Lazy Saturday Reads: Temporary Burnout Edition
Posted: July 21, 2018 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics
Once again, I’ve hit a wall. I simply can’t take it anymore. Has this been the worst week in the Trump administration? I don’t know. Every week is horrible. I don’t think I can write anything coherent today, so I’ll just share some random stories that caught my attention this morning.
The Wall Street Journal describes White House staff efforts to get Trump to act like a president of the U.S instead of a dupe of the Russian government.
For much of the White House, Mr. Trump’s conduct at the news conference with Mr. Putin on Monday was wholly unexpected. Administration officials ahead of the summit had crafted a plan for Mr. Trump to confront Mr. Putin on Russia’s electoral interference, officials said.
Before the summit, Mr. Trump had authorized the Justice Department to release an indictment of 12 Russians who allegedly hacked into Democratic computers during the 2016 campaign, agreeing it would strengthen his hand when he raised the issue of election interference, a White House official said.
Afternoon in the garden-Diane Leonard
In preparatory meetings, Mr. Trump and his aides discussed using the indictment to forcefully make the case. The plan was for Mr. Trump to invoke the indictment both in private meetings and in the public news conference afterward, a White House official said. The idea, the official said, was to “shove it in Putin’s face and look strong doing it,” depicting it as hard evidence of Russian crimes against America’s electoral process.
“He did the exact opposite,” the official said. During the news conference, Mr. Trump appeared to side with Mr. Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, saying he saw no reason why Russia would have interfered in the election. On Tuesday, he said he meant to say he saw no reason why Russia wouldn’t have interfered….
“It was a well laid-out plan. Unfortunately, he didn’t execute on it,” the official said.
Mr. Trump’s performance at the summit and afterward complicates plans for the midterm elections, a White House official said.
White House aides had begun preparations to make Mr. Trump the public face of planned efforts by the administration to stop election interference in the midterms. Mr. Trump would be shown presiding over meetings and making announcements about an administration-wide commitment to safeguard the 2018 elections. In the wake of the Putin summit, Mr. Trump may struggle to credibly make the case that he is spearheading the effort to protect U.S. election systems, the official said.
These people are either lying or delusional.
The Washington Post: Russia continues to shape narrative of Helsinki summit.
Russia provided additional details Friday of what it said were agreements made at the presidential summit in Helsinki this week, shaping a narrative of the meeting with no confirmation or alternative account from the Trump administration.
Not surprisingly, the Russian story line tended to favor the Kremlin’s own policy prescriptions, at times contradicting stated administration strategy.
Lucy Hessel Reading – Edouard Vuillard, 1924
Russia already has sent formal proposals to Washington for joint U.S.-Russia efforts to fund reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria and facilitate the return home of millions of Syrians who fled the country, following “agreements reached” by President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, the three-star head of the Russian National Defense Management Center, said Friday.
Mizintsev, speaking in Moscow at a joint session of planners from the Defense and Foreign Ministries, said that Russia had already begun work I gon the ground in both areas but that additional resources and international coordination are needed.
Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, said separately that Syria had been the primary topic in the Trump-Putin conversations, along with “the removal of the concerns that the United States has regarding the well-known claims about alleged interference in the elections.” [….]
Asked about Russian claims that agreements had been reached, a National Security Council spokesman said: “As President Trump stated, the two sides agreed that their national security council staffs will follow up on the presidents’ meetings, and these discussions are underway. There were no commitments to undertake any concrete action, beyond agreement that both sides should continue discussions.”
I guess Trump is still refusing to tell anyone what happened in the meeting. Maybe he can’t remember?
Vanity Fair: There Is A Reason We Tried To Kill This: After Helsinki, The Deep State Fears Trump Cannot Be Saved.
As much as official Washington has become numb to the daily offenses of Donald Trump, there was something uniquely disturbing about the president’s transgressions in Helsinki. After months of combating Trump’s attempts to align himself with Vladimir Putin, the president was alone and unguarded with the man he had long sought to meet. National Security Adviser John Bolton, among other Russia hawks, had traveled with Trump to Finland in preparation for the summit. But when Trump and Putin entered the gilded Hall of State at the Presidential Palace for a joint press conference, the result was a shocking display of servility. Repudiating the hardline positions of his aides and advisers, Trump exonerated Putin for hacking the 2016 election—and put the blame on “foolish” Americans for driving the United States and Russia apart.
Albrecht Samuel Anker
Days later, insiders who know Bolton are still struggling to explain how the man who’s advocated violent regime change in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea could have allowed his boss to bend the knee before one of America’s greatest geopolitical adversaries. “I’m stumped,” said a former high-ranking State Department official. “The John Bolton I remember from the past was a strong hawk. So either he’s changed, or the president isn’t listening to him or taking his advice on how to deal with Russia.” A second erstwhile colleague, also a former senior State Department official, concurred. “The John Bolton I know would have been more horrified than I am over what happened,” this person told me. “I mean, he must just be pulling his forelock practically out of his head in order to maintain the ‘Oh you’re so great’ and ‘Mr. President, oh you’re the best.’ That’s the only thing that works with this birdbrain, and he must be doing it over and over and over again.”
“Birdbrain.” I haven’t seen that synonym for “moron” lately.
Bolton isn’t the only senior Trump adviser who has been sidelined or subordinated. Defense Secretary James Mattis, an outspoken critic of Moscow, has not appeared in public or made any comments since Monday’s press conference, and the Pentagon has been unable to answer questions about the summit….
As the post-summit fallout continues, however, these foot soldiers of the Deep State are coming to a chilling realization: nobody has any control over Trump—including Trump himself. For the legion of national-security, diplomatic, and military officials trying to smile while white-knuckling through the Trump presidency, Helsinki was a wake-up call. As a current administration official explained, Trump seems to believe that he alone can sit down with dictators and strongmen like Putin and Kim Jong Un to remake the world order—and experts and advisers will only slow him down.
Hey, he told us at the GOP convention: he believes that he alone can fix it.
Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: The entire Republican Party is becoming a Russian asset.
In the past few days, President Trump has given at least some Republicans reason to express displeasure over his relationship with Russia. First he performed a pathetic ritual of subservience before Vladimir Putin, standing beside the Russian leader — after a private meeting between the two, which no aides were permitted to attend — and dismissing the copious evidence of a Russian attack on the 2016 election in deference to Putin’s word.
Asta Nørregaard (1853-1933) Woman Reading, 1889
Then we learned that Putin had suggested that we make Americans available to the Kremlin for questioning, including Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, in exchange for allowing us to question some of the agents who carried out the cyberattack. Trump had called it “an incredible offer,” and the White House said he was considering it, before finally backing down after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the idea.
But look past the modest number of Republicans saying that Trump has gone a bit too far here or there, and you see a very different picture. The truth is that the entire GOP is well on its way to becoming a Russian asset.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Trump sees dead people. And they talk.
A few weeks ago, while posthumously honoring a World War II hero, Trump gave the man’s family a report on their departed loved one. He was “looking down from Heaven, proud of this incredible honor, but even prouder of the legacy that lives on in each of you. So true.”
A few weeks before that, at what was billed as a celebration of patriotism at the White House, Trump reported to the crowd that fallen soldiers are pleased with his economic policies and increases in the stock market. “Many of them are looking down right now at our country, and they are proud,” he said.
Sometimes, Trump pinpoints the location of the deceased, using some psychic GPS. At an outdoor Medal of Honor ceremony in May for soldiers lost at a battle in Afghanistan, Trump pointed at a location in the sky and said, “They are looking down right now.” A week before that, outside the Capitol, Trump pointed to a point in the sky over his head and told the family of a slain police detective: “So she’s right now, right there. And she’s looking down.”
Occasionally, something must get lost in the cloud and Trump receives a heavenly miscommunication. Speaking to a steelworker at the White House in March, Trump informed the man: “Your father, Herman, he’s looking down, and he’s very proud of you right now.”
“Oh, he’s still alive,” the steelworker said.
“Then he’s even more proud of you,” Trump said.
More examples at the WaPo link.
At The New York Times, Maggie Haberman whines about all the nasty people on Twitter who make her feel bad about herself.
I woke up last Sunday morning feeling anxiety in my chest as I checked the Twitter app on my phone, scrolling down to refresh, refresh, refresh. There was a comment I started to engage with — I opened a new post, tapped out some words, then thought better of it and deleted the tweet. The same thing happened repeatedly for the next two hours.
The evening before, I had complained to a close friend that I hated being on Twitter.It was distorting discourse, I said. I couldn’t turn off the noise. She asked what was the worst that could happen if I stepped away from it.
There was nothing I could think of. And so just after 6 p.m. last Sunday, I did.
After nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets, I have used Twitter enough to know that it no longer works well for me. I will re-engage eventually, but in a different way.
I really hope she just stays away. Haberman represents everything that is negative about the mainstream media and access “journalism.” I’ll keep right on ignoring her inane gossip columns whether she “reengages” or not.
That’s all I’ve got. I hope you all have a relaxing weekend.