, when it overturned, by an 8–0 vote, the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell and his wife had taken valuable gifts of cash and luxury goods from a favor seeker. McDonnell then set up meetings between the favor seeker and state officials who were in a position to help him. A jury had even accepted that the “quid” was indeed “pro” the “quo”—an evidentiary burden that has often protected accused bribe-takers in the past. The McDonnells had been convicted on a combined 20 counts.

The Supreme Court objected, however, that the lower courts had interpreted federal anticorruption law too broadly. The relevant statute applied only to “official acts.” The Court defined such acts very strictly, and held that “setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event—without more—does not fit that definition of an ‘official act.’ ”

Trump is poised to mingle business and government with an audacity and on a scale more reminiscent of a leader in a post-Soviet republic than anything ever before seen in the United States. Glimpses of his family’s wealth-seeking activities will likely emerge during his presidency, as they did during the transition. Trump’s Indian business partners dropped by Trump Tower and posted pictures with the then-president-elect on Facebook, alerting folks back home that they were now powers to be reckoned with. The Argentine media reported that Trump had discussed the progress of a Trump-branded building in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory phone call from the country’s president. (A spokesman for the Argentine president denied that the two men had discussed the building on their call.) Trump’s daughter Ivanka sat in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister—a useful meeting for her, since a government-owned bank has a large ownership stake in the Japanese company with which she was negotiating a licensing deal.

Suggestive. Disturbing. But illegal, post-McDonnell? How many presidentially removable officials would dare even initiate an inquiry?

You may hear much mention of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution during Trump’s presidency: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

But as written, this seems to present a number of loopholes. First, the clause applies only to the president himself, not to his family members. Second, it seems to govern benefits only from foreign governments and state-owned enterprises, not from private business entities. Third, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the clause applies only to gifts and titles, not to business transactions. Fourth, what does “the Consent of Congress” mean? If Congress is apprised of an apparent emolument, and declines to do anything about it, does that qualify as consent? Finally, how is this clause enforced? Could someone take President Trump to court and demand some kind of injunction? Who? How? Will the courts grant standing? The clause seems to presume an active Congress and a vigilant public. What if those are lacking?

It is essential to recognize that Trump will use his position not only to enrich himself; he will enrich plenty of other people too, both the powerful and—sometimes, for public consumption—the relatively powerless. Venezuela, a stable democracy from the late 1950s through the 1990s, was corrupted by a politics of personal favoritism, as Hugo Chávez used state resources to bestow gifts on supporters. Venezuelan state TV even aired a regular program to showcase weeping recipients of new houses and free appliances. Americans recently got a preview of their own version of that show as grateful Carrier employees thanked then-President-elect Trump for keeping their jobs in Indiana.

“I just couldn’t believe that this guy … he’s not even president yet and he worked on this deal with the company,” T. J. Bray, a 32-year-old Carrier employee, told Fortune. “I’m just in shock. A lot of the workers are in shock. We can’t believe something good finally happened to us. It felt like a victory for the little people.”

Trump will try hard during his presidency to create an atmosphere of personal munificence, in which graft does not matter, because rules and institutions do not matter. He will want to associate economic benefit with personal favor. He will create personal constituencies, and implicate other people in his corruption. That, over time, is what truly subverts the institutions of democracy and the rule of law. If the public cannot be induced to care, the power of the investigators serving at Trump’s pleasure will be diminished all the more.

The first task for our new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens our communities.” Those were Donald Trump’s words at the Republican National Convention. The newly nominated presidential candidate then listed a series of outrages and attacks, especially against police officers.

“America was shocked to its core when our police officers in Dallas were so brutally executed. Immediately after Dallas, we’ve seen continued threats and violence against our law-enforcement officials. Law officers have been shot or killed in recent days in Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, and Tennessee.

On Sunday, more police were gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three were killed, and three were very, very badly injured. An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans. I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country.”

You would never know from Trump’s words that the average number of felonious killings of police during the Obama administration’s tenure was almost one-third lower than it was in the early 1990s, a decline that tracked with the general fall in violent crime that has so blessed American society. There had been a rise in killings of police in 2014 and 2015 from the all-time low in 2013—but only back to the 2012 level. Not every year will be the best on record.”

A mistaken belief that crime is spiraling out of control—that terrorists roam at large in America and that police are regularly gunned down—represents a considerable political asset for Donald Trump. Seventy-eight percent of Trump voters believed that crime had worsened during the Obama years.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want to enflame more of it.

In true police states, surveillance and repression sustain the power of the authorities. But that’s not how power is gained and sustained in backsliding democracies. Polarization, not persecution, enables the modern illiberal regime.

By guile or by instinct, Trump understands this.

Whenever Trump stumbles into some kind of trouble, he reacts by picking a divisive fight. The morning after The Wall Street Journal published a story about the extraordinary conflicts of interest surrounding Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Trump tweeted that flag burners should be imprisoned or stripped of their citizenship. That evening, as if on cue, a little posse of oddballs obligingly burned flags for the cameras in front of the Trump International Hotel in New York. Guess which story dominated that day’s news cycle?

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

Calculated outrage is an old political trick, but nobody in the history of American politics has deployed it as aggressively, as repeatedly, or with such success as Donald Trump. If there is harsh law enforcement by the Trump administration, it will benefit the president not to the extent that it quashes unrest, but to the extent that it enflames more of it, ratifying the apocalyptic vision that haunted his speech at the convention.

At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December, Trump got to talking about Vladimir Putin. “And then they said, ‘You know he’s killed reporters,’ ” Trump told the audience. “And I don’t like that. I’m totally against that. By the way, I hate some of these people, but I’d never kill them. I hate them. No, I think, no—these people, honestly—I’ll be honest. I’ll be honest. I would never kill them. I would never do that. Ah, let’s see—nah, no, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them. But I do hate them.”

In the early days of the Trump transition, Nic Dawes, a journalist who has worked in South Africa, delivered an ominous warning to the American media about what to expect. “Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’ ” he wrote. “The basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

The rulers of backsliding democracies resent an independent press, but cannot extinguish it. They may curb the media’s appetite for critical coverage by intimidating unfriendly journalists, as President Jacob Zuma and members of his party have done in South Africa. Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.

By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath—and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters. A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.

One story, still supremely disturbing, exemplifies the falsifying method. During November and December, the slow-moving California vote count gradually pushed Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump in the national popular vote further and further: past 1 million, past 1.5 million, past 2 million, past 2.5 million. Trump’s share of the vote would ultimately clock in below Richard Nixon’s in 1960, Al Gore’s in 2000, John Kerry’s in 2004, Gerald Ford’s in 1976, and Mitt Romney’s in 2012—and barely ahead of Michael Dukakis’s in 1988.

This outcome evidently gnawed at the president-elect. On November 27, Trump tweeted that he had in fact “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He followed up that astonishing, and unsubstantiated, statement with an escalating series of tweets and retweets.

It’s hard to do justice to the breathtaking audacity of such a claim. If true, it would be so serious as to demand a criminal investigation at a minimum, presumably spanning many states. But of course the claim was not true. Trump had not a smidgen of evidence beyond his own bruised feelings and internet flotsam from flagrantly unreliable sources. Yet once the president-elect lent his prestige to the crazy claim, it became fact for many people. A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.

A clear untruth had suddenly become a contested possibility. When CNN’s Jeff Zeleny correctly reported on November 28 that Trump’s tweet was baseless, Fox’s Sean Hannity accused Zeleny of media bias—and then proceeded to urge the incoming Trump administration to take a new tack with the White House press corps, and to punish reporters like Zeleny. “I think it’s time to reevaluate the press and maybe change the traditional relationship with the press and the White House,” Hannity said. “My message tonight to the press is simple: You guys are done. You’ve been exposed as fake, as having an agenda, as colluding. You’re a fake news organization.”

This was no idiosyncratic brain wave of Hannity’s. The previous morning, Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, had advanced a similar idea in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, suggesting that the White House could withhold credentials for its press conferences from media outlets that are “too liberal or unfair.” Newt Gingrich recommended that Trump stop giving press conferences altogether.

Twitter, unmediated by the press, has proved an extremely effective communication tool for Trump. And the whipping-up of potentially violent Twitter mobs against media critics is already a standard method of Trump’s governance. Megyn Kelly blamed Trump and his campaign’s social-media director for inciting Trump’s fans against her to such a degree that she felt compelled to hire armed guards to protect her family. I’ve talked with well-funded Trump supporters who speak of recruiting a troll army explicitly modeled on those used by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin to take control of the social-media space, intimidating some critics and overwhelming others through a blizzard of doubt-casting and misinformation. The WikiLeaks Task Force recently tweeted—then hastily deleted—a suggestion that it would build a database to track personal and financial information on all verified Twitter accounts, the kind of accounts typically used by journalists at major media organizations. It’s not hard to imagine how such compilations could be used to harass or intimidate.

Even so, it seems unlikely that President Trump will outright send the cameras away. He craves media attention too much. But he and his team are serving notice that a new era in government-media relations is coming, an era in which all criticism is by definition oppositional—and all critics are to be treated as enemies.

In an online article for The New York Review of Books, the Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen brilliantly noted a commonality between Donald Trump and the man Trump admires so much, Vladimir Putin. “Lying is the message,” she wrote. “It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.”

Mass movements of the 20th century—communist, fascist, and other—have bequeathed to our imaginations an outdated image of what 21st-century authoritarianism might look like.

Whatever else happens, Americans are not going to assemble in parade-ground formations, any more than they will crank a gramophone or dance the turkey trot. In a society where few people walk to work, why mobilize young men in matching shirts to command the streets? If you’re seeking to domineer and bully, you want your storm troopers to go online, where the more important traffic is. Demagogues need no longer stand erect for hours orating into a radio microphone. Tweet lies from a smartphone instead.

“Populist-fueled democratic backsliding is difficult to counter,” wrote the political scientists Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz late last year. “Because it is subtle and incremental, there is no single moment that triggers widespread resistance or creates a focal point around which an opposition can coalesce … Piecemeal democratic erosion, therefore, typically provokes only fragmented resistance.” Their observation was rooted in the experiences of countries ranging from the Philippines to Hungary. It could apply here too.

If people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic, the corruption will slowly become more brazen, the intimidation of opponents stronger. Laws intended to ensure accountability or prevent graft or protect civil liberties will be weakened.

If the president uses his office to grab billions for himself and his family, his supporters will feel empowered to take millions. If he successfully exerts power to punish enemies, his successors will emulate his methods.

If citizens learn that success in business or in public service depends on the favor of the president and his ruling clique, then it’s not only American politics that will change. The economy will be corrupted too, and with it the larger culture. A culture that has accepted that graft is the norm, that rules don’t matter as much as relationships with those in power, and that people can be punished for speech and acts that remain theoretically legal—such a culture is not easily reoriented back to constitutionalism, freedom, and public integrity.

The oft-debated question “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” is not easy to answer. There are certainly fascistic elements to him: the subdivision of society into categories of friend and foe; the boastful virility and the delight in violence; the vision of life as a struggle for dominance that only some can win, and that others must lose.

Yet there’s also something incongruous and even absurd about applying the sinister label of fascist to Donald Trump. He is so pathetically needy, so shamelessly self-interested, so fitful and distracted. Fascism fetishizes hardihood, sacrifice, and struggle—concepts not often associated with Trump.

A would-be kleptocrat is better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers.

Perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps the better question about Trump is not “What is he?” but “What will he do to us?”

By all early indications, the Trump presidency will corrode public integrity and the rule of law—and also do untold damage to American global leadership, the Western alliance, and democratic norms around the world. The damage has already begun, and it will not be soon or easily undone. Yet exactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question—the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?

Of course we want to believe that everything will turn out all right. In this instance, however, that lovely and customary American assumption itself qualifies as one of the most serious impediments to everything turning out all right. If the story ends without too much harm to the republic, it won’t be because the dangers were imagined, but because citizens resisted.

The duty to resist should weigh most heavily upon those of us who—because of ideology or partisan affiliation or some other reason—are most predisposed to favor President Trump and his agenda. The years ahead will be years of temptation as well as danger: temptation to seize a rare political opportunity to cram through an agenda that the American majority would normally reject. Who knows when that chance will recur?

A constitutional regime is founded upon the shared belief that the most fundamental commitment of the political system is to the rules. The rules matter more than the outcomes. It’s because the rules matter most that Hillary Clinton conceded the presidency to Trump despite winning millions more votes. It’s because the rules matter most that the giant state of California will accept the supremacy of a federal government that its people rejected by an almost two-to-one margin.

Perhaps the words of a founding father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater, offer guidance. “If I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ ” Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative, “I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.” These words should be kept in mind by those conservatives who think a tax cut or health-care reform a sufficient reward for enabling the slow rot of constitutional government.

Many of the worst and most subversive things Trump will do will be highly popular. Voters liked the threats and incentives that kept Carrier manufacturing jobs in Indiana. Since 1789, the wisest American leaders have invested great ingenuity in creating institutions to protect the electorate from its momentary impulses toward arbitrary action: the courts, the professional officer corps of the armed forces, the civil service, the Federal Reserve—and undergirding it all, the guarantees of the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights. More than any president in U.S. history since at least the time of Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump seeks to subvert those institutions.

Trump and his team count on one thing above all others: public indifference. “I think people don’t care,” he said in September when asked whether voters wanted him to release his tax returns. “Nobody cares,” he reiterated to 60 Minutes in November. Conflicts of interest with foreign investments? Trump tweeted on November 21 that he didn’t believe voters cared about that either: “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

What happens in the next four years will depend heavily on whether Trump is right or wrong about how little Americans care about their democracy and the habits and conventions that sustain it. If they surprise him, they can restrain him.

Public opinion, public scrutiny, and public pressure still matter greatly in the U.S. political system. In January, an unexpected surge of voter outrage thwarted plans to neutralize the independent House ethics office. That kind of defense will need to be replicated many times. Elsewhere in this issue, Jonathan Rauch describes some of the networks of defense that Americans are creating.

Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state. Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected. Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily. Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well. Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens. Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets. Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders. Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

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David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. In 2001–02, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush

The Atlantic

The 1930s were humanity’s darkest, bloodiest hour. Are you paying attention? – Jonathan Freedland. 

Even to mention the 1930s is to evoke the period when human civilisation entered its darkest, bloodiest chapter. No case needs to be argued; just to name the decade is enough. It is a byword for mass poverty, violent extremism and the gathering storm of world war. “The 1930s” is not so much a label for a period of time than it is rhetorical shorthand – a two-word warning from history.

Witness the impact of an otherwise boilerplate broadcast by the Prince of Wales last December that made headlines. “Prince Charles warns of return to the ‘dark days of the 1930s’ in Thought for the Day message.” Or consider the reflex response to reports that Donald Trump was to maintain his own private security force even once he had reached the White House. The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s tweet was typical: “That 1930s show returns.”

Because that decade was scarred by multiple evils, the phrase can be used to conjure up serial spectres. It has an international meaning, with a vocabulary that centres on Hitler and Nazism and the failure to resist them: from brownshirts and Goebbels to appeasement, Munich and Chamberlain. And it has a domestic meaning, with a lexicon and imagery that refers to the Great Depression: the dust bowl, soup kitchens, the dole queue and Jarrow. It was this second association that gave such power to a statement from the usually dry Office for Budget Responsibility, following then-chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement in 2014. The OBR warned that public spending would be at its lowest level since the 1930s; the political damage was enormous and instant.

In recent months, the 1930s have been invoked more than ever, not to describe some faraway menace but to warn of shifts under way in both Europe and the United States. The surge of populist, nationalist movements in Europe, and their apparent counterpart in the US, has stirred unhappy memories and has, perhaps inevitably, had commentators and others reaching for the historical yardstick to see if today measures up to 80 years ago.

Why is it the 1930s to which we return, again and again? For some sceptics, the answer is obvious: it’s the only history anybody knows. According to this jaundiced view of the British school curriculum, Hitler and Nazis long ago displaced Tudors and Stuarts as the core, compulsory subjects of the past. When we fumble in the dark for a historical precedent, our hands keep reaching for the 30s because they at least come with a little light.

The more generous explanation centres on the fact that that period, taken together with the first half of the 1940s, represents a kind of nadir in human affairs. The Depression was, as Larry Elliott wrote last week, “the biggest setback to the global economy since the dawn of the modern industrial age”, leaving 34 million Americans with no income. The hyperinflation experienced in Germany – when a thief would steal a laundry-basket full of cash, chucking away the money in order to keep the more valuable basket – is the stuff of legend. And the Depression paved the way for history’s bloodiest conflict, the second world war which left, by some estimates, a mind-numbing 60 million people dead. At its centre was the Holocaust, the industrialised slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis: an attempt at the annihilation of an entire people.

In these multiple ways, then, the 1930s function as a historical rock bottom, a demonstration of how low humanity can descend. The decade’s illustrative power as a moral ultimate accounts for why it is deployed so fervently and so often.

Less abstractly, if we keep returning to that period, it’s partly because it can justifiably claim to be the foundation stone of our modern world. The international and economic architecture that still stands today – even if it currently looks shaky and threatened – was built in reaction to the havoc wreaked in the 30s and immediately afterwards. The United Nations, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, Bretton Woods: these were all born of a resolve not to repeat the mistakes of the 30s, whether those mistakes be rampant nationalism or beggar-my-neighbour protectionism. The world of 2017 is shaped by the trauma of the 1930s.

The international and economic architecture that still stands today was built in reaction to the havoc of the 1930s

One telling, human illustration came in recent global polling for the Journal of Democracy, which showed an alarming decline in the number of people who believed it was “essential” to live in a democracy. From Sweden to the US, from Britain to Australia, only one in four of those born in the 1980s regarded democracy as essential. Among those born in the 1930s, the figure was at or above 75%. Put another way, those who were born into the hurricane have no desire to feel its wrath again.

Most of these dynamics are long established, but now there is another element at work. As the 30s move from living memory into history, as the hurricane moves further away, so what had once seemed solid and fixed – specifically, the view that that was an era of great suffering and pain, whose enduring value is as an eternal warning – becomes contested, even upended.

Witness the remarks of Steve Bannon, chief strategist in Donald Trump’s White House and the former chairman of the far-right Breitbart website. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bannon promised that the Trump era would be “as exciting as the 1930s”. (In the same interview, he said “Darkness is good” – citing Satan, Darth Vader and Dick Cheney as examples.)

“Exciting” is not how the 1930s are usually remembered, but Bannon did not choose his words by accident. He is widely credited with the authorship of Trump’s inaugural address, which twice used the slogan “America first”. That phrase has long been off-limits in US discourse, because it was the name of the movement – packed with nativists and antisemites, and personified by the celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh – that sought to keep the US out of the war against Nazi Germany and to make an accommodation with Hitler. Bannon, who considers himself a student of history, will be fully aware of that 1930s association – but embraced it anyway.

That makes him an outlier in the US, but one with powerful allies beyond America’s shores. Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale and the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, notes that European nationalists are also keen to overturn the previously consensual view of the 30s as a period of shame, never to be repeated. Snyder mentions Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who avowedly seeks the creation of an “illiberal” state, and who, says Snyder, “looks fondly on that period as one of healthy national consciousness”.

The more arresting example is, perhaps inevitably, Vladimir Putin. Snyder notes Putin’s energetic rehabilitation of Ivan Ilyin, a philosopher of Russian fascism influential eight decades ago. Putin has exhumed Ilyin both metaphorically and literally, digging up and moving his remains from Switzerland to Russia.

Among other things, Ilyin wrote that individuality was evil; that the “variety of human beings” represented a failure of God to complete creation; that what mattered was not individual people but the “living totality” of the nation; that Hitler and Mussolini were exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy; and that fascist holy Russia ought to be governed by a “national dictator”. Ilyin spent the 30s exiled from the Soviet Union, but Putin has brought him back, quoting him in his speeches and laying flowers on his grave.

European nationalists are keen to overturn the view of the 1930s as a period of shame, never to be repeated.

Still, Putin, Orbán and Bannon apart, when most people compare the current situation to that of the 1930s, they don’t mean it as a compliment. And the parallel has felt irresistible, so that when Trump first imposed his travel ban, for example, the instant comparison was with the door being closed to refugees from Nazi Germany in the 30s. (Theresa May was on the receiving end of the same comparison when she quietly closed off the Dubs route to child refugees from Syria.)