Archive

January 20th, 2017

Why Obama is the Jon Snow of American foreign policy

    As Barack Obama packs up his belongings and prepares to not be president anymore, the postmortems and assessments of his administration are coming in at a rapid pace. I have a pretty strong interest in foreign policy, have written at length about Obama's grand strategy and concluded that his record is actually quite significant. For both good and bad reasons.

    Let's start with the good: I don't think even foreign policy folks remember just how bleak America's position in the world appeared to be in January 2009. The outgoing president was spectacularly unpopular. In the preceding few months, the worst financial crisis in a century had hit the acute phase. The U.S. economy was shrinking by about 8 percent. Lots of foreign observers, and lots of American observers, too, were writing the obituary for American leadership in the world. The German finance minister was predicting that the United States would lose its status as the financial superpower. Beijing was on the rise, and the looming power transition seemed to augur poorly for American interests in the world.

    And yet, as I wrote over the summer, things turned out rather differently than a straight-line extrapolation would have predicted:

Trump picks the perfect time to show off his ignorance about black Americans

    How did you celebrate MLK Jr. weekend?

    President-elect Donald Trump decided it was the perfect occasion to criticize a living civil rights icon, unloading a series of tweets describing Rep. John Lewis's Georgia district as "crime infested" and accusing the former Freedom Rider of being "All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"

    He later added: "Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!"'

    Sad indeed. But Trump's tweets might have actually been MLK-weekend-appropriate, in a perverse way. They serve as an illuminating if disheartening preview of what the next four years might look like for black Americans, unwillingly led by a president who sees us as a barely functioning sector of society.

    Whatever his political flaws, President Barack Obama helped to normalize the idea that black people in the United States are, in fact, people - who could be professionally successful, have admirable family lives, might live not in crumbling projects but even in the White House.

With Trump's conflicts, corporate America wouldn't hire him as CEO

    Whatever else President-elect Donald Trump represents, it's clear he premised his appeal in large measure on the idea that he "built a very great company" -- inviting voters to think of him as America's CEO. At last week's news conference, Trump (sort of) laid out how he proposes to resolve the conflicts of interest that his vast holdings create. He'll presumably turn over management of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, who'll make decisions "without any involvement whatsoever" from the president-elect, appoint an ethics adviser to vet potential conflicts and avoid entering into any new deals with foreign partners. If he were up for a job as an actual corporate chief, would that plan be good enough?

    No.

John’s Gospel of Trump’s Illegitimacy

    On Friday, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and Donald Trump inauguration-boycotter John Lewis told NBC’s Chuck Todd something that I believe millions of Americans are thinking.

    “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

    The release of the clip in which Lewis made his stark assessment came on the same day that the FBI director, James Comey, and other intelligence officials provided a classified briefing to members of the House, no doubt divulging information to which we mere mortals are not privy. After the meeting, Rep. Maxine Waters of California blasted: “It’s classified and we can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the FBI director has no credibility!”

January 19th

Trump: Kremlin Employee of the Month?

    Humor writer Andy Borowitz recently joked that Donald Trump had been named the Kremlin’s “employee of the month.” I giggled at that, and then winced. It’s painful even to joke about.

    Some of the most explosive reports about America in the last few days appeared in Israeli newspapers. They suggested that U.S. intelligence officials had warned Israel to “be careful” about sharing classified information with the Trump White House, for fear that it would be given to Russia.

    U.S. intelligence officials reportedly cautioned that Vladimir Putin might have “leverages of pressure” to extort Trump. That presumably was a reference to the hanky-panky recounted in the dossier alleging that Moscow compromised Trump by filming him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

    Perhaps more troubling are suggestions of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

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Trump is not the real danger

    I take my next-door neighbor's political temperature by perusing his bumper stickers. During the reign of Bush II, Rob's work van sported this exhortation: "Visualize No Liberals." I didn't take it literally. I even managed a smile. It was pithy and rather witty.

    I knew Rob didn't want me gone, just like I didn't believe what I heard in Catholic school: that all Protestants were going straight to hell. My mother was an eminently lax Episcopalian.

    No, it would take more than a bumper sticker to drive a wedge between Rob and me, not to mention his wife, Helen.

    For years, Rob hayed my field and stored the bales in my barn before selling them. We've cut firewood together, drunk beers together on our decks, swapped organic vegetables and fresh eggs. I feed his cows on occasion, and a time or two I helped corral them when they got out. When an intruder spent the night in our house while my wife and I were away, Rob collared the guy. Now that's a good neighbor.

    Besides, I like bumper stickers. One of my all-time favorites was on the rusty old pickup driven by a guy who helped build our house: "I Brake for Hallucinations." Nobody tailgated John for long.

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Trump and the conceit of the entrepreneur

    Watching Donald Trump conduct his news conference Wednesday, it suddenly struck me that, underneath all those now-familiar idiosyncrasies, the president-elect is just like many successful entrepreneurs and owners of family businesses in his management style.

    For them, business is personal. They are the sun around which all the stars and planets revolve, the source of all the energy and inspiration, the guiding light and the gravitational force that holds it all together.

    They shape the product and the business strategy, cut the deals with suppliers and bankers, and cultivate personal relationships with the customers. They do the hiring and, when necessary, the firing. And although they delegate day-to-day responsibilities to a tight set of family members and loyal lieutenants, they keep a close eye on operations and are not shy about rolling up their sleeves when a problem arises and micromanaging the nitty-gritty details.

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Myths and truths about the Trump presidency

    To liberal Democrats and a few Republicans: Get over it. Donald J. Trump will become president of the United States this week. Accept it.

    As unsettling as the prospect may be, it's better to go in open-eyed, recognizing realities and dispelling myths, including:

 

-- Trump is unpredictable.

    He likes to convey this notion, and he is mercurial and unconventional. Most presidents-elect don't attack a renowned actress or belittle a Republican senator. But almost nothing he has done since Nov. 8 really is unpredictable, including his appointments, policy pronouncements (such as they are) and thin-skinned outbursts against anyone he feels sighted by. His policies will be guided more by political instincts -- which have served him well -- and what sells, rather than by any principles or ideology. Last week, he embraced the government negotiating drug prices, a long-held liberal dream.

 

-- He will be a Twitter-happy front man, leaving governance to others.

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For these Trump voters, no amount of change is too much

    It's literally impossible for Donald Trump to shake things up too much in Washington, in the eyes of those who backed him for president.

    That's my big takeaway from a post-election focus group of a dozen Trump backers convened in Cleveland by longtime Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

    In a memo documenting the results of the gathering - a quadrennial exercise that Hart has done for each of the past several presidential elections - the pollster writes: "Trump's voters are not about to let him forget these promises, and they fully expect the untraditional outsider to shake up a storm in Washington and make real, tangible improvements in the economy and in their day-to-day lives."

    Let's take the first part of that sentence first. It's saying that Trump's voters believe that Washington and the politicians who inhabit it are fundamentally corrupt and deaf to their concerns. They badly want "tangible" signs of change, the sort that official Washington not only rolls its eyes at but also gasps in horror at.

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Trump's lies, media threats show what to expect from the 'gaslighter in chief'

    At the northeast corner of the National Archives building sits Robert Aitken's sculpture "The Future," inscribed with some famous words from Shakespeare's "The Tempest": "What is past is prologue."

    If you buy that, it's possible to have a solid idea of what Donald Trump's presidency will be like for the American media and for citizens who depend on that flawed but essential institution.

    The short form: hellish.

    Consider, for example, the saga of Serge Kovaleski, the highly regarded New York Times reporter whose disability limits the use of his arms.

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