Current Affairs Feed

Let's not get carried away

David Brooks reminds us to not get carried away about the Russia investigation, that there are many more and more important reasons that Trump is a danger.  

There’s just something worrisome every time we find ourselves replacing politics of democracy with the politics of scandal. In democracy, the issues count, and you try to win by persuasion. You recognize that your opponents are legitimate, that they will always be there and that some form of compromise is inevitable.

In the politics of scandal, at least since Watergate, you don’t have to engage in persuasion or even talk about issues. Political victories are won when you destroy your political opponents by catching them in some wrongdoing. You get seduced by the delightful possibility that your opponent will be eliminated. Politics is simply about moral superiority and personal destruction.

Questions for Sessions

I was puzzled by the Jeff Sessions hearing yesterday, primarily at a number of questions that weren't asked, questions that seemed obvious to me.  Instead a lot of time was spent circling around some topics that I didn't think were all that interesting.  No, I don't think Jeff Sessions openly colluded with the Russian government to steal the election, but he may have been unwittingly played by them.  But here were the questions I wanted answers to and while some Senators got close to these, none of them asked these:

  1. What was the purpose of your meetings with Ambassador Kislyak?  Why did you schedule the meetings?  Were you meeting as a Senator or as a member of the Trump campaign?  See this article for why these distinctions matter.
  2. What did you discuss with Mr. Kislyak?  [John McCain asked if they talked about various things, but he never asked this open-ended question.  Note that McCain is skeptical that Sessions held this meeting in his role as a member of the Armed Services Committee.]
  3. When Director Comey asked you to intercede with the president to prevent any future breaches of protocol, did you address this concern with the President?  If not, why not?  If so, what was his response?
  4. Do you believe that the president's conversations with Director Comey were inappropriate?
  5. Do you believe that the president asking Mr. Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn is an attempt at obstruction of justice?
  6. You have said that your reasons for supporting Mr. Comey's firing were those detailed in Mr. Rosenstein's memo, but the President has said he fired Mr. Comey because of the Russian investigation.  Do you believe the president's reason is  legitimate?  Do you think differently about the firing after learning that was the president's reason?  [Senator Collins came close to this, but didn't go precisely to this point.]  Do you believe that firing Mr. Comey because of the Russian investigation is an attempt to obstruct the investigation?  Did the president obstruct justice?

One thing Sessions revealed in the hearing was that he had no information on the Russian investigation that wasn't public information.  One of the Senators, I now forget which, asked him, with some surprise and incredulity, about the confidential report the intelligence services had released last fall when Sessions was a Senator.  Hadn't he read the report?  Hadn't he, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, attended the briefings for Senators?  Sessions said he hadn't.  The Senator seemed puzzled that Sessions had not been alarmed by the fact of Russian interference and hadn't wanted to learn about it.  I felt that this should have been followed up on more seriously.  

Trump the Idiot

A column in the Times explores how Trump is representative of the original meaning of the word idiot--"a prepubescent, parasitic solipsist who talks only to himself."  It became clear to me during his inaugural speech that he is a pathetic little man.  The idiot is a danger to public life, as the Greeks understood:

The idiot cares nothing about public life, much less public service. The idiot cares only about his own name. The idiot, by way of his actions, can destroy the social body. Eventually, the idiot destroys himself, but in so doing, potentially annihilates everyone along with him. He is a ticking time bomb in the middle of the public square.

"They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world."

In an, at times, beautiful column, David Brooks writes that 

People have moral emotions. They feel rage at injustice, disgust toward greed, reverence for excellence, awe before the sacred and elevation in the face of goodness.

People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good.

People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness.

Yet, the Trump administration "dismiss [es] this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them. . . [they] sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough . . . [and they] affront everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world."

Another conservative criticizes Trump's lack of moral character

Conservative Jennifer Rubin writes about how embarrassing Trump's tweets were after the London attack and how they reveal his complete lack of moral character.  Here are the choice excerpts:

One is prompted to ask if he is off his rocker. But this is vintage Trump — impulsive and cruel, without an ounce of class or human decency. His behavior no longer surprises us, but it should offend and disturb us, first, that he remains the face and voice of America in the world and, second, that his fans hoot and holler, seeing this as inconsequential or acceptable conduct. We wound up with this president because millions of Republicans could not prioritize character, decency and overall fitness to serve over their mundane and frankly petty partisan wish list (28 percent top marginal tax rate!).


Sure, Trump’s policies and rhetoric are incoherent and based on a tower of lies. Far worse, however, is his appalling character, which accelerates the erosion of democratic norms and social cohesion a diverse democracy requires. In instances like this, those who would lecture us on President Obama’s under-appreciation of America’s unique place in human history or proclaim that they simply had to vote for Trump because Hillary Clinton was some sort of monster are exposed as fools or hypocrites or both.

The Very Long View

Astrophysicist Adam Frank takes the very long view in response to Trump's anti-climate decision and the view is not pretty.

On Thursday, folly won — and now we face the consequences.

Under even the most charitable assessments, climate change is going to stress the deeply interconnected world we've built. There is a great deal of fragility in the multiple overlapping networks on which our project of civilization depends (food, energy, economic, communication). If things fall on the "really hard" side of the spectrum, then consequences like a collapse of those systems is not unimaginable.

That's why Thursday, the day a U.S. administration choose to pull out of the Paris climate accord, may end up being unlike any other in our long collective history. While it might be possible to repair the damage with a new administration, the ball will already be rolling downhill toward dissolution and away from structured, organized response. Everything will be harder.

In that way, we may have reached a split in the road of our fate — and we have taken ourselves down the wrong path. While those alive today might want to forget the consequences of Thursday's decision, the future will not have that option. The future will not be able to forget.

How the Bible Belt Lost God and Found Trump

A powerful article, from April, in the Financial Times on how Evangelicals have abandoned their faith in their embrace of Donald Trump. An excerpt:

As evangelical Christianity has grown more successful in the political realm, Flynt fears that it has been reduced to a sum of its slogans. Lost in the transition, he says, is the traditional evangelical standard for sizing up candidates — “personal moral character”, which includes such criteria as marital fidelity, church attendance and kindness. “No one I know of would argue that Donald Trump inculcates moral character,” Flynt says. “What has happened to American Christianity is there is this afterglow of what a candidate is supposed to represent. It’s no longer moral character. It’s policy positions on things that bother evangelicals.”

What the opposition needs

This article in Salon criticizes liberals for thinking there will be an easy Trump backlash, as the special election in Montana went for the violent bully as well.  But the author contends the left is focused on the wrong things, something I've been saying this year.  In fact, I've said almost this exact sentence, "My position is that Donald Trump is a symptom of the fundamental brokenness of American politics, not the cause."  

He concludes:

For the Trump resistance to have meaning, it must be more than the handmaiden or enabler of a political party that has lost its power, lost its voice and lost its way. Electoral victories will come (and go), but we should have learned by now that they are never sufficient in themselves. Rebuilding and redeeming American democracy — if that can still be accomplished — is a much bigger job, and there are no shortcuts.

Fortunately, there are many on the right who also opposed Trump and believe the same thing, that he is a symptom of a far more serious problem with our society.  We can work together with those folk to repair the social fabric and moral character of our democracy, that is the most important project at the moment.  I find 2017 to be a great time for bipartisan cooperation in opposition the the national catastrophe of Trump.

Memorial Weekend in Trump's America

First, an article in The Guardian recounts the hate crimes that occurred over the holiday weekend and ponders if Trump's vile rhetoric has empowered white supremacists in their violence.  An excerpt:

Some said it was hard to separate the weekend’s violence from the rhetoric of Trump who has bragged about sexual assault, joked about attacking his opponents and protesters and made racially prejudiced remarks about Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, indigenous people and other minorities.

And a column by John McCain's former chief of staff Mark Salter discussing the fight at the baseball game in the larger context of the loss of humility and moral character in our nation, signified again by Trump:

The president whom Schlichter defends for the sake of discomfiting liberals  is the exemplar of a life bereft of a purpose higher than avenging slights, real and imagined. He’s 70 years old, and exhibits the thoughtfulness, impulse control and empathy of a middle-school bully. Trump desperately insists he is great, fantastic, the best – apparently to keep his insecurities at bay. Making his aides offer fulsome tributes to his make-believe gloriousness like they were North Korean newscasters. Blaming subordinates, the media, the “deep state” for the predictable consequences of his own boorish behavior.

Trump is deficient in so many virtues, but the most glaring deficiency is an inability to be humble.  

Humility is the awareness that should shape our ideals, and our engagement with our fellow human beings, the awareness that we have as much dignity as any other person, and not one bit more.

Without it we cannot find satisfaction beyond fleeting pleasure or a feeling more motivating than anger. Whatever our talents and achievements we are merely the sum of our resentments and insecurities. We cannot really love others. We cannot fix ourselves. And the men and women whose sacrifice we are meant to honor on Memorial Day are a rebuke to our wasted life.