Operation American Greatness

2017May05-06

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

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05-01

President Donald Trump questioned why the Civil War— which erupted 150 years ago over slavery — needed to happen. He said he would be "honored" to meet with Kim Jong-Un, the violent North Korean dictator who is developing nuclear missiles and oppresses his people, under the "right circumstances."

The president floated, and backed away from, a tax on gasoline. Trump said he was "looking at" breaking up the big banks, sending the stock market sliding. He seemed to praise Philippines strongman President Rodrigo Duterte for his high approval ratings. He promised changes to the Republican health care bill, though he has seemed unsure what was in the legislation, even as his advisers whipped votes for it.

And Monday still had nine hours to go."It seems to be among the most bizarre recent 24 hours in American presidential history," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. "It was all just surreal disarray and a confused mental state from the president."

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April04-18

Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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04-14

He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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04-11

As they war with the right, though, Trump and Kushner would gain no quarter from Democrats—unless Democrats were allowed to set the all the terms. This is Bannon’s central point. Democrats have no incentive to prop up Trump’s presidency for half-loaf compromises that many will suspect are contaminated with seeds of Trumpism. Trump can adopt or co-opt the Democrats’ infrastructure platform outright if he likes, but he can’t easily entice them to compromise with him, and he can’t entice House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance a trillion dollar direct-spending bill filled with environmental and labor protections that the GOP exists to oppose.

Which is just to say, Kushner wants Trump to chart a new course that leads to a substantive dead end for at least another 19 months. Bannon’s path, at least, preserves the hope of keeping his base consolidated through the legislative ebb. He can deregulate, scapegoat, and unburden law enforcement to turn his Herrenvolk fantasy into reality—all while keeping congressional investigators at bay.

There’s no real logical rebuttal to this, except to point to three months of chaos and humiliation as indicative of the futility of continuing to do things Bannon’s way. That is really an argument that Trump should get rid of both of his top advisers, but Trump is unlikely to grasp that in a contest between loyalists, both might deserve to lose. Family loyalty, and the beating his ego will take when the stories of his first 100 days are written, will pull him toward his son-in-law. And that’s when the real fun will begin.

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04-09

Russia has insisted that it opposes any offensive in Raqqa that does not go through Damascus and Moscow. Unlike previous US-led offensives against Isis, the regime positioned its troops near the front lines in Raqqa, as well as between Raqqa and areas controlled by the Turkish-backed rebels in the eastern countryside of Aleppo. So, in this scenario, the regime viewed that the time was ripe for playing rough with the Americans and the use of chemical weapons would be a tool of defiance.

And what if the US was to respond, as it did? Such a scenario counterintuitively serves a fundamental purpose for the regime, which goes to the heart of specific fears by Damascus and Tehran. Such fears arise from a stated plan by the Trump administration, to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran as a way to roll back Iranian influence in the region.

A US escalation against the regime will, instead, widen the distance between Moscow and Washington.

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04-08

Even before he became president, Obama worried greatly about slippery slopes in the Middle East. In Syria, he understood that Assad would most likely survive an American missile strike on his airbases; the day after such strikes ended, Assad, Obama believed, would have emerged from his hiding place, and declared victory: The greatest power in the world tried to destroy him, and failed. Obama was acutely aware that a one-off strike (a theoretical strike described as “unbelievably small” by his secretary of state, John Kerry), could possibly have served as a convincing brush-back pitch, but he was also aware that such a limited strike could have been wholly ineffectual, and even counterproductive. Assad and his allies, understanding that the appetite of average Americans for yet another Middle Eastern war was limited, could have tried to provoke Obama into escalation. An all-out war against the Syrian regime would have been, in many ways, Obama’s Iraq. And Obama wasn’t interested in having his own Iraq.

The curious thing is that Donald Trump is also not interested in having his own Iraq. And yet here he is. Obama was known for an overly cerebral commitment to the notion of strategic patience. Trump seems more committed to a policy of glandular, non-strategic impatience. Obama may have been paralyzed by a phobic reaction to the threat posed by the slippery slope. Donald Trump now finds himself dancing at the edge of the slippery slope his predecessor so assiduously avoided.

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04-05

The power of ethnonationalism, which I tried to communicate in the story, is that it manipulates the most base and emotionally accessible ideas about politics. But that power is also a source of danger to the party that tries to weaponize it: If it backfires, it activates equally powerful emotions against it. And while the fight to preserve the American ideal from Trump’s ethnonationalism is hardly assured, there is every sign it will backfire.

Michael Anton’s now-iconic essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” made the case for Trump as a desperation gamble. (Hence the metaphor to a hijacked airline flight whose passengers had to choose a desperate and probably doomed fight over certain death.) Anton, now a staffer in Trump’s administration, saw another four years of Democratic presidencies as the end of white America and conservative America. Most Republicans — even those, like Anton, deeply suspicious of Trump — ultimately agreed. Almost the entire GOP decided its hatred or fear of Clinton overrode their misgivings about their own nominee, and, with varying levels of enthusiasm, supported Trump. They brought disaster upon their country, but as a small measure of compensatory justice, they have also brought it upon their party. By the time Trump has departed the Oval Office, they will look longingly at a staid, boxed-in Clinton presidency as a road not taken.

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04-02

Trump may be suffering, as the joke goes, the worst 100 days of any president since William Henry Harrison. His list of laws signed makes ludicrous reading: only 17 items including on March 31 (the final day of the 10th week of his administration) “An Act to name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin VA Clinic.”

But the resources of a determined president are great. Trump’s enablers are powerful. The institutions of American government and society—including the expectations of the American people themselves for integrity in government—continue to show themselves weaker than most would have ever dared fear before 2016. We’re not anywhere near the end of this story, and certainly in no position to predict whether that ending will be happy or grim.

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March03-22

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.

The allegations, if true, would appear to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics, even as US-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million (£8 million) annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

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The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

In one exchange, daughter Jessica Manafort writes “Im not a trump supporter but i am still proud of dad tho. He is the best at what he does.” Her sister Andrea Manafort responded by referring to their father’s relationship with Trump as “The most dangerous friendship in America,” while in another exchange she called them “a perfect pair” of “power-hungry egomaniacs,” and asserted “the only reason my dad is doing this campaign is for sport. He likes the challenge. It's like an egomaniac's chess game. There's no money motivation.”

By contrast, the Manafort daughters and their mother seemed much more unsettled about Paul Manafort’s work as a political consultant for Yanukovych’s Russia-backed Party of Regions, which is a subject of renewed interest among investigators probing possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013.

“Don't fool yourself,” Andrea Manafort wrote. “That money we have is blood money.”

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03-20

If there's anything mitigating the bad news for the White House here, it is that Comey may have also sent subtle signals that the matters under investigation are not principally about the personal conduct of Trump himself. While this is speculation, I do not believe that if Comey had, say, validated large swaths of the Steele dossier or found significant Trump-Russia financial entanglements of a compromising variety, he would have said even as much as he said today. I also don't think he would have announced the scope of the investigation as about the relationship "between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government" or "coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts"; these words suggest one step of removal from investigating the President himself. If the latter were the case, I suspect Comey wouldn't have used words suggestive of the Flynn-Manafort-Page cabal.

But that's reading a lot into a relatively small number of tea leaves. What is clear is that this was a very bad day for the President. In it, we learned that there is an open-ended Russia investigation with no timetable for completion, one that's going hang over Trump's head for a long time, and one to which the FBI director is entirely committed.

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03-18

Some rank-and-file White House aides, meanwhile, have become convinced that intelligence agents may be monitoring their phone calls, emails, and text messages. Those fears intensified last week when WikiLeaks released a trove of CIA documents outlining how the agency can break into phones and computers.

In an interview, one White House aide described the elaborate steps he was taking to shield himself. Once he gets home in the evening, he turns off his work phone and stores it in a drawer because, he said, he believes it could be used to listen to him even when it’s off. If he makes a call during off-hours, he uses a separate, personal phone in an adjoining room, where the stowed work device wouldn’t be able to pick up his voice as clearly.

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Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

The 2016 Presidential election posed a challenge for someone with Mercer’s ideology. Multiple sources described him as animated mainly by hatred of Hillary Clinton. But Mercer also distrusted the Republican leadership. After the candidate he initially supported, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, dropped out of the race, Mercer sought a disruptive figure who could upend both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Patterson told me that Mercer seems to have applied “a very Renaissance Technologies way of thinking” to politics: “He probably estimated the probability of Trump winning, and when it wasn’t very high he said to himself, ‘O.K., what has to happen in order for this twenty-per-cent thing to occur?’ It’s like playing a card game when you haven’t got a very good hand.”

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[T]he Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.

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The conspiracy theorizing also tested what is often called the special relationship between the United States and Britain. American intelligence agencies enjoy a closer collaboration with their British counterparts than any other in the world. GCHQ was the first agency to warn the United States government that Russia was hacking Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign.

Foreign policy analysts expressed astonishment that Mr. Trump would so cavalierly endanger that partnership. “It illustrates the extent to which the White House really doesn’t care what damage they do to crucial relationships in order to avoid admitting their dishonesty,” said Kori Schake, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush now at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “America’s allies are having to protect themselves against being tarred with the White House’s mendacity.”

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03-17
03-14
03-07

Trump's spectacles... are swiftly gobbling up the time that Republicans thought they possessed. In a mere seven weeks, their president has become a national joke. And he can't change, because he's diseased. He will, therefore, soon also become an existential threat to his party. We shall then see, I'd wager, a "conservative" movement to remove him. For the Republican Party, the cost of Trump's benefits are simply too high.

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When candidate Trump said Hillary Clinton was a criminal who belonged in prison, he was exposing himself to a libel suit. And the suit might not have succeeded, because Trump could have said he was making a political argument rather than an allegation of fact.

But when President Trump accuses Obama of an act that would have been impeachable and possibly criminal, that's something much more serious than libel. If it isn't true or provable, it's misconduct by the highest official of the executive branch.

How is such misconduct by an official to be addressed? There's a common-law tort of malicious prosecution, but that probably doesn't apply when the government official has no intention to prosecute.

The answer is that the constitutional remedy for presidential misconduct is impeachment.

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Noted & Quoted

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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So, does Mitchell make any money on the work, which has been shared so many times? He uploaded a high-res image of the symbol and granted permission for anyone to use it personally for free. But for those who want to support his work or simply want something readymade, you can also buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and journals emblazoned with the symbol through Threadless.“I really just want to spread the image as much as possible and cement it in history,” Mitchell says. “In all honesty, the amount I’ve made from my Threadless shop so far is still less than my hourly rate, so I don’t really see it as a big deal. If you look at my Twitter, half the replies are people wanting to know where they can buy a shirt. Threadless is happy to help them out with that, and so I’m happy to let that happen.”Now that the symbol has flooded our streets and our timelines, Mitchell just has one request: “Impeach this idiot already,” he says.

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This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance. They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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