Thursday

Noam Chomsky on Fascism, Showmanship and Democrats’ Hypocrisy in the Trump Era

Noam Chomsky

After 18 months of Trump in the White House, American politics finds itself at a crossroads. The United States has moved unmistakably toward a novel form of fascism that serves corporate interests and the military, while promoting at the same time a highly reactionary social agenda infused with religious and crude nationalistic overtones, all with an uncanny touch of political showmanship. In this exclusive Truthout interview, world-renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky analyzes some of the latest developments in Trumpland and their consequences for democracy and world order.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, I want to start by asking for your reading of what took place at the Singapore summit, and the way this event was covered in the US media.

Noam Chomsky: It’s reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark. What was important was what didn’t happen. Unlike his predecessors, Trump did not undermine the prospects for moving forward. Specifically, he did not disrupt the process initiated by the two Koreas in their historic April 27 [Panmunjom] Declaration, in which they “affirmed the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord” (repeat: on their own accord), and for the first time presented a detailed program as to how to proceed. It is to Trump’s credit that he did not undermine these efforts, and in fact made a move toward facilitating them by cancelling the US-South Korean war games, which, as he correctly said, are “very provocative.” We would certainly not tolerate anything of the sort on our borders – or anywhere on the planet – even if they were not run by a superpower which not long before had utterly devastated our country with the flimsiest of pretexts after the war was effectively over, glorying in the major war crimes it had committed, like bombing major dams, after there was nothing else to bomb.

Beyond the achievement of letting matters proceed, which was not slight, no “diplomatic skills” were involved in Trump’s triumph.

The coverage has been quite instructive, in part because of the efforts of the Democrats to outflank Trump from the right. Beyond that, the coverage across the spectrum illustrates quite well two distinct kinds of deceit: lying and not telling relevant truths. Each merits comment.

Trump is famous for the former, and his echo chamber is as well. Liberal commentators exult in totting up and refuting Trump’s innumerable lies and distortions, much to his satisfaction since it provides the opportunity for him to fire up his loyal — by now almost worshipful — base with more evidence of how the hated “Establishment” is using every possible underhanded means to prevent their heroic leader from working tirelessly to defend them from a host of enemies.

A canny politician, Trump surely understands well that the base on which he relies, by now almost the entire Republican Party, has drifted to a surreal world, in part under his influence. Take the major Trump-Ryan legislative achievement, the tax scam — “The US Donor Relief Act of 2017,” as Joseph Stiglitz termed it. It had two transparent aims: to enrich the very wealthy and the corporate sector while slamming everyone else, and to create a huge deficit. The latter achievement — as the main architect of the scam Paul Ryan helpfully explained — provides the opportunity to realize the cherished goal of reducing benefits that serve the general population, already very weak by comparative standards, but still an unacceptable infringement on the prerogatives of the 1%. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the law will add $1 trillion to deficits over the next decade. Virtually every economist generally agrees. But not 80 percent of Republican voters, of whom half believe that the deficit will be reduced by the gift their leader has lavished upon them.
Or consider something vastly more significant, attitudes toward global warming (apologies for the obscenity: climate change), which poses a severe threat to organized human life, and not in the distant future.

Half of Republicans believe that what is plainly happening is not happening, bolstered by virtually the entire leadership of the Party, as the Republican Primary debates graphically revealed. Of the half who concede that the real world exists, barely half think that humans play a role in the process.

Such destructive responses tend to break through the surface during periods of distress and fear, very widespread feelings today, for good reason: A generation of neoliberal policies has sharply concentrated wealth and power while leaving the rest to stagnate or decline, often joining the growing precariat. In the US, the richest country in history with unparalleled advantages, over 40 percent of the population don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone. And this is happening in what’s called a “booming economy.”

Productivity has risen through the neoliberal period, even if not as much as before, but wages have stagnated or declined as wealth is funneled to a few bulging pockets. Distress is so severe that among white middle-aged Americans, mortality is actually increasing, something unheard of in functioning societies apart from war or pestilence. There are similar phenomena in Europe under the “business first” (“neoliberal”/”austerity”) assault.

Returning to forms of deceit, one technique is simply lying, honed to a high art by the Maestro. Another technique is not telling parts of the “whole story” that matter.

To illustrate, consider the analysis of “Trump’s claims about the North Korea deal” by the expert and highly competent fact-checker of The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler. His article originally ran under the title of “Not the Whole Story,” with the title presented in extra-large letters to emphasize the ignominy. Kessler’s acid (and accurate) critique of Trump’s distortions and inventions opens by declaring (again correctly) that “North Korea has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to its obligations,” citing the most crucial case, the September 2005 US-North Korea agreement (under six-power auspices), in which, in the official wording, “The DPRK [North Korea] committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.”

As Kessler points out, the North Koreans did not live up to these promises, and in fact, soon returned to producing nuclear weapons. Obviously, they can’t be trusted.

But this is “Not the Whole Story.” There is a rather significant omission: Before the ink was dry on the agreement, the US undermined it. To repeat the unwanted facts from our earlier discussion of the matter, “the Bush administration broke the agreement. It renewed the threat of force, froze North Korean funds in foreign banks and disbanded the consortium that was to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. Bruce Cumings, the leading US Korea scholar, writes that ‘the sanctions were specifically designed to destroy the September pledges [and] to head off an accommodation between Washington and Pyongyang’.” The whole story is well-known to scholarship, but somehow doesn’t reach the public domain.

Kessler is a fine and careful journalist. His evasion of “the whole story” appears to be close to exceptionless in the media. Every article on the matter by The New York Times security and foreign policy experts is the same, as far as I’ve seen. The practice is so uniform that it is almost unfair to pick out examples. To choose only one, again from a fine journalist, Washington Post specialist on Korea Anna Fifield writes that North Korea “signed a denuclearization agreement” in 2005, but didn’t stick to the agreement (omitting the fact that this was a response to Washington’s breaking the agreement). “So perhaps the wisest course of action,” she continues, “would be to bet that it won’t abide by this one, either.” And to complete the picture with a banned phrase, “So perhaps the wisest course of action would be to bet that [Washington] won’t abide by this one, either.”

There are endless laments about the deceitfulness and unreliability of the North Koreans; many are cited in Gareth Porter’s review of media coverage. But it would be hard to find a word about the rest of the story. This is only one case.

I don’t incidentally suggest that the deceit is conscious. Much more likely, it’s just the enormous power of conformity to convention, to what Gramsci called hegemonic “common sense.” Some ideas are not even rejected; they are unthinkable. Like the idea that US aggression is aggression; it can only be “a mistake,” “a tragic error,” “a strategic blunder.” I also don’t want to suggest this is “American exceptionalism.” It’s hard to find an exception to the practice in the history of imperialism.

So far, at least, Trump has kept from disrupting the agreement of the two Koreas. Of course, all of this is accompanied by boasts about his amazing deal-making abilities, and the brilliance of his skillful tactics of threatening “fire and fury” in order to bring the dictator to the negotiating table. There are many accolades by others across the spectrum for this triumph — which is about on a par with the standard claims that Obama’s harsh sanctions forced Iran to capitulate by signing the joint agreement on nuclear weapons, claims effectively refuted by Trita Parsi (Losing an Enemy).

Whatever the factual basis, such claims are necessary to justify harsh measures against official enemies and to reinforce the general principle that what we do is right (with occasional tragic errors).
In the present case too, there is good evidence that the truth is almost the opposite of the standard claims, and that the harsh US stance has impeded progress toward peaceful settlement. There have been many opportunities in addition to the 2005 agreement. In 2013, in a meeting with senior US diplomats, North Korean officials outlined steps toward denuclearization. One of those who attended the meeting, former US official and Stimson Center Senior Fellow Joel Wit reports that, “Not surprisingly, for the North Koreans, the key to denuclearization was that the United States had to end its ‘hostile policy’.”

While the US maintains its threatening stance, the North Korean leadership — “not surprisingly” — has sought “to develop a nuclear arsenal as a shield to deter the US while they moved to develop the economy.” The North Korean government, in June 2013, “issued an important new pronouncement that it was open to negotiations on denuclearization,” Wit writes, adding that, “The Obama administration dismissed it at the time as propaganda.” He adds further that “the North Koreans have given a great deal of thought to denuclearization and almost certainly have a concrete plan of action for the upcoming [Singapore] summit, whether the White House does or not.” In fact, at the 2013 meetings, “the North Korean officials actually laid out a concrete plan to achieve denuclearization,” Wit reports.

Not the only case. China’s “double freeze” proposal, supported by Russia, Germany and others, has been on the table for years, rejected by Washington — until the Singapore summit.

Trump’s diplomacy, such as it is, has been subjected to withering attack, especially by liberal opinion: How could the US president agree to meet on friendly terms with a brutal dictator? How could he fail to demand that North Korea end its human rights violations, which are indeed horrendous?

Willingness to look at “the whole story” suggests some other questions, of course unasked — in fact, unthinkable: How could Kim agree to meet on friendly terms with the head of the state that world opinion overwhelmingly regards as the greatest threat to peace? How could North Korea fail to demand that the US end its human rights violations, also horrendous? Has North Korea done anything remotely like invading Iraq, the worst crime of this century? Or destroying Libya? Has it been condemned by the ICJ [International Court of Justice] for international terrorism (“unlawful use of force”)? And a lot more that is easy enough to reel off.

It made perfect sense for North Korea not to bring up US crimes as a condition for moving forward. The proper goal of the meeting was to expedite the efforts of the two Koreas to pursue the directions outlined in their April 27 Declaration. And the argument cuts both ways.

Interestingly enough, while Trump seeks to appease his political doppelgänger in Pyongyang, he has succeeded in alienating most of the US’s major Western allies, including Canada, France and Germany. Is this the consequence of his alleged foreign policy doctrine “We are America, bitch”?

There are extensive efforts to try to discern some coherent doctrine that guides Trump’s behavior, but I suspect it’s a fool’s errand. A very good predictor of Trump policy is [his fixation on] … reversing anything associated with the despised “Kenyan Muslim” he replaced: in foreign policy, tearing up the successful Iran deal and accepting the long-standing possibilities for addressing the serious North Korea crisis (proclaiming to have created an astonishing breakthrough). Much the same is true of other actions that look like random shots when the driving forces are ignored.

All of this has to be done while satisfying the usual Republican constituencies: primarily the business world and the rich. For Trump, that also means unleashing the more brutal wing of the Republican Party so that they can dedicate themselves even beyond the norm to the interest of private wealth and corporate power. Here the technique is to capture the media with attention-grabbing antics, which can be solemnly exposed while the game goes on — so far, quite effectively.

Then comes the task of controlling the so-called “populist” base: the angry, frightened, disillusioned white population, primarily males. Since there is no way for Trumpism to deal with their economic concerns, which are actually being exacerbated by current policy-formation, it’s necessary to posture heroically as “standing up” for them against “malevolent forces” and to cater to the anti-social impulses that tend to surface when people are left to face difficult circumstances alone, without institutions and organizations to support them in their struggles. That’s also being done effectively for the time being.

The “We are America, bitch” posture appeals to chauvinistic instincts and the white supremacy that is a deeply rooted feature of American culture and is now exacerbated by concern that whites might even become a minority. The posture can also delude working people into believing that their tough-guy protector will bring back the world they’ve lost. Such propaganda exercises cannot, of course, target those actually responsible for the plight of the victims of neoliberal globalization. On the contrary, attention has to be diverted away from corporate managers who largely shape state policy while establishing complex global supply chains to maximize profit at the expense of working people. More appropriate targets are desperate people fleeing horrors for which we are largely responsible: “foreigners” who have been “robbing us” with the connivance of “treacherous liberals” and other assorted devils that can be conjured up in periods of social breakdown.

Allies, friends, who cares? There is no need for policies that are “coherent” in any traditional sense. Consequences don’t matter as long as the primary goals are met.

After months of harsh rhetoric against China’s trade practices, Trump has decided to impose tariffs of $50 billion on Chinese imports, prompting Beijing, subsequently, to declare that the US has embarked on a trade war and to announce in turn that it will retaliate with similar measures against US imports. First, isn’t it true that China is merely practicing today the same sort of mercantilist policies that the US and Great Britain practiced in the past on their way to global ascendancy? Second, is the targeting of tariffs expected to have any impact either on China’s economy or on the size of the US trade deficit? And lastly, if a new era of protectionism is about to take off, what could the consequences of such development be for the reign of global neoliberalism?

Several questions arise. First, what is Trump’s motive? If it were concern about China’s economic management and trade policies, he wouldn’t be going out of his way to alienate allies with tariffs and insults but would be joining with them to confront China on the issues of concern. If, however, the driving force is what I discussed earlier, then targeting both China and allies with abuse and tariffs has a certain logic: It may play well in the rust belt, contributing to the delusion that our hero is fighting to ensure jobs for working people — though it’s a tricky strategy, because it harms other parts of his loyal base, mainly farmers, and also, though more subtly, because it imposes a new tax on consumption, which is what tariffs amount to.

As for China’s economic policies, yes, they are similar to those that have been used by developed societies generally, beginning with Britain and then its former North American colony. Similar, but more limited. China lacks the means available to its predecessors. Britain stole superior technology from India, the Low Countries, Ireland, and by force and severe protectionism, undermined the Indian economy, then the world’s most advanced along with China. The US, under the Hamiltonian system, resorted to high tariffs to bar superior British goods, and also took British technology in ways barred by the current US-initiated global trading system. Economic historian Paul Bairoch describes the US as “the mother country and bastion of protectionism” into the 1920s, well after it had become far and away the richest country in the world.

The general practice is called “kicking away the ladder” by economic historians: first use the practices to develop, then bar others from following.

Earlier, Britain’s economic development relied on large-scale piracy, now considered by its former practitioner to be the most heinous of crimes. Keynes wrote that the booty of English pirates, like the famed and admired Sir Francis Drake, “may fairly be considered the fountain and origin of British foreign investments.” Piracy was also a standard practice in the American colonies. Both British and US economies also relied crucially on the most hideous system of slavery in human history. Cotton was the oil of the industrial revolution, providing the basis for manufacturing, finance, commerce, retail. Such practices are not available to China.

Like Britain before it, the US called for “free trade” when it recognized that the playing field was tilted properly in its direction. After World War II, when the US had incomparable power, it promoted the “liberal world order” that has been an enormous boon to the US corporate system, which now owns about half of the global economy, an astonishing policy success.

Again, following the British model, the US hedged its commitment to “free trade” for the benefit of domestic private power. The British-dominated “free trade” system kept India as a largely closed protectorate. The US-dominated system imposes an extreme patent system (“intellectual property”) that provides virtual monopoly power to major US industries. The US government also provides huge subsidies to energy industries, agribusiness and financial institutions. While the US complains about Chinese industrial policy, the modern high-tech industry has relied crucially on research and development in the publicly subsidized sector of the economy, to such an extent that the economy might fairly be regarded as a system of private subsidy, private profit. And there are many other devices to subsidize industry. Procurement, for example, has been shown to be a significant device. In fact, the enormous military system alone, through procurement, provides a huge state subsidy to industry. These comments only skim the surface.

Britain abandoned laissez-faire when it could no longer compete with Japanese competition, part of the background for World War II in the Pacific. Some in the US are having similar qualms today, concerns that Trump is cynically exploiting. But not the powerful corporate sector that relies crucially on the US-designed global economic order.

The corporate sector relies so extensively on the global economy it has designed that it is sure to use its enormous power to try to head off a major trade war. The Trump tariffs and the retaliation might escalate, but it’s likely that the threat will be contained. Trump is quite right, however, in proclaiming that the US would “win” a limited trade war, given the scale of the US economy, the huge domestic market and unique advantages in other respects. The “We are America, bitch” doctrine is a powerful weapon of intimidation.

The Trump administration is moving full speed ahead with its intent on cracking down on unauthorized entries to the country by separating immigrant children from their parents. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents during the last seven weeks, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought recently to justify Trump’s immigration policy by citing a verse from the Bible. What can one say about an advanced Western society in which religion continues to crowd out reason in shaping public policy and public attitudes? And didn’t the Nazis, although they were no believers, also use Christianity to justify their immoral and criminal acts?

The immigration policy, always grotesque, has descended to levels so revolting that even many of those who foster and exploit xenophobia are running for cover — like Trump, who is desperately trying to blame it on the Democrats, and like the First Lady, who is appealing to “both sides of the aisle” to come together to stop the obscenity. We should, however, not overlook the fact that Europe is crawling through much the same gutters.

One can quote scripture for almost any purpose one likes. Sessions doubtless knows that “all the law” hangs on two commandments: loving God and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But that is not the appropriate thought for the occasion.

It is true, however, that the US is unique among developed societies in the role of religion in social life, ever since the Puritans landed.

Recently, Trump stated that he had the absolute right to pardon himself (after he had already said that he could shoot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue and not lose any support), while his lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the president could even commit murder in the Oval Office and still not be prosecuted for it. Your thoughts?

After praising Kim [Jong Un] effusively as a strong leader who “speaks and his people sit up at attention,” Trump added: “I want my people to do the same.” When the predictable reaction followed, he said he was kidding. Maybe. I hope we don’t have an opportunity to find out.

While it is clear that the country is well on its way to becoming a pariah nation, the Democrats continue to focus their attention primarily on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and unethical behavior, all the while trying to outflank the president on the jingoist front, adopting new restrictions for the 2020 elections so they can keep away the likes of Bernie Sanders, and of course, playing masterfully the fundraising game that works in a plutocracy. With all this in mind, how would you describe the nature of contemporary US politics?

Much as in Europe, the centrist political institutions in the United States, which have long been in the driver’s seat, are in decline. The reasons are not obscure. People who have endured the rigors of the neoliberal assault — austerity in the recent European version — recognize that the institutions are working for others, not for them. In the US, people do not have to read academic political science to know that a large majority, those who are not near the top of the income scale, are effectively disenfranchised, in that their own representatives pay little attention to their views, hearkening rather to the voices of the rich, the donor class. In Europe, anyone can see that basic decisions are made by the unelected Troika, in Brussels, with the northern banks peering over their shoulders.

In the US, respect for Congress has long been hovering in single digits. In recent Republican primaries, when candidates emerged from the base, the Establishment was able to beat them down and obtain their own candidate. In 2016, that failed for the first time. True, it’s not far from the norm for a billionaire with enormous media support and almost $1 billion in campaign funding to win an election, but Trump was hardly the choice of the Republican elites. The most spectacular result of the election was not the Trump phenomenon. Rather, it was the remarkable success of Bernie Sanders, breaking sharply with US political history. With no support from big business or the media, Sanders might well have won the Democratic nomination had it not been for the machinations of Obama-Clinton party managers. Similar processes are apparent in recent European elections.

Like it or not, Trump is doing quite well. He has the support of 83 percent of Republicans, which is without precedent apart from rare moments. Whatever their feelings may be, Republicans dare not cross him openly. His general support in the low 40s is not far from the norm, about the same as Obama’s going into his first midterm. He is lavishing gifts on the business world and the wealthy, the authentic constituency of the Republicans (with the Democrat leadership not far behind). He has thrown enough crumbs to keep the Evangelicals happy and has struck the right chords for racist/white supremacy elements. And he has, so far, managed to convince coal miners and steel workers that he is one of them. In fact, his support among union members has increased to 51 percent.

It is hardly in doubt that Trump cares almost nothing about the fate of the country or the world. What matters is me. That’s clear enough from his attitude toward global warming. He is perfectly well aware of the dire threat — to his properties. His application for a seawall to protect his Irish golf course is based explicitly on the threat of global warming. But pursuit of power impels him to lead the race to destruction, quite happily, as is evident from his performances. The same holds of other serious, if lesser, threats, among them the threat that the country may be isolated, despised, declining — with dues to pay after it’s no longer his concern.

The Democrats are now torn between a popular base that is largely social democratic and a New Democrat leadership that panders to the donor class. Under Obama, the party was reduced to shambles at the local and state level, a particularly serious matter because the 2020 elections will determine redistricting, offering opportunities for gerrymandering even beyond today’s scandalous situation.

The bankruptcy of the Democrat elite is well-illustrated by the obsession with alleged Russian meddling with our sacred elections. Whatever it might amount to — apparently very little — it cannot begin to compare with the “meddling” of campaign funding, which largely determines electoral outcomes, as extensive research has shown, particularly the careful work of Thomas Ferguson, which he and his colleagues have now extended to the 2016 elections. As Ferguson points out, when Republican elites realized that it was going to be Trump or Clinton, they responded with a huge wave of last-minute money that not only led to Clinton’s late October decline but also had the same effect on Democratic candidates for Senate, “virtually in lock step.” It is “outlandish,” Ferguson observes, that former FBI Director James Comey or the Russians “could be responsible for both collapses” in the final stage of the campaign: “For the first time in the entire history of the United States, the partisan outcome of Senate races coincided perfectly with the results of every state’s presidential balloting.” The outcome conforms very well to Ferguson’s well-supported “Investment theory of party competition.”

But facts and logic matter little. The Democrats are bent on revenge for their 2016 failure, having run such a rotten campaign that what looked like a “sure thing” collapsed. Evidently, Trump’s severe assault against the common good is a lesser matter, at least to the party elite.

It’s sometimes been noted that the US not only regularly meddles in foreign elections, including Russian ones, but also proceeds to subvert and sometimes overthrow governments it doesn’t like. Horrifying consequences abound, to the present, from Central America to the Middle East.

Guatemala has been a horror story since a US-backed coup overthrew its elected reformist government in 1954. Gaza, declining in misery, may become unlivable by 2020, the UN predicts, not by acts of God. In 2006, Palestinians committed a grave crime: They ran the first free election in the Arab world, and made the “wrong” choice, handing power to Hamas. Israel reacted by escalating violence and a brutal siege. The US reverted to standard operating procedure and prepared a military coup, pre-empted by Hamas. In punishment for this new crime, US-Israeli torture of Gaza sharply increased, not only with strangulation but also regular murderous and destructive US-backed Israeli invasions, on pretexts that quickly collapse on examination. Elections that come out the wrong way plainly cannot be tolerated under our policy of “democracy promotion.”

In recent European elections, there has been much concern about possible Russian meddling. That was particularly true of the 2017 German elections, when the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) did surprisingly well, winning 94 seats in the Bundestag, the first time it had won seats. One can easily imagine the reaction had Russian meddling been detected behind these frightening results. It turns out that there was indeed foreign meddling, but not from Russia. AfD hired a Texas media firm (Harris Media) known for support of right-wing nationalist candidates (Trump, Le Pen, Netanyahu). The firm enlisted the cooperation of the Berlin office of Facebook, which provided it with detailed information about potential voters for use in microtargeting those who might be receptive to AfD’s message. It may have worked. The story seems to have been ignored, apart from the business press.

If the Democratic Party cannot overcome its deep internal problems and the slow expansion of the economy under Obama and Trump continues without disruption or disaster, the Republican wrecking ball may be swinging away at the foundations of a decent society, and at the prospects for survival, for a long time.

Wednesday

Trump Cabinet’s Bible Study Minister Justifies Child Separation as Consequence of Immigrants’ “Illegal Behavior”



Amid increasing scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, criticisms have been lodged against the policy of family separation at the border by, among others, members of his own party and otherwise stalwart Christian right allies of the GOP. One Christian ally of the White House, though, came out swinging in favor of taking children away from their parents: Capitol Ministries.

Ralph Drollinger, the head of the private Christian group, which leads Bible study sessions for Republican lawmakers and senior members of Trump’s Cabinet, led the charge to defend the administration even as photos and stories emerge showing children crowded into cages and snatched from their mothers.

“No one, especially my personal friend, the kind-hearted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, desires that a mother or father be separated from their children,” wrote Drollinger, in a message to supporters on Friday. But, the Capitol Ministries leader said, there are “three classifications of people in every country, as was true in ancient Israel in the Old Testament.” In Drollinger’s interpretation, there are citizens, legal immigrants, and foreigners — the latter were known as being “illegal,” he said — and the Bible only forbids family separation for citizens and legal immigrants.

“It follows that when someone breaks the law of the land that they should anticipate that one of the consequences of their illegal behavior will be separation from their children,” Drollinger wrote. “Such is the case with thieves or murderers who are arrested and put in jail.”

Sessions attracted controversy after citing a Bible verse to defend the administration’s “zero-tolerance” border enforcement strategy. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” the attorney general declared during a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, last Thursday.

Despite the support from a right-wing Christian group that’s especially close to the administration, other conservative Christians are pressuring the Trump administration to change its practices. Earlier this month, a group of evangelical pastors signed a letter harshly condemning the child separation policy. “The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long lasting, are of utmost concern,” stated the letter, which was signed by the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who gave an opening prayer at Trump’s inauguration and is reportedly close to the president, among other evangelical leaders.

Drollinger, who has become immensely influential following the 2016 election, believes Sessions correctly invoked the scripture.

“The passage the Attorney General cited, Romans 13, bespeaks of this: there are and there should be serious, known consequences for breaking the laws of the land — otherwise the law becomes toothless and inconsequential and it is no longer a deterrent to harmful behavior, which is what God designed it to be,” Drollinger wrote, citing his own Bible study on illegal immigration, published on the Capitol Ministries website two years ago.

In the 2016 Bible study, Drollinger wrote that “immigration laws of every nation should be Biblically based and strictly enforced — all with the utmost confidence that assurance that God approves such actions by the nation’s leaders.” He added, “To procedurally exclude foreign individuals who might be criminals, traitors, or terrorists, or who possess communicable diseases is not racist in the least!”

Drollinger, a former college basketball star turned spiritual adviser to conservative politicians, has quietly amassed power in Washington, D.C., through his Monday evening Bible studies with conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Several Cabinet members, including the vice president and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, pray on a regular basis with Drollinger’s group. As the minister recently told a German newspaper, he provides the administration with “the high-protein diet of the Word of God.” In the past, Drollinger bashed gay rights and called Catholicism the “world’s largest false religion.”

As The Intercept first reported, shortly after the presidential election, Drollinger could barely conceal his excitement that members of his inner circle would soon occupy the White House. He published a press statement celebrating the fact that Trump’s appointments for his administration were drawn from “long time sponsors of the Members Bible Studies.”

“It follows then that the sudden rise of Pence, Sessions, and Pompeo — all men who are disciples of Jesus Christ — serve to vividly illustrate the truth of 1 Timothy 2:1-4!” Drollinger announced, referring to a Bible verse that calls for prayer “for kings and all who are in authority.”

Drollinger’s controversial interpretations extend to other areas of GOP orthodoxy. Capitol Ministries claims “that Islam and its Koran are nothing more than a plagiarism of OT truths” — a reference to the Old Testament — “and a non-chronological, sloppy one at that — topped off with a falsified diminution of Jesus Christ.”

U.S. withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council over perceived bias against Israel




The Trump administration withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday in protest of what it perceives as an entrenched bias against Israel and a willingness to allow notorious human rights abusers as members.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has sought major changes on the council throughout her tenure, issued a blistering critique of the panel, saying it had grown more callous over the past year and become a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.” She cited the admission of Congo as a member even as mass graves were being discovered there, and the failure to address human rights abuses in Venezuela and Iran.

“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments,” she said during a joint appearance with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the department. “On the contrary. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”


Haley accused governments with woeful human rights records of seeking seats on the council to avoid scrutiny and then resisting proposals for reform.
“When we made it clear we would strongly pursue council reform, these countries came out of the woodwork to oppose it,” she said. “Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt all attempted to undermine our reform efforts this past year.”

The decision to leave the 47-nation body was more definitive than the lesser option of staying on as a nonvoting observer. It represents another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems out of sync with American interests on trade, defense, climate change and, now, human rights. And it leaves the council without the United States playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world.


The United States is midway through a three-year term on the council, which is intended to denounce and investigate human rights abuses. A U.S. departure deprives Israel of its chief defender at a forum where Israel’s human rights record comes up for discussion at every meeting, a standing “Item 7” on the agenda.

“By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council’s bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked — including running roughshod over Israel,” said Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees the State Department.

“However, this administration’s approach when it sees a problem is to take the United States off the field,” he added. “That undermines our standing in the world and allows our adversaries to fill the void.”
But Pompeo was scathing in his assessment of the council, calling it an “exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.” 

“The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human rights abuses, and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change,” he said. 

The decision came a day after the U.N. human rights chief slammed the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children after they enter the United States at the Mexican border, calling it “unconscionable” and akin to child abuse.

This is the first time since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006, replacing the disbanded Human Rights Commission, that a sitting member volunteered to step aside, though Libya was suspended in 2011 after a government crackdown on unarmed protesters.

The United States initially shunned the panel over President George W. Bush’s concerns that so many human rights offenders could be seated through noncompetitive elections for members nominated by their regional colleagues. The Obama administration sought a seat in 2009 in an effort to showcase that human rights were an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

Before the United States joined, half the country-specific votes condemned Israel. During the first six years the United States was a member, resolutions critical of Israel dropped to one-fifth. U.S. membership also led to a sharp decrease in the number of special sessions that focused exclusively on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

“It’s true, the Human Rights Council continues to disproportionately focus on Israel,” said Peter Yeo, an official with the United Nations Foundation that connects the organization with private and nongovernmental groups and foundations. “But with U.S. leadership, the attention Israel brought has dropped significantly. U.S. leadership matters. We’re still the only ones with credibility on human rights on the world stage.”

The Trump administration’s irritation with the council makeup and its agenda has been telegraphed with drumbeat regularity by Haley. A year ago, she denigrated it as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion,” and threatened a U.S. exit if the council did not kick out abusive regimes and remove Item 7, the standing resolution critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. She repeated her ultimatum two weeks ago.

Since 2006, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions critical of Israel, 10 times as often as it has criticized Iran. On one day alone in March, the council passed five resolutions condemning Israel.

The council’s current membership includes 14 countries that are ranked as “not free” by Freedom House: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Haley said many countries agree with U.S. accusations of anti-Israel bias on the council and hypocrisy by abusers but would not openly challenge the status quo.

“We gave them opportunity after opportunity, and many months of consultations, and yet they would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors,” she said. “Some even admitted they were fine with the blatant flaws of the council, as long as they could pursue their own narrow agenda within the current structure.”

Bret Schaefer, a Heritage Foundation scholar who analyzes U.N. actions, called the withdrawal a “measured” response.

“The Trump administration seems to be the only government that seriously wanted the Human Rights Council to promote universal respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in a fair and equal manner,” he said.

But some questioned whether a U.S. withdrawal will lead to reforms, or further undermine the council’s mission.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”


Friday

John Brennan: I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House



John Brennan served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017.
 
My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.
 
I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality. 

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us.
Although appalling, those actions shouldn’t be surprising. As was the case throughout his business and entertainment careers, Mr. Trump charts his every move according to a calculus of how it will personally help or hurt him. His strategy is to undercut real, potential and perceived opponents; his focus is to win at all costs, irrespective of truth, ethics, decency and — many would argue — the law. 

His disparagement of institutions is designed to short-circuit legitimate law enforcement investigations, intelligence assessments and media challenges that threaten his interests. His fear of the special counsel’s work is especially palpable, as is his growing interest in destroying its mandate. 

For more than three decades, I observed and analyzed the traits and tactics of corrupt, incompetent and narcissistic foreign officials who did whatever they thought was necessary to retain power. 

Exploiting the fears and concerns of their citizenry, these demagogues routinely relied on lies, deceit and suppression of political opposition to cast themselves as populist heroes and to mask self-serving priorities. By gaining control of intelligence and security services, stifling the independence of the judiciary and discrediting a free press, these authoritarian rulers followed a time-tested recipe for how to inhibit democracy’s development, retard individual freedoms and liberties, and reserve the spoils of corrupt governance for themselves and their ilk. It never dawned on me that we could face such a development in the United States. 

On the international front, Mr. Trump pursues policies that are rooted in uninformed campaign promises, a determination to upend actions of his predecessors and an aversion to multilateral engagements. His ad hoc and frequently impulsive approach to national security is short-sighted and dangerous, as allies and partners are left uncertain about U.S. strategy and objectives. 

The impact of the Trump presidency will be felt for many years to come. Most worrisome is that his use of falsehoods, his mean-spirited and malicious behavior, and his self-absorption will be emulated by many young Americans — indeed, young people globally — who look to the president of the United States as a role model. 

The damage also will be felt by the millions of Americans who believe in Mr. Trump because of their concern about being left behind in a rapidly changing globalized world. These Americans have a legitimate gripe that politicians and political parties of all stripes have failed to deliver on the promise that America is the land of opportunity for all, irrespective of race, creed or place of residence. At a time when deep-seated fears of socioeconomic and cultural change need to be addressed honestly and without prejudice, Mr. Trump grandstands like a snake-oil salesman, squandering his formidable charisma and communication skills in favor of ego, selfishness and false promises.  

Many have condemned my public criticism of Mr. Trump, arguing that as a former CIA director, I should bite my tongue. My criticisms, however, are not political; I have never been and will never be a partisan. I speak out for the simple reason that Mr. Trump is failing to live up to the standards that we should all expect of a president. 

As someone who had the rare privilege of directly serving four presidents, I will continue to speak out loudly and critically until integrity, decency, wisdom — and maybe even some humility — return to the White House.

Thursday

Going “Full Dictator”? Trump Claims He Has Right to End Mueller Investigation or Pardon Himself


As President Trump celebrated his 500th day in office Monday, many legal experts warned that the country could soon face a constitutional crisis as the president continues to attack special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
On Monday, Trump tweeted, “The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” He also tweeted, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.” Over the weekend, The New York Times published a 20-page confidential letter written by Trump’s lawyers to special counsel Robert Mueller, in which his lawyers claim Trump is above the law and thus cannot have illegally obstructed the Mueller investigation. Trump’s attorneys also claim the Constitution gives the president power to terminate the Mueller probe.
We speak to Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch in Philadelphia. His latest column is headlined “The week Trump went full dictator and no one tried to stop him.”
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Monday marked President Trump’s 500th day in office, and many legal experts warn the country could soon face a constitutional crisis as the president continues to attack special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On Monday, Trump tweeted, quote, “The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” He also tweeted, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.” Later on Monday, NBC’s White House reporter Peter Alexander questioned the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
PETER ALEXANDER: Sarah, let me ask you, if I can: Does the president believe that he is above the law?
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly not. The president hasn’t done anything wrong.
PETER ALEXANDER: The question isn’t if he’s done anything wrong. I guess the question is: Does the president believe the Framers envisioned a system where the president can pardon himself, where the president could be above the law?
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the Constitution very clearly lays out the law. And, once again, the president hasn’t done anything wrong, and we feel very comfortable in that front.
PETER ALEXANDER: I know, but you just, a moment ago, said it’s not—it’s not that clear. So, I guess, simply put: Does the president believe he is above the law?
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, no one is above the law.
AMY GOODMAN: Over the weekend, The New York Times published a 20-page confidential letter written by Trump’s lawyers to special counsel Robert Mueller, in which his lawyers claim Trump is above the law and thus cannot have illegally obstructed the Mueller investigation. In the January 29 letter, they claim, quote, “It remains our position that the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.” Trump’s attorneys also claim the Constitution gives the president power to terminate the Mueller probe.

We go now to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by Will Bunch, longtime columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Latest column is headlined “The week Trump went full dictator and no one tried tried to stop him.”

Respond to these latest developments and comments of both President Trump, reinforcing this letter that The New York Times got a hold of and released this weekend.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah. And hi, Amy. Hi, Juan. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Yeah, you know, I wrote that column over the weekend, before this extraordinary tweet from President Trump yesterday in which he claimed that he has the ability to pardon himself. You know, you mentioned it’s been 500 days of President Trump. And it’s day by day we’ve seen him slowly eroding democratic norms, the rule of law, rules, you know. And when he does that, step by step, he not only erodes our democracy, but he’s taking us on a path from a presidency to some kind of dictatorship, where he’s basically, like you said, declaring—like he said, declaring himself above the law. I mean, the letter, the 20-page letter from his lawyers to Robert Mueller, was stunning in the claims that he can shut down the investigation, that he can fire anybody in the Justice Department who’s investigating him, at will, and that he has the right to pardon anybody—Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and himself, perhaps, although that theory is yet to be tested. So, this is clearly a dangerous time for democracy. And again, we’ve seen it just erode step by step, you know, the fact that he gets away with telling an average of 30 lies a day to the American people and goes unchallenged on that, the—you know, in so many ways.

And, you know, the flip side of that is the Founders always thought that we’d be protected against that, because Congress, the courts, our institutions, the media would step in if somebody was that abusive to our fundamental democracy, and take action. But we have a Congress that’s totally cowed. You know, the Republicans have completely thrown in with Trump, and the Democrats haven’t really adopted an aggressive strategy on how to counter this. The media is debating whether to call a lie a lie. And he is really strengthening this hold over our reality in ways that are very dangerous.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Will, talking about calling a lie a lie, for months and months President Trump continued to say that he was ready to talk to the special prosecutor, and he was looking forward to it. And yet, here, this letter that the Times issued, released, shows that back in January they were already claiming that they didn’t want—that he doesn’t want to talk to Mueller, that they believe that Mueller has all the information he needs and that the president basically doesn’t have the time. It was stunning that yet he has continued to say that he’s willing to talk to the special prosecutor.

WILL BUNCH: Right, it is stunning, Juan. And, of course, something else emerged in that letter, too, which is the fact that the official story line out of the White House about their initial explanation of this Trump Tower meeting with the Russian emissaries in 2016, the issue was whether President Trump had been personally involved in drafting this statement claiming that the meeting was only about adoptions and nothing else, and, you know, there wasn’t a discussion of dirt about Hillary Clinton. The White House had initially denied that Trump had made that—had done that. And now, in their own letter, they admit that Trump did, in fact, dictate the statement. And, you know, Sarah Sanders was pressed on this yesterday, and she doesn’t have a good answer.

And this has just been a hallmark of the Trump administration, you know, just blatant lying. I mean, obviously, Donald Trump is not the first president to lie. You know, we’ve been through LBJ and Vietnam and Watergate and all these other things. But in this case, I mean, the sheer brazenness of it. And, you know, this gets back to the whole issue of democracy versus dictatorship, because what really makes a dictator is the ability to redefine reality, right? So, the more that Trump and his aides, like Sarah Sanders, and his lawyers can come out and just state these blatant untruths, and he’s still—and you wake up the next day, and nothing has really changed, you know, the more dangerous our situation becomes.
 
 AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting back, 50 years later, on 1968. Now, this is, well, not quite 50 years, maybe more like 41 years, but it was after Nixon resigned, the famous interview that he did with David Frost.
DAVID FROST: The president can decide that it’s in the best interest of the nation, or something, and do something illegal?
RICHARD NIXON: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.
DAVID FROST: By definition?
RICHARD NIXON: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Nixon after he resigned, in 1977. Will Bunch, can you compare Nixon and Trump?

WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Amy, I came of age during Watergate. I mean, that’s what kind of made me want to go into journalism as a young man. And one of the lessons, supposedly, of Watergate was that we proved that no one is above the law, because Nixon had to resign, he was forced out of office. The truth is, we obviously never really resolved that question, unfortunately. I mean, first of all, the muddies were watered when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, so, in a way, he was above the law. He did commit crimes and was not sent to jail or punished for them.

And so you had a situation where, three years later, Nixon, instead of being in jail, is a free man, and he’s making this claim that when the president does it, it’s not illegal. I think the vast majority of Americans totally disagree with that statement, and yet we’ve never really resolved that question.
And now we have a president who’s determined to push this to the outer limit. You know, he’s determined to blow by every tradition, every norm, every rule, and he’s basically challenging us to say, “What are we going to do about this?” You know, he’s challenging Congress. He’s challenging the media. He’s challenging the American people. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to, you know, sit on our couches and watch this on TV every night? Are we going to take to the streets?

What are we going to do as he gets more and more brazen? And this is really the question we have to resolve, because if the president can show that he’s above the law, that just erodes the underpinnings of our democracy in so many ways. You know, it’s a very risky time.
 
 JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, even the fact that a president can pardon someone, Trump claims, including himself, doesn’t mean that a crime was not committed, because you’re obviously being pardoned for having broken the law in one way or another. I wanted to ask you about the issue of forbearance, that you talk about in your column—


WILL BUNCH: Yes.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in the Philadelphia Daily News Could you expand on that? Explain your approach on the issue of forbearance.


WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, this is a term, in terms of politics, that I wasn’t familiar with until this really excellent book came out this year called How Democracies Die. It’s by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They’re two political scientists from Harvard. And, you know, they talk about how democracies die and what the road to dictatorship looks like. And one of the important things is, forbearance means, basically, you may have some powers that are not denied to you in the Constitution or that you theoretically could exercise, but forbearance means you don’t use all your powers to the hilt, because that puts you over the edge.

So, pardons are a perfect example of that. The Constitution really doesn’t make clear—you know, gives the president absolute power to issue pardons, so he can pardon his best friend, he can pardon Michael Cohen, theoretically, under the law. But, you know, tradition has restrained us from doing that. What’s actually happened over the last 242 years is we’ve developed a system. People, generally, who want pardons from the president make an application. It goes to the Justice Department. There’s a lengthy review process. Things are taken into consideration, like whether that person has redeemed themselves in some ways. Trump’s pardon process is none of this. He’s playing a game of Celebrity Apprentice with the pardon process, in terms of people he knows, people who are powerful, people who are political allies, like Joe Arpaio.

I mean, you know, when I say democracy has eroded over 500 days, go back about halfway through his term, when he issued that first pardon to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who hadn’t even been brought to justice yet for violating the rights of immigrants down in Arizona. Basically, that was the first challenge, to say, “You know, this pardon process is completely abnormal. You know, he hasn’t even been sentenced yet, and I’m issuing him a pardon.” He basically was challenging the system: What are you going to do about this? And the answer was nothing. You know, Joe Arpaio is a free man. I think he’s even running for office down there. So, you know, this emboldens him. So then he can pardon Dinesh D’Souza. He can pardon Scooter Libby. And when there’s no uproar about that, it just makes it so much easier for him to pardon someone like Michael Flynn or someone like his own lawyer, Michael Cohen. And so—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Will—
 
 WILL BUNCH: So that’s forbearance. You know, it’s kind of going past the guardrails of democracy that all of Trump’s predecessors have followed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what can people do? For example, Congress. What do Democrats, in the minority, have the power to do? And what would happen if they became the majority in November? And what about Republicans, if the president has absolute power?

WILL BUNCH: Well, in the short term—you know, November, unfortunately, seems like a long time away in Trump years, right? So, you know, I think it’s possible that the Democrats could peel off some moderate Republicans for certain measures, such as legislation that would prevent Trump from firing Robert Mueller. I think that could get some Republican support. You know, whether the leadership would allow a vote on that is another thing. But, you know, I think the Democrats really need to make it clear to the people that if they can gain a majority in the November election, that they’re going to start a full-blown investigation of the Trump administration, with impeachment on the table. I don’t think—I don’t think you can run right now and say, “I’m a yes vote on impeachment,” because we haven’t had the process yet, that we had in 1973 and 1974, of hearings and producing the evidence. But the evidence is there to be produced. You know, a Democratic Congress is going to have subpoena power and more power to gather the information that the public needs.

And, you know, the abuses of the Trump administration have been so dramatic, it really probably shouldn’t take that much time to develop a case for impeachment. And, you know, there’s an argument against impeachment, obviously, which is that you’ll never get enough Republican votes in the Senate to convict and remove Trump, and so what’s the point? But on the other hand, when you look at everything Trump has done—you know, his violations of the emoluments clause, his selling our foreign policy to the highest bidder, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, whether it’s the United Arab Emirates, and now his obstruction of justice in the Mueller case—if Donald Trump can’t be impeached, then why do we even have an impeachment provision in the Constitution? Because he’s just a prima facie case.

Why does Trump lie? Just ask Billy Bush.



The tireless mendacity of President Trump has roared back into the top of the news. “How to know when Trump is lying,” notes the headline on a CNN piece. Slate: “Trump’s Saturday of Lies: 

President Says Official Who Briefed Reporters ‘Doesn’t Exist.’ ” The New York Times has an article on how Trump’s repeated allegations about an FBI informant who cultivated sources on his 2016 presidential campaign squares with his history: “With ‘Spygate,’ Trump Shows How He Uses Conspiracy Theories to Erode Trust.”
Bring up Trump’s frequent lies, and White House officials will seek to change the topic. They’ll talk about the robust economy; they’ll talk about the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; they’ll talk about the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord; they’ll talk about the blameworthiness of Trump’s Democratic critics. All of the programs of the Trump administration, however, are built to some degree of deception; lying, after all, was the central plank of Trump’s presidential election campaign.
In their look at Trump’s hyping of “Spygate,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times summed up the latest in presidential misinformation:
Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win — a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.
Citing two former Trump officials, the New York Times reports that Trump resisted deploying the term “deep state” in his rhetoric, “partly because he believed it made him look too much like a crank.” So the guy who gripes incessantly and with no evidence about the “fake news” media is worried about appearing like a crank.




 Notes the New York Times: “Students of Mr. Trump’s life and communication style argue that the idea of conspiracies is a vital part of his strategy to avoid accountability and punch back at detractors, real or perceived, including the news media.”

True, no doubt. Yet the most clarifying point on this matter comes from Billy Bush, who is, if nothing else, a student of Mr. Trump’s life and communication style. Bush was the fellow chatting with Trump on the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which the mogul bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. Bush was fired from the “Today” show over the incident. It just so happened, however, that Bush had spent a lot of time with Trump back in his years as an entertainment correspondent, and he discussed his experiences on an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” in March. Maher noted that Trump had exaggerated the ratings of his program “The Apprentice,” prompting Bush:
Well, he’s been saying No. 1 forever, right. Finally I’d had enough. I said, “Wait, Donald. Hold it. Wait a minute. You haven’t been No. 1 for five years, four years — whatever it is. Not in any category, not in any demo.” He goes, “Well, did you see last Thursday? Last Thursday, 18-49 … last five minutes.” I said, “No. I don’t know that stat.” So he was like, “I told you.” And then later, when the cameras were off … he says, “Billy, look, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do.” And I said, “Ah, okay.”
That’s called telling the truth about lies.

Being a blabbermouth, Trump apparently cannot stop himself from confiding about his malicious tactics — to media types, of all people. Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” recently revealed that Trump had told her about the thinking behind his media-bashing ways. “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe it,” Trump told Stahl shortly after his election, as she recalls it.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted:
The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls. There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!

News outlets scrambled to characterize the allegation. CNN: “Trump says, without proof, that Mueller team will meddle in midterm elections.” Associated Press via New York Times: “Trump: Mueller’s Team Is ‘Meddling’ in Midterm Elections.” Politico: “Trump says Mueller probe will meddle in midterms.”

“Without proof,” huh? CNN cannot call this particular tweet a lie because it doesn’t know 100 percent for certain that Mueller won’t meddle; and it doesn’t know 100 percent for certain that Trump doesn’t believe this allegation. Which is to say, the media has standards in covering a president who doesn’t. It has been a mismatch from Day 1.

Monday

Trump’s true talent isn’t negotiating. It’s marketing. By Fareed Zakaria



Donald Trump’s recurring criticism of his predecessor is that he just didn’t know how to make a deal. “Obama is not a natural deal maker,” he tweeted in 2016, complaining that there was no accord on Syria. “Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly,” he predicted incorrectly back in 2013. Trump was scathing about President Barack Obama’s lack of legislative success, pronouncing him “unable to negotiate w/ Congress.” “We need leaders who can negotiate great deals for Americans,” Trump tweeted in 2015, and the implication was obvious — he was the ultimate dealmaker. 

It is nearly 500 days into the Trump administration. Where are the deals? Where is the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement , the bilateral trade agreements that were going to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new and improved Iran nuclear pact, the China trade deal? Trump’s record in working with Congress is even less impressive. He has not been able to strike an accord with Democrats on anything, from immigration to infrastructure.

The world is laughing at us, he would often say. Well, what must the world be thinking now, as it watches the Trump administration careen wildly on everything from North Korea to China? What must it have thought as it watched the master negotiator in a televised session with congressional leaders on immigration, where he seemed to agree with the Democratic position, then agree with the (incompatible) Republican position, all the while asserting they were going to make a deal? They didn’t.

By now it is obvious Trump is actually a bad negotiator — an impulsive, emotional man who ignores briefings, rarely knows details, and shoots first and asks questions later.

Consider how the administration has handled the North Korea summit. First, the meeting was announced with great fanfare, with Trump soon lavishing praise on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Agreeing to the meeting was an enormous symbolic concession to Pyongyang, while getting almost nothing in return. This was to be a head-of-state summit, though there was little preparation and no determination that the two sides were close enough to have a serious negotiation at that level.

Trump got excited enough to start hyping the prospects for a breakthrough agreement despite little evidence of any movement in the North Korean position. Next, Trump’s advisers embarked on a strange series of comments that seemed designed to threaten, scare and intimidate North Korea. Was this the plan? Did the administration regret its early overtures? Or was this all just incompetence? Is it any wonder the whole thing has collapsed? 

Trump has been even more ham-handed in his dealings with China. Just before entering the White House, he dangled the possibility of recognizing Taiwan. Beijing quickly shut down contact with the United States and, humiliatingly, Trump had to walk back his comments in a phone call with President Xi Jinping.

The current trade talks with China are a case study in bad negotiations. It is difficult to know where to begin. The U.S. government does not seem to know what it wants. Some days, it appears Washington is fixated on the size of the trade deficit. Other days, it focuses on technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property. The White House began its attacks by imposing tariffs on steel, which mostly affected American allies, ensuring that it had no partners in its attempt to pressure the Chinese. After insisting no countries would be exempted, the administration once again reversed course and doled out exemptions to the top five steel exporters to the United States, though it threatens to reverse itself again.

American negotiators have leaked furiously to the press to undermine each other’s positions, and even squabbled among themselves in front of a Chinese delegation earlier this month. Trump himself seems to switch gears repeatedly. After his administration announced it would punish ZTE, a huge Chinese tech company that committed serious trade violations, Trump suddenly changed his mind, citing concern for the impact on Chinese jobs. Imagine the outcry if Obama had backed away from putting pressure on the Chinese to help their economy!

On the legislative front, Trump chose to begin his presidency with the divisive issue of health care rather than a unifying one such as infrastructure — and failed to get Obamacare repealed anyway. Oh, and don’t forget, he and son-in-law Jared Kushner were going to broker the ultimate deal: peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. How is that going?

As talks fail, deals collapse and negotiations founder, Trump continues to tweet triumphantly about his great success. It makes one realize the president’s true talent. He has the confidence, bravado and skill to market failure as success. He can take a mediocre building, slap some gold paint on it and then convince people it’s a super-luxury condominium. Call it the Art of the Spin.

Sunday

The alarming statistics that show the U.S. economy isn’t as good as it seems



The U.S. economy has a problem. The usual economic bench marks look really good: America in 2018 is enjoying faster growth, low unemployment, record numbers of job openings and a stock market near an all-time high. Yet an alarming number of Americans are still struggling to get by.

In the past week, two reports — a new Federal Reserve survey of more than 12,200 Americans about their finances and a new United Way report on financial hardship — reveal just how unstable life remains for a large number of people. Here's a rundown of the key findings:
  • Forty percent of American adults don't have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as an unexpected medical bill, car problem or home repair.
  • Forty-three percent of households can't afford the basics to live, meaning they aren't earning enough to cover the combined costs of housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cellphone, according to the United Way study. Researchers looked at the data by county to adjust for lower costs in some parts of the country.
  • More than a quarter of adults skipped necessary medical care last year because they couldn't afford it.
  • Twenty-two percent of adults aren't able to pay all of their bills every month.
  • Only 38 percent of non-retired Americans think their retirement savings is “on track.”
  • Only 65 percent of African Americans and 66 percent of Hispanics say they are “doing okay” financially versus 77 percent of whites.
The Fed and United Way findings suggest the U.S. economy isn't nearly as strong as statistics such as the unemployment rate and the GDP growth rate suggest. Taken alone, these metrics mask the fact that some Americans are doing well and some are not.

“We have a ‘Two Realities’ economy in America,” said William Rodgers, a professor at Rutgers University and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. “One segment has truly recovered from the Great Recession and is at full employment. The other continues to experience stagnating wages, involuntary part-time employment, inflexible work schedules and weaker access to health care.”

Rodgers is worried about how families that don't have $400 in savings are going to handle rising gas prices, higher rents and credit card rates that are climbing as U.S. interest rates rise.

President Trump and many Republicans in Congress are focused on getting people back to work with the belief that once people have jobs they will be able to lift themselves out of poverty. But a growing body of research like the Fed and United Way studies and anecdotes from people working on the front lines at food banks and shelters indicates that a job is no longer enough.

Wages in the United States, especially for workers who aren't managers, have stagnated for two decades, making it difficult to save for emergencies, let alone save to buy a home or take extra classes to get ahead.

There's hope that low unemployment and the large number of companies complaining they can't find enough workers will finally cause wages to rise, but so far, that has yet to happen on a wide scale.

The result is that more and more people are showing up at food pantries who have jobs, but still don't have enough income for food and rent.

“Half of the people we serve are above the poverty level. They are working, but they are not making it,” said Catherine D'Amato, president of the Greater Boston Food Bank. “It’s a deep struggle for people to provide for themselves based on their wages.”

D'Amato has worked at food banks and pantries since 1979, but she says she's never seen it like it is today with so many people with jobs but still unable to survive. October and November were the highest food bank usage on record for her organization, a reminder that many are still not stable years after the Great Recession officially ended in 2009.

Nonwhite households continue to have a harder time finding good-paying employment. The unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics, while at record lows, are still significantly higher than that of whites. The Fed survey highlighted that far fewer minorities in America feel “okay” financially compared with whites.

In addition to low pay, many struggling Americans say a major problem is that their hours vary greatly from month to month. They may be able to make it one week, but not the next because their hours — and their earnings — fall substantially. Three in 10 adults say their family income varies from month to month, according to the Fed survey, and one in 10 say their income varies a lot, making it difficult to pay bills on time.

One of the most widely watched statistics in the Fed's “Report on the Economic Well-being of U.S. Households” is how many adults say they could cover an unexpected $400 expense. When the survey was released for the first time in 2013, half of those surveyed said they didn't have enough savings to cover an emergency expense of a few hundred dollars.

Today that has fallen to 40 percent, a figure that is better but still troubling to many economists. It means nearly 48 million households aren't saving or are unable to save.

“Nothing is more fundamental to achieving financial stability than having savings that can be drawn upon when the unexpected occurs,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.