Tuesday Reads: “It’s Worse Than You Think.”Posted: January 2, 2018
I woke up with a feeling of foreboding this morning, knowing that Trump is back from his long golf vacation, ready to create more chaos around the world. Predictably he’s been tweeting up a storm, attacking Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin, The New York Times, James Comey, Barack Obama, and Kim Jong Un. He also commented obnoxiously on the protests in Iran and claimed credit for aviation safety in 2017. I can’t begin to describe the disgust I feel toward this evil man.
But it may be even worse than I thought. I just finished reading a very scary article by Susan Glasser at Politico: Donald Trump’s Year of Living Dangerously. It’s worse than you think. I wish I could just post the whole thing, but I’ll limit myself to excerpts. The opening paragraphs:
When President Donald Trump sat down for dinner on September 18 in New York with leaders of four Latin American countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, anxieties were already running high.
There was the matter of Mexico and his promise to build that “big, beautiful wall,” presumably to keep not just Mexicans but all of their citizens out of the United States too. And the threat to blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement. And then, a month earlier, seemingly out of nowhere, Trump had volunteered that he was considering a “military option” in Venezuela as that country’s last vestiges of democracy disappeared. Amid the international furor over his vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea in the same golf-course press conference, the news that the president of the United States was apparently considering going to war with its third-largest oil supplier had gotten relatively little attention. But the leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama invited to the dinner remembered it well….
To Trump’s left was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” the president told the gathered Latin American leaders, according to an account offered by an attendee soon after the dinner. “Is that right? Are you sure?” Everyone said they were sure. But they were rattled. War with Venezuela, as absurd as that seemed, was clearly still on Trump’s mind.
By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. “Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,” the former official told me. Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”
According to Glasser, the assessment of Trump as incompetent and even “insane” is pretty common throughout the world.
Over the course of the year, I have often heard top foreign officials express their alarm in hair-raising terms rarely used in international diplomacy—let alone about the president of the United States. Seasoned diplomats who have seen Trump up close throw around words like “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” In Berlin this spring, I listened to a group of sober policy wonks debate whether Trump was merely a “laughingstock” or something more dangerous. Virtually all of those from whom I’ve heard this kind of ranting are leaders from close allies and partners of the United States. That experience is no anomaly. “If only I had a nickel for every time a foreign leader has asked me what the hell is going on in Washington this year … ” says Richard Haass, a Republican who served in senior roles for both Presidents Bush and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
So what the hell is going on? I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse. The president is not playing the leadership role the rest of the world has come to expect from the United States, and the consequences are piling up. Still, it is also true that the world hasn’t exactly melted down—yet—as a consequence, leading some to conclude that Trump is merely a sort of cartoonishly incompetent front man, a Twitter demagogue whose nuclear-tinged rhetoric and predilection for cozying up to dictators should be discounted in favor of rational analysis of the far more sober-minded, far less radical policies actually put in place by his team….
Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
The European diplomat who was told to practice “strategic patience” did not find it all that useful in the several face-to-face meetings with Trump he ended up sitting in on. “We were struck by the absence of knowledge of the president,” he said. Another takeaway: Trump made commitments he then did not deliver on. “On some things, he accepted the argument, and we thought now it is resolved, only to find out later he uses the same phrases and arguments as he did before,” the diplomat said.
Please read the rest. It’s painful, but it’s important to face this reality, IMHO.
After reading that article, my sense of vague foreboding turned into anxiety bordering on panic. I had to take a break and calm myself down. What is going to become of our country? We need Mueller to act quickly. There is still nearly a year to go before the 2018 elections and no sign that Congressional Republicans are going to do anything to rein in Trump’s madness. Sometimes I still ask myself, “Is this really happening?”
The fact-checkers at The Washington Post have published an update on Trump’s lies: President Trump has made 1,950 false or misleading claims over 347 days.
With just 18 days before President Trump completes his first year as president, he is now on track to exceed 2,000 false or misleading claims, according to our database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.
As of Monday, the total stood at 1,950 claims in 347 days, or an average of 5.6 claims a day. (Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)
As regular readers know, the president has a tendency to repeat himself — often. There are now more than 60 claims that he has repeated three or more times. The president’s impromptu 30-minute interview with the New York Times over the holidays, in which he made at least 24 false or misleading claims, included many statements that we have previously fact-checked.
If you’ve been checking Twitter, you probably know that that New York Times interview has evoked angry reactions because of the failure of Reporter Michael Schmidt to question anything Trump said. Sometimes Schmidt even asked leading questions containing falsehoods. The approach used by Schmidt and fellow NYT reporter Maggie Habermann is to just get Trump talking and “get out of the way.”
And why no tough questions or follow-ups? Because NYT reporters are afraid that Trump will just walk away. If he did that would be more important news than the word salads they keep publishing. Twitter folks have also been bringing up the famous 2016 piece in which the Times claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies had found no “no clear link” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Erik Wemple at The Washington Post: New NYT scoop on Russia raises questions about old NYT story on Russia.
It was a week before the 2016 presidential election that the New York Times wrote this headline: “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” The story’s lead cited the curiosity of federal law enforcement on this front: “For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign,” read the story by Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers. “Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.”
Topical stuff. Major media outlets had been following strands of the Trump-Russia story for months. Just before the Lichtblau-Myers collaboration hit the Internet, for example, Slate ran a detailed story asking whether a server of the Trump Organization was communicating with Moscow’s Alfa Bank. Perhaps, concluded the story.
The New York Times piece pooh-poohed the possibility, reporting that agents “ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.” Furthermore, the story gave this summary of the investigations: “Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”
But just last week the Times published a bombshell story about why the FBI began investigating Trump and Russia.
More than a year later, we now know much more about the FBI’s pre-election Russia-Trump activities, courtesy of the New York Times. On Saturday, a three-byline story — Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo — reported that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, addled by the offerings of a London pub, told an Australian official in May 2016 that “Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass [Democratic presidential candidate Hillary] Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.” A couple of months later, hacked Democratic emails surfaced — prompting the Australians to tell U.S. officials what Papadopoulos had said.
Yet the Times still refuses to apologize for their obsessive coverage of Hillary’s emails and the story that absolved the Trump campaign of guilt in the lead up to the election. (Remember, Michael Schmitt wrote many of the anti-Hillary stories.) This is Judy Miller all over again. The New York Times is broken.
John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel, has a stark warning for White House lawyer Ty Cobb and the rest of President Donald Trump’s defenders as they enter 2018: Believing the investigation and prosecutions will be over any time soon is “wishful thinking.”
And, says the man who famously flipped and became the prosecution’s star witness in the process that helped take down Richard Nixon, no one in the president’s orbit should assume they’re prepared for everything that cooperating witnesses George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn might be telling Bob Mueller, as their statements have suggested—whether it’s done out of confidence from their own review or just out of public bluster.
That’s exactly the mistake Dean saw Nixon and his close aides and accomplices, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, make about him: overconfidence.
“They didn’t know how much I knew. I knew much more than they thought I did,” Dean told me in an interview for the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, pointing in particular to Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser. “With Flynn and his proximity, he had even more proximity than I did.”
Dean scoffs at the idea floated by Trump lawyer John Dowd in December that the president, in his role as America’s top law enforcement official, couldn’t be guilty of obstruction of justice. He finds equally ridiculous, in terms of how it would hold up legally, that the defense of Trump and other aides has at times suggested that the president was ignorantly blundering through what then-FBI director Jim Comey took as attempts to influence the investigation, but was really just the bluster of a personality who thinks about the world in terms of loyalty and doesn’t know the technicalities of the law well enough to violate it.
Ignorance is no defense, according to Dean.
Dean did include a frightening caveat:
For all that he’s never stopped reliving the Watergate years, Dean seems surprised at how relevant what he went through 45 years ago remains. Not that everything is the same—for one, he thinks that in today’s media and political environment, Nixon might have finished his term.
“There’s social media, there’s the internet, the news cycles are faster. I think Watergate would have occurred at a much more accelerated speed than the 928 days it took to go from the arrest at the Watergate to the conviction of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Mitchell, et al.,” Dean said. “There’s more likelihood he might have survived if there’d been a Fox News.”
That would be very bad for the U.S. and the world.
What stories are you following today?