I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ,
think it possible that you may be mistaken.
Oliver Cromwell, Aug. 3, 1650, to the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
We are engaged in an electoral contest to see whether, in Lincoln’s words, our “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . can long survive.” People I love, people I have known virtually all my life, dear friends and relations, stand alienated from me across a gap, a chasm. We struggle to talk with one another—or are forced to abandon talking to one another—about what may be the most important public policy decision we will make in my now quite long lifetime. Despite all the overarching values that we share, despite what Lincoln called “the mystic cords of memory,” we are as alienated as if we lived in different universes. And we do. We live in two different noetic universes, two different informational ecosystems.
So my goal here, my hope here, is to create a door and invite these friends and relations to step through and stand outside the informational ecosystem they normally inhabit: to invite them to “try on other spectacles” to inspect the framework of ethical, political, and practical premises and the narratives about events of the recent months and years that have led them to the conclusion that Donald Trump and the broader current Republican leadership have America’s best interests at heart and are competently serving our best interests.
Dear friends: I want to change your minds.
Intense partisanship has been with us for a long time. The election of 1800 first exposed the extent to which partisanship can corrode our governing processes. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had together pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the Declaration on which they had collaborated; they had been affectionate family friends, even caring for each other’s children. Yet they found themselves in a contest in which the partisans of Jefferson declared that if Adams won, America would devolve to become again a British colony; and partisans of Adams declared that if Jefferson won, America would devolve to become a French colony. The partisanship was brutal; both men were deeply wounded by the personal attacks on their character; each took offense against the other; their alienation was deep and long lasting; only many years later, through the intercession of Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of their fellow co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, was their friendship restored when they were both old men.
It has long been common practice in high-stakes partisan politics to attempt to “define” an opposing candidate. Jefferson had been an ambassador to France (so had Adams). He was an ardent admirer of the French Revolution, while Adams was wary of its excesses. Certainly in 1800 Jefferson was a Francophile, but he was first and foremost an American patriot. Similarly, though Adams had served as America’s first ambassador to England, he was not an ardent Anglophile. But then in 1800, the great service each man had rendered on behalf of the United States was “defined.” It became a liability, an alleged defect, in much the same way that John Kerry’s heroism in Vietnam was turned against him in the “Swiftboating” slanders of 2004.
Our current political climate is dangerously unstable. Our discourse has become profoundly pathological. The often-problematic propagandistic exercise of “defining” has metastasized, comprising ever bolder and ever more outrageous—call them what they are—lies. Three of the most outrageous are that Barack Obama is not really an American but was born in Kenya and is a Muslim who hates America; that Hillary Clinton and the elite of the Democratic establishment were running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C.; and that Joe Biden was engaged in a corrupt scheme with a Ukrainian oil company through his son. The lie about Obama, most prominently propagated by Donald Trump, is so ludicrous, so patently false and so easily disproved that Obama himself has been able to enjoy joking about it in public. The lie about Hillary Clinton, however, may have swayed enough votes to change the outcome of the 2016 election. The lie about Biden? The effect remains to be seen.
The “pizzagate” lie, extensively promoted by, among others, Alex Jones in his toxic broadcasts, was ludicrous, but it convinced Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina to drive to Washington and, heavily armed, to storm the pizza shop, shooting off his assault rifle, terrifying its customers and employees, who give the man a thorough tour of the building revealing . . . nothing but pizza-making supplies. No kids (except the kids in the dining area enjoying pizza with their families), no sex, no depravity. Just pizza. Weirdly, though, the pizzagate lie seems to have seeded the whole much more elaborate, toxic and dangerous web of current QAnon conspiracy theories.
No wonder our level of trust in one another is so low, no wonder our political climate so unstable. We are living in an atmosphere of public discourse that is probably more polluted than ever before in history. We are wallowing in a witch’s brew of malicious fictions urging us to distrust one another. We now know that many of provocateurs are state actors, apparently almost entirely Russian, running extremely sophisticated disinformation campaigns: some railing about the dangers of the socialists on the left, others railing about the dangers of the fascists on the right, and both pushing people like the poor guy from North Carolina to act against each other based on these lies and distortions. Now it’s not just the candidates who are being maliciously “defined.” Now we ourselves are all being “defined”—defined as the enemies of each other.
What I’m about to say may feel wrong, even offensive to you if you still believe Donald Trump is a patriotic and effective president. For example, I will talk about the charges brought against him in the impeachment process concerning the Ukrainian matter as facts, which I believe they are. But I don’t think those allegations are the critical point on which we should all vote against Mr. Trump and for Joe Biden. Even if you think his foreign relations have been favorable for our country, I believe you should vote for Biden. Please stay with me, please give me a chance to share a glimpse through my spectacles.
Not everybody suffers in this pollution. Who thrives in such an atmosphere of deceit and distrust? A liar does: Donald Trump, on July 9, according to the fact checkers who keep track of these things, uttered his 20,000thfalse or deliberately misleading statement. Don’t believe the traditional, established news media, Trump says. It’s all fake news. Journalists have no integrity—except Fox News (and recently Trump has not appreciated Fox when they have stuck to the facts). He has refused to disavow QAnon, noting that they “seem to like me.” He has refused to criticize violence on the right while denouncing peaceful protest in the Black Lives Matter movement, tarring the entire movement with the offenses of a relative few (some of whom have since been shown to be right-wing provocateurs) who have indeed engaged in unjustifiable violence and looting. In fact, his campaign for reelection appears to be centered on this strategy: stirring up violence with inflammatory tweets and then saying, “Look what will happen if you elect Biden! We’ll have violence in the streets!”
It seems a strangely incoherent argument. It’s the argument that a challenger candidate would make against an incumbent, isn’t it? Who has been president for over 3 ½ years? Who’s been in charge of keeping the peace, keeping us safe? Hasn’t that been Mr. Trump? But everywhere he goes, he incites more violence, inviting “militias” to bring their weapons and help protect the American way, warning that the suburbs are under attack, fanning the flames, pretending that the failed leadership he laments is somebody else’s failure. He goes to Kenosha and justifies the actions of that poor misguided kid who had attended his rallies and had believed his lurid rhetoric and thought he was answering the call to patriots. Kyle Rittenhouse wasn’t as lucky as Edgar Welch, the guy from North Carolina who went to Washington to save the children in the pizza café. Instead of just being extremely embarrassed by his mistake (Welch, who was profoundly apologetic, also ended up with a 4-year prison sentence), he ended up killing two people and shooting a third. And then, in contrast to the president, Biden goes to Kenosha, calmly condemns violence on all sides, speaks words of comfort, and prays with a community group in a local Lutheran church.
But in the midst of all the anger, all the disinformation, all the acrimony, all the ominous rumblings in the structure of our great American project, there are signs of hope. Some of the bitter, nihilistic partisanship, the kill-or-be-killed politics seems to be cracking open. One ray of hope is Biden himself, who has spent his entire adult life arm wrestling with and negotiating with and giving-and-taking with and collaborating with other leaders all across the political spectrum. With his whole being, Biden embodies this unifying, patriotic, American impulse. And there is increasing evidence of a bi-partisan upwelling in this country, the hint of a re-assertion of a United States of America, not a Blue v. Red States of America (to channel a certain Illinois politician speaking in 2004). Three Republican former governors endorsed Biden at the Democratic National Convention. They have since been joined by a fourth, and there are rumors of more in the wings.
Alumni of the George W. Bush presidency, Republicans all, have formed The Lincoln Project, dedicated to exposing Trump as incompetent and corrupt. Their recent television ad based on the widely confirmed (even on Fox News) reports of Trump’s contempt for American servicemen and women—especially those who have been killed or captured or wounded—is at once a patriotic call to arms and a resounding denunciation of Trump’s unfitness for office. If you have not seen their ads, Google the Lincoln Project and watch them. And remember, these are Republicans who are sponsoring these ads.
Key people who have worked closely with Trump and who know a great deal about his character and his competence are beginning to speak out. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has written a devastating critique of Trump in The Atlantic. Michael Cohen’s memoir, Disloyal, is officially published as of September 8. The Cohen book, you will recall, almost didn’t get published. Cohen, of course, is still serving his sentence for crimes he committed in Trump’s service, confined at home because of the COVID pandemic. When Trump found out Cohen was going to publish his expose, he saw to it that he was incarcerated again, even in the midst of the infections running through the prison system. Cohen successfully appealed, and the book is now out, documenting, among other things, Trump’s racism, his attempts to leverage the presidency to gain business opportunities in Russia, and his many other major and minor corruptions. John Bolton’s book, In the Room Where It Happened, about his time as Trump’s national security advisor has confirmed yet again the findings of the House investigation into the Ukraine affair—that the president was withholding military aid intended to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression in an effort to induce Ukraine to slander Joe Biden and damage Biden’s candidacy. (If you need to get your blood pressure up, read the current [mid-September 2020] Wikipedia article, “Trump-Ukraine Scandal.)
In short, a lot of loyal lifetime Republicans are publicly, and at considerable personal and professional risk, changing their minds, repelled by the corruption, incompetence, and corrosive, brutal partisanship of Donald Trump. Why are they doing this?
HISTORY WILL JUDGE THE COMPLICIT
Anne Applebaum begins her superb essay, “History Will Judge the Complicit,” in the June 6 issue of The Atlantic with a brief biography of Wolfgang Leonhard. Leonhard was German; his parents had escaped from Hitler’s Germany into the Soviet Union. He had been raised and educated in the Soviet Union in elite schools for children of foreign Communists, and he had been among the select group who had been flown to Berlin in 1945 along with the Communist Party leader, Walter Ulbricht, part of the kernel of the Communist elite who would rule East Germany for the next half century. Applebaum picks up the narrative when Leonard was working in East Berlin:
Leonhard had lived through a great deal by that time. While he was still a teenager in Moscow, his mother had been arrested as an “enemy of the people” and sent to Vorkuta, a labor camp in the far north. He had witnessed the terrible poverty and inequality of the Soviet Union, he had despaired of the Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941, and he knew about the Red Army’s mass rapes of women following the occupation. Yet he and his ideologically committed friends “instinctively recoiled from the thought” that any of these events were “in diametrical opposition to our Socialist ideals.” Steadfastly, he clung to the belief system he had grown up with.
The turning point, when it came, was trivial. While walking down the hall of the Central Committee building, he was stopped by a “pleasant-looking middle-aged man,” a comrade recently arrived from the West, who asked where to find the dining room. Leonhard told him that the answer depended on what sort of meal ticket he had—different ranks of officials had access to different dining rooms. The comrade was astonished: “But . . . aren’t they all members of the Party?”
Applebaum contrasts Leonhard with Markus Wolf, an exact contemporary of Leonhard’s with an almost identical background and experience. In fact, the two men were friends and colleagues in Berlin and had been schoolmates earlier in Soviet Russia. While Leonhard had this conversion experience—we might say his spectacles were smashed by the question about the dining room—Wolf remained a loyal, elite member of the East German regime, eventually becoming its top spy.
From this contrast, Applebaum then turns to the contrast between Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney. She describes Graham’s career from the time he served as a legal officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force in Germany, how this experience was the foundation of a career in which Graham built a reputation as a strong patriot and advocate for the military, continuing to serve in the reserve even after he was elected to the Senate. As recently as 2014, Graham ran as a centrist maverick, much in the same mold as his good friend Senator John McCain, noting at one point during the 2014 campaign that jousting with the right-wing Tea Party was “more fun than any time I’ve been in politics.” For a while in 2015, Graham was an active candidate for the presidential nomination, running against a wide field of opponents—including Donald Trump, whose values, or lack of values, he scorned. At various points, he called Donald Trump a “jackass,” a “nutjob,” and “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” And Trump retaliated with the dirty trick of publishing Graham’s private cell phone number, inviting people to call and harass the senator.
Like Graham, Romney was a severe critic of candidate Trump in 2016, criticizing Trump as a real danger to our democracy. But Romney’s background was very different from Graham’s. Financially, he resembled Trump more closely than Graham did. Romney had shape-shifted more than once politically. He had changed political affiliation from Republican to Independent and run unsuccessfully for the Senate in Massachusetts, later winning a race for governor. As governor, he had overseen the creation and implementation of a healthcare system that would later become the model for Obamacare. Then, when he ran for the presidency as a Republican in 2012, he shifted to the right, most notably campaigning in support of a more restrictive immigration policy and opposing Obamacare. And when Trump was elected, Romney met with Trump to interview for the job of Secretary of State. Yet it was Romney, having been elected to the Senate from Utah, who cast the lone Republican vote in the Senate for conviction on the impeachment charges, saying, “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Of course, Graham and Romney weren’t the only ones who asserted in 2016 that Trump was unfit for the presidency. Marco Rubio called him a dangerous con man and an embarrassment. Trump, in turn, called Rubio “Little Rubio” or “Little Marco” and mocked the way he perspired and sipped water during the debates. He called Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” mocked Cruz’s wife and insinuated that Cruz’s father had been somehow involved in the assassination of JFK. He also deployed the “birther” charge against Cruz, arguing that Cruz was disqualified from the presidency because he was born in Canada. Cruz, in turn, called Trump a sniveling coward, a bully, utterly amoral, proud of being a philanderer. He said Trump is a pathological liar, that he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He said that in a pattern of psychological projection straight out of a textbook, Trump accuses everyone else of lying. He predicted that Trump will betray his supporters on every issue, that Trump’s telling the moneyed elites he doesn’t believe what he’s saying. At the Republican National Convention, in the face of loud, scornful boos from the crowd, Cruz refused to endorse Trump even though it was clear at that point that Trump had a lock on the nomination.
Then Trump won the election, and having won, he quickly made clear the kind of fealty that he expected. Now Republicans who criticized or resisted him either directly or indirectly were belittled, attacked, and punished, and some—for example, Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake here—chose to end their political careers. Like everyone else in public life, Lindsey Graham, who had refused to vote for Trump, had to decide what to do. He became a golfing buddy of the president; he supported Trump even as the president corroded international alliances that Graham had supported all his career; he became a vociferous apologist for the president on TV; he abandoned his vaunted bipartisanship during the impeachment trial and launched a hyper-partisan, Trump-style personal attack on the House members presenting the impeachment case. All three Senators who had criticized him so vociferously in 2016—Graham, Rubio, and Cruz—voted not to investigate the impeachment charges against Trump that were levied against the president by the House. And all voted to acquit.
Why would they do that? Why would anyone collaborate with somebody whose behavior and values they abhor? Or had those campaign comments just been attempts to “define” an opposing candidate? It’s hard to know, but I think those campaign critiques were sincere appraisals of Trump. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily were nakedly cynical when they changed their minds and chose to accept and to abet his leadership as president. Applebaum proposes a list of reasons why one might choose to collaborate with someone you may find distasteful (or worse):
- In spite of this regime’s faults, we can still achieve great things.
- I personally will benefit.
- I must remain close to power.
- LOL, nothing matters: cynicism, nihilism, relativism, boredom, amusement.
- This side may be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.
- I am afraid to speak out.
Some of these rationales are cynical. But not necessarily all. These Senators represent constituencies. They want to be effective on behalf of their constituencies. In that service, they regularly engage in compromise. Politics, as the maxim says, is the art of compromise. Life is compromise, give and take, accommodating differing and sometimes competing interests. Each had to choose what and how much he would compromise. And all chose. As circumstances change, will they adjust? Will they change their minds again? I believe—and hope—that at some point they will change their minds and will again support the American project as opposed to the Trumpian project. I hope that many more will resubscribe to the progressive, inclusive, magnanimous values that in the past have characterized the Republican party.
THE DEVOLUTION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
I was raised by Republicans. In 4th grade, and again in 8th grade, I proudly wore my “I like Ike” buttons. I remember the special treat on a cold February evening when I would go with my dad to the Lincoln Day celebration at a community hall and eat locally raised roast beef and mashed potatoes and listen to speakers invoke the memory of the great Abraham Lincoln who believed in the power—and the moral obligation—of the government to do good and great things, who freed the slaves, won the war, bound the nation together east and west, north and south, with his progressive programs of railroad building and the telegraph, and set the groundwork for a great prosperous nation with educational and economic opportunity, setting aside school sections in surveys to support local public schools and Land Grant Universities, and enabling people to own their own homes and farms through homesteading. I remember hearing about Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke softly and carried a big stick and busted up the big trusts who were stealing from the poor and aggrandizing the rich; who fought the corruption of the spoils system and the unholy alliance of plutocrats and corrupt civil servants; who advanced Lincoln’s ideal of a progressive, robust national government empowered to advance equal opportunity for all—and who created the great National Forests and Parks, including our own Bighorn National Forest where my friends and I played, hunted, fished, camped, and acted out our lives like we were Jim Bridger or Lewis and Clark. Later I would learn that the Republican party was more complex than that, that many of Roosevelt’s fellow Republicans were the rich guys he was fighting. The Democrats, I later learned, were even less homogeneous than the Republicans—including an improbable alliance of the solidly Democratic, rural South and of big urban, largely ethnic political machines.
The fact is, the parties themselves have changed their minds. Both, of course have traditionally been “big tent” parties with a wide range of economic, ethnic, geographical, cultural, and ethical interests and values. There has actually been significant overlap of these interests and values between the parties, and both have long subscribed to the principles proclaimed in our founding documents and to a strong national, patriotic consensus.
Given the exigencies of a particular moment, policies can change. Party platforms change (or in the case of the Republican party in 2020, disappear entirely). Minds change. In my own lifetime, the polarities of the parties have almost reversed. The “Solid South” had remained solidly Democratic since the Civil War, nurturing a sullen resentment against the Lincoln Republicans who had defeated them in war and destroyed their economic system based on their “peculiar institution” of slavery. But then Hubert Humphrey’s passionate speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention urged the party to step “out of the shadows of States’ rights and into the sunshine of human rights” and adopt a civil rights platform, and he changed enough minds that the convention adopted the platform he urged. A large contingent of Southerners walked out of the convention and formed the “Dixiecrats,” a States’ rights party explicitly dedicated to “the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race” and opposing “the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program,” as they announced in their published platform, using almost the exact language of South Carolina’s formal act of secession published in 1860. It explicitly rejected the human rights language of the Democratic platform, asserting the right of the States to maintain their apartheid Jim Crow system suppressing Black citizens’ access to the vote, to education, to economic opportunity, and to public services generally.
Over the next twenty years, the South still remained predominantly Democratic, but erosion was notable as old Dixiecrats drifted toward the unthinkable: joining what had been the party of Lincoln. Then along came the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Lyndon Johnson had spent his career in the Senate as a Southern Democrat. He was a master politician, and he had called in old favors, twisted arms and deployed all his skills and resources, and he had gotten the Act passed. The evening after the formal signing, Bill Moyers, who was his press secretary at the time, found him sitting slumped despondently. What was the matter, Moyers asked, they had won a great victory for democracy and civil rights that day. Johnson agreed that they had. But, he said, they had lost the South to the Republicans for untold years to come.
THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY
Johnson was right. In the very next election, in 1968, the Nixon campaign deployed its Southern Strategy comprising a range of racial “dog whistles,” language that echoed the States rights language of the 1948 Dixiecrats and the 1860 articles of secession but without the explicitly racist language of those documents. Lee Atwater was one of the earliest and most adept practitioners of the Southern Strategy. By 1981, he was working in Ronald Reagan’s White House when he gave a deep background interview where he talked candidly about the strategy:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. . . . “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Atwater’s most infamous ad would come a few years later—the Willie Horton ad, ostensibly about law enforcement and prison reform, but with lurid, racial visual overtones including a frightful picture of Horton, a Black man who had attacked a couple, raping the woman and murdering both, while he was on a weekend pass from the prison sentence he was serving in Massachusetts, where Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for president that year, was governor.
The language of the Dixiecrat platform of 1948 that got sanitized and recycled in the Southern Strategy had appeal well beyond racists who wanted the Federal government to quit interfering with their Jim Crow racial suppression. Its anti-government, anti-Federal argument found traction with heirs of the plutocrats who had fought Teddy Roosevelt’s civil service reforms and anti-trust initiatives. It found traction with energy companies who wanted unfettered access to public lands for oil, coal, and gas exploration and extraction. It found traction with state governments and large landholders in the West who also wanted to be free to exploit the resources of the Federal lands in their state. Why should some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. be able to tell them what they could do or couldn’t do with this land that they saw as their own?
By 1970, the shifting polarities of the two parties were evident. And there were other factors as well, indicating the tectonic shifts in the Republican party. I had watched Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 national convention: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” and I had watched two of my heroes, New York Senators Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits, walk out of the convention hall at that point. In 1968, in addition to his inauguration of the Southern Strategy (ironically, the strategy was perfectly timed, since Nixon’s opponent was Hubert Humphrey, whose convention speech had led to the Dixiecrats in 1948), Nixon announced that he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. But it was a secret plan: hence not subject to examination, critique, or appraisal. By 1970, Nixon’s plan was clear: escalate and expand the war, with extensive, devastating bombing in contiguous neutral Cambodia. Another feature emerged that year, a feature that has gained increasing purchase in the Republican party in the years since: an intolerance of principled dissent within the party and an iron-fisted imposing of discipline in hewing to the positions and policies of the party’s leadership. That year, the Nixon-Agnew White House punished Senator Charles Goodell of New York, actively campaigning against their fellow Republican and contributing to his defeat. Goodell had had the temerity to break ranks and challenge the legality of the Nixonian incursion into Cambodia. As Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Jeff Sessions, and others can attest, our current administration has adopted this tactic with a vengeance—literally.
AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT THEORY OF GOVERNMENT
The anti-Federalist—really anti-government—element that is at the heart of the Southern Strategy has metastasized into its own political force, feeding a radical libertarian mythology that postulates that all would be fine if we could just get the government off our backs. This mythology envisions a kind of Eden where we all would be free—free of all governmental restraints. And so mainstream Republicanism in recent decades has increasingly come to look like extreme, intolerant, right-wing radicalism. It manifests in forms such as the Tea Party and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. This is a philosophy of government that does not believe in government, does not believe in the efficacy of government to do good. It is summed up in Norquist’s bon mot, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
Ronald Reagan gave the sentiment perhaps its most eloquent expression in his first Inaugural Address on January 20, 1981, when he noted, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And five years later, in a press conference on August 12, 1986, Reagan would quip, with his disarming jocularity, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
Are there a lot of people who favor having an overbearing government of officious bureaucrats intruding into our private lives, penalizing our good work and rewarding “welfare queens”? (Note here again the racist dogwhistle.) How about dragging down productivity, quashing creativity, penalizing efficiency, intruding into the most intimate aspects of our private lives and our spiritual practices? I think not.
On the other hand, can we all approve of a government that regulates markets to require minimum standards of safety, efficacy, efficiency, and that constrains activities and products that degrade our environment and our health? How about regulations protecting consumers who engage in financial transactions with large corporate entities? How about regulations that protect our environment and that constrain the emission of greenhouse gasses that are driving climate change? How about regulations enhancing equal opportunity in education and in housing for all? The answer to this question ought to be yes, of course we agree in governmental regulations and restraints that protect us all, that regulate business products and practices, that constrain monopolistic, anti-competitive enterprise, that enhance equal opportunity in education and fair housing for all. But, sadly, the answer here is no as well. We are NOT unanimous. And the Trump regime has adopted an anti-government agenda of walking back thousands of regulations that protect us even when the regulated industries welcome those restraints. Car manufacturers need pollution-control regulations so their customers will trust that they are reducing the harm to the environment; drug manufacturers need FDA guidelines so their customers will trust that their medicines (including a COVID vaccine when it finally comes) are both safe and efficacious.
DESCENT INTO NIHILISM
Adopting the Southern Strategy was a kind of Faustian bargain for the Republican party. Once swallowed, this toxin began to replicate and metastasize. Deploying the cynical, racist, anti-Federal appeal led inevitably to a heightened cynicism and racist anarchism in the party: the party invited these folks in, and they came—in increasing numbers, and not just in the South. Increasingly, the Republican party was populated with disgruntled people angry about almost any aspect of government—extreme libertarians of all stripes, often with an intense nostalgia for the good old days, even though it never had been the good old days. The Tea Party Republicans are a quintessential example. The anti-abortion and anti-birth control strain is a kind of anomaly, seeking as it does a punitive governmental intrusion into one’s private life. On the other hand, it is consistent with, and I think derivative from, the punitive racism of the Southern Strategy. Picture here, for example, the scary image of the licentious, irresponsible “welfare queens.”
For a long time, the core structure of the GOP remained intact, even as the Southern Strategy corroded its traditional values. Right up through 2012, it was able to put forward as presidential candidates men of honor and integrity and deep experience in governing, even when, like Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney, they ran unsuccessfully. And even today, there are still a few Republican governors who still govern in the pragmatic, progressive style that is the historical essence of the party of Lincoln: Larry Hogan in Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Mark Gordon of my home state, Wyoming, for example. But this new ideology, so foreign to the party of Lincoln, was taking its toll. Al Simpson, another Republican from my home state, was one of the first giant redwoods to fall. As the Republican whip in the U.S. Senate, Simpson had, among other notable accomplishments, successfully steered the major progressive reform legislation on immigration, the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, and Ronald Reagan had signed the legislation. But Simpson lost his standing when, based on his conservative view of limiting the power of the government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of our private lives, he declined to support punitive abortion legislation. Arlen Specter, in his fifth term in the Senate, another Republican giant, found himself actually forced out of the party. For nearly thirty years, he and Joe Biden had been in opposing parties in the Senate when Biden recruited him to switch and trade his party affiliation. A couple of years later, in 2012, a great statesman with 36 years of sterling service in the Senate and with international standing, Richard Lugar, was “primaried” in Indiana, cast as a “RINO.” What a tragic irony: the Republican party in which I grew up has itself become “RINO”: Republican in name only. Lincoln himself would be scorned as a RINO in today’s Republican party, as would every Republican president from Eisenhower on.
Stuart Stevens grew up in Mississippi, and he says that as a young adult he was looking for something other than the good-old-boy Jim Crow casual racism of Democratic Mississippi. He was drawn to the Republican party, he says, by its emphasis on personal responsibility, fiscal restraint, and family values, by its patriotism and staunch advocacy for freedom from dictatorships and oppression worldwide. He has been an advisor and consultant to Republican campaigns since he formulated the strategy in a 1978 campaign that sent Jon Hinson to the House of Representatives from Mississippi. In 2012, he was the chief strategist in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Then, in 2016, he campaigned against Trump. This year, he is a member of the Lincoln Project, and he has published a mea culpa, in which he argues that Donald Trump is not the source of the problem but the result of the problem: It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. Stevens is horrified at what he sees as his own complicity in the devolution of the Republican party. In his prologue, he laments:
I have no one to blame but myself. I believed. That’s where it all started to go wrong. I was drawn to a party that espoused a core set of values: character counts, personal responsibility, strong on Russia, the national debt actually mattered, immigration made America great, a big-tent party invited all. . . .
There is nothing strange or unexpected about Donald Trump. He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party became over the last fifty or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party. Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party; he is the Republican Party in a purified form
So, what does the Republican Party, the party of Donald Trump, stand for in 2020? Actually, the party’s not saying. For the first time in its existence, the Republican Party has no platform. What a stark demonstration of the nihilism of the 2020 Republican party: it stands only for winning. Nowhere is this nihilism embodied more clearly than in Mitch McConnell. When Antonin Scalia died, there was nearly a year remaining in Obama’s term of office. Obama duly nominated Merrick Garland, a distinguished jurist who was then serving as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Then McConnell declared, with great sanctimony, that with less than a year remaining in Obama’s term, we should wait and “let the voters decide” before installing a new justice. Garland was not accorded even a committee hearing. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has now died 47 days before the election, and within minutes of the announcement of her death, McConnell announced that President Trump’s nominee, whoever it is, will receive a full Senate review and, presumably, approval.
DRAIN THE SWAMP
In 2016, We elected to the presidency a man whose entire experience with government had been one of opposition and resistance to governmental constraints: resistance to taxes, resistance to fair housing regulations, to zoning regulations, to building codes, to casino regulations, to banking regulations, . . . Indeed, for many voters, this was his most salient qualification. The fact that he was a businessman with a frankly transactional view of relationships—personal, institutional, global—was, for many people, an especially attractive feature.
Mr. Trump had invoked the anti-government themes throughout his campaign, deploying the “drain the swamp” metaphor repeatedly and treating his opponents, both Republican and Democratic, with contempt. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” struck many people, including me, as a particularly audacious lie. And when he immediately began to appoint cronies and high-roller political benefactors to high positions in government, many of us saw confirmation of that lie. But now I can see that the metaphor was another dogwhistle. When he promised to “drain the swamp,” he wasn’t talking about cleaning up the old Tom Delay-type pay-to-play corruption; quite the opposite. The “swamp” he wanted to drain was the annoying, corruption-resistant federal bureaucracy: the people who had been interfering with his schemes all his adult career. These are the people he’s condemning in his inaugural address:
For too long a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left. . . . The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. All that changes right here and now.
In this inaugural promise, Trump was as good as his word, beginning with cabinet appointments: For example, Betsy Voss, who had made a career attacking public education, became Secretary of Education; Scott Pruitt, who had made his reputation as Oklahoma’s attorney general suing the EPA, became the director of the EPA; Ryan Zinke, who had fought against restrictions protecting environmentally sensitive public lands from mineral development, became Secretary of the Interior. Rick Perry, who had pledged four years earlier to abolish the Department of Energy, was appointed to head the Department of Energy. Alex Azar, who had served as a pharmaceuticals lobbyist and as CEO of Eli Lilly and who had opposed Obamacare, was appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department that includes all the healthcare agencies like FDA, CDC, NIH, etc. In the first budget proposed by the Trump administration, FY 2018, Azar would approve a 21% reduction in HHS funding. This pattern has continued right through all the churning of high-ranking Trump appointees. Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor whose business interests have been in conflict with the USPS, was appointed Postmaster General in June 2020 and immediately set about dismantling the Postal Service’s capacity. At the same time, Trump has been refusing to increase emergency funding for the Postal Service, saying candidly that he wanted to suppress the mail-in vote. (On September 17, a Federal District Judge granted a preliminary injunction in a suit filed by 14 states against Trump and DeJoy, noting that it was clear that DeJoy’s changes were intended to interfere with this fall’s general election.)
As Bob Woodward’s Fear and Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk (both books published in 2018) document in detail, this Trumpian disdain for the practical business of governance and for the traditional protocols of governance became apparent even before the election. Given the size and complexity of the whole Federal apparatus and the potentially catastrophic consequences of a failed handoff, it has become increasingly critical for transition teams from the incoming and outgoing administrations to hold extensive briefings and orientation sessions. The process has even been codified, with all the viable candidates in the spring of the election year required to designate a transition team. The Federal government provides office space, equipment, etc., but the candidates are required to pay their own personnel. Here the incoming team learns things such as “How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon . . . ; these are enduring technical problems” (The italics here are mine, but the language, “how to stop a virus,” is Lewis, p. 38, writing in 2018, two years before the COVID-19 pandemic).
Late in the spring of 2016, Chris Christie volunteered to lead Trump’s transition team, explaining to Trump that the team would require something in excess of $1 million. Trump was livid, outraged that he would be expected to spend money from his own campaign to finance a transition team. He and Christie were smart guys. They could take a couple of hours out from the victory celebration and the two of them could plan the government. He rejected out of hand the idea of incurring the costs of funding a transition team. He was prepared to pull his team out of the transition process until Steve Bannon asked him how he thought that would look. Wouldn’t the media interpret it as Trump’s giving up on winning? With that, Trump grudgingly agreed to send a team.
After the 2008 election, the Bush administration had provided exemplary support in facilitating the launch of the incoming Obama transition team, and Obama administrators had spent months before the 2016 election preparing to help the incoming administration in the same way. Though it is by no means small ($30 billion/year budget, 110,000 employees), the Department of Energy (DOE) serves as a microcosm of what happened all across the government. Lewis describes that happened in 2016:
On the morning after the election, November 9, 2016, the people who ran the U.S. Department of Energy turned up in their offices and waited. They had cleared thirty desks and freed up thirty parking spaces. They didn’t know exactly how many people they’d host that day, but whoever won the election would surely be sending a small army into the Department of Energy and into every other federal agency. The morning after he was elected president, eight years earlier, Barack Obama had sent between thirty and forty people into the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy staff planned to deliver to Trump’s people the same talks, from the same five-inch-thick three-ring binders with the Department of Energy seal on them, that they would have given to the Clinton people. “Nothing had to be changed,” said one former Department of Energy staffer. “They’d be done always with the intention that, either party wins, nothing changes.”
Nobody came. And, Lewis says, something very similar happened all across the major departments of government. In the Department of Commerce, for example, nobody showed up until January. Then one day, Wilbur Ross, the Trump-designated Secretary-to-be, came by, alone, and met with Penny Pritzker, Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker later noted, “[I]t was pretty clear he had no idea what he was getting into. And he had no help.” Lewis narrates the story of an alarmed former official from the Bush Department of Commerce who went to see Ross a few weeks into the new administration, hoping to provide an orientation of his own. Among other things, he explained that NOAA, which makes up 60% of the department’s budget, has archived meteorological data going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, that the Department probably does more to keep Americans safe than any other department except Defense and Homeland Security, that its mission really is a science and technology mission. Ross replied, “Yeah, I don’t think I want to be focusing on that.” Sadly, this lack of interest actually makes sense: If your philosophy of government constitutes a disbelief in the efficacy of government, you’re not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how any agency works.
Two weeks after the election, the names of a Trump “landing team” were published in the newspapers. For the Department of Energy, the list named of Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist who specialized in writing editorials attacking DOE’s efforts to reduce our dependence on carbon. When contacted by the DOE chief of staff, Pyle, said he could not meet until after Thanksgiving. When he finally did come, he came alone, and he spent one hour. The DOE chief of staff proposed that he come again for at least one day each week until the inauguration. Pyle never came back. He did take the three-ring binders, though, and eventually he sent over a list of 74 questions. Some of the questions covered materials in the briefing materials. But there were others as well: Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in the last five years?
Lewis reports that when these questions were leaked on Bloomberg News, the Trump administration disavowed them, but, he adds, a message had been sent: We don’t want you to help us understand; we want to find out who you are and punish you. One of the DOE officials commented that it felt like McCarthyism.
The transition was prologue. In DOE, the first Trump budget eliminated the ARPA-E research program entirely. ARPA-E had performed, for example, research that had led to the new “fracking” technologies that have made the U.S. energy-independent. Trump halved the DOE’s $70-billion loan program that has funded the development of technologies like those in the Tesla cars. It cut funding to the national labs (who do things like keep track of both civilian and military nuclear resources—find missing H-bombs, for example, and keep track of fissile materials all around the world, hoping to keep them out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states) that suggested the elimination of 6,000 scientific staff. Gone also was half the funding for work to secure the national electrical grid from attack or natural disaster. Unlike Trump’s cuts to the CDC and other Health and Human Services agencies, these cuts have not yet led us to a catastrophe. Let us pray that they don’t, that we can again populate the federal government with a leadership that believes in the value of an efficacious and efficient government that believes in science and truth.
THE FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE
The status and nature of Federal employment first became controversial with the ascendancy of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1829. Jackson had actually won a plurality of the popular vote for the presidency in a three-way contest in 1824, but a post-election agreement negotiated between his two opponents, John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun, had put Adams into office. In an 1828 rematch between Jackson and Adams, Jackson won decisively, and he took office in a spirit of aggrieved vindication, throwing hundreds of well qualified Federal employees out of office and installing people who had supported his candidacy, thereby inventing what became known as the “spoils system”: the wholesale replacement of the personnel running the machinery of government by the winning candidate. The spoils system is clearly problematic for a number of reasons: loss of institutional memory; loss of continuity of processes and procedures; loss of expertise; conflicts of personal/political interest with governmental purpose; erosion of morale and professional commitment; etc.
The spoils system did confer considerable power upon the chief executive of an incoming administration, but it also exacted a toll, with the White House swarming with office seekers. Lincoln, faced with the momentous problems of secession and war, complained bitterly about this plague of importunate supplicants prowling White House hallways. For Garfield, the problem turned lethal when he was assassinated by an aggrieved office seeker. The administration of President Grant is noted for the spectacular ethical lapses of some of its most prominent members, but Grant himself was committed to civil service reform. And the reform effort toward a more meritocratic civil service outlived him. The Pendleton Act of 1883 established the Civil Service Commission, thereby formalizing the impulse toward a government apparatus based on merit and on competence. From 1889-95, Theodore Roosevelt served on the Commission, contributing to its vigor and efficacy and developing his own bona fides as a progressive reformer that he would later deploy as president. In the nearly 140 years since the Pendleton Act institutionalized this meritocratic goal, its momentum toward nonpartisan expertise has grown. The system’s insulation from political influence was further bolstered by the Hatch Act of 1939, which strictly limits political activity by Civil Service employees (and has been much in the news recently with its wholesale infringements by dozens among the current administration).
When President Trump, his minions, or his constituents talk about “the deep state,” it is this professionalized, career-service bureaucracy, as well as the judicial branch, that they are talking about. These are the aspects of government that Trump has been chafing against all his career: the judges, prosecutors, and “nameless bureaucrats” who are not amenable to threat, bluff, or blandishment, who block or hinder or slow down and scrutinize the “art of the deal,” whether the deal is a real estate development, a mining project, a multi-billion-dollar merger, a sketchy scheme for a high-rolling casino, or selling an unsafe children’s toy. In his pre-presidential career, Mr. Trump has perhaps had more experience with the judicial branch than any other branch of government. In Plaintiff in Chief, published in the fall of 2019, former Federal prosecutor James D. Zirin, tallies over 3,500 lawsuits (the count by others exceeds 4,000) involving Mr. Trump over his 45-year career. In more than 1,900 suits, he has been the plaintiff. In other words, over a 45-year career, Mr. Trump has sued somebody almost once a week and, in turn, has been sued almost as often. In case after case, Zirin documents the ruthless, relentless attack strategy that Trump had learned from the notorious Roy Cohn and that Cohn in turn had perfected in his service to Senator Joe McCarthy during the McCarthy reign of terror of the early 1950’s.
In the early months of the Trump administration, its attacks on the “deep state,” its nativist initiatives against immigrants, its campaign against environmental protections, and its revanchist programs generally often stumbled over their sheer disrespect for due process in all its forms. Time and again, courts vacated the administration’s initiatives or required it to backtrack repeatedly and correct failures to comply with established administrative procedures. State attorneys general or public interest groups such as Common Cause, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Natural Resources Defense Council, and dozens of others, stymied or delayed its initiatives with a wide range of lawsuits. Observing this pattern, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman was moved to quip in his New York Times column that the administration’s efforts could be characterized as “malevolence mitigated by incompetence.” Yet from the beginning, Mr. Trump and his administration were working away assiduously to dismantle our Federal government both domestically and overseas, cutting it back in size, perhaps not to the point where it could be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub, but certainly in that direction.
It cannot be said that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy has not been consequential. The aggressive, jingoistic, transactional, “America First” foreign policy that Mr. Trump promised in his campaign was evident even in his inaugural address. He had denigrated alliances and commitments America had made over the last half century, and in particular, had disparaged virtually every foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration and had pledged to undo that entire web of hard-won international agreements including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran Nuclear Accord. He insisted that in its foreign relations the United States had been played for a sucker for years, especially under the Obama Administration. True to his word, just three days after taking office, he withdrew from the TPT, the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration to form a bulwark against Chinese hegemony oppressing its neighbors. Four days later, he signed an executive order placing a travel ban on six Muslim countries. In the next few days, he escalated his isolationism with executive orders barring “sanctuary cities” from receiving federal grants and redirecting money, including money that had been budgeted for military personnel, toward the building of the wall.
The erratic, impulsive, frequently vindictive foreign policies of the Trump administration are probably both a cause and a result of the astonishing turnover in the National Security Council during Trump’s term in office. Consider these numbers. So far, Trump has had four National Security Advisors. In comparison, during their first terms, Clinton and both Presidents Bush had one. Obama had two. At the Deputy level, the contrast is even more striking. Clinton and G.W. Bush each had one. Obama and G.H.W. Bush had two. Trump has, so far, had six. A study by the Brookings Institution notes that each new upper-level official reconstitutes their supporting staff, amplifying the volume of change throughout the agency. Under these circumstances, maintaining and implementing a coherent, consistent policy becomes difficult in the extreme. The study concludes, “Working at such a disadvantage alongside an impulsive president who consistently shows disdain for expertise, collaboration and debate poses a risk to the country at large.”
Here’s a partial catalogue of some of the more notable Trump foreign policy milestones:
NAFTA: In May 2017 Trump formally announced his intention to withdraw from the treaty. On September 30, 2018, after a year and a half of jawboning and reciprocal arm twisting, a new agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the USMCA was announced. (At least Trump got to put the U.S. first in the name of the document!) Numerous experts called it “NAFTA by a new name,” pointing out that it was substantially the same agreement Trump had abrogated. In the meantime, disruptions and dislocations had occurred in all three countries. And the reputation of the United States as a stable and reliable partner or counterparty in international affairs acquired another dent.
The Middle East: Mr. Trump cannot be blamed for the fact that the Middle East is a mess. The modern Middle East and many of its problems can largely be traced back to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, that cocktail of idealism, cynicism, vindictiveness, and Realpolitik that officially ended World War I. Out of that Treaty grew the modern Middle East. Countries were created largely as British or French Protectorates, laid out along lines that ensured British and French (and later American) access to the vast petroleum reserves that were already well known by 1919. But these political lines largely ignored ethnic and religious backgrounds. Iraq was an unstable mix of Sunni Muslims, who were largely ethnically Arabian; Shia Muslims, largely ethnic Persian; and, in the north, Kurds, largely Christians. (The Three Wise Men from the East were Kurds!)
A Palestinian territory was established as a British Mandate by the League of Nations to provide a homeland for Jews, which in 1949 became the modern state of Israel. The right of Israel to exist seems to me undeniable. The implacable denial of that right by her neighbors seems indefensible. And the pugilistic, expansionist, jingoistic stance of its current regime against the Palestinians, abetted by Trump, seems unjustifiable and unsustainable, threatening Israel’s moral standing and, ultimately, its existence as a great nation and exemplar of democratic values. The new Israeli peace treaties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, brokered by the Trump administration, are, from an Israeli perspective, small steps forward toward a Middle East peace, but experts say they skirt the real problem: Palestine. Still, they are the one thing in the Middle East that the administration can point to with some plausibility as an accomplishment.
Trump’s first visit to the Middle East was in May 2017. He negotiated a $100 billion arms deal with Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. In June, he stirred up a diplomatic crisis when he aligned himself with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in their quarrel with Qatar. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to intervene to reassure Qatar of U.S. support because Qatar hosts about 10,000 American forces at U.S. Base Al Udeid. He later referenced that arms deal as a rationale for his shrugging off evidence that the crown prince was implicated in the assassination of Jamal Kahshoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Paris Climate Accord: On June 1, just days after declining to sign a declaration of support for the Paris climate accord, Trump, against the advice of many in his administration, formally announced the withdrawal from the 195-member Paris climate accord, arguing first that the impact of climate change is equivocal and insignificant and that the agreement unfairly disadvantages the U.S. financially. The only other countries not signatories to the agreement now are Iran and Turkey. In the wake of Trump’s withdrawal, governors, mayors, other governmental units around the country, as well as many corporations, pledged their commitment to continuing their efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Accord.
Iran Nuclear Agreement: In May 2018, in perhaps the most problematic foreign policy move of his administration, Trump withdrew from the multilateral Iran Nuclear Agreement under which Iran had given up most of its stockpile of nuclear fuel and agreed to observe a ten-year moratorium on its program of developing a nuclear weapon. In the wake of Trump’s unilateral withdrawal, the other parties to the treaty, including Iran, tried for months to maintain the agreement, but the Trump administration maneuvered to sabotage those international, multilateral efforts, and Iran eventually abandoned its efforts to salvage the treaty and resumed its program of work on developing a nuclear weapon. Now Iran is going full speed ahead to build its stockpile back up and to perfect its technology for manufacturing a nuclear bomb. And the U.S. is now isolated not only from Iran but also from its European partners in that treaty.
North Korea: For years, Trump has scoffed at the fecklessness of American foreign policy toward North Korea. Adopting an aggressive campaign of insults, threats, and name-calling against Kim Jong-un, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and pointing out that he has many more missiles than Kim, Trump then switched to flattery and cajoling, even traveling to North Korea and meeting with Kim face-to-face, and achieving… nothing. And why would Kim treat seriously with Trump, why would he consider for a moment giving up his nuclear weapons when he has seen Trump’s bad faith dealing with Iran after Iran had given up its nuclear stockpile and its weapons program? He’s as likely to do that as New York bankers are to give Trump loans after being stiffed in his multiple bankruptcies.
China: Trump’s relationship with Xi Jinping has been similarly erratic and unproductive—indeed, profoundly counterproductive, with his reckless abandonment of the TPT and his tariff policy exacting deep injury to both manufacturing and agriculture both here and abroad. He has alternately fawned over Xi and attacked him, especially in his efforts to deflect blame for his own incompetent handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
SURVEYING THE FOREIGN POLICY DAMAGE
No other American president in history has denigrated and condescended to our allies the way Mr. Trump has done, hectoring heads of state like a slumlord demanding rent, even indulging in the same kind of puerile name-calling against heads of state that he deploys domestically against those who displease him. Clearly there is well justified international resentment and contempt for Trump personally, as evidenced by an inadvertently recorded conversation among several heads of state at a NATO meeting in London in December 2019. What is less certain is how much of this resentment oozes out into a more general resentment of the United States.
But even more damaging to the reputation and standing of the United States than Trump’s sneering boorishness toward other world leaders is the facility with which he abrogates solemn international agreements; no other American president has ever held international treaties in such disdain, operating like a slippery real estate developer stiffing plumbing contractors after a project is done. After Trump is gone, how will succeeding administrations persuade international leaders that the United States can be relied on to honor the terms it has negotiated? Even when the good faith of future U.S. leaders trying to negotiate such treaties is manifest, how can the world be certain there won’t be another Trumpian figure somewhere lurking in the wings who will come on the scene and renege when our counterparties are relying on the U.S. to keep its word? It will take decades to restore full international faith in the United States—if it is ever restored.
For its sheer treachery, Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds may have done more damage to our reputation as a reliable ally than his abandonment of the great treaties. The Kurds (The three wise men from the East in the Christmas story were Kurds, and many are Christians.) have been perhaps our most loyal and effective allies on the ground in our fighting in Iraq and Syria over the past 20 years, fighting and dying first in Iraq and then in Syria—genuine freedom fighters. In December 2018, when Trump announced his intention to withdraw from northern Syria where we had been working with the Syrian Kurds, James Mattis, the old Marine Corps general who had spent 44 years in military service and who had served faithfully as one of the “adults in the room,” whose function was to control and mitigate Trump’s most dangerous excesses, had had enough. He resigned in protest as the Secretary of Defense. Then, in October 2019, when Trump issued the actual order for withdrawal, Turkish troops seemed to know more about the withdrawal than U.S. troops. As U.S. troops organized to begin the withdrawal, they found themselves in traffic jams with Turkish troops who had already rushed across the border from Turkey—and occasionally under Turkish fire that was targeted for the Kurds. The calculus of who benefited from this treachery is discouraging—three thugs and a terrorist organization: Erdogan, Assad, and Putin, as well as ISIS.
Imagine the kind of anxiety this must cause for dependent allies. Imagine, for example, what visions must have been going through Volodymyr Zelensky’s mind when Trump held up the $400 million that Congress had appropriated for Ukrainian defense against Putin’s aggression and told him he needed a “little favor.”
All administrations experience turnover. People become ill; people die; people are promoted; people pursue different career opportunities or avenues of service; people resign in protest over policy difference or for other reasons; people get removed for malfeasance or incompetence; people get removed because they do or say something that the president deems inappropriate or damaging to the administration. But excessive turnover is never a sign of a healthy, effective administration. And the turnover in the Trump administration has been staggering. There have been more cabinet-level vacancies than occurred in the first terms of the Obama, G.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations combined. Wikipedia notes that as of May 25, 2020, there had been 415 unique names dismissed or resigned.
Recent analysis by the Brookings Institute indicated that 91% of staff positions in the Trump administration have turned over at least once. These include positions like White House Chief of Staff; Press Secretary; National Security Advisor; Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor for Economic Activities; Senior Director of Legislative Affairs; Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary; Director of the National Economic Council; Director of the CIA; White House Director of Legislative Affairs; Counsel to the President; White House Council of Economic Advisors; a host of Regional Directors for the National Security Council; and a number of assistants and deputies. To repeat, 91% of these positions have turned over at least once in just over 3 ½ years. But many positions have turned over multiple times. Several have turned over as many as five times.
On October 17, 2019, in the 34th month of the Trump presidency, Rick Perry resigned as Secretary of Energy. He was the 10th member of Trump’s original cabinet to leave office. All the rest except for John Kelley, who had served as Secretary for Homeland Security, had resigned under pressure (three—Price, Shulkin, and Zinke—under a cloud of misconduct charges involving use of government funds for personal purposes) or, in the case of James Mattis, had resigned in protest over the abandonment of the Kurds. And Kelly, who was promoted to White House Chief of Staff, would later resign from that position in protest. So those two old retired generals marched out with their shoulders back and their heads high.
Early on, one would not have predicted Rex Tillerson’s early fall, given the credentials that he brought to his appointment. He had been CEO of Exxon and had decades of international experience: specifically, he had deep Russian experience; better yet, he had wined and dined with Vladimir Putin; better yet, he had fought with the Obama State Department over Exxon’s Russian ventures and over issues of national security. But several months into his term, he committed a diplomatic faux pas that was unforgiveable in Trump’s administration. He tried, confidentially, to reassure a group of diplomatic staff who had just been excoriated by the president: “It’s ok,” he told them, “he’s a f***ing moron.”
I think the saddest story among the lot is that of Jeff Sessions, the ci-devant junior Senator from Alabama. Sessions was the first and only U.S. Senator to endorse Donald Trump during the 2016 primary. He first publicly wore a red MAGA cap in 2015, and his communications director, Stephen Miller, joined the Trump campaign in 2015, later becoming a major White House figure in the administration’s anti-migrant programs. Sessions’ early support was a significant factor in giving Trump’s insurgent campaign a patina of legitimacy. As the national convention approached in 2016, he was even briefly promoted as a possible vice-presidential running mate. After the election, Trump announced that Sessions would be his Attorney General. Just as Tillerson did in the State Department and as other cabinet officers were doing all across the Trump administration, Sessions went to work “draining the swamp” immediately after his confirmation: that is, hollowing out the Department of Justice (DOJ). Days after his confirmation, he oversaw the unprecedented firing of 46 U.S. attorneys. He imposed a hiring freeze on most of the DOJ’s criminal division and a total hiring freeze on the Fraud Division. In December, he rescinded 25 major DOJ guidance documents, about 200 pages in all, that encouraged procedures like allowing accommodations for the developmentally disabled, refraining from excessive fees for the poor, restricting shipment of certain kinds of guns across state lines, etc., prompting a lawsuit from the city attorney of San Francisco and criticism from the Civil Rights Commission. The next year he cut access to legal aid by closing the Department’s Office for Access to Justice. By all these measures, he was an ideal Trumpian attorney general.
But Sessions had one crucial flaw: too much integrity. By the time Sessions was appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in confirmation hearings, evidence that he himself had met with Russians during the election was publicly known. Sessions insisted that the conversations he had had with Russian Ambassador Kislyak had not been about the campaign, but senators in both parties expressed concerns, and even Lindsey Graham urged that he should recuse himself if there were to be an investigation of a Russian connection with the Trump campaign. Trump, meanwhile, was privately insisting that Sessions must not recuse himself, and he dispatched Don McGahn, White House counsel, to make it clear to Sessions that he was not to recuse himself. But on March 2, just weeks into his tenure, Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any Russian investigation. Trump’s reaction, reported by staff who were with him, sounds a great deal like the lament of a guilty man: “Oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed.” For the rest of Sessions’ tenure as AG, Trump alternately belittled him, repeatedly threatened to fire him, and browbeat him to rescind his recusal and reassume control of the Russian investigation. Early in this conflict, Sessions submitted a letter of resignation, which Trump brushed aside. Finally, immediately after the midterm elections in 2018, Trump suddenly announced (to Sessions’ surprise!) that Sessions had resigned.
Sessions had first been elected to the Senate in 1996, and by the time he ran for his fourth term in 2014, his standing was so strong that he ran unopposed, receiving over 97% of the vote. In 2020, he decided to try to win back his old Senate seat, pledging again his fealty to Trump and the Trump agenda. Trump was having none of it, and he set out to have Sessions “primaried,” travelling to Alabama to campaign for former Auburn coach Tommy Tubberville and saying of Sessions, “He was so bad in his nomination proceedings. I should have gotten rid of him there…. Jeff was just very weak and very sad.” Tubberville clobbered Sessions like an Auburn defensive tackle sacking a small opposing quarterback, beating Sessions by a margin of 61% to 39%. Suffering the worst defeat of his career, Sessions went down still pleading his loyalty to Trump.
THE PERILS OF A NARCISSISTIC, BATHTUB-SIZE GOVERNMENT
It may take years for us to realize the full extent to which the Trump regime has hollowed out our government’s capacity to do good and to protect us from disease, catastrophic failure of the power grid, ignorance, violence, financial predators, nuclear threat, and the havoc of climate change. We probably can never know the opportunities lost by the elimination of Federal funding for innovative technologies that keep us competitive in breakthrough lifesaving technologies. Many losses are apparent only locally and in a microcosm: a victim of a payday loan scam; somebody who’s lost their health insurance; someone with COPD who suffers from the smoke; people who live near the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments; a soybean farmer in the Midwest who’s lived the result of Trump’s art of the deal in the trade war he started with China.
If we’re lucky, most of the Trump rollbacks of safety regulations on drug companies, offshore drillers, etc., will not hurt or kill people or wreck local economies and ecologies. But some are bound to result in tragic losses sooner or later while allowing some very rich people to cut corners and increase profits. As just one example, chlorpyrifos, the herbicide that has been banned in other counties because of evidence indicating that it is a carcinogen, is still widely used in this country because Trump’s EPA has allowed its use even in the face of furious legal challenges. But nobody who gets cancer as a result of exposure to chlorpyrifos will be able to establish a causal link tying their cancer to the chlorpyrifos irrefutably—at least not until long after Trump is out of office. This is true of a great many of this administration’s rollbacks of safety, environmental, and public health regulations and gutting of the Federal agencies whose calling has been to protect against these perils. Maybe nobody will get hurt. Or the harm may not be apparent until this administration is long gone. And if there is immediate harm, then this administration is always prepared to launch another clever public relations campaign, a new set of claims and denials and misdirections and deflections by the president and his administration.
But somebody has already gotten hurt. Almost 200,000 Americans have died. The total number of our fellow citizens sickened by COVID-19 will soon reach seven million. And we all live under this pall of quarantine, masks, isolation, closure of loved institutions; diminished educational opportunity; widespread and increasing business failure; Depression-level unemployment; and a grumbling, murmuring social malaise. Note well the unspinnable facts of COVID-19.
THE UNSPINNABLE FACTS OF COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt—though, incredibly, millions still do doubt—that a robust, effective Federal government, the “deep state,” the “entrenched bureaucracy,” the hundreds of thousands of dedicated, experienced, expert Federal scientists and administrators, is an essential ingredient in the health and welfare of our immense, complex society. It’s not “bad luck,” and it’s not a “Democratic hoax” that we have the world’s largest number of COVID deaths. It’s a product of the systematic destruction of our government’s—and thereby our society’s—ability to manage this pandemic. The numbers do not lie. In spite of having the best healthcare system in the world, the United States, with approximately 4% of the world’s population, has nearly one-quarter of the world’s COVID-19 cases. It’s possible that we may eventually be overtaken by someone like Brazil or India, but as of now, the U.S., with our preeminent medical resources (ranked number 1 in the world last year in The Global Health Security Index), has failed catastrophically in its handling of COVID-19.
To understand how utterly irresponsibly and negligently the Trump administration has failed to protect us, we need to go back 30 years and move back forward to the present. Please bear with me as we make this trek. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush founded PCAST, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Policy. This is an advisory group of scientists and engineers, administered by OSTP, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. They are intended as an outside source of supplemental, expert scientific advice for the president independent of the advice he receives from White House advisors, departments, etc.
Now jump to 2009: The first case of swine flu was reported in the U.S. on April 14, 2009. Twelve days later, on April 26, Obama declared a public health emergency. And on the 30th, he asked Congress for $1.5 billion to address the emergency. Three days earlier, he had addressed the National Academy of Sciences, introducing his PCAST and reaffirming his commitment to fact-based science and governance. Obama was exceptional in his employment of the PCAST and in his communication with the OSTP. While some of his predecessors, such as George H.W. Bush, had met frequently with their head of OSTP, Obama raised the relationship to a whole new level, meeting with his OSTP director, Dr. John Holdren, a plasma physicist from U.C. Berkeley, almost daily. Furthermore, he appointed Holdren assistant to the president for science and technology, which gave Holdren greater access to the president than even cabinet officers.
In August 2009, President Obama’s PCAST presented to him the first report he had requested of them: an outline of steps the president should take to initiate a program to prepare the country for the flu outbreak that was expected that fall. PCAST noted that in a pandemic emergency, quick decision making and coordination across the government(s) were crucial. They recommended that the president appoint a single individual as assistant to the president for homeland security who would coordinate the national response. Obama acted on that recommendation, appointing John Brennan of the CIA and making Brennan, like Holden, an assistant to the president so that the two assistants collaborated closely, and both had direct access to the president. Over the next 7 ½ years, a robust plan and the outline of a structure would emerge, a pandemic infrastructure involving agencies all across the government, with the goal of being prepared for a global pandemic that would surely come at some point. Two different guidebooks were prepared in late 2016 for the incoming administration. A key recommendation from PCAST was that “The next president should put a coordinating unit together before an outbreak begins.”
Unfortunately, this entire enterprise was a prime target for Trump’s “swamp draining” exercise: These people were part of the deep state. They were a bunch of effete, largely academic, scientists. And perhaps most tempting of all, they seemed to be an “Obama” idea. On Jan. 22, 2017, when the controversy over Trump’s claims about the size of the inaugural crowd was just coming to a boil, the entire PCAST website was taken down. For the next two years, Trump appointed no director of OSTP. When he finally did fill the position, the director had no access to the president. PCAST, which had produced a total of 39 reports during the Obama administration, was essentially defunct during the Trump administration until this past November when Trump repopulated it with a cohort of scientists drawn entirely from industry and tasked with advising the president on how to win in the international business competition of the future and how to prepare the workforce of the future—worthwhile goals to be sure, but relatively blinkered, especially compared to the range of the portfolio the PCAST had under Obama. It is telling that, as the pandemic was beginning to spread throughout the U.S. in early February, the PCAST minutes of February 3-4, 2020, make no reference to COVID-19.
The diminution of PCAST is emblematic of the whole range of the damage done by Mr. Trump’s attacks on government and the rule of law. There was a structure in place; there was institutional memory; there was the experience of past epidemics and pandemics; there was the experience of past simulations and exercises; there was a vast learning curve that had been negotiated and that had pointed out the myriad ways in which we—and the world at large—were unprepared for a major pandemic. The Trump administration not only disregarded these resources and disregarded the urgent need to prepare for a pandemic emergency, they actively went about dismantling many of these resources. They cut themselves off from vital sources of information about both risks and resources. They disregarded the results of the simulation exercises that had been run, including Event 201, a fictitious scenario that was played out in New York City just last October before an audience of academics, business leaders, and government officials. They eliminated networks of communication and coordination. They cut the budget of the CDC for FY 2020 by $1.276 billion—almost 20%. And for NIH, they cut the budget by $4.533 billion, 13.5%.
When the outbreak began in China and some indication of its seriousness began to emerge, the administration was flying blind. Yes, it’s true that China at first was actively trying to suppress evidence about the novel virus and its seriousness, but there were knowledgeable people sounding the alarm in our own government, and yet the administration did nothing. Even as agencies like the FDA and the CDC began to ramp up belatedly, calling for expedited testing protocols, contact tracing, PPE coordination, etc., Mr. Trump continued to downplay the seriousness. In April, Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general for Health and Human Services issued a concerning report detailing a “severe shortage of testing supplies,” with hospitals “frequently waiting seven days or longer for test results,” extending the length of patient stays and resulting in “widespread shortages of PPE.” Trump called the report “Another Fake Dossier!” The “Chinese flu” was under control. It would disappear. Well, no, it didn’t disappear. But Grimm certainly disappeared as acting inspector general. Telling the truth is unhealthy in Trump’s world.
Then, when the CDC and other public health officials issued projections or advice that Mr. Trump didn’t like, he continued to undercut them. The White House began a program of active interference with their efforts, insisting that the virus was no more serious than the flu or the common cold. We now have the Bob Woodward tapes of Trump saying to Woodward back in February that he did know how dangerous COVID-19 was, how transmissible it was as an aerosol, how it appeared to be dangerous for children as well as adults.
Many of Mr. Trump’s lies and distortions, are relatively innocuous—aside from the cumulative damage they do to the credibility of the presidency and the government of the United States generally. But his lies, distortions, and deflections of blame during the pandemic have been lethal. He has debunked the efficacy of face masks and has given comfort to hooligans who assault employees in stores who try to enforce their employers’ mask requirements. He has promoted returns to business, to school, to large-scale events like major sports competition in the face of compelling evidence that these activities supercharge new outbreaks of the pandemic. He has promoted ineffective and, in some cases, (Have a shot of Clorox!) potentially lethal treatments. As the seriousness of the pandemic and its lethality have become so obvious that he could no longer claim otherwise, he has cast about for targets to blame for his malfeasance and callous incompetence. Obama didn’t leave a plan or a structure for dealing with an emergency like this. (But we know that Obama did leave a plan. And he left a structure that Trump immediately set about dismantling as soon as he was in office.) It’s China’s fault. It’s the fault of the WHO. Obama left an inadequate supply of PPE. (Indeed, the supply was inadequate, but Obama left a plan, and Trump had 3 ½ years to re-supply!) And in May he withdrew funding from the WHO and announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the WHO altogether.
In the middle of the worst global pandemic in a century, he withdrew support from the agency tasked above all others with leading the world through to safety. What kind of leader does that? And just when you may have thought it couldn’t get worse, Trump has added a new dose of malevolence—and actual risk of self-harm for the U.S.—to his cocktail of incompetence. The administration announced at the end of August that it will not join the global effort to develop, manufacture, and equitably distribute a COVID vaccine. As the Washington Post reports, “More than 170 countries are in talks to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, which aims to speed vaccine development, secure doses for all countries and distribute them to the most high-risk segment of each population.” The alliance is backed by traditional U.S. allies, and was supported by some members of Trump’s own administration. But the administration, ruled by Trump’s pique with the WHO, has declined to participate, essentially doubling down on its bet that the U.S. will win the vaccine race. With this America First approach, gone are the possible synergies with the efforts being made in other countries, including both the U.S. contribution toward those international efforts and the chance to secure doses from an international pool of promising vaccine candidates should the U.S. fail to develop an efficacious and safe vaccine as soon as hoped. Public health experts have characterized the move as comparable to opting out of an insurance policy and described it as shortsighted “from a simple risk-management perspective.”
I watched enough of the 2020 Republican National Convention to know that the Trump organization is in full-throated denial/deflection/spin mode and is even trying to cast the administration’s performance as a Trumpian triumph. And I know there are a lot of people among those who voted for Trump in 2016 and who fervently want to believe that he has done a good job, who want to vote for him again this year. I’m speaking to you folks now. Changing your mind is hard.
Consider again the following facts. Last year, before the pandemic, the United States was ranked number one in the world in the Global Health Security Index. And of course we should be so ranked with our great medical centers in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore, Rochester, San Francisco . . . the list goes on and on; and our vaunted governmental health agencies, the CDC, the FDA, the VA, the NIH, . . . again the list goes on and on.
Now look at the numbers, just the raw, unspinnable numbers, of the COVID-19 pandemic: As of August 26, 2020, the United States, with 4% of the world’s population, had 24% of the world’s COVID-19 cases: the U.S. had 5,279,000 cases of 23,977,000 cases worldwide. With the best, most advanced medical infrastructure in the world, we have the worst infection rate. How is that anything but an abject failure of leadership? Over 195,000 people in the United Sates have died of COVID-19. How is that anything but a lethal failure of leadership? The United States has, in effect, been the control group in a worldwide experiment in the efficacy of good governmental leadership, proving that incompetent leadership in a global pandemic kills people—lots of people.
In this pandemic, people would have gotten sick in even the best case. People would have died. But consider how we might have coped with better leadership: Taiwan, a country of almost 24 million people living in the shadow of China, the source of the pandemic, has had seven COVID-19 deaths compared to our 195,000+. One rationale offered by the administration is that we are a democracy and cannot control public behavior. New Zealand is a democracy like ours. After a period of 100 days when there were no COVID-19 cases, they have recently had a new outbreak. Their current cases number 116 in a population of almost 8 million. Leadership, leadership, leadership. Enlightened leadership with goals for the common good rather than for self-aggrandizement, for rewarding your friends, and for punishing people who didn’t vote for you. (“Don’t send California any more relief for their fires; they’re not going to vote for me anyway.”)
For decades now, scientists, doctors, public health specialists, the WHO, the National Security Agency, and other leaders have known about the inevitability of the risk of a global pandemic caused by the emergence of a novel virus. They have planned, plotted, run simulations, tried to imagine every possible eventuality and develop protective measures. But they overlooked one thing. The title of a recent article in the journal Naturesays it succinctly: “Two Decades of Pandemic War Games Failed to Account for Donald Trump.”
To be sure, there is now encouraging news from medical science. There are multiple global efforts underway toward developing a vaccine. A year from now, we probably will have tamed (though even then not eliminated) this scourge. But here’s maybe the scariest thing of all: It could happen again. Even another viral pandemic just like this one is possible, and even now we don’t have the infrastructure to cope decisively with it. And we certainly don’t have leadership who will tell us the truth about it and will be willing to undergo some inconvenience to fight it. But it’s not just an eviscerated CDC and Federal health system that constitutes a risk. As Michael Lewis points out, from its first day, the Trump administration was assiduously at work dismantling the great Federal apparatus that protects us from manifold hazards that we don’t even think about: nuclear threat, for example, either from an enemy or from our own systems; famine from some climate catastrophe; failure of the electrical grid, say, during a severe cold weather outbreak; breakdown of our transportation system; a catastrophic environmental event on a scale far greater than Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010; sabotage of any of these systems. This administration has now had two more years to continue to degrade these protections since Lewis gave us his frightening report in 2018. What will our risk be if we give them still four more years with their wrecking machine?
EXPLAINING DONALD TRUMP
We all invest considerable effort in organizing our framing of the world and of people in it. That framing tends to have a lot of internal consistency, and it tends to be self-re-enforcing. If some important aspect of our worldview is challenged, we invoke the overall framework to parry that challenge. And the framework itself provides a multitude of defenses that seem to explain, to justify, Donald Trump. Trump is rude and crude? Well, we Americans have always liked the straight-talking, down-to-earth truth-teller who takes the effete Eastern dandy down a notch with a well-aimed riposte. There’s a whole genre of American literature called Southwest humor (think of Mark Twain, for example) that prizes this kind of “straight talk.” And we can rationalize Trump’s flouting of conventions of behavior, his references to “shithole countries,” his mocking of people with physical disabilities, his violations of protocols of international diplomacy and presidential decorum, even his shameless, effortless, boldfaced lying, as evidence, paradoxically, of his genuineness: “See, he’s the real deal! No pretense there! He calls ‘em like he sees ‘em, no weak pussyfooting around. Besides, everybody lies. Politicians all lie. It’s what they do.”
Even his cruelty can be rationalized as a virtue: Attacking “lawless” demonstrators in the street, urging the police to “rough ‘em up,” tearing children from their parents’ arms, incarcerating them in chainlink cells, can be taken as evidence of the purity and strength of his devotion to the principle of preserving our liberty, national identity, and traditional values: a proof of his patriotic zeal. To make omelets, you’ve got to crack eggs. Hard problems call for hard measures in this noble work of making American great again. To echo Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” (Though in fairness to Goldwater, it seems improbable that he would have approved the cruelty of ICE in his home state along the border.) These are perhaps some of the hardest Trumpian behaviors to rationalize, and it requires some significant mental effort and a certain ethical athleticism and ingenuity, but it can be done. This kind of rationalization was done wholesale in Germany, Russia, and Italy in the 1930s. Michael Polanyi called this process “moral inversion.”
I entered upon this project with a clear sense of how difficult it is to move someone from a strongly and sincerely held conviction. For half a century, Donald Trump has been looking to play the angles of self-promotion, puffing his wealth, his romantic prowess, his business acumen, his whole persona as a prominent public figure. And he has been a brilliant impresario on his own behalf. Millions of people admire him and see him as an exceptionally good president. At the same time, people have raised profound and disturbing questions about his character, his competence, and his patriotism. He has, of course, been impeached. His behavior figured prominently and disturbingly in the Mueller report. Breaking with precedent going back 40 years, he has refused to disclose his tax documents, and when challenged to do so through legal processes, he has fought those challenges in court—successfully, so far. While we do not know exactly what his own involvement was, we know, by way of the recent bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, that his campaign had close, frequent contacts with perhaps our most dangerous adversary, Russia, confirming the material findings of the Mueller report. He condescends to and insults virtually every head of state on the planet—except the thugs—Erdogan, Duterte, Putin. Especially Putin. (What’s going on with Putin? He pops up everywhere, seems always to benefit from Trump’s moves. And we know that with the transactional Mr. Trump there’s almost always a quid pro quo. A look at Trump’s tax returns might shed light on the question of the relationship of Trump, Inc., Mr. Putin, and the Russian oligarchs.) He threatens the free and independent press. He has threatened the democratic process at its most basic level, stating frankly his desire to suppress the vote and suggesting that if he loses, he may refuse to accept the vote—and if he wins, he may decide to stay in office for another twelve years. Yet, each one of his disturbing behaviors/events can be rationalized, can be explained, can be justified, can be spun. And millions of good, loyal, patriotic Americans want to believe him, want to believe in him, and will make the cognitive effort required so that they do believe. Perhaps the most effective move he has made in all this array of behaviors is that from the beginning he has raged indignantly about the “fake news” media and the ”fake” investigatory reports by “deep state” United States law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That device alone can be employed against virtually every charge levelled against him. What “fake news” doesn’t cover can be attacked by his “deep state” meme. Between the paranoia of these two devices and the 20,000-plus lies he has told so far, he has succeeded in so obfuscating the truth that millions are convinced that he truly is “the only one who can fix it” and that Joe Biden, who’s been a paragon of dedicated, faithful, patriotic service for nearly half a century, is a danger to the country. Now, more than ever, the truth matters.
I remember the first time I saw a program called “Fair and Balanced,” on Fox News featuring Bill O’Reilly. It was October of 2004, and a presidential election campaign was in full swing. I was in the Northwest Airlines lounge in the Twin Cities’ Lindberg Terminal, and I had a long layover between flights. So there I was, munching Northwest Airlines’ pretzels and sipping their Pepsi. And watching their TV set. As I watched, I increasingly had the sensation of being drawn down a rabbit hole. Where was I? Who were these politicians they were talking about? I could barely recognize either the George Bush or the John Kerry they described, especially their Swiftboated version of John Kerry. I looked around. Were other people watching this? Were they as disoriented as I was? Had some kind of solar flare occurred and flipped the reception to Pravda? It certainly seemed like an American version of Pravda. I didn’t watch for long. Watching it was like walking through a funhouse tunnel with its distorting mirrors and weird colors and sounds and textures, inducing a feeling almost of nausea.
Rupert Murdoch hired Roger Ailes as his CEO of Fox News in 1996. Roger Ailes had assisted several Republican presidential campaigns. His first political foray, in fact, was in 1968, when he had assisted Lee Atwater in the implementation of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. He subsequently assisted in the campaigns of Ronald Reagan (“welfare queens”) and George H.W. Bush (“Willy Horton”)—and later advised George W. Bush. So Ailes was adept at the tactics of the Southern Strategy (in fact, had helped invent them), and he brought them to Fox News: distortion, deception, distraction, and innuendo. And a lot of hyperbolic fear mongering. I remember when Glenn Beck was in his heyday, bellowing “Barack Hussein Obama! Can somebody with a name like that have America’s best interests at heart?” Now Sean Hannity is Donald Trump’s BFF, and the two apparently confer almost daily. There is a kind of folie a deux synergy wherein each informs and amplifies the other. A number of Trump’s more recent untruths appear to have actually originated with Fox broadcasts and then to have been picked up and re-broadcast by Trump either in his Tweets or in comments to the press. Perhaps worst of all, Fox News, in broadcasting bogus reports and ridiculing medical advice from health agencies like the CDC about COVID-19, has been responsible for probably thousands of deaths.
In the last decade or so of my teaching career, I taught an advanced writing course that focused on public discourse. Students fed on a steady diet of current news and editorials in a variety of media, and they created their own op-ed pieces. In the course of our discussions, there were several students during these years, generally women in their late twenties and thirties who had returned to finish their degrees, who lamented that they had “lost” their fathers to Fox News. Their dads, they said, had started watching Fox News, and it had changed their perception of the world. They had become angry, almost paranoid, about the state of the world. They were contemptuous of other news sources, which they saw as fake news.
I was reminded of this when I got an email from an old friend a few days after Trump won the election in November 2016. He was sending me a Fox News piece reporting that the New York Times editorial board had announced that, given Trump’s election, they were going to have to start trying to tell the truth. I had read that editorial in the Times. What it actually said was that given Trump’s history of deception, they would have to redouble their commitment to making the truth known.
The sources of faux news are proliferating. One I find especially distressing is the Epoch Times, a journal that advertises widely on YouTube and online video generally. The spokesman is a clean-cut young man, cheerful, articulate, even charming. With an engaging patter, he disparages the mainstream media and urges us to find the real truth in the conspiracy stories of the Epoch Times. And now there are the ubiquitous bots and Internet trolls, including state actors (primarily Russians if the intelligence professionals are to be believed, though Trump insists otherwise).
On its face, the controversy over the size of the crowd at the inauguration on January 20, 2017, was silly—almost amusing. You had poor Sean Spicer, White House Communications Director and Press Secretary, squirming and sweating at the podium, dutifully doing as the president had ordered him to do, insisting to the press corps that they should believe him, not their own eyes: the crowd at the Trump inauguration had been bigger, he said, than the crowd at the Obama inauguration in 2009. The problem for Spicer was that there were photos of the two events taken by the National Park Service clearly showing that the crowds in 2009 had been larger. But in the grand scheme of things, who cared? Well, Trump cared. So the White House induced the Park Service to reframe the photos to enhance the appearance of the size of the 2017 crowd. As trivial as it was, the incident turned out to be a portent: this administration was willing to dissemble, to lie, even in the face of overwhelming confounding evidence, even on a trivial issue. What would it be willing to do if the issue were of some moment?
We have since found out. In August 2019, Trump erroneously said that Hurricane Dorian was on track to hit Alabama. The National Weather Service’s data and analyses showed that Dorian would take a more northerly track and would almost entirely miss Alabama. Not wanting to cause any unnecessary alarm in Alabama, they issued a correction: Dorian was not going to hit Alabama. And Dorian tracked exactly where the NWS said it would. But Trump had taken umbrage. And NOAA, the parent of the NWS, issued a “correction”: Trump, not the NWS, had been correct. Again, on one level the conflict is ludicrous. But wait: wouldn’t you want to know if a hurricane was going to hit you or not? What’s more important: the safety of a few hundred thousand people or a narcissistic president’s ego? And what about the integrity of the world’s best weather and climate forecasting scientists? Don’t we want to be able to trust them?
This week, Trump finally made the trip to the west coast in response to the wildfires, where he got into an argument that again seems silly on one level. When state officials present mentioned the problem of climate change, Trump pushed back: “It’ll get cooler.” One of the officials present said, “I wish the science agreed with you.” And Trump scoffed that science doesn’t know.
Does the truth about COVID-19 matter? Trump has, from the beginning, chafed at the public statements made by Dr. Anthony Fauci and other CDC staff, seeing them as too alarmist and challenging their accuracy. In fact, Fauci personally was smeared by key White House members, who challenged his basic competence and honesty. In mid-July, Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced from the White House that the long-established protocols by which hospitals all over the country feed patient data into the national health information network were changing immediately. No longer would hospitals and state agencies report their data directly to the CDC, as they had done for years, but the data would go first to HHS. Alarm bells rang all through the system and across the press. Why this abrupt change in the middle of a crisis? What was the motive? Would the data still be reliable? Was this possibly another case, like the chastisement of the National Weather Service in the Hurricane Dorian fiasco, where the head of an agency, the politically appointed leadership who is more susceptible to White House pressure than the civil servants in the agency, is manipulating the truth to please the White House? No, no, said Michael Caputo, the recently appointed chief information officer for HHS, the old system was outdated and inefficient and urgently needed to be replaced.
It now turns out that this same Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who was installed as the top spokesman for the HHS Department in April, has been pressing the CDC to modify its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) and has even demanded that some of the reports be retroactively edited to reduce the number of COVID deaths. Caputo insists that the MMWR’s, long revered as a paragon of scientific integrity and as one of the world’s great resources for the informed practice of medicine, are being used as anti-Trump propaganda because they don’t fit foursquare with his narrative about COVID-19. He has accused the CDC doctors and scientists of sedition! This is the kind of mindset that led to Lysenkoism and set Soviet science back decades in Stalinist Russia. Do we want to have our medical practitioners blinkered in this way in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century?
And what about Trump’s narrative about COVID-19? It now turns out to be worse than we thought: TRUMP KNEW! HE KNEW ALL ALONG HOW SERIOUS IT IS, HOW EASLY TRANSMISSIBLE IT IS AS AN AEROSOLE. HE KNEW HOW AT RISK WE ALL ARE. AND TRUMP JUST, FLAT OUT, LIED! How do we know this now? He told Bob Woodward way back in February. Trump has denied that he said that. (Oops. Woodward recorded the conversations. They are now playing on all the media.)
On February 25, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev made a “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The English translation of its title is “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” The speech, which took Khrushchev about four hours to read, was an exhaustive report publicly exposing for the first time Stalin’s offenses during the thirty years of his reign that had ended with his death in 1953: his suppression of collective leadership and assumption of dictatorial powers; his egoism in naming things (e.g. Stalingrad) after himself; his purges of old Bolsheviks, “counterrevolutionaries,” “enemies of the state,” political opponents, and suspected political opponents. It laid bare, with shocking detail, the violence and brutality of Stalin’s reign, especially during the later years of the 1930s when Stalin oversaw vast purges, arrests, trials and convictions on trumped up charges, and wholesale torture. The speech sent shock waves throughout the world, especially among Communists. It is estimated (Wikipedia) that as many as 30,000 American Communists resigned their party membership within weeks after news of the speech leaked out. Shock waves rolled across Russia. The military had to be called in to quell riots in Stalingrad. That fall, in October, the Hungarian Revolution began and was violently crushed as thousands of Hungarians fled the country seeking refuge. (One, a kid my age named Zoltan, made it all the way to Buffalo, Wyoming, and my high school chemistry class.)
Ten years later, in 1966, Michael Polanyi published an essay titled “The Message of the Hungarian Revolution.” A native of Budapest, Polanyi had deep roots in Hungary and close ties with many other ex-pat Hungarian scientists and intellectuals. The conventional wisdom among social, economic, and political scientists at that time was that the Hungarian Revolution was motivated by economic, material interests. Polanyi asserted that this conventional wisdom was wrong. The real rebellion, he said, had begun in June, at a meeting of the Petofi Circle, an elite group within the Hungarian Communist party itself. In the aftermath of Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” party members themselves “demanded a reversal of the position assigned to human thought in the Marxist-Leninist scheme. . . . They affirmed that truth must be recognized as an independent power in public life. The press must be set free to tell the truth. The murderous trials based on faked charges were to be publicly condemned and their perpetrators punished; the rule of law must be restored. And, above all, the arts corrupted by subservience to the Party must be set free to rouse the imagination and to tell the truth.”
This in fact, Polanyi says, was a wholesale return to the ideals of nineteenth-century liberalism: “In the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 its fighters were clearly going back to the ideals of 1848, to Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. After the French Revolution the ideas of liberty had filtered through the whole of Europe, and in 1848 these ideas aroused a chain of insurgencies. . . . The Hungarian revolutionaries of 1956 revived these same ideas; they believed that the ideals of truth, justice and liberty were valid, and they were resolved to fight and conquer in their names.”
Polanyi recites the verse of the Bulgarian poet Dimitar Metodiev, which describes the transformation of the poet’s own vision by Khrushchev’s “secret letter”:
If one had told me yesterday:
— Friend take off your glasses! —
I would have laughed
in a black rage
at the mortal insult.
. . .
On the ground now
The glasses lie smashed
And I look at them stunned.
And he narrates the Hungarian Communist writer Paloczi-Horvath’s description of his prison conversion: “Since his arrest in September 1949, Paloczi had suffered incessant cruelties, inflicted on him to make him confess to false charges; yet he had never wavered in his Communist faith. Then suddenly, after two years in prison, in a matter of a few days, he changed his mind and rejected the Party. His sufferings in prison remained unchanged, but from this moment he felt free, even happy—a new person.”
What is remarkable is that just as Anne Applebaum described in the case of Wolfgang Leonhard’s experience, the facts did not change. Leonhard knew the same facts he had known before. There was no new information. Rather, with the innocent question about the location of the lunchroom, his spectacles were smashed; his frame of reference for what he knew had shifted.
Polanyi continues: “Paloczi-Horvath acknowledges with amazement that all the facts he was seeing in a new light after his defection from Communism had already been known to him as facts before his change of mind. Arthur Koestler had described this phenomenon in looking back on his time as a Communist. ‘My party education had equipped my mind (he wrote) with such elaborate shock absorbing buffers and elastic defences that everything seen and heard became automatically transformed to fit a pre-conceived pattern.’” Compare this with Stuart Stevens’ description of his own experience in his prologue to It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump: “I have no one to blame but myself. I believed. That’s where it all started to go wrong.”
One of the podcasts in Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History series addresses the term chutzpa. Gladwell argues that there is not one single kind of chutzpa but two, two distinct meanings to the term: in short, there’s good chutzpa and there’s bad chutzpa. (The following examples are mine, not Gladwell’s.)
Bad chutzpa is the bold-faced lie. Political life everywhere is full of bad chutzpa. Politician may commit atrocities and point with indignation at their victims: “It’s their fault! We, not they, are the victims! You should be praising us, not blaming us, because we have saved you too from this scourge.”
Or they create tax structures that steal from the poor and give to the rich and call it trickle-down economics.
Or they eliminate regulations that protect us from environmental catastrophe and say, “See? We’re saving you money at the gas pump. We’re making America great again—energy independent! We’re going to win so much you’ll get tired of winning!
Or they wrap themselves in a mantle of “law and order,” a bulwark against chaos, while inciting that chaos, unlawfully unleashing military forces against innocent civilians peacefully demonstrating—and presiding over an administration with eight major figures arrested or convicted of felonies and countless others who have resigned or been fired for resisting the corruption, all the while concealing their own financial dealings and refusing to disclose their tax documents.
Or they try to assassinate the character of the victim if a young black man—or woman—is killed by excessive police force: “Why can’t they just cooperate and do what they’re told? Maybe she was on drugs. Maybe there was a hidden weapon. I don’t really know . . . I hear they say . . . ”
Or they apologize for the young white man who, incensed by their inflammatory rhetoric, brings an assault rifle across state lines and shoots three people: “It looked to me like he was just defending himself.” (Bear with me, please, for a moment, and ponder these what-ifs: What if Kyle Rittenhouse were Black? What if the armed “militia” roaming the streets were Black? What if the BLM demonstrators themselves were carrying assault rifles?)
Or they spend four years working assiduously to dismantle the 200-plus years of accumulated meritocratic and egalitarian governmental structures, procedures, norms of behavior, and customs of comity that constitute our priceless heritage and call it “draining the swamp.”
Or, having avoided military service with “bone spurs,” they surround themselves with retired generals, insist on conducting a graduation ceremony at West Point in spite of the risks involved during the COVID crisis, propose a big Russian-style military parade in Washington, and say “Nobody’s done more for the military than me” while raiding the Defense Department budget to help finance “the wall” and privately describing American combatants who were killed or wounded in action or captured or shot down as “losers” and “suckers” and refusing to confront Putin on the issue of Russian payments of bounties for U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Or they try to assassinate the character of a man who has devoted half a century—his entire adult life—to the service of our country, holding office for decades at the highest levels, a devout Catholic, a devoted family man, a shrewd diplomat with deep understanding of international relations, a patriot to the marrow of his bones, as “Sleepy Joe” and suggest that he is a Trojan horse and a threat to our security, a man who will lead us down the path of “socialism” and will usher in a reign of terror with mobs, arsonists, and terrorists in the streets—alleging all this while themselves defying legal precedent, recruiting a bend of felons for his key staff , protecting them from prosecution, pardoning them when convicted, and fawning over men (e.g. Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Xi Jinping) who are demonstrably despots and assassins and persecutors of religions, including Christianity.
Good chutzpa is like bad chutzpa in that it also requires a certain boldness. It is the quality of character required to speak truth to power. A classic example of good chutzpa would be Martin Luther’s courage in nailing his 95 theses on the church door and his subsequent protestation at his trial at Worms, “I cannot and will not recant anything. . . . Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”
Contemporary examples of good chutzpa abound worldwide. Here’s a small list, many of them also politicians:
• Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran in the election this year against the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko at great personal risk after Lukashenko had jailed her husband;
• Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is now hospitalized in Germany as a result of an assassination attempt that has Putin’s fingerprints all over it;
• The Hong Kong protesters resisting oppression from Beijing;
• Journalists all across the globe, including in our own country, who risk career, prestige, even life, in the service of the truth—a prime example being Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul;
• Witnesses in the Ukraine investigation, who risked their careers, their privacy, their reputation, even their physical safety and their lives in service of the truth—among them, Col. Alexander Vindman, Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, and Fiona Hill, who had been the Senior Director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council;
• Mitt Romney, the single Republican to support a conviction on Trump’s impeachment charge;
• Christine Todd Whitman, Bill Weld, John Kasich, Colin Powell, Rick Snyder, and other Republicans of high rank and prestige—including the leaders of the Lincoln Project—who are putting their political and professional careers on the line and breaking through the bounds of party politics in the face of the threat to democracy that Trump constitutes. And as surely as the sun rises, they have been attacked. The White House says: “President Trump has promised to drain the swamp. No wonder the swamp rats are attacking.”
Luther’s protest, like millions of others before and since, represents a commitment to the truth that entails one’s whole being, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. For this kind of chutzpah, truth matters. Truth is of transcendent importance. There is a cynical view of history that says, “History is written by the victors.” But this is wrong. History is written by the truth seekers, by the truth tellers, even at the risk of their whole being.
THINK IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU MAY BE MISTAKEN
I began this appeal with a couple of observations: We are approaching the most consequential election of our lifetime. There is wide agreement that the fate of our republic hinges on this election. There is a vast gulf, though, between what different people think that means. The fate of our country, maybe even the fate of the world, hangs on a huge, simple binary question: pro-Trump or anti-Trump?
I have argued that the Trump presidency has been a catastrophe and that it constitutes an existential threat to our democracy, that it has prepared the way and removed many of the obstacles for a slide right into an authoritarian autocracy. (“Hogwash! Paranoid hyperbole!” you may be saying. I tell you: no, this is the sober assessment of a lot of very well informed people, including many Republicans.) Under the guise of “draining the swamp” and defending freedom from the “deep state,” Trump has trampled on our civil liberties, shattered international comity with our allies, facilitated the rise of fascistic violence, sown distrust, and pushed us towards a Hobbesian “war of all against all.” He has hollowed out our great quarter-millennium democratic project in ways that are beginning to threaten our existence as an egalitarian, democratic, constitutional republic. He has established and set in motion a government that is both a kakistocracy and a kleptocracy: both incompetent and corrupt. He campaigned as a man of the people, but he has built a government of, by, and for billionaires. With his 20,000+ documented lies, he has tried to kill truth, and he has killed trust. Very little that he has done has improved anything for most of us. Indeed, life expectancy in the United States has fallen during his administration. Much of what he has done has injured or threatened to injure many of us—healthcare, financial security in retirement, small-scale farming and business, all the little guys, including, ironically, a large part of his “base.”
Ask yourself, honestly, how has the Trump presidency improved your life, your health, safety, liberty? Think carefully, think concretely, think specifically. How are you better off than you were in 2016—materially, spiritually, in any other way? And, by the way, how are you getting along with your neighbors, especially your neighbors who subscribe to a different political view? And always, persisting in the background, lurks the question: What’s going on with Putin? Is there any other person in the world whom Trump treats with such gentle deference, so out of character with all his other relationships? Why is that?
Mr. Trump has an astonishing gift for self-promotion, for fashioning a narrative, a sales pitch—the “art of the deal.” Even now, he continues to weave a narrative of competence and success—of strong leadership protecting us from hordes of unsavory immigrants, protecting us from each other, from the dangerous people among us—Democrats, socialists, unions. . . . It can be a compelling narrative, the “only I can do it” narrative, offering reassurance that in spite of the deep-state swamp rats attacking him and making us wear masks, he will protect us. If we can just make sure he stays in office four more years (or wait: wasn’t it eight more years or twelve more years he suggested the other day?) we can rest assured: he’ll take care of us. We can relax. He’s got it covered.
This is something like what Arthur Koestler said of his own experience: “My party education had equipped my mind with such elaborate shock absorbing buffers and elastic defences that everything seen and heard became automatically transformed to fit a pre-conceived pattern.” Trump is such a master at weaving his web of rationalizations, irrelevant details, anecdotes, equivocations, lurid threats, and just general palaver that it can be hard to resist visualizing him as the GREAT OZ rather than the little guy hiding behind the curtain in the corner manipulating scenery, laying out a fog of lies and deceptions through which we are to see this bold, heroic, supremely competent leader who makes America great again, lets the whole world know it.
But sometimes the framework doesn’t hold. Sometimes even the most passionately held frame of reference disintegrates in the face of some stubborn fact or revelation. Maybe it’s something as trivial as a question where the dining room is. A whole sincerely held, competently held framework shudders and collapses. Some set of facts, in view all along, comes into focus and shatters the spectacles.
Despite Trump’s genius at spin, there’s one stubborn set of facts he cannot spin out of:
- The U.S. has the greatest medical infrastructure in the world
- The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s COVID cases
- The U.S. fatalities from COVID-19 now are the equivalent of wiping out an entire city the size of Fayetteville, NC, or Modesto, California, or Des Moines, Iowa. They now total more than the U.S. fatalities of World War I, Korea, Vietnam, and the Iraq War combined.
- No other country in the world, irrespective of its form of government, has had such a catastrophically incompetent response to the COVID pandemic.
- It could happen again! And if Trump is still in office, we may be even worse prepared than we were this time.
I beseech you, “in the bowels of Christ,” look at these facts. Really look. Trump lied about the virus. He knew back in February how dangerous COVID was. He told Bob Woodward so in a tape-recorded conversation. Yet even now he denies the medical science, undermines the integrity of the process of collecting and disseminating the crucial medical information, attacks his own experts, withdraws from international medical collaboration, and incites people to defy the best practices urged by medical experts, the wearing of masks. He was willing to abet the annihilation of the equivalent of a large-sized American city to maintain the illusion that he had everything under control. Please, concentrate on these facts. And ask yourself, what and whom do his 20,000 other lies serve?
Wolfgang Leonard found that the whole universe of what he knew as a young member of the Communist East German elite shifted into a new focus after the query about where the dining room was. Stuart Stevens, a major Republican strategist for decades (including leading advisor to the Romney presidential campaign in 2012), describes the transformation of his own “spectacles” in his It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
References for “Changing Your Mind”
Anne Applebaum. “History Will Judge the Complicit. Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles in support of an immoral and dangerous president?” The Atlantic. July/August 2020 issue.
John Bolton. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. Simon & Schuster, 2020
Michael Cohen. Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump. Skyhorse Publishing. 2020
Richard Cordray. Watchdog: How Protecting Consumers Can Save Our Families, Our Economy, and Our Democracy. Oxford University Press. 2020
Alan Dershowitz. The Mueller Report. Skyhorse Publishing. 2019
Michael Lewis. The Fifth Risk. W.W. Norton, 2018
Rachel Maddow. Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. Crown. 2019
Michael Polanyi. Knowing and Being. University of Chicago Press. 1969
Bob Woodward. Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Bob Woodward. Rage. Simon and Schuster, 2020.
Selected Web Resources:
I relied extensively on multiple Web resources, including links to pieces in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio, in preparing this piece. Selected sites are listed here. Also, I have relied heavily on Wikipedia throughout.
URL for Senate Intelligence Committee Bipartisan Russia Report, Volume 5 https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/report_volume5.pdf
“Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump.” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02277-6
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Copyright by Robert P. Inkster 2020