Trump mounts extraordinary defence of his ‘mental stability’

President boasts of being a very stable genius and calls Michael Wolff a fraud but author says his explosive book will finally end this presidency

In an extraordinary public defence of his own mental stability, Donald Trump issued a volley of tweets that seemed guaranteed to add fuel to a raging political fire.

Suggestions in a new tell-all book that he was mentally unfit to be president were out of the old Ronald Reagan playbook, Trump wrote on Saturday.

Actually, the president added, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.

He also said he would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!

The book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, burst into the public consciousness on Wednesday, when the Guardian reported excerpts nearly a week ahead of publication. Trump threatened to sue but succeeded only in prompting the publisher Henry Holt to bring the book forward.

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Fire and Fury: Key explosive quotes from the new Trump book – video

Wolff presents a picture of a doomed administration lurching from crisis to crisis, steered by a childlike figure who responds to overstimulation with intense, reflexive outbursts.

The president may not be able to restrain himself from commenting but I can restrain myself from commenting on his comments, Wolff told the Guardian on Saturday.

At a lunchtime press conference at Camp David, the president was asked why he tweeted. In a characteristically freewheeling answer, he said: Only because I went to the best colleges or college. I went to I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people.

Went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won.

In fact, in 1999 Trump mounted a first run for the White House when he sought the nomination of the Reform party.

The president continued, referring to Wolff: And then I hear this guy that does not know me doesnt know me at all by the way did not interview me for three he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House it didnt exist, OK? Its in his imagination.

Trump called Wolff a fraud and his book a work of fiction and complained about US libel laws, which he has threatened to change.

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told a White House pool reporter the president tweeted to get around the filter of the media. Trump had not at all seemed angry on Friday night or Saturday, Kelly said, adding that the president had watched the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman about the hoaxer and politician PT Barnum with lawmakers and others.

Before Trumps tweets, Wolff spoke to the BBC. He said: I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor has no clothes effect.

Suddenly everywhere people are going: Oh my God, its true, he has no clothes. Thats the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this presidency.

The 25th amendment of the US constitution provides for the removal of a president if a majority of the cabinet and the vice-president agree. In Wolffs book, the then White House strategist Steve Bannon refers to Vice-President Mike Pence as our fallback guy. Pence stood to Trumps right at Camp David, his gaze rarely leaving the president.

Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, briefed a dozen members of Congress last month on Trumps behaviour. At the end of a week that began with Trump taunting North Korea over the size of his nuclear button, Lee told the Guardian the danger has become imminent.

Fifty-seven House Democrats have signed on to a bill to establish an oversight commission to determine if a president is mentally and physically fit.

We need this legislation quite apart from the Trump administration, Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the author of the bill, told the Guardian.

The 25th amendment was framed during the nuclear age the nuclear arsenal being a vast destructive power that is vested, as the president reminded us this week, in one person who views himself as having the power to press a button. We certainly dont want someone in that position who lacks the power of empathy.

The rising tide of questions around the presidents mental health reflects a lot of anxiety unleashed by the presidents nuclear taunts lodged at North Korea.

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A queue for Fire and Fury at Kramerbooks, in Washington. Photograph: Guardian

The White House has forcefully criticised Wolff, who has said he stands by his work, which included more than 200 interviews and extensive access to the West Wing and key administration figures.

At Camp David, Trump referred to Bannon derisively as Sloppy Steve. The former Trump campaign chief has avoided extensive comment, though in the aftermath of the Guardian story he called Trump a great man.

Trumps reference to the Ronald Reagan playbook was a curious one. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimers, a degenerative brain disease, in 1994, five years after leaving office.

The extent to which he suffered during his time in the White House remains a matter of contention. Reagan, like Trump in his 70s when in office, long faced questions over his mental state. Opponents pointed to his habit of forgetting names and making contradictory statements.

In the Hollywood Reporter this week, Wolff wrote of Trump: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes hed repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions he just couldnt stop saying something.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has said Trump will undergo his annual physical examination on Friday 12 January. The results are due to be made public.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/06/donald-trump-tweets-mental-stability-fire-and-fury-michael-wolff

Trumps War on the Press Follows the Mussolini and Hitler Playbook

Beneath the madness and the lies of The Year of Trump there remains a constant drumbeat, unyielding and determined. It broke cover on Jan. 22, 2017 when Kellyanne Conway introduced the term alternative facts.

The abasement of language by Donald Trump and his assorted flacks began long before, but this concept was so naked, so novel and so unblinkingly forthright that it established the rules for the assault to come, just as the first salvo of an artillery barrage signals the creation of a new battlefield where there will be many casualties.

And lets face it, the English language has taken a real pounding since then. Lies have poured forth from the White House at an astonishing rate: The Washington Post estimated that in Trumps first 355 days he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims, averaging five a day.

Trump has spent two years vilifying the dishonest media (including The Daily Beast), even invoking the Nazi chant of enemies of the people. Aided by the alt right zealots at Breitbart, he has successfully persuaded millions of Americans that The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC are seditious forces bent on denigrating and destroying the man they elected.

It is dismaying that it was so easy for him to do this, dismaying that independent journalism of quality is so easily discredited and dismaying that none of this seems to trouble the Republican Party.

And lets be clear: The protection of independent journalism isnt something that a lot of politiciansor a good number of the populationreally care about. Yet, in the end, it has really been a strong year for journalism. In particular, two papers, The New York Times and Washington Post, have re-established themselves as bulwarks against abuses of power, as they were at the time of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

Why have these two newspapers in particular once more demonstrated the best of American journalism? Its partly luck. The Post was basically saved by Jeff Bezos whose deep pockets have restored the resources of the newsroom. Under the editorship of Marty Baron they were positioned to seize the Trump moment and rediscovered the art of investigative reporting. Similarly the Times passed through a period in which it struggled to find a new business model for the digital age and eventually found it, enabling its Washington newsroom to become competitive again.

This underlines the fragile dependency of journalism on enlightened patronageon who owns a newspaper and particularly who owns the two papers that are regarded as national in prestige and potency together with the editorial independence and authority that that position requires. For all its fine reporting over the last year The Wall Street Journal does not have that kind of reputational backbone because it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, blatantly a Trump stooge.

But the battle is not yet won, and will not be without eternal vigilance. To realize the gravity of where we are now we need more context than is provided by recent history, we need to look at the history of Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. In both nations tyrants arose who on the way to seizing power found it remarkably easy to denigrate and destroy independent journalism.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini came to power in October 1922. At the age of 39 he was the youngest ever prime minister, charismatic and full of energy. He was also careful to move slowly as, almost by stealth, he built a new illiberal state. In a country that for years had lacked unity he proposed a new focus for nationalism: himself. He was Italy. He described a parliament made impotent by its own factionalism a gathering of old fossils. Parliaments powers and the rights of a free press were stripped away.

The people, Mussolini said in July 1924, on the innumerable occasions when I have spoken with them close at hand have never asked me to free them from a tyranny which they do not feel because it does not exist. They have asked me for railways, houses, drains, bridges, water, light and roads. In that year the fascists won more than 65 percent of the vote in national elections.

Mussolinis absolute hold on power was made clear on Jan. 3, 1925, when he said: I and I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.

As the editor, successively, of two newspapers in Milan and with a talent for populist polemic Mussolini had skillfully used the press for his own ends. Now he made sure nobody else would follow his example. Within a few years most of Italys newspapers were suppressed or put under party control. Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom. Without any effective challenge Mussolinis megalomania flourished. The crowds who gathered for his speeches cried Duce, Duce, Duce! We are yours to the end.

None of the ministers, officials and party secretaries around him were safe from his caprice. He was always right and anyone who contradicted him was fired. Mussolini was, simultaneously, prime minister, foreign minister, minister of the interior, commander in chief of the militia, and minister for the whole military, army, navy, and air force.

Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom.

These flagrant excesses of the founder of European fascism were later to seem buffoonish against the cold-blooded terror machine that Adolf Hitler built, just as rapidly, in Germany. But there was nothing comical about the 1920s for Italians: they had succumbed very readily to a maniac, and a maniac who understood that the state should control all propaganda (which is, after all, an Italian word) down to details such as decreeing that the national tennis team should wear black shirts.

In Germany the man who would go down in history as the evil genius of alternative facts, Joseph Goebbels, was appointed Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda on March 14, 1933little more than a month after Hitler came to power in Berlin.

Goebbels said he wanted a ministry that was National Socialist [Nazi] by birth.

To staff it he was smart enough to tap into one of the most corrosive influences on the national mood at the time: a grudge, widely held, that Germanys descent into economic chaos had left many of the countrys best educated young people out of well-paid government jobs. From this group Goebbels recruited party zealots who were notably younger and smarter than other Nazi officialshe specified that he wanted those who displayed ardor, enthusiasm, untarnished idealism. (Watching the instant classic encounter between CNNs Jake Tapper and Trumps senior adviser for policy, Stephen Miller, suggests that Miller would have been a perfect recruit.)

Goebbels priority was to exert immediate control of the pressthe press, he instructed his staff, had to be a piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government. Germanys newspapers had been messengers of decay that were harmful to the beliefs, customs and national pride of good Germans.

Within a year all of Goebbels goals were achieved. Three previously independent news services were merged into one state-directed national news agency, the German News Service. All journalism was subjected to the policy of Gleichschaltungmeaning that they had to toe the party line on all issues.

A piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government.
Joseph Gobbels on the press

Previously newspaper publishers had been the legal entity responsible for everything that was published. Goebbels issued the Editor Statute that made editors equally accountable and any editor who resisted Gleichschaltung could be removed and, if particularly recalcitrant, would be sent to a concentration camp.

However, as had Mussolini, Goebbels recognized that the German press should be left with a fig leaf of apparent independence. One great liberal newspaper that happened to have an international following, the Frankfurter Zeitung, was allowed to remain publishing until 1943. Its editors grew expert at a kind of coded reporting with a semblance of neutrality that allowed experienced readers to sense what was really going on.

Two new and growingly important news outlets, radio and cinema newsreels, were put totally under Goebbels control: We make no bones about it, he said, the radio belongs to us, to no one else! And we will place the radio at the service of our idea, and no other idea shall be expressed through it.

The collapse of media independence was rapid and complete. But, as with all historical comparisons, this one can be pushed either too far or too little. Plainly America in 2018 is not the Europe of the 1930s and liberal paranoia in itself is not a sound basis for assessing just how dangerous an assault on journalism may turn out to be.

In 1933 Hitler was at the threshold of creating the instruments of a terror state. We are nowhere near that point. But what is striking now is how friendless the press was. Nobody fought the Goebbels takeover. Mussolini had identified and seized the same opportunity, finding it easy to issue edicts that closed down critical newspapers on the grounds of sedition.

This might seem astonishing in a country like Germany that had one of Europes most deeply rooted intelligentsias. But the universities were quiescent, the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the barons of industry were all tired of the Weimar Republics violent polarization between the fascists and the communists and for them press freedom was secondary to personal interests like jobs and, for the industrialists, to the fortunes to be made from re-armament.

Of course Trump has little if any grasp of European history and probably only the vaguest idea of who Goebbels was but his use of tweets reflects one of Goebbels basic tenets about propaganda: Berlin needs sensations as a fish needs water. Any political propaganda that fails to recognize that will miss its target.

So it happens that when it comes to news management Trump has pulled off something that Goebbels would applaud. He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

Almost every event is refracted through his own response to it, its media lifespan no longer than can be held in his own gnat-like attention span. His tweets are so bizarre, unhinged and frequent that they effectively confuse and distract much of the competing daily coverage. What seems aberrant at 6 p.m. suddenly seems the new normal by 7 p.m. (As Ron Rosenbaum powerfully demonstrates writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, getting people to readily accept the aberrant as normal was one of Hitlers most effective early tactics.)

He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

And when Trump faces a news narrative that he cant derail, like the Mueller investigation, he sees it as a violation of his own powers, as he imagines them to be rather than as they really exist under the constitution.

Mussolini, very early in his rule, did the same thing, equating himself with the nation and regarding any insult to him as an insult to Italy. In Trumps mind it his base that exclusively represents the nationa belief constantly reinforced by Fox News for whom that base is a ratings gold mine. Trump and his lackeys on Fox have succeeded in equating respect for the kind of truth-telling that is built on learning and the ability to marshal facts with a simple demographic: its the exclusive province of metropolitan elites.

This tactic is based, at least in part, on a condition described by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist. He calls it cognitive ease in which humans tend to avoid facts that are uncomfortable or require work to understand.

Goebbels understood that the reinforcement of prejudice was an intoxicating weapon of propaganda. Fed the right message, aggrieved and resentful minorities could be made to coalesce into a critical mass of activists. The Trump base has been built on this principle, and feels grateful to be led by such a man with whom they readily identify, even though his real interests (personal enrichment) are the opposite of theirs.

But perhaps the weirdest side of Trumps perception of his role and office is that in his mind his fate and that of the mainstream media are locked together in a life or death embrace. This is new. No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

Consider how he framed this belief when Michael Schmidt of The New York Times recorded one of the most bizarre interviews with him in the Grill Room of his West Palm Beach golf club during the holidays:

Were going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and were being respected again. But another reason that Im going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if Im not there because without me their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually probably six months before the election theyll be loving me because theyre saying, Please, please, dont lose Donald Trump.

Most of the rest of that interview was delusional drivel that provided an alarming insight into his mental processesin fact, it served as a kind of impromptu warm-up for the revelations of Michael Wolffs book, a kind of journalistic bomb cyclone.

What Wolff delivered between the covers of a book was an explosive concentration of reporting that isnt achievable through the daily news cycle. His method is really no different than that used by Bob Woodward in his books, notably on the origins of the Iraq war, where whole scenes are reconstructed with dialog without attribution, but carry the ring of authenticity. The difference in public impact is that Woodward was reporting after the event whereas Wolff delivers as, so to speak, the crime is still in progress.

Some sniffy journalists, David Brooks surprisingly among them, have complained that Wolff doesnt operate according to their understanding of journalistic standards. Well, for one thing he doesnt have the resources of a paper to support him. And he also demonstrates another vital point about the scope of journalism: sometimes the force of one is equal to the force of hundreds. At this moment we need both kinds of consequential reporting, the collective effort of a newsroom and the disruptive brilliance of the loner.

Calling out the lies hasnt stopped Trump. His motives may differ from those of Mussolini and Hitler. Hes not ideological. In his case autocratic instincts come as a psychological motor in the pursuit of greed and the protection of his unbridled and ludicrous ego. The lack of ideology doesnt make him any less dangerous, though.

Trump has no time for scruples. With his lawyers unable to kill Wolffs book (can book burning be far off in his mind?) he once again threatened to ramp up the libel laws to prevent the defamation of people like him. Hes trying to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner in the hope that Time Warner will be forced to divest itself of his bte noir, CNN, hoping that someone more sympathetic to him will take it over, although Rupert Murdoch, the obvious candidate, says hes not interested, and he has been clearly looking for ways to punish Jeff Bezos for his re-arming of The Washington Post in changes to the tax code that would hit Amazon.

No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

All this should be very alarming, but Trump is operating in a worryingly permissive arena. There isnt, it seems, a stable public standard of truth in todays America. This is a culture where scientific truths are dismissed if inconvenient and ignorance is nourished. (Forty-three percent of Republicans believe that climate change is not happening.) One of the foundations of secular Western polities is that truth can be sustained only by honesty in language, that language must be used to interrogate information critically, no matter what its source.

In this struggle journalism is our last dependable line of defense. Its no exaggeration to say that the health, security, and integrity of the republic is at stake. History is an unforgiving judge and, just as the history of Europe in the 1920s and 30s reveals shameful failures in democratic institutions Americas current crisis will be judged by how effectively, or otherwise, the institutions designed to protect democracy worked.

No institution can achieve this without being able to operate on a generally agreed foundation of facts, of which the single most consequential fact is that the president is patently unfit for office. The second is that he is being kept in office by the obsequious Republican leadership who remain supine even after the outrage of the shithole outburst.

Principal among these are toadies like Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who, rather than pursue the investigation of Trump would rather pursue the whistleblower, the British former spy Christopher Steele. Other Republicans are calling for Muellers investigation to be purgedusing a term that Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin all employed to protect themselves. Then there is Ayn Rands posthumous wrecking ball, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who delivered a groveling encomium when Trump signed the so-called tax reform bill, thanking him for exquisite presidential leadership.

There is a word for people like these. Its a word that needs to be revived from earlier use: Quisling. It was first used as a general pejorative early in 1933 as Hitler came to power, identifying a Norwegian fascist named Vidkun Quisling who modeled his party on the Nazis and, when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, urged collaboration with them.

As is so often the case it was Winston Churchill who gave it a permanent meaning when, in 1941, he said: A vile race of Quislingsto use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuriesis hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen while groveling low themselves.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/trumps-war-on-the-press-follows-the-mussolini-and-hitler-playbook

Donald Trump Opens His Sh*thole and Again Disgraces America

Come on, America. What more evidence do you need?

Let me be overly generous here. Suppose you agree that Haiti is a shithole. Its not one of your high-functioning nations, that is true. Of course, if you bother even to go to Wikipedia to read up for 10 minutes, youll find that the mess that is Haiti was partly made by these United States of America, with our ironclad support over three decades of the Duvaliers, father and son, brutal dictators and murderers and thieves, to whose crimes our governments turned many blind eyes. If you look around a bit more, youll see that Haitian soldiers fought in our Revolutionary War, in a battle in Savannah, Georgia. And if youre really intellectually adventurous, youll read about how Haiti was a slave colony in the late 1700s, remorselessly brutalized by Napoleon, and how Toussaint LOuverture, the leader of Haitian independence, has inspired artists from William Wordsworth to Jacob Lawrence to Ralph Ellison to Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Jean-Michel, a great American artist of the 1980s, was born to a Haitian father. A powerful artistbut, to the president of the United States, just another shithole kid.

But what Im saying is this: Even if you agree with Donald Trumps assessment of Haiti, I hope you surely agree that a president of the United States should not be talking that way about countries, no matter what the country is. Because in every country, even in Somalia, by every measure the worlds most dysfunctional country, there are innocent, decent people who have none of the dysfunction on their hands; who are indeed historys most unfortunate victims, people who are just trying to work and raise their kids and who happened to draw the short straw in the global lottery and be born in this place, and who want out.

And for many decades, many of the people across the globe who wanted out wanted to come here, to America, to make a better life. Now I ask you: Who wants to come to Donald Trumps America? Who?

Not the good people of Norway, to whom Trump opened the door with his comments Thursday. Why would they? They have health care, they have free college, they have many weeks of family leave and vacation. They want to visit, sure, because who doesnt want to visit? But move here?

We used to think everyone from everywhere wanted to move here. Of course. Were America! Were the beacon. But not anymore. With the President of the United States making racist comments like this and proposing policies to match the only people whod be really excited about moving here are other racists.

America, its time. Its time to start demanding, bluntly and daily and with a dignity that is completely alien to our president, that he should not be the president of the United States. I am in one sense happy to report that Americans dont need to be persuaded of this. As it happens, just Wednesday, Quinnipiac released a poll. In it, 57 percent of respondents said he was not fit to serve as president, to 40 percent who said he was.

This is a moment. Remember it. January 11, 2018. For one thing, its the first time I ever remember mainstream news outlets all saying the word shit. The word shithole actually appeared in a Washington Post headline. The New York Times couldnt quite bring itself to put the word in the headline. Okay. Its the Times. But it did put in the first graf of the story. On CNN, White House correspondent Jim Acosta used the word on air. He was right to do it. And he was right to say that the President seems to harbor racist feelings toward those who are, well, you know, not white. That seems looks soft in print. It wasnt on TV, trust me.

As the Q-poll shows, a majority of Americans agree. In a democracy, Congress would pay attention to public opinionas expressed in that Q-poll but also in many othersand would begin proceedings on whether the president was fit to be president. Believe it or not, thats what the founders wanted to happen. They wanted a Congress that would see a president say something like this, something so aggressively at odds with our national creed, and put party aside and debate the matter on the merits.

Of course, we have no such Congress. And if we have no such Congress, we have no democracy. We have a joke on democracy. And as long as the congressional majority thwarts the will and sense of the American majority, Im afraid the joke is on us. But we have to hope it wont be for much longer.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/donald-trump-opens-his-shthole-and-again-disgraces-america

Republicans Have Lost Touch With Blue America

This was Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch in regard to the needlessly endangered Childrens Health Insurance Plan, whose lapsed funding is causing some states to write letters to families warning them that their childrens health coverage might expire:

Were going to do CHIP, theres no question about it in my mind. It has to be done the right way. But wethe reason CHIP is having trouble is because we dont have money anymore. We just add more and more spending and more and more spending, and you can look at the rest of the bill for the more and more spending. I happen to think CHIP has done a terrific job for people who really needed the help. I have taken the position around here my whole Senate service. I believe in helping those who cannot help themselves but would if they could. I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who wont help themselves, wont lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything. (My italics.)

Im giving you more of the quote than most outlets have in perhaps an excess of fairness to Hatch, but he did help create the program with Ted Kennedy, so maybe he actually does want to extend it. But that last sentencewowzers. And the audacity of insisting theres no money for health care for working-class kidsright around the time hes voting to cut taxes, once again, for millionaires.

So all thats terrible. But even so, this isnt a column about what a Scrooge Hatch is. This is about something else.

You know how the media are always carrying on about how Democrats are so woefully out of touch with red America? Of course you do. We hear it in one form or another every day from conservative bloviators, and the mainstream media pick it up because after three decades of such attacks its just automatically accepted conventional wisdom. And I acknowledge theres some truth to it. But heres the other side of the coin, which no one ever, ever, I mean ever talks about: Republicans are totally out of touch with blue America.

Heres what I mean. When you first saw the Hatch comment, you probably thought he was talking, consciously or subconsciously, about black people. And maybe on some level he was. But I have an alternate theory. He was talking about some Utahans he knows.

I started thinking about all this earlier this year when I read Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasses book, which I reviewed for The New York Review of Books. Sasses thesis is that were raising a nation of incompetent layabouts who cant think or act for themselves. The book got gushing reviews, except from me, because a) it was seen as being a cut above the usual politicians palaver, which it was, and b) its thesis seems to a lot of people at first blush inarguable, because every generation frets that the succeeding generation is soft and coddled and lacking in the vim and vigor that will be necessary to maintain the empire (back when, say, Robert Baden Powell was producing such tracts) or, today, the republic.

Sasses book has page after page of anecdotes about the shiftless youth of Nebraska. In the set piece that frames the book, some students at a small college decorated only the bottom third of a Christmas tree because none of them thought to try to procure a ladder. This made him shudder at the thought that these people would someday be running the country.

At some point while reading the book it hit me: Hes not describing the world I live in at all. In the world I inhabit, young people are killing themselves to get into Ivy League schools. Theyre volunteering with the elderly and learning Mandarin and entering Math Olympics contests and otherwise pressuring themselves to the extent that half of them need meds by the time theyre 15. If the young people Im around couldnt find a ladder, theyd design and build one.

And then it further struck me: While Sasse does wave at this opposite problem for a page or so, its clearly not really on his radar screen. And its not on Hatchs either, apparently. And the reason it isnt on their radar screens is that they dont really know these people.

Theres a problem in rural Utah and Nebraska, but its not really one of shiftlessness. Its one of structural economics. These are places that have been carpet-bombed by the global economy. As I noted in the Review, if young people today in these places have less initiative than the young people of 30 years ago did, maybe its because they see less opportunity for themselves. It would be nice to see Sasse and Hatch thinking about that, but addressing that would require some public investment, and, as Hatch said, sorry, theres just no money. Have to cut rich peoples taxes.

Meanwhile, the problem in blue America is precisely the opposite one. Theres too much striving, too much pressure, too much initiative. But as problems go, Id rather have this one. This is the America that produces the vast majority of our innovators and thinkers and scientists and creative people. This is the America that creates most of the nations wealth. Hillary Clinton may have won only 15 percent of the countrys 3,100-odd counties, but the 472 counties she did win account for 64 percent of GDP. This is the America that invents and designs and engineers; the America where there already really is so much winning.

Republicans dont know this America. They dont represent it, by and large. Oh, there are a few. Barbara Comstock in northern Virginia, say. Some snuck into those districts in 2010 and 2014, but theyll mostly lose in 2018, and in presidential-election terms, these counties and districts go Democratic by 12 or 15 points or more (in the recent gubernatorial election in Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam carried Comstocks district by 13 points).

Republicans know the Americans they represent: rural people and (especially) uber-rich donors. They give rhetoric about religion and values to the rural folk and trillions of dollars to the rich. They dont know about the awesome dynamism of blue America. Indeed they seek to punish it. To wit, those obscene provisions in the House version of the tax bill that would tax people out of pursuing graduate degrees, which constitute nothing but a petty jab at a class of people whose values they dont like.

So its actually the Republicans who are out of touchwith the most productive people and elements in this society. Of course, theyll never pay any political price for it, because were a bunch of elitists, you see, not like those real Americans. Well, take us out of the economy and see how real we are. These blue Americans make the economy work, and we want a government that will make it work for everyoneurban poor and rural people alikeand not the ones at the top the Republicans keep helping over and over.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/republicans-have-lost-touch-with-blue-america

SNL Uses Kids to Criticize President Trumps Sexual Misconduct Allegations

This week, Saturday Night Live heeded our advice and ditched problematic actor Alec Baldwins unimaginative Trump impersonation during their cold open.

In the orange ones stead was a holiday-themed bit of children meeting a mall Santa (Kenan Thompson) and his elf (Kate McKinnon), and sharing with them their Christmas wishes.

First came a young boy named Tyler who, after requesting Mega Bloks and laser tag, asked, What did Al Franken do? Unease, naturally, ensued.

Well, Tyler, I guess you could say Al Franken is on Santas naughty list this year, Santa replied, referencing Frankens recent resignation following a series of groping allegations.

And what about Roy Moore? Which list is he on? added Tyler of the Alabama Senate candidate, whos been accused of sexual misconduct by at least nine women and was banned from a local mall in Gadsden, Alabama, for creeping on young girlsincluding a Santas helper.

Its not really a list, its more of a registry, McKinnons elf replied.

A young girl named Jessica came next: I wanted to follow up on Tylers question: Is President Trump on the naughty list?

Well, you know, Santa tries to stay out of political matters. Our president may have said or done a few naughty things, explained the diplomatic Santa, thankfully neglecting to mention that time Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Nineteen accusers. Google it, chimed in Santas helper, in a nod to the 19-plus women who have accused Trump of various degrees of sexual misconduct, including sexual-assault.

Santa was, well, a bit more child-friendly. Look, Jessica, I think we can all learn a lesson from whats going on in the news, he said.

Cue Jessica: We sure can! I learned that if you admit you did something wrong, you get in trouble. But if you deny it, they let you keep your job!

It didnt stop there. The children asked questions about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, the opioid crisis, a toy like the one Matt Lauer gave his coworker, and how the GOP tax cuts will make your health care disappear.

Kids say the darnedest things.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/snl-uses-children-to-criticize-president-trumps-sexual-misconduct-allegations

Trump Wins Tax Cuts, Kids Lose Health Insurance

Over the summer, President Donald Trump invited House Republicans to the White House Rose Garden to tout the passage of an Obamacare repeal bill through their chamber. It was a premature celebration, one that looked particularly silly when the Senate failed repeatedly to follow suit months later.

On Wednesday afternoon, the president brought GOP lawmakers over to the White House againthis time to celebrate the real thing.

For roughly half an hour, the president and Republican allies from Capitol Hill boasted of passing a major tax package that will, largely, benefit the wealthy and corporations. And, in true Trumpian fashion, he cast it as a prolonged fight between the winners and the losers.

"It's always a lot of fun when you win," Trump made sure to note, shortly after giving kudos to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the latter of whom he has repeatedly feuded with privately, as well as publicly.

Despite the pomp and circumstance, however, the law remains deeply unpopular, with most voters of the belief that their individual taxes are slated to rise. In fact, the majority of taxpayers will see a decline in taxes in the near-term, though that could change in the latter years of the law, when those individual rates expire.

We believe that the way the bill has been characterized in many cases has been misleading, a senior White House official told reporters during a press briefing on Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers also were celebrating a major legislative win at the precise moment when the rest of the legislative docket remains stagnant. Shortly before they gathered with Trump to applaud the slashing of taxes, news broke that theyd failed to advance a bill that would re-authorize a program providing healthcare to 9 million children.

Senate aides told The Daily Beast they expected the debate over funding the program, CHIP, to be resolved sometime in January. But that is just one of the many pressing issues that the Congress has left for the next year. The others include protections for undocumented children, money for community health centers, and the funding of the actual government.

Sources close to the White House said on Wednesday that they were fully anticipating the possibility that this brew of major items could result in a government shutdown, thereby negating some of the economic gains that the tax cuts would facilitate.

But the administration, for its part, argued that Wednesday legislative win puts them in a better political position for those upcoming fights.

The reality is, [Americans are] going to get a tax cut, a senior White House official said. So we know were gonna be able to have the truth set us free.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-celebrates-a-tax-win-but-a-child-healthcare-crisis-looms

‘Drama queen’ alert! Patton Oswalt’s fury & despair over passage of a tax bill is unmatched

The Resistance’s parade of anger and despair continues today, with Patton Oswalt sounding all but resigned to a horrible fate: Passage of the GOP tax bill:

Read more: https://twitchy.com/dougp-3137/2017/12/02/drama-queen-alert-patton-oswalts-fury-despair-over-passage-of-a-tax-bill-is-unmatched/

Make Nepotism Great Again: 20 Families Got Jobs in Trump Administration

Most people have heard of Ivanka and Jared, but the first family is far from the only group of relatives staffing the Trump administration.

A Daily Beast examination of public records reveals that there are at least 20 families, joined by either blood or marriage, in which multiple members hold some federal post or appointment. They include the families of some of Trumps most prominent campaign supporters and agency officials, including one cabinet officer. The posts range from senior White House staff to more ceremonial and advisory positions.

A few of the most prominent cases came to the fore in recent weeks with the hiring of Eric Trumps brother-in-law to be chief of staff at the Department of Energy and the nomination of Brett Talley to a federal judgeship in Alabama. In paperwork filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Talley failed to disclose that his wife is the chief of staff to the White House senior counsel Don McGahnpresenting a potential conflict of interest if the administration ever argues a case in Talleys court.

But McGahn too has a direct relation in the administration. His wife, Shannon McGahn, was hired in May as a policy adviser to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In March, Trump tapped former Ford Motor Company lawyer Jim Carroll to join McGahns team. Carroll has since moved over to the Office of Management and Budget, where he serves as general counsel. But before he did, the White House hired his son, James Carroll IIIwhose previous professional experience consisted of a stint as the sports editor of his college newspaperas a staff assistant.

Such staffing choices arent necessarily novel for this administration. From John Adams to John Kennedy, U.S. presidents and their teams have drawn on families for high-level staffing. A lack of comprehensive records for previous administrations makes it difficult to gauge whether the Trump administration is staffed by more families than his predecessors.

But Trumps administration is, more than any since perhaps Kennedys, defined by blood relations, with daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner occupying senior posts and other members of the family, including sons Don Jr. and Eric and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, serving as prominent public faces of the presidents political and business arms. And the degree to which other families supply the administration with top talent only further illustrates the insularity of the current group controlling the levers of power in Washington, D.C.

Though not technically a federal employee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani serves as an informal adviser to the president. In March, his son Andrew joined the White House Office of Public Liaison as associate director after his professional golfing career petered out. The younger Giulianis LinkedIn page listed him as a former sales intern at investment firm CapRok.

As secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is one of the administrations most senior officials. But her family has also provided tremendous financial support for the president and the Republican Party, shelling out more than $200 million in Republican campaign contributions. Donors are frequently rewarded with administration posts and the DeVos were no different. In September, Dick Devos Jr., Betsys husband, was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administrations Management Advisory Council. The next month, Pamella DeVos, Betsys sister-in-law, landed a spot on the advisory board for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. DeVos brother, Erik Prince, the founder of notorious military contractor Blackwater, was also said to be informally advising Trumps incoming administration after last years election.

Other intra-family administration posts have been more prominent and filled more direct policy-making roles. Often, these appointments have illustrated another ongoing trend in the Trump administration: the tasking of high-level officials to regulate or oversee industries in which they formerly worked.

Former House Financial Services Committee Oversight Counsel, Uttah Dhillon, was appointed as a senior assistant to the president in January. In June, his wife Janet Dhillon was tapped to be an Equal Employment Opportunity commissioner, which puts her on a body that previously took enforcement actions against at least two of her former employers, United Airlines (PDF) and JCPenny, for allegedly discriminatory action that took place while she served in legal roles for the companies.

Pamela Patenaude, Trumps deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, didnt work in industry. But she led the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation, which promotes U.S. housing policy reforms. When she was nominated in April, her daughter Meghan was already a deputy assistant for scheduling to Vice President Mike Pence. By the time she was confirmed to the HUD post in September, another of her daughters, Caitlin Patenaude, had been hired as a policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other Trump administration families appear to have followed their principals into the federal government. Sisters Millan and Sydney Hupp both worked on Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitts campaign for Oklahoma attorney general. Sydney Hupp is now Pruitts executive scheduler, and her sister is EPAs director of scheduling and advance.

Jennifer Pavlik likewise followed her former boss into the administration. She was Pences chief of staff in the Indiana governors mansion, and now serves as the vice presidents deputy chief of staff. She joined the administration in January, and a few months later her husband followed. Brian Pavlik, a former concessions program manager for the Indiana State Parks system, was hired as a special assistant to the National Parks Service.

At least one familial Trump official is no longer in the job. A few months after former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka joined the administration, his wife, Katharine Gorka, landed a job at the Department of Homeland Security. She remains in that post, but her husband was unceremoniously ousted in August.

As she continues advising high-level government officials, Sebastian Gorka has been relegated to an advisory position at a group run by Pizzagate conspiracy theorists. He was recently pictured parking his car on a sidewalk in Virginia.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/meet-the-trump-officials-making-government-a-family-business

Its Time for a Grand Anti-Trump Coalition

Benjamin Wittes is one of those names you may have gotten to know in the Trump era. Not that you shouldnt have known him before, but in the past 11 months, the Brookings scholar has produced more than his share of posts that have gone viral on the Lawfare blog, especially the ones he wrote about his friendship with James Comey just after President Trump fired him.

That friendship and his frank posts have helped him carve out a unique space for himself in the Age of Trump. And he seems to know it and is prepared to use it. Over the weekend, in a move that ignited animated discussions in my circles, Wittes took to Twitter and produced 18 tweets dedicated to the proposition that all decent people of left and right must set aside their differences and unite to defeat Trump and Trumpism.

Under the hashtags #CoalitionofAllDemocraticForces and #IBelieve, Wittes argued that he wants to see a temporary truce on all [questions of disagreement], an agreement to maintain the status quo on major areas of policy dispute while Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency. #IBelieve that facing that national emergency requires unity. He wants Americans across the political spectrum [to] unite around a political program based on the protection of American democracy and American institutions.

Its a new and bold idea in the current context. In larger historical terms, of course, nothing is new. Its reminiscent of the old Popular Front idea on the left. The PF was the project of the communists of the 1930s who thought it would be of greatest strategic value to band together with socialists and even liberalswho communists in normal times reviled as servants of capitalismto defeat Hitlerian fascism. The project was launched in Moscow and thus took many different forms in England, France, and other countries. Here in the United States, the CPUSA under Earl Browder decided to support the New Deal. And when the USSR became our ally during World War II, Roosevelt and Stalin, two men with very different and indeed irreconcilable world views, were both Popular Frontists.

Wittes own politics are hard to distinguish. Hes not a liberal, though not exactly a conservative. On some matters, he has that I-dont-like-either-side posture that many liberals find infuriating. Here he is in The Atlantic in 2005, for example, saying that while he personally favors permissive abortion laws, hed much prefer to see Roe v. Wade die. A lot of liberals would say, and not without some justification, that centrists of this general type are partly responsible for Trump because their commitment to non-commitment, so to speak, prevented them from seeing the right for what it was these past 10 or so years and warning their publics about it. (I hasten to note here Im describing a type, not Wittes personally.)

But I say now, none of that matters. Im with him.

Hes correct about two basic things. One, that this is a national emergency. If I have to spell out why for you, youre reading the wrong column and should stick to the gossip pages. Trump is a clear and present danger the likes of which weve never seen. Two, that the top priority far and away of decent people of all ideologies has to be to confront Trumpism and to stop it.

The natural response of some partisans on both sides would be to refuse to commit to a project like this because of the past positions of some who might join it. Ill never work with Bill Kristol!, that kind of thing. Well, Bill Kristols done a lot of things I dont like. And Ive probably done a lot of things he didnt like, though I have only a fraction of his influence, so Ive never helped kill a major piece of legislation (Hillarys health care bill) or push the country toward war. But Im ready even to forget Iraq. Thats the very essence of Popular Frontism. If Kristol wants to stop Trump and is willing to commit to Wittes principles, then we should be too.

Those principles, by the way, are bipartisan and unobjectionable. Commitments to the First Amendment; to transparent government; to getting to the bottom of Russia; to science and evidence; to no Muslim-bashing, full stop; to fighting presidential abuse of power; and more along those lines. I think it could be a powerful and influential thing if Wittes can get 20 or 30 or 50 prominent people on both sides to sign a statement of principles, and thousands or maybe tens of thousands of regular citizens to co-sign on Facebook.

Of course one foresees problems. How exactly would this coalition make all politics stop and maintain the status quo on all our disagreements? What happens if Anthony Kennedy retires or dies? Would maintaining the status quo require conservative coalition members to oppose any Trump nominee, who would be by definition tainted by his or her association with Trump?

Such a coalition, too, would be propagandistic manna from heaven for the Our Revolution left, as it would affirm their view that sell-outs like yours truly always were destined to sacrifice their principles. Whatever. I look over the past 11 months, and I dont see that Ive changed a whit. Instead I see Kristol and George Will popping up on MSNBC, I see Max Boot emerge as one of the most powerful critics of Trumpism around, and I peruse Jennifer Rubins columns that with each passing week are reading more and more like Molly Ivins. Irving Kristol, Bills father, famously said that a conservative is a liberal whos been mugged by reality. Today, a liberal is a conservative whos been trumped by it.

Theyve changed. Not me. Im happy to make common cause with them. I dont know that Im important enough that history will judge me, but if I am, I will not have that judgment be that Tomasky abetted Trumpism by continuing to fight 15-year-old battles over Iraq. Ben, where do I sign?

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/its-time-for-a-grand-anti-trump-coalition

Hes Embarrassed Me: In North Carolina, Trumpists Start to Turn

WILMINGTON, North CarolinaA dozen voters assembled here for a focus group on President Trumps first year give him credit for a good economy and a robust stock market. Having said that, they used the forum to let loose with their condemnation of the tweeter-in-chief and the many ways he has embarrassed them.

It was a tough assessment, and the most stinging critique came from those in the group who had voted for Trump, with Republican women serving up the harshest words, saying he hasnt delivered on his promises, and hes crude and bullying.

I feel like he told people that he had all these big ideas and big plans, and it just seems to kind of roll to something else, said Emily Bell, a 32-year-old occupational therapist. Its like nothing is ever accomplished.

Annie Anthony, 56, who runs a small nonprofit, said, Hes embarrassed me by his behavior I cant imagine how they let him build a country club, let alone be in one. Because adults dont behave that way. She doesnt mind the tweets but wishes he would elevate his language.

He uses words like sad and badthats first-grade language. Were an intelligent population who elected you. Represent us!

There was only one staunch Trump supporter in the group, Cynthia Layton, a 64-year-old nurse, who loves the tweets. Thats how I hear from him… I dont need an elitist person talking down to me.

Layton says she doesnt trust the media, and she turned off her cable 10 years ago. She draws inspiration from Rush Limbaugh. I read my sites. I listen to his tweets, she says, which are simply what he honestly feels because he uses white and black language and doesnt give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that hes direct and tells it like it is.

The focus group on Wednesday evening was organized in collaboration with Emory University, and almost half the two hours focused on the opioid crisis, which everyone agreed is a huge problem. A 47-year-old single man described as a self-employed handyman said he had lost eight friends in the last six months, all to heroin, a stunning statement that prompted a round of personal stories.

Wilmington is the center of a growing addiction rehabilitation industry, and many who come for treatment relapse and stay. The group blamed pharmaceutical companies for downplaying the addictive potential of opioids, and doctors for peddling them. The word kickbacks came up repeatedly as the group discussed their ready availability.

I have Obamacare and Im grateful for it, but theyre slashing this and slashing that, and Im afraid that I might lose my health care, said Annie Anthony, who is divorced and voted for Trump. Like almost everyone in the room, she knows people grappling with addiction. Without insurance, people wont be able to pay for treatment, so they wont get to go. Youve got to pay like 24 grand upfront for some of these programs.

At the end of the session, Hart said to Anthony, Im not sure why you voted for Donald Trump. You would be an ideal person to explain to Donald Trump, heres why Ive been with you, and heres why Im not with you. Youve moved a long way since the election.

Anthony responded with a story of how she was driving an Uber one night and had one of Democratic leader Chuck Schumers assistants in her car. He was going to Jacksonville, which was a 90-minute drive, so there was plenty of time to talk, and he asked her the same question.Because of abortionand Benghazi, she replied. He was going to try to not have as many abortions, and I didnt see her as telling the truth with Benghazi.

Earlier in the discussion, Anthony had said, I expect our embassies to be safe, and she [Clinton] let our people down.

My kids think Im a confused Democrat, but Im actually a weak Republican, she said. Shes worried that her health insurance premiums will go so high she wont be able to afford to see a doctor.

These are the people Trump is losing, but predicting where they will land next politically is complicated. If the swamp is still full, Ill be voting to empty that swamp some more, Anthony said. And that doesnt mean Ill be voting for a Republican or a Democrat. Its going to be based on their behavior and whether I found them trustworthy.

The antipathy toward Hillary Clinton is so strong that it keeps voters in the Trump camp. Asked for a word or phrase to describe Clinton, there was a string of invectives: crook and thief and sore loser, someone who cant be trusted and who thinks the rules dont apply to her.

Michael Leimone, 41, a cook at a local pizza restaurant, is disappointed in Trump, but doesnt regret his vote. He calls Trump a loose cannon, but insists, Its still better than having the career politician in there.

The Russia probe never came up. Trumps vulnerability with these voters is health care. It came up a lot. They know whos doing the slashing, and theyll know who to blame when those premium hikes hit.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/hes-embarrassed-me-in-north-carolina-trumpists-start-to-turn