Thursday, January 04, 2018

E.J. Dionne Calls It. Trump and America Have Crossed the Point of No Return.

E.J. Dionne has a lot of credibility. In addition to writing a column for the Washington Post, he's a Brookings Institution fellow and a professor of the foundations of democracy at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. In short, he's about the best guy to make sense of what's happened to the White House - and America - over just the past two weeks.

Can our government function normally when President Trump tweets about his “button”being bigger than that of an armed adversary? Can there be business as usual when the word “insane” is being applied with increasing frequency to his actions, and when one of his most loyal supporters has called a meeting between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials “treasonous”?

Only a few days into the new year, there is a striking disconnect in the nation’s capital between the ordinary and the mind-boggling — between the sorts of transactions politicians routinely make to keep the country running and displays of the irrational, the abusive and the menacing emanating from the White House.

There has been an inclination over the past year in both politics and journalism to separate Trump’s tweets and other outbursts from the realities of governing. The idea is that his eruptions are either (a) largely irrelevant forms of his letting off steam or (b) signs of a brilliance beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. What looks to most of us like madness is cast as genius in setting up enemies, signaling his base or distracting us from one thing or another.

But we are past the time when we can believe any of this. Trump is, without question, doing enormous damage to the United States’ standing in the world, and his strategy for political survival is rooted in a willingness to destroy our institutions.

While the news on Wednesday understandably focused on Stephen K. Bannon’s treason comments in a new book by journalist Michael Wolff, 2018 has already produced two remarkable essays explaining the genuine threat the president poses to the nation’s foreign policy interests.

Susan Glasser, writing in Politico, offers frightening detail about how Trump’s stunning lack of knowledge and his indifference to his own obliviousness have led diplomats to label him “insane,” “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” Glasser concludes: “When it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse.”

And Evan Osnos’s carefully reported and much-discussed article in the New Yorker demonstrates how Trump’s policies — but also his pathological focus on himself, his ignorance, and his astonishing susceptibility to flattery — have profoundly weakened the United States’ position in Asia and played into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reach for international power.

Osnos cites a Chinese think tank’s observation that the Trump administration is a collection of hostile “cliques,” the most powerful of which is the “Trump family clan.” And its analysis uses a term from feudal China, “jiatianxia,” to define Trump’s approach. It means “to treat the state as your possession.”

This insight cuts to the heart of the peril the president represents to our democracy and the rule of law.

On the second day of the year, Trump called on the Justice Department to “finally act” against Huma Abedin, a Hillary Clinton aide, and also against James B. Comey, the FBI director he fired. And by referring not to the Justice Department but to the “Deep State Justice Dept,” Trump continued to push back against all others investigating him, treating them as if they were a band of spies and traitors.

Directing the prosecution of political enemies is a habit of autocrats. As Benjamin Wittes, my Brookings Institution colleague, wrote recently, Trump is “normalizing for an entire political movement the politicization and weaponization of law enforcement and intelligence.” Is this the legacy the Republican Party wants?


The United States does have extraordinary gifts for self-correction. But we must face the fact that Trump is accelerating us toward the breaking point. No matter how confident we are in our resilience, we should not imagine otherwise. Not even Mueller has a button on his desk he can press to get us out of this without scars.


Anonymous said...

Anyong....Perhaps all countries who support the United Nations can take a bit of time regarding the complexity and threat to the world the United States has become, and devise a plan to segregate the U.S. beginning with the banks. Surely all other democracies and including China, would have enough power to persuade the U.S. to step back. After all the U.S. is an Oligarch, not a democracy.

The Mound of Sound said...

I doubt there'll be any global movement to isolate the US, Anyong. The guy is barking mad. Tillerson won't deny calling Trump a "f#@king moron." Murdoch is said to have called him a "f#@king idiot." More circumspect officials have called him "insane."

Trump's narcissism is dangerous when he's boxed in as he is at the moment. He lashes out, goes on the attack. Who wants to risk provoking him when sitting by and waiting for him to collapse under his own weight is an option?

What about Trump's aides whose own careers are in jeopardy? Are they willing to go down with him or would they prefer to see some general presidential pardon from a president Pence "to heal the nation"?

Trump stumbled into the job ignorant of the limits on presidential power or even the basic framework of the American constitution. He surrounded himself with sycophants who served only to undermine him.

Bizarre. I never imagined I would see something like this in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

The real story is a power struggle to influence, control and eventually replace Trump.

Lorne said...

This is, as I have said before, like living in a dystopian novel, Mound. Most striking, however, is how the insane quickly becomes normalized. The Trump disaster is an indictment of us all.

The Mound of Sound said...

Imagine, Lorne, if Orwell or Huxley were alive today to witness this.

Anonymous said...

"Bannon is campaigning to tear down the Republican establishment, and in Breitbart News he has a fairly formidable weapon with which to wage his war. Bannon wants candidates in this year's mid term election who will threaten the existing Republican leadership, who will follow the populist, nationalist policies that led Donald Trump to election victory in 2016. You have two men now violently fighting it out for the hearts and minds of the Americans who propelled Donald Trump to victory."

"But we must face the fact that Trump is accelerating us toward the breaking point."
Good news, indeed.
That breaking point could be collapse of the current, rotten to the core, democratic and republican establishments.