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On the astonishingly morally impoverished character of Donald Trump

During the 2016 presidential campaign and after the election and inauguration of Donald Trump, there have been countless negative assessments of his character. I have collected the most poignant here. (Related topics such as the risks of working for someone with poor character and whether Trumpism might be a cult are in separate posts.)

Before the election

The number of active hate groups rose in 2016.

Tom Nichols wrote on April 26, 2016 in "If I Lose Friends Over Trump, So Be It":

"Yes, fellow conservatives: Trump is worse than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Their policies are liberal, even leftist, often motivated by cheap politics, ego, and political grandstanding. But they are policies, understandable as such and opposable by political means.

Trump’s various rants, by contrast, do not amount to policies. They are ignorant tone poems, bad haikus, streams of words whose content has no real meaning. They’re not positions available either to the GOP or Democrats, because they do not contain a vision of the future over which those parties can fight.

In fact, Trump’s policies are not policies. They’re just feverish revenge fantasies. Trump, a scam artist whose entire career has been based on victimizing the working class, should be the target of that anger. Instead, he is encouraging Americans to turn their hostility away from him and against their fellow citizens, inviting us into a war of all against all over which he will preside as an amused dictator.

The division between Trump’s supporters and the rest of us is not about reconciling our political differences. It is not about opposing policies we hate. (Most of Trump’s policies are actually quite liberal, but that is irrelevant.) There are no real principles on the table here, only Trump’s demagogic stoking of incoherent and even paranoid rage."

In August 2016: "In a Facebook post directed at the Republican presidential candidate, President Ronald Reagan's daughter blasted Donald Trump's 'glib and horrifying comment' on the Second Amendment."

Before he gave a speech on energy in 2016, an advisor "provided a pre-speech review to senior United Arab Emirates officials." Thomas Barrack, an investor, arranged for a draft copy of the speech to be sent to UAE and Saudi government officials, and then he had Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, add the governments' requested language to the speech. This became public in 2019 after a House Oversight Committee investigation, chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings, learned of the incident. The committee's report said: “The Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policy making from corporate and foreign interests." The White House did not comment on the investigation, but Trump retaliated on Twitter with multiple racist comments against Rep. Cummings.

Jennifer Mercieca wrote in June 2020:

He’s a genius at using rhetoric like a dangerous demagogue does, to prevent the country from holding him accountable.

Trump campaigned as an unaccountable leader. He promised that he would fight for his followers and wouldn’t be accountable to established leaders in his party, the media, fact-checkers, political correctness or common standards of decency.

Trump has used six rhetorical strategies repeatedly since 2015. Three ingratiate Trump with his followers, and three alienate Trump and his followers from everyone else. The effect is to unify his followers against everyone else and to make Trump the fulcrum for all political discussion and debate.

According to Mercieca, the ingratiating strategies are: "Ad populum: appealing to the wisdom of the crowd, using popularity as the measure of value," "Paralipsis: I’m not saying; I’m just saying," and "American exceptionalism: This refers to America’s unique role in the world, simplified by Trump as 'America winning.'" The alienating strategies are: "Ad hominem: attacking the person instead of their argument," "Ad baculum: threats of force or intimidation," and "Reification: treating people as objects."

After the election

As a journalist, Sophie Kleeman explained, after Trump's election, "working in the news felt like looking into a funhouse-mirror version of the country’s most primordial urges."

A week after taking office, Trump wanted to change the government program called "Countering Violent Extremism" so that it would instead more narrowly be called "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism" and would no longer focus on fighting white supremacy. (Note: Two years later, it still has its original name.)

On Feb. 6, 2017, Victoria McGrane described in the Boston Globe how Trump insulted a senator from his own party:

"McCain has publicly challenged Trump on refugees and immigration — saying the action may do more to recruit terrorists than beef up national security — as well as on the issues of torture, Russia, and trade. Trump has shot back, accusing McCain of 'looking to start World War III.'"

* * *

"Trump openly mocked McCain during his presidential campaign for being a Vietnam POW, saying “I like people who weren’t captured.’’ It was a highly personal attack that stunned the Republican Party, whose leaders rushed to McCain’s defense and called him a war hero."

That same month, someone threw Trump a "softball question" at a news conference about the bomb threats made against Jewish organizations during the month of his inauguration.

I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We have an understand[ing] that you have Jewish grandchildren...what we are concerned about and what we haven't being heard addressed is how the government is planning to take care of it. There are reports that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers across the country in the last couple of weeks.

This was an easy opportunity for Trump to say something like: Anti-Semitic violence is a terrible threat to our nation, and I will direct the government to find ways to put an end to racist threats that tear us apart. Instead, Trump took the question as a personal affront. He accused the questioner of being a liar and then expanded it into a accusation against all journalists.

Folks, number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist. We did relatively well — quiet, quiet, quiet — see he lied about what was going to be a very straight simple question. I hate the charge. I find it repulsive, I hate even the question...[Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu] said I've known Donald Trump for a long time and [he] said forget it so you should take that instead of getting up and asking a very insulting question like that. Just shows you about the press but that's the way the press is.

Renée Graham wrote for the Boston Sunday Globe on March 5, 2017 ("No, Trump isn't pivoting"):

"For about an hour on Tuesday, Trump finally behaved 'presidentially' — whatever that means, since, until this Jan. 20, there was never a need for that conversation — and suddenly people thought his presidency turned a corner into civility and responsible governing. During his address to Congress, the president went 60 minutes without calling anyone or anything 'fake' or 'failing,' and folks acted as if his speech was the love child of the Gettysburg Address and the Sermon on the Mount.

* * *

We know that serving spoiled meat on Wedgwood china won't make it taste any better. Sipping tainted water from Waterford stemware won't turn it into a great Cabernet. And reading calmly from a teleprompter does not a president make.

* * *

A Bloomberg reporter tweeted that a 'senior White House official' referred to Trump's speech as 'nationalism with an indoor voice.' It doesn't matter if Trump shuts down his Twitter account or whispers for the rest of his term in the White House. A change in volume is not a change in policy. He is still demonizing and targeting immigrants, such as with an ominous-sounding and unnecessary Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement office that will support only victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

Trump has lowered the bar on ethics and decorum, but our standards must remain unaltered. He is the president of the United States, not a toddler who deserves a cookie for not having a conniption in church."

In April 2017, Trump claimed inflated ratings for his appearance on Face the Nation. (He would continue in subsequent months to make distorted, baseless claims about the ratings of other media depending on whether it praised or criticized him.)

"“It's the highest for 'Face the Nation' or as I call it, 'Deface the Nation,' " Trump told the AP's Julie Pace, referring to the CBS News Sunday political talk show. “It's the highest for 'Deface the Nation' since the World Trade Center — since the World Trade Center came down.” * * * At the same time, Trump used the opportunity to denounce, as he has repeatedly, the press corps again as 'fake media' that treats him 'very unfairly.'"

George F. Will, May 3, 2017:

"It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence."

On May 11, 2017, Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest, called Trump "encyclopedically ignorant", and Jesse Berney fretted that "There's No One to Hold Donald Trump Accountable":

"There is no one, absolutely no one, in the federal government to hold the president of the United States accountable for anything he does. * * * Trump is consolidating and expanding executive power in a way never seen in modern politics. Sally Yates, Preet Bharara, now James Comey — anyone who shows any independence or stands up to this president is summarily fired."

The next day, Stephen Collinson wrote for CNN about the president's anger:

"In three-and-a-half months in office, the 45th President has shown that indignation, impulsiveness and a prickly desire to protect his own self image are at the core of his governing philosophy.

* * *

Trump is not the first President to feel the bile boiling within. Lyndon Johnson's temper was legendary. Richard Nixon's stomach-clutching fury about his foes is revealed in the White House taping system that led to his downfall. Bill Clinton's staff feared his puce-faced rages. And even Barack Obama vented in private when the cameras were off in rants mostly reserved for his staff, like on the occasion when the Healthcare.gov website crashed on its launch day.

But unlike those Presidents, Trump's emotions and anger form the dominant strain of his political persona. They seem to largely dictate how he conducts his business as president, lashing out at perceived enemies, seemingly without forethought."

Although character is not decided by majority opinion, how others perceive us (our public image) is nonetheless an important part of our character. The Pew Research Center found in June 2017 that global opinion of the US and the U.S. president had slipped significantly from the end of Obama's presidency to the beginning of Trump's presidency in Spring 2017. Those who trusted the US President to do the right thing in world affairs slipped from 64% to 22%, and those who had favorable views of the US slipped from 64% to 49%.

Henry Rollins wrote for LA Weekly on July 13, 2017 ("It's Amazing How Quickly We Got Used to the Trump Dumpster Fire"):

"George W. Bush’s use of the English language fascinated me. As his administration dragged on, it seemed to progressively devolve. When Bush was the governor of Texas, he was noticeably sharper, at times bordering on witty. By the end of his second presidential term, he seemed to marvel at getting through a sentence. During his speeches, it sounded not only like he was reading the material for the first time but that he was just saying the words, devoid of context. I wondered if it was the horror of knowing he sent so many people to their deaths needlessly, finally taking its toll. He went out crushed, like Johnson.

Over those eight years, I got used to how he faltered both domestically and abroad. It took a while but eventually, how he was as he disintegrated became normal. It was like passing through stages of grief — if you can somehow get there, you accept.

The Obama years were so different. While I felt bad for the president and his family because of the attacks that started as soon as he began his campaign, I enjoyed how most of the criticism was more about the ignorance and bigotry of the accusers than anything real. Not that there weren’t things to take President Obama to task for; there were. There always are. That being said, at least when the man spoke, you had the idea that he was truly engaged and understood what he was talking about, whether you agreed with him or not. Much of the frustration from “the other side” stemmed from the fact that they knew they were outmatched."

David Faris's essay was printed in The Week on Aug. 31, 2017:

From throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game to rallying hopeless citizens in the aftermath of disaster, one of the president's most critical tasks is mustering eloquence and public spirit in the service of shared ideals.

When the country suffers a calamity or a tragedy, the president must work carefully both to convey a sense of the situation's gravity as well as to express optimism and hope for those who need it in their most desperate moments.

* * *

The best way to be competent at the presidency's ceremonial functions is to not be a pathological narcissist. The kind of emotional intelligence required to respond to a national crisis is something that many functioning adults possess almost instinctively. It's how you instantly mobilize to help a family member in need, or how you surround the sick or the grieving with love, run their errands and cook their meals. Most people know, without being told, not to respond to crisis by starting fights, reopening old wounds, or making someone else's tragedy about them.

President Trump is not most people. He is a narcissist. He's the kind of person who starts wailing inconsolably when your mom dies. He's the sort of friend who descends into self-pitying coldness when you get a promotion. These kinds of poisonous people suck up all of the emotional energy in the room by turning everything into a maelstrom of selfishness and performance and rage. Everyone is, by happenstance or poor decision-making, stuck with a handful of people like this in their lives, but over time we find ways to minimize their presence, and to distance ourselves from their worst outbursts.

President Trump's leadership during the Hurricane Harvey nightmare is a microcosm of everything he is incapable of as a human being: sustained empathy, determined focus, and the ability to put aside one's short-term needs and desires for the sake of people who need help. He put the dark abyss of his soul on display for everyone to see.

* * *

These are not political failings, things which President Trump possesses in almost biblical abundance. They are, instead, the pathologies of a deeply broken man, a person so devoid of feeling for his fellow humans that he reliably has exactly the wrong reaction to every single event that captures the public's attention. And while such people are, in some cases, deserving of a certain kind of sympathy, they have no business being in charge of the world's most critical symbolic job.

Susan Neiman, interviewed by Chauncey DeVega for Salon on Sept. 19, 2017:

"In the end, what matters in determining evil is not the state of one’s soul, but the effects our actions have on the world we live in — which is why having good intentions but not significantly acting on them is never enough. And here it is just unquestionable that what Donald Trump has done is evil. We all have our lists of least-favorite things he has done so far (though, mercifully, he hasn’t achieved as much as he would like). But what is absolutely clear is that Trump has made open and violent racism acceptable. Perhaps even worse, I fear, is that he has made it acceptable not to have values at all — except grasping for power and money. I worry about the effect his example will have on young people who are already uncertain about whether or not any value but power and money is real. Unfortunately, so much in the culture tells us that we should be embarrassed to believe in ideals of goodness, justice and mercy."

* * *

"Unfortunately, because it can be so easily abused, many progressives tend to avoid the concept altogether. This is a terrible mistake, because it leaves the most powerful concepts we have in the hands of those who are least equipped to use them thoughtfully. Instead of avoiding strong moral language, it’s imperative to use it reflectively and well.

I don’t think definitions of evil are of much use, but I think it is possible to do careful analyses of people's words and actions to decide when words like 'evil' are appropriate."

* * *

"Americans with moral values need to unite around those values, and not let ourselves be divided by differences of race or gender or minor political differences. What we are facing now is not a political problem but a moral one."

Corey Robin wrote in his updated book The Reactionary Mind, published in October 2017: “Amid the vast desert of deprivation that is the Trumpian self, there appears to be no room for anyone else. ... Without a genuinely emancipatory left to oppose, Trump’s rage seems to be nothing more than what it is: the ranting and raving of an old man.”

Ironically for someone who seems to care primarily about gaining attention for himself, his proclamation for October 15-21, 2017 as "National Character Counts Week" (it is annually the third week in October) stated: "Character is forged around kitchen tables, built in civic organizations, and developed in houses of worship. It is refined by our choices, large and small, and manifested in what we do when we think no one is paying attention."

At a rally on Oct. 11, 2019, he moaned, mimicking two of his critics (a former FBI lawyer and a fired FBI agent) as if they were having sex. Apparent preparation for Character Counts.

Rep. Peter King (Republican, New York) told MSNBC on Nov. 29, 2017 that his constituents ask him to tell Trump to stop tweeting, which should imply what they think about the content of those tweets.

Ed Simon wrote in December 2017 (in “A spiritually illiterate man, a moral midget”): “At his core he is simply a consummate narcissist with little intelligence and less curiosity, one who has somehow become the most powerful man in the world.”

Due to suspicion that Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen had made false statements to a bank, laundered money, and violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) due to his dealings with a bank in Kazakhstan bank, a Korean airspace company, and Columbus Nova which was tied to Victor Vekselberg, multiple search warrants were granted in 2017 allowing Mueller to investigate Cohen's email, cloud storage, and number of phone calls for months before Mueller raided his office on April 9, 2018. (The existence of these search warrants did not become public until 2019.)

Adam Davidson wrote in The New Yorker on April 14, 2018: "There are lots of details and surprises to come, but the endgame of this Presidency seems as clear now as those of Iraq and the financial crisis did months before they unfolded. Last week, federal investigators raided the offices of Michael Cohen, the man who has been closer than anybody to Trump’s most problematic business and personal relationships. ... This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth." He adds:

"It has become commonplace to say that enough was known about Trump’s shady business before he was elected; his followers voted for him precisely because they liked that he was someone willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, and they also believe that all rich businesspeople have to do shady things from time to time. In this way of thinking, any new information about his corrupt past has no political salience. Those who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care.

I believe this assessment is wrong.

* * *

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad global operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Cohen, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka monetized their willingness to sign contracts with people rejected by all sensible partners. Even in this, the Trump Organization left money on the table, taking a million dollars here, five million there, even though the service they provided—giving branding legitimacy to blatantly sketchy projects—was worth far more. It was not a company that built value over decades, accumulating assets and leveraging wealth. It burned through whatever good will and brand value it established as quickly as possible, then moved on to the next scheme.

* * *

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when. We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency."

Monica Hesse wrote a column about Ivanka on Sept. 5, 2019 in which she argued that Ivanka wants "to be legitimate. To earn respect in a cohort composed not of the sycophants her father favors but of intellectual leaders. To fit in well enough that foreign dignitaries begin to think she really is one of the foremost experts the United States has to offer." Hesse identifies what she believes is

"everyone’s essential problem with Ivanka, even if they haven’t quite put their finger on it: She behaves as if we are in normal times. She behaves as if she is working in a normal administration. And she behaves as if her role is benign diplomacy, rather than what her role should be — acknowledging and fighting against the madness.

The work she wants to do internationally on behalf of women is laudable, but there are dozens of scholars and economists who could do it as well or better; nobody needs Ivanka’s specific brain on these matters.

What she could do — what only she could do — is act as a public check on the president of the United States.

* * *

Instead, while migrant children are being traumatized at the U.S. border, the first daughter visited a camp for migrants on the border...of Colombia and Venezuela.

She is the single person on the planet whose public approval or disapproval of her father could possibly matter — to him or to his supporters.

If she wanted to be thought of as a serious person, as a hero rather than a passive villain or cipher, she could have impact where she actually could have unique, meaningful impact."

In January 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported — and Cohen also admitted to CNN — that in 2015 he paid a small technology firm thousands of dollars to attempt to manipulate online polls and to run a fake Twitter account that pretended to support Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. The Trump Organization gave Cohen $50,000 to give to the technology firm, and allegedly Cohen skimmed and pocketed two-thirds of the money. Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called Cohen a "thief." Cohen said he acted "at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it."

"In the five years before he became president," says the Washington Post, "Trump borrowed more than $360 million" from Deutsche Bank for his hotels and resort. It is no wonder, then, that, as of mid-2019, he has been demanding that the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, as he "stands to save millions of dollars annually in interest" on those loans, while "previous presidents have avoided publicly criticizing the Fed to maintain the board’s insulation from politics."

Paul Begala wrote in May 2018:

"The kind of intelligence I believe Trump has is enormously useful if you want to, say, be a politician — even better if you want to be a demagogue.

He has a cynical, innate intelligence for what his base wants to hear. It's like a divining rod for division, prejudice and stereotyping. His relentless rhetorical repetition ("No collusion, no collusion, no collusion") is brilliantly designed to tell folks who are predisposed to like him what they want to hear.

* * *

The problem is, Trump's idiosyncratic intelligence, while enough to propel him to the White House, does not serve him well for the job of President. He lacks, by most accounts, the broad curiosity, the policy depth, the healthy skepticism of his own positions, the attention span, the appreciation of nuance, and most of all, the intellectual humility that successful presidents must have."

Later that month, The Hill reported that Sen. Jeff Flake said in a commencement address to Harvard Law that Trump "has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division," that Congress "is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily," that "we may have hit bottom," and that "opposing the president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy. It is, rather, an act of fidelity."

On June 6, 2018, Charles M. Blow focused on Trump's comment about the Central Park Five: "I want to hate."

In June 2019, in response to a reporter's question about the Central Park Five, Trump said, "You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt."

Paul Krugman wrote for the New York Times the next day: "But what’s really striking to me is not so much the extent of corruption among Trump officials as its pettiness. And that pettiness itself tells you a lot about the kind of people now running America." For example, Scott Pruitt has committed corrupt acts to achieve "everything from [obtaining] customized fountain pens, to telling an aide to procure a used mattress, to an attempt to use his office to secure a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife." Krugman says: "Consider how weak your self-control must be if you’re willing to put this huge payoff [a future lobbying career] at risk for the sake of a used mattress. But," he continues, "the downward arc of corruption from Teapot Dome to Chick-fil-A isn’t just telling you about Trump officials’ immaturity; it’s also a window into the emptiness of their souls." Of Pruitt: "The absurdity of his demands is a feature, not a bug: I have doubts about whether he ever uses that $43,000 soundproof phone booth, but he surely took pleasure in making his staff jump to provide it." It seems that Trump "sees nothing wrong in what they’re doing; it’s what he would do, and in fact does himself. So as I said, we’re being governed by men with small and empty souls. Does it matter?" Yes, insofar as: "We don’t need a government of saints; people can be imperfect (who isn’t?) yet still do good. But a government consisting almost entirely of bad people — which is what we now have — is, in fact, going to govern badly."

In summer 2018, Trump allegedly concerned himself with "who would win a major $10 billion contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon," CNN reported. Trump told Mattis to "screw Amazon" and deny them the opportunity to bid. This was reported in Holding The Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis by Guy Snodgrass, who was previously Mattis' speechwriter.

Also:

Already, according to a Washington Post analysis based on documents mostly limited to the first few months of Trump's presidency, Trump's own travel to his properties (including the staffers who must accompany him) have brought at least $1.6 million to his businesses. While claiming to have "lost more than $3 billion from being president — a figure he has never detailed or backed up with documentation," Trump also seeks — as he announced on August 26, 2019 — "to hold next year’s Group of Seven summit at his resort in Doral, Fla., meaning he could personally profit from one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings of foreign leaders."

"The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking emoluments, or payments, from foreign states. Trump has continued to do business with foreign governments at his hotels — saying the Founders meant to ban outright bribes, not business transactions. His company has said it is not actively seeking foreign governments as customers.

This would appear to be a move in the opposite direction."

Trump's company "says it donates all its profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, but it has not explained exactly how it calculates 'profit,'" according to the Washington Post article.

In September 2019, Richard Painter, formerly the chief ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush White House, said Trump's lodging at his own hotels during a visit to Ireland is an "outrageous" violation of the emoluments clause. The U.S. Air Force has stayed at Trump's Scottish golf course, Turnberry, about 40 times between 2015 and 2019, a Vanity Fair story said. Citing Politico," the Vanity Fair article says that "Turnberry lost $4.5 million in 2017 but saw an increase in revenue of $3 million last year."

While Trump has long claimed that the government saves money by staying at Trump hotels because he charges low rates, this was revealed to be false. The Washington Post: "At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the Secret Service was charged the $650 rate dozens of times in 2017, and a different rate, $396.15, dozens more times in 2018, according to documents from Trump’s visits."

In January 2020, it was reported that the Trump administration was considering changing the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials. "We've heard complaints from some of our companies," explained White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow regarding why bribery should be allowed. The forthcoming book A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America quotes Trump as having once said: “It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas. We’re going to change that.”

After Trump canceled peace talks with North Korea without informing the U.S. ally South Korea (they learned about it from the news), Nicole Gaouette wrote for CNN about how allies perceive the US. She quoted Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, as characterizing the administration's policy as "'You're with us, even if you don't want to be with us. We're dragging you along.'" She also quoted Aaron David Miller as saying that the America First approach means that "allies become much less important unless they fundamentally address a goal that's important to Donald Trump," and that as President he chose to take his first overseas journey to Saudi Arabia and Israel simply because: "He knew he'd be feted and flattered." (In her 1984 book Wickedness, Mary Midgley wrote: "A morbidly proud person reads everything that the people around him do as an answer to the single question 'Do they honour him enough?' If this is his central motive, that is his basic rule, the plan of his life. And in that case the honour he is looking for is something enormously higher than any of them could possibly give. This is because it has to take the place of all other motives...") The result, as Gaouette explained Miller's point, is that "Trump can flatter Chinese President Xi Jinping because he needs his support on North Korea, and chastise Mexico for illegal immigration, but he doesn't have to cultivate the Europeans because the issues he would need them on, including the Iran nuclear deal and climate change, 'he doesn't care about.'" She also quoted Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, regarding the U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal: "It's hard to overstate how angry and resentful the Europeans are." In June 2018, the U.S. ambassador to Estonia announced his resignation and commented on Facebook: "For the President to say the EU was 'set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,' or that 'NATO is as bad as NAFTA' is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it's time to go."

Trump changed his mind and traveled to Singapore for the June 2018 summit with Kim Jong-un as originally planned. No deal was reached, however. Several longstanding denuclearization principles were reasserted, without commitments to any specific steps, a timeline in which to implement them, or accountability methods.

Longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt announced in June 2018 that he was quitting the party. "I won’t share a party label with people who think it’s all right to put babies in internment camps," he said. “Trump didn’t destroy the Republican Party — it’s the cowardice of the Republican leaders, their complicity in all of it, the lack of courage to stand up for what's right."

Chris Cillizza wrote on June 29, 2018: "Past presidents have openly pined for circumstances that allowed them to sit astride history, emerging as the great men they believe themselves to be. (Remember: Many "great" men are not "good" men.)"

In May 2018, after Trump pardoned Dinesh D'Souza (who had pled guilty four years previously to campaign finance fraud), a former White House official was quoted as saying that Trump's not playing "the sort of three-dimensional chess people ascribe to decisions like this. More often than not he's just eating the pieces."

What does it say about Americans?

Roger Cohen wrote for the NYT on Aug. 24, 2018:

The thing about all the shocking Trump revelations — Michael Cohen’s about violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women in coordination with a “candidate for federal office” being the latest — is that they are already baked into Trump’s image. His supporters, and there are tens of millions of them, never had illusions. I’ve not met one, Babcox included, who did not have a pretty clear picture of Trump. They’ve known all along that he’s a needy narcissist, a womanizer, a lowlife, a liar, a braggart and a generally miserable human being. That’s why the “Access Hollywood” tape or the I-could-shoot-somebody-on-Fifth-Avenue boast did not kill his candidacy.

* * *

Americans elected Trump. Nobody else did. They came down to his level. White Christian males losing their place in the social order decided they’d do anything to save themselves, and to heck with morality. They made a bargain with the devil in full knowledge. So the real question is: What does it mean to be an American today? Who are we, goddamit? What have we become?

Trump was a symptom, not a cause. The problem is way deeper than him.

After a white supremacist mass shooting in a synagogue, Jane Eisner wrote an opinion for the Jewish newspaper The Forward:

It’s time for the Jewish community in all its many facets to confront the complicity of the man in the White House, and all who support him — with money, votes, political expertise and moral cover.

Because if you excuse the radical divisiveness spawned by this man, you are part of the problem. If you ignore his hateful tweets because you like his policies on Israel, you are part of the problem. If you silently cheer at the fascist-like rallies before only adoring audiences because you’ve got a few more dollars in your pocket, you are part of the problem.

If you want an America where every school, church, synagogue and mosque looks like a National Rifle Association convention, then you are part of the problem.

In December 2018, Bret Stephens suggested that Trump, who rarely makes jokes and then only self-centered or cruel ones,
"isn’t unfunny. He’s anti-funny. Humor humanizes. It uncorks, unstuffs, informalizes. Used well, it puts people at ease. Trump’s method is the opposite: He wants people ill at ease. Doing so preserves his capacity to wound, his sense of superiority, his distance. Good jokes highlight the ridiculous. Trump’s jokes merely ridicule. They are caustics, not emollients."

But he also cautioned: "This is an angry age, in which Trump’s critics also simmer in rage, ridicule, self-importance, self-pity — and hatred, too. They think they’re reproaching the president. Increasingly they reflect him."

December 2018 witnessed the departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (who resigned on principle after Trump suddenly announced a withdrawal from Syria, an event discussed in his book Call Sign Chaos to be released in September 2019) and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly (who had had ongoing disagreements with Trump). Sources say that Kelly promised Trump he'd wait until Trump was out of office before writing his tell-all book — that is, if Trump also agreed not to attack Kelly. That month also brought changes in the attitudes of Trump's inner circle. Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and Fox News contributor, said that attorneys from New York's Southern District "are clearly going after the president on campaign finance violations and I think if you read the sentencing memo the Southern District filed in Cohen’s case, it’s clear that Trump is the target and he’ll be indicted eventually." And journalist Carl Bernstein said on CNN on Dec. 9: “Donald Trump for the first time in his life is cornered. As a businessman, he always could bully his way out of a corner. He always could buy his way out, cheat his way out. He is boxed in by Mueller, and the people around him know that he is.”

(On the subject of cheating, sports writer Rick Reilly published the book Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump (2019), in which he claims that Trump "cheats at the highest level. He cheats when people are watching and he cheats when they aren't. He cheats whether you like it or not. He cheats because that's how he plays golf...if you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat.")

(More on golf: Amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Trump golfed on March 8 but then did not golf for the remainder of the month. (Part of the reason may have been that the two clubs he frequented most had to close due to the health crisis.) Nonetheless, the Secret Service then paid $45,000 to rent 30 golf carts from April 1 through the end of September. The rental was in Northern Virginia from a company called Capitol Golf Cars and Utility Vehicles. It was an "emergency order," according to the contract itself; Secret Service spokesperson Cathy Milhoan explained to reporters that this meant merely that "deadlines within the agency’s business processes” required the contract to be handled in an "expedited" manner. Furthermore: In mid-May 2020, it was reported that the Secret Service signed a $179,000 contract for golf rentals over the summer in Bedminster, New Jersey.

In Nikki Haley's book released in November 2019, With All Due Respect, she wrote: "Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the President, they weren't being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country." Of this, Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large, wrote:

what, to me, is the most important part of the story is that both of these hugely accomplished Cabinet officials, who were hand-picked for their roles by the President and who, presumably, came into the administration favorably inclined to him, so quickly and clearly assessed that the man they were working for was an active danger to the country.

And such a danger that they were in the process of actively recruiting people within the administration to help them keep the President from doing anything that would endanger the country.

Heavy criticism came from within the Republican Party. On New Year's Day 2019, Mitt Romney — who unsuccessfully challenged Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012 and who was about to be sworn in as a Republican senator for Utah — wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that the previous month was a "deep descent" for Trump's presidency and that "the president has not risen to the mantle of the office." The same day, former Rep. John LeBoutillier (NY-R) speculated that Trump may agree to resign the presidency in exchange for immunity for himself and his family.

In reaction to Trump's decreasing popularity, Jevon O.A. Williams, who represents the RNC for the Virgin Islands, proposed that the Republican Party should essentially eliminate its primary election so that the party would nominate Trump as the 2020 candidate regardless of popular opinion.

On Feb. 5, 2019, Trump announced that he would be traveling to Hanoi, Vietnam for another meeting with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un. The meeting was scheduled for Feb. 27-28. Trump ordered his own national security advisor, John Bolton, not to attend a dinner between the Americans and the North Koreans because Trump did not trust that Bolton shared his position. As explained by the "Daily" podcast for the New York Times, Trump "scheduled a signing ceremony [for Feb. 28] before an agreement had even been struck"; instead, after one day of leader-to-leader negotiations, Kim and Trump departed early on Feb. 28, skipping their planned lunch ("the snow fish and banoffee pie turned cold and the table sat empty," per Will Ripley for CNN) "without even a final handshake for the cameras" (per the NYT's "Daily" podcast). "Sometimes you have to walk," Trump told reporters. The loss was perceived as humiliating for Kim, too, as North Korean propaganda had predicted a successful signed agreement. On Feb. 28, North Korea's foreign minister publicly disputed the Trump administration's description of what had even been offered at the talks, and insisted that "our proposal will never be changed." (According to Trump, North Korea offered to dismantle the Yongbyan nuclear facility but would not give up existing nukes, and it wanted all economic sanctions lifted. According to North Korea's foreign minister, North Korea had only asked for a partial lifting of sanctions.) Scott A. Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he did not know whether to believe North Korea or Trump on this factual dispute. In any case, North Korea insists that the U.S. lift sanctions first before North Korea will begin dismantling Yongbyan, to which the U.S. will not agree, so "the 'no deal' outcome could have been seen coming a mile away," said Ankit Panda. On Feb. 28, Trump said "I will take him at his word" when Kim Jong-un denied knowing anything about the detention and treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested in North Korea in 2016 and died shortly after being released in 2017. Kim had to have known; furthermore, there is no reason for Trump to accept the word of this dictator; and to do so looks especially ridiculous considering that Trump repeatedly refers to American journalists as "the enemy of the people." Days after the failed summit, North Korea executed its special envoy to the U.S., Kim Hyok-chol.

David Brooks, in an opinion column in the New York Times, Feb. 28: "In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love." He suggests that we can turn this around for the better: "Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path." Brooks judges Michael Cohen as someone who suffered from "the illusion that you can win love and respect with bling and buzz," who allied with Trump because he sought "celebrity and wealth," and who "now realizes that Trump will not provide him with the sustenance he needs." Though Cohen testified against Trump, Brooks suspects that he has merely "switched teams and concluded that the Democrats can now give him what he wants, so he says what appeals to them. That may be progress, but it is not moral renewal." Brooks criticizes Republican House members:

"Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road? Having turned off their soul at work, do they think they will be able to turn it on again when they go home to the spouse and kids?

This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything."

Brooks asks the reader: "The moral drama is the central drama. Did you, at your crucial moment, side with generosity or greed?"

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commander of U.S. troops in Europe, said in March 2019 that Trump's verbal attacks on NATO endanger security around the world.

″I never in my life imagined an American president would call into question Article 5,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, referring to the heart of the NATO pact, which states that allies will come to each other’s defense. “It’s so unhelpful when he’s kicking the most important allies in the ass publicly,” he added in an interview aired Thursday on “The World” on the nonprofit Public Radio International.

* * *

“When the president refers to the EU as an enemy of the United States, that’s a gift to the president of the Russian Federation and also to the president of China,” Hodges said.

In early 2019, Trump's picks for the Federal Reserve Board both ultimately had to stand down following scrutiny. Stephen Moore was nominated in March 2019. In 2012, Moore was found in contempt of court for failing to pay $300,000 in alimony after his 2010 divorce, and had to be ordered by the judge to sell his house to satisfy the debt. He also owes over $75,000 in taxes and penalties to the government. He was an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Herman Cain, the former CEO of a pizza company, was nominated in April 2019. Both Moore and Cain support the gold standard. Of Moore and Cain, opinion columnist Paul Krugman wrote that "their lack of qualifications is, paradoxically, a key qualification not just for Trump but for the G.O.P. in general." Krugman said: "In recent years Moore has been out there predicting magical results from tax cuts, putting out fake economic numbers, and giving speeches to FreedomFest. At the same time, Cain has been offering a platform for peddlers of get-rich schemes and cures for erectile dysfunction." They withdrew themselves from consideration.

(Speaking of taxes, Trump himself — and the RNC — are suing the State of California because the state is mandating that presidential candidates release their tax returns prior to appearing on the ballot, rather than simply releasing his tax returns.)

The Treasury Department has refused to provide Trump's tax returns to Congress, although in 2020 it did provide financial information about the son of Trump's political rival.

In early 2019, Tricia Newbold, the adjudications manager in the Personnel Security Office, informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee of 'grave breaches of national security' including the granting of security clearance to 25 individuals. Additionally, Newbold's comments emphasize "the Trump White House’s inability to attract top-level talent. Previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, were seen as prestigious places to work," according to a Huffington Post article. "But highly qualified Republicans have largely avoided Trump administration jobs for fear that working for Trump would hurt their reputations and careers."

Jonathan Swan's June 23, 2019 article for Axios states that, among Trump's original Cabinet secretaries, some "opposed him on core philosophical issues" while "others had lethal ethical problems." Then and now, Trump announces nominees seemingly spontaneously without having initiated any vetting, and then it is up to his team to scramble to research the person and identify problems after the fact. After the 2016 election, he "foisted the job of political vetting onto the Republican National Committee," which had "about two dozen researchers, almost all of whom were in their 20s" and — in the words of one of those RNC vetters — had to "run through dozens [of contenders] a day" in "a clown show" while only understanding "what less than half of the people were being vetted for." [emphasis mine] Given the low qualifications of the candidate pools, some individuals "who other administrations never would have considered looked like real standouts." A vetter said they'd rush to check a new contender "to make sure he's not a kid-toucher." Ben Carson, now Secretary of Housing, "is unqualified and thinks that pyramids store grain or whatever," a vetter said, noting that the conversation went like this: "At least he's not beating his wife and his wife's not appearing on Oprah."

In April 2019, Trump removed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and, the next day, he removed U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph D. “Tex” Alles. Michelle Goldberg wrote that she hoped Nielsen would be denied future jobs in the private sector "to force the sort of accountability Nielsen reportedly fears, and to serve as a warning to others that the Trump stink never washes off."

In May 2019, as Matt Zapotosky wrote for the Washington Post, hundreds of "former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump — if not for the office he holds." The letter reads: "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice." As of June 13, 2019, there are over a thousand signatories.

On June 11, 2019, the House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in civil contempt for resisting subpoenas. Two days later, the House Intelligence committee subpoenaed Michael Flynn and Rick Gates.

On June 13, 2019, it was announced that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would depart after less than two years on the job. Upon the announcement of her resignation, Bill Clinton's former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart wrote in an opinion:

"President Trump, as of April 26, according to the Washington Post, has made misleading or false statements more than 10,000 times since taking office. But to my memory, I can't point to a single time Sanders acknowledged when the President misspoke.

Her legacy of dishonesty is enshrined in the Mueller Report and is very telling. Many will remember the day she went after Former FBI Director James Comey, saying the White House had heard from many FBI agents who were critical of Comey's leadership. It was only when she was under oath and facing potential jail time did Sanders admit she made the whole story up. To be clear, she smeared a former high-ranking government official with a story that was made up from whole cloth.

But that's not the worst of it. When the Mueller Report was released, and she was no longer under oath, she backtracked on her story, reverting to key parts of the lie she'd already admitted to.

In a New York Times opinion on June 18, 2019, Bret Stephens said, "She combined the sincerity of Elmer Gantry with the moral outlook of Raskolnikov," and Gail Collins said, "Who would want to go down in history as the press secretary who got rid of the press briefing?"

On June 13, the Office of Special Counsel recommended firing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for violating the Hatch Act. Her offenses included “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” The next day, Trump said he would not fire her, explaining, "She’s been loyal."

In June 2019, Trump fired his pollsters Brett Loyd, Mike Baselice and Adam Geller after public opinion polling that showed Trump trailing in popularity was leaked to the press. The poll was conducted in March. "Trump initially declared that the results had been fabricated by the media and 'don’t even exist,'" according to the Washington Post, which referred to his strategy as "kill-the-messenger."

Furthermore, as Ross Douthat argued in August 2019, "having him as president — having him as a political exemplar for his party, and a cultural exemplar of manhood for his supporters and opponents both — is a constant ratification of the idea that we exist as celebrities or influencers or we don’t exist at all, and that our common life is essentially a form of reality television where it doesn’t matter if you’re the heel or hero so long as you’re the star." He also perceives "a special obligation to recognize the profound emptiness at the heart of Trump himself. It’s not as if you could carve away his race-baiting and discover a healthier populism instead, or analyze him the way you might analyze his more complex antecedents, a Richard Nixon or a Ross Perot. To analyze Trump is to discover only bottomless appetite and need, and to carve at him is like carving at an online troll: The only thing to discover is the void."

And what is reality TV?

“Reality TV enacts the various self-delusions of the emotionally immature: the dream that you are being closely watched, assessed, and categorized; the dream that your life itself is movie material, and that you deserve your own carefully soundtracked montage when you’re walking down the street. On the show, this was the actual world that the adults constructed around us. We were categorized as characters. Our social dramas were set to generic acoustic ballads and pop punk. Our identities were given a clear narrative importance. All of this is a narcissist’s fantasy come true.” (Jia Tolentino, “Reality TV Me," printed in Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion. New York: Random House, 2019. p. 52.)

Trump retweets a reality TV star who is (as Molly Jong-Fast wrote in August 2019) "so racist the Telegraph — Britain’s premiere conservative paper — called her 'reality TV’s very own Adolf Hitler.'"

Jong-Fast added that:

"Someone is always taping someone in Trump world. Whether it’s a journalist taping Trump pretending to be a press spokesman named “John Miller” who was calling reporters to tell them how great Trump was. Or Michael Cohen taping Trump telling him how to kill a story about one of his affairs with a Playboy model. Or Trump trying to intimidate Jim Comey by hinting that he might have taped their conversations. Or Omarosa taping everyone. Or the Access Hollywood sound guys. Or...well, you get the picture. Secret tapes are just a routine part of this president’s life.

So of course Katie Hopkins would think that a secret tape of her making a fool of herself on the phone with Maggie Haberman would be some kind of trump card.

A month before the 2016 election, Joe R. Lansdale had written that "Voting for Trump is about being part of a large reality show." He added:

Trump has provided a dark, dank hole into which these folks can dump whatever it is they’re mad about. Even contradictory views, since Trump frequently changes viewpoint in midsentence, can happily nest there, swelling and breeding like poison fungus.

Most of what Trump is selling shouldn’t convince a distracted 12-year-old, and certainly it’s hard to see how a conniving real estate tycoon represents the average person, but those are the people he has made the greatest inroads with. It certainly isn’t due to his sterling personality. He always seems like the mean little boy whose last fun moment was beating his pet hamster to death with a chair leg.

In August 2019, a 39-year-old Montana man assaulted a 13-year-old boy because the boy did not remove his hat for the national anthem. The man had a traumatic brain injury from an accident two decades earlier. His lawyer made another argument in his defense: He was influenced by President Trump. “His commander in chief is telling people that if they kneel [as football players do to protest police violence], they should be fired, or if they burn a flag, they should be punished," the lawyer said, as quoted in Time. “Trump never necessarily says go hurt somebody, but the message is absolutely clear." [emphasis added] The defendant "was doing what he believed he was told to do, essentially, by the president."

In response to his appearance in August 2019 at a hospital where survivors of a white-supremacist mass shooting were being treated, Trump boasted about his own popularity and how many people attend his rallies while putting down local politician Beto O'Rourke. He then tweeted a 27-second video dedicated entirely to showing that crowds of hospital staff and patients' families were excited to capture photos of him. The video was set to dramatic music.

Here's how people responded:

A couple weeks later — after Trump had quickly acquiesced to the NRA's platform by promising not to pursue universal background checks on weapons purchases and not to seek bipartisan compromise on the matter; demanded to buy Greenland (which is not for sale); declared that Israeli Jews love him as if he were the King of Israel and the Second Coming of God; suggested he'd welcome Russia to the G7 with no preconditions (Russia had been kicked out for invading Crimea in 2014); escalated the trade war with China; and increased his social media output to an average of 20 tweets per day — Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of Trump's book Art of the Deal, said:

But ultimately what matters is not his character but whether we endorse it, enable it, or tolerate it and, if we say that we don't, what we do instead.

There is this:

CNN:

"Former White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn also both have books in the works, sources said. Aides view those as potentially more damaging than Mattis', since at least two of them worked inside the White House at some of its more chaotic moments and frequently clashed with Trump."

And this:

Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote for CNN in Sept. 2019:

The President is using that same term for the whistleblower and his sources now, even alluding to them meeting with an authoritarian-style end — "what we used to do in the old days when we were smart," in Trump's words.

Authoritarians are never more dangerous than when they feel vulnerable. It is essential that the impeachment inquiry move swiftly and resolutely, since Trump will become more violent in his rhetoric and vindictive in his actions as each day passes. This too is foreseen the authoritarian playbook, which has no page for impeachment: the egos of such rulers can't contemplate such a fate.

Once men like Trump get enough power, it is very difficult to get them out, no matter how many corrupt actions they commit. The window for stopping his attempt at autocratic capture is now.

When President Bill Clinton was impeached, said NYT columnist Frank Bruni on Oct. 1, 2019,

Clinton and his defenders raised the specter of a 'vast right-wing conspiracy,' to use Hillary Clinton’s infamous phrase, thus asserting that he was being persecuted for his politics, not punished for his misdeeds.

But they didn’t insist, as Trump and his defenders routinely do, that a vital part of the federal government was an evil cabal intent on undermining our democratic processes, which is Trump’s self-serving characterization of the intelligence community. Their central strategy wasn’t to ignite a full-blown crisis of confidence in the institutions of government. They weren’t serving dire notice, as Trump essentially is, that if the president goes down, he’s taking everyone and everything else with him.

The Clintons possessed and projected a moral arrogance that was laughably oxymoronic under the circumstances....

But they didn’t equate the potential fall of the president with the fall of the Republic. They didn’t go full apocalypse. Bill Clinton didn’t prophesy that his impeachment would lead to a kind of 'civil war' from which the country would 'never heal,' as Trump did by tweeting an evangelical pastor’s comments on Fox News along those lines.

...his histrionic response...is untethered from any sense of honor, civic concern or real patriotism.

He's not like most of his predecessors in the White House, who had some limits, at least a few scruples and the capacity to feel shame. Their self-pity wasn’t this unfathomably deep, their delusions of martyrdom this insanely grand. 'There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,' he tweeted last week, and the violins have wailed only louder and weepier since.

While there were fellow narcissists among his forebears, was there a single nihilist like Trump? I doubt it, and so the current waters are in fact uncharted, because the ship of state has a sort of madman at its helm.

In October 2019, Paul Krugman wrote that "a stupid man couldn’t have managed to defraud so many people over so many years." He pointed out that "the latest budget review from the Congressional Budget Office, projecting a fiscal 2019 deficit of almost a trillion dollars — up by more than $300 billion from the deficit Trump inherited," and it has been used for "standard Republican top-down class warfare. None of that $300 billion went for social benefits or even his continually promised, never-delivered infrastructure plan. Instead, it went mainly into tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that have done little to boost investment. At the same time, Trump has pursued his personal tariff obsession despite mounting evidence that it’s hurting growth." In other countries, "other white nationalists trying to do what Trump is trying to do — subvert the rule of law and convert their nations from democracies on paper to one-party autocracies in practice — have solidified their grasp on power by delivering at least a bit on their populist promises." The point is that he is not even acting in his own interest. Furthermore, his obviousness in seeking information from foreign governments "has managed to make things clear enough for everyone to understand. First he demanded that foreign regimes produce dirt on domestic political rivals, not just in phone calls but right there on camera. Now he’s engaged in a crude, obvious effort to stonewall the House impeachment inquiry that is clearly an impeachable offense in itself."

(One example of a beneficiary of the corporate tax cuts: FedEx. "In the 2017 fiscal year, FedEx owed more than $1.5 billion in taxes. The next year, it owed nothing," the New York Times reported in November 2019. This happened because "President Trump signed into law the $1.5 trillion tax cut that became his signature legislative achievement. FedEx reaped big savings, bringing its effective tax rate from 34 percent in fiscal year 2017 to less than zero in fiscal year 2018, meaning that, overall, the government technically owed it money." And the company did not invest that money back into its business to stimulate jobs. In fact, after the tax law passed, it "spent less in the 2018 fiscal year than it had projected" and "it spent even less in 2019. Much of its savings have gone to reward shareholders...")

A New York Times editorial on October 18, 2019: "Thus far in office, Mr. Trump has acted against the national interest by maintaining his financial interests in his company and using the presidential podium to promote it; obstructed legitimate investigations into his conduct by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and Congress; attacked the free press; given encouragement to white nationalists; established a de facto religious test for immigrants; undermined foreign alliances and emboldened American rivals; demanded personal loyalty from subordinates sworn to do their duty to the Constitution; and sent his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, around the world to conduct what could most charitably be described as shadow foreign policy with Mr. Trump’s personal benefit as its lodestar."

This CNN article by Stephen Collinson in October 2019:

Retired Adm. William McRaven, who oversaw the special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, has just penned a New York Times op-ed titled "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President" and is accusing Trump of devastating American's constitutional infrastructure.

"If you want to destroy an organization, any organization, you destroy it from within. You destroy it from without. Then what you do is you convince everybody you're doing the right thing," McRaven told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead" on Thursday.

McRaven accused Trump of undermining the intelligence community, law enforcement, the Department of Justice, the State Department, the press, America's Kurdish allies, its NATO friends and international treaties.

"I think Trump forgets that we are a nation of values. That we are not just transactional. He's a transactional President," he said.

Normally, it would be remarkable for an American military hero to make such a comment. But such is the tumult whipped up by Trump that his words will probably just get lost in the cacophony.

Even an anonymous source described by Politico as “a longtime friend of the president" said in October 2019 that Trump had landed in "a danger zone...when it comes to evangelicals. They see religious persecution, Iran gaining a foothold, Israel facing threats and the possibility of ISIS reemerging, and what Trump keeps talking about is the land, and the money, and the deal-making. The moral compass is missing, and he’s off balance here with evangelicals." When your "longtime friend" says that your "moral compass is missing," well.

In October 2019, Sasha Abramsky wrote:

Donald Trump’s lawyer appeared in court last week to explain an extraordinary new doctrine of presidential infallibility. Trump could, attorney William Consovoy argued before the Second Circuit’s court of appeals, murder someone and be unindictable while in office. ... On the C-SPAN audio, one could practically hear Judge Denny Chin’s double take, his intake of breath, as he tried to absorb the implications of this startling claim.

* * *

The implications are staggering: We know that Trump has told his border officials in the past to simply seize private land to build his wall and that he would, after the fact, pardon them. We know that he mulled over the idea of ordering the shooting of would-be immigrants. We know that he fetishizes the imprisonment of immigrant children. We know that during the presidential campaign he broached the idea of killing the families of terrorists. We know that he has repeatedly asked his advisers why the U.S. has nuclear weapons if it cannot use them — and has, at various times, including in speeches at the United Nations, threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, and obliterate Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Abramsky's list continues. He adds: "As the impeachment process closes in on Trump, it is entirely likely he will become ever more lawless and ever more ruthless in his desperate attempt to stay in power. His vicious doctrine of presidential infallibility must not be allowed to take root." CNN's Chris Cuomo explained that Trump is framing the impeachment in a way that scares his supporters into thinking it somehow reflects on them. "He created the mess," Cuomo said, "but," in Trump's warning, "you will take the loss."

On Nov. 12, 2019, during the trial of Trump's aide Roger Stone, former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates revealed that Trump probably lied to special counsel Robert Mueller about his 2016 conversations regarding WikiLeaks. A Mother Jones article:

In court, Gates described a July 31, 2016, phone call he witnessed while in car with Trump headed to LaGuardia Airport — nine days after WikiLeaks had dumped tens of thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. Gates said he could not hear what Stone was saying, but saw Stone’s number on Trump’s caller ID and recognized Stone’s voice. ... Gates’ testimony contradicts Stone’s claim to the House Intelligence Committee that he did not communicate with anyone on the Trump campaign about information he claimed to have gathered regarding WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked Democratic information. But more significantly, it calls into question Trump’s assertions to Mueller’s team.

Roger Stone was convicted on Nov. 15 of all seven charges "of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election." This made him, according to the Associated Press, "the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation."

Trump will not recognize the Armenian genocide.

In this column in November 2019, Paul Krugman has written off the entire Republican party.

the modern G.O.P. as a whole is overwhelmingly fanatical, corrupt, or both. Anyone imagining that the mountainous evidence of Trump’s malfeasance will lead to a moral awakening, or that Republicans will return to democratic political norms once Trump is gone, is living in a fantasy world. Even catastrophic electoral defeat next year probably wouldn’t do much to change Republican behavior.

He thinks Republican politicians are staying in lockstep because they think there are ideologically-based jobs for them even when they retire from politics or are forced out.

...the modern U.S. right contains many institutions — Fox News and other media, right-wing think tanks, and others — that offer sinecures to former officials. However, this “wing-nut welfare” — which has no counterpart on the left — is available only to those who continue to toe the line.

When Trump accuses others of being "unpatriotic," Dana Milbank takes it with a grain of salt:

This from a man who challenged the loyalties of a Purple Heart recipient in his own White House, ordered the military to not punish accused war criminals, attacked the heroism of John McCain and the sacrifice of Gold Star parents, spurned veterans events and memorials, and used tombstones of the fallen as a political backdrop. But then, Trump doesn’t distinguish between love of country and love of him; he once suggested those who didn’t applaud his State of the Union speech may have committed treason.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote on August 21, 2020 that "history will record Mr. Trump’s presidency as a march of wanton, uninterrupted, tragic destruction. America’s standing in the world, loyalty to allies, commitment to democratic values, constitutional checks and balances, faith in reason and science, concern for Earth’s health, respect for public service, belief in civility and honest debate, beacon to refugees in need, aspirations to equality and diversity and basic decency — Mr. Trump torched them all."

In February 2019,

Axios published 95 pages of Trump's private schedules, from the November 6 midterm elections through February 1, which showed that the president has spent around 60 percent — 297 hours and 15 minutes out of 502 hours — of his schedule on unstructured "executive time," a period filled with catching up on the news, making phone calls and other work.

By comparison, Trump had around 77 hours of scheduled meetings, roughly 51 hours of travel time and 40 hours dedicated to eating lunch. Six insiders told Axios that the president usually wakes up before 6 a.m. but seldom makes it into the Oval Office before mid-morning.

Consequently, the White House tried to ferret out the staffer who leaked this information.

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On March 1, 1896, the Battle of Adwa "cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age – that sooner or later Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans." In this battle, Ethiopians beat back the invading Italians and forced them to retreat permanently. It was not until 1922 that Benito Mussolini would again initiate designs against Ethiopia; despite Ethiopia's defeat in 1936, the nation ultimately retained its independence. "Adwa opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the rollback of European rule in Africa. It was," Raymond Jonas wrote, "an event that determined the color of Africa." (p. 1) It was also significant because it upheld the power of Ethiopia's Christian monarchy that controlled an ethnically diverse nation (p. 333), a nation in which, in the late 19th century, the Christian Emperor Yohannes had tried to force Muslims to convert to Christianity. (p. 36)The Victorian English spelling…

Review of Cliff Sims' 'Team of Vipers' (2019)

After he resigned his position, Cliff Sims spent two months in Fall 2018 writing Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House. Many stories are told, some already well known to the public, some not. One buys this book, most likely, to gape at the colossal flameout spectacle that is Donald Trump, as with most things with Trump's name. Sims exposes the thoughtlessness, the chaos, the lack of empathy among his fellow insiders in the campaign and later in the White House, but he does not at all acknowledge the real consequences for ordinary Americans — there might as well be no world outside the Trump insider bubble, for all this narrative concerns itself with — and therefore falls far short of fully grappling with the ethical implications of his complicity.Previously, Sims was a journalist. "I had written tough stories, including some that helped take down a once-popular Republican governor in my home state," he says. "I had done my best to be acc…

It is not journalists' job to vet political nominees, but...?

The position of U.S. national intelligence director is open, following the resignation of Daniel Coats. John Ratcliffe withdrew his name from consideration on August 2, 2019, only five days after Trump nominated him. An article in The Guardian about why Trump picked Ratcliffe:Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned the former special counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.Even as Mueller laid bare concerns that Russia was working to interfere with US elections again, Ratcliffe remained focused on the possibility that US intelligence agencies had overly relied on unverified opposition research in investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.Unfortunately for Ratcliffe, he had embellished his credentials. According to Vox: He had "frequently boasted about overseeing the arrest of 300 illegal immigrants in one day at a poultry plant in 2008," but the operation was much smaller and his role w…