POLITICS: DAVID BROOKS IN THE NYT — “The Trump death march will be slow, grinding and ugly.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/09/opinion/trump-presidency.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20170609&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=0&nlid=79213886&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

Brooks Wirtes in this op-ed:

“The upshot is the Trump administration will probably not be brought down by outside forces. It will be incapacitated from within, by the bile, rage and back-stabbing that are already at record levels in the White House staff, by the dueling betrayals of the intimates Trump abuses so wretchedly.

Although there may be no serious collusion with the Russians, there is now certain to be a wide-ranging independent investigation into all things Trump.

These investigations will take a White House that is already acidic and turn it sulfuric. James Hohmann and Joanie Greve had a superb piece in the Daily 202 section of The Washington Post. They compiled the lessons people in the Clinton administration learned from the Whitewater scandal, and applied them to the Trump White House.

If past is prologue, this investigation will drag on for a while. The Clinton people thought the Whitewater investigation might last six months, but the inquiries lasted over seven years. The Trump investigation will lead in directions nobody can now anticipate. When the Whitewater investigation started, Monica Lewinsky was an unknown college student and nobody had any clue that an investigation into an Arkansas land deal would turn into an investigation about sex.

This investigation will ruin careers far and wide. Investigators go after anybody they think can yield information on the president. Before the Whitewater investigators got to Clinton they took down Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, Webb Hubbell, Susan and Jim McDougal, and many others.

This investigation will swallow up day-to-day life. As Clinton alum Jennifer Palmieri wrote in an op-ed in the USA Today network of newspapers: “No one in a position of authority at the White House tells you what is happening. No one knows. Your closest colleague could be under investigation and you would not know. You could be under investigation and not know. It can be impossible to stay focused on your job.”

Everybody will be affected. Betty Currie, Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, finally refused to mention the names of young White House employees to the investigators because every time she mentioned a name, the kid would get a subpoena, which meant thousands of dollars of ruinous legal fees.

If anything, the Trump investigation will probably be more devastating than the Whitewater scandals. The Clinton team was a few shady characters surrounded by a large group of super-competent straight arrows. The Trump administration is shady characters through and through. Clinton himself was a savvy operator. Trump is a rage-prone obsessive who will be consumed by this.

The good news is the civic institutions are weathering the storm. The Senate Intelligence Committee put on a very good hearing. The F.B.I. is maintaining its integrity. This has, by and large, been a golden age for the American press corps. The bad news is that these institutions had better be. The Trump death march will be slow, grinding and ugly.”

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“Slow, grinding, and ugly.” Describes the Trump Administration perfectly. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I share Brooks’s rosey view of our institutions.

This incident has exposed the farce behind the self-promoted image of the US Department of Justice as “above the political fray” (it isn’t), shown the limitations of the FBI as a truly independent investigative agency (it isn’t), and highlighted the feebleness of Congress (particularly when  controlled by the GOP). Only the Federal Courts, the non-right-wing media, and a few local jurisdictions have emerged as the real protectors of our Constitution and the values of American democracy. And, by the time Trump is finished, his judicial appointments, combined with a serious lack of integrity and critical examination from the now GOP-controlled Senate, are likely to lead to the “co-opting” of the Federal Courts.

PWS

06-09-17

NYT: DAVID BROOKS: Our Infant Prez! — “What if there is no there there?”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/opinion/trump-classified-data.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20170516&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=0&nlid=79213886&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

Brooks writes in this NY Times op-ed:

“At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

. . . .

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

. . . .

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.

. . . .

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? —

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.”

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Read Brooks’s entire article at the link.

My wife Cathy, a retired preschool teacher, has been saying for some time now that Trump’s behavior reminds her of the four-year-olds that she used to deal with on a daily basis. I guess Brooks has the same impression.

PWS

05-16-17

NYT OPINION: DAVID BROOKS: The “American Exodus” Is A Unifying Theme!

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/opinion/the-unifying-american-story.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20170321&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=3&nlid=79213886&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0&referer=

“One of the things we’ve lost in this country is our story. It is the narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project, that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history.

For most of the past 400 years, Americans did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story. The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of their Egypt and building a new Jerusalem.

The Exodus story has six acts: first, a life of slavery and oppression, then the revolt against tyranny, then the difficult flight through the howling wilderness, then the infighting and misbehavior amid the stresses of that ordeal, then the handing down of a new covenant, a new law, and then finally the arrival into a new promised land and the project of building a new Jerusalem.

The Puritans could survive hardship because they knew what kind of cosmic drama they were involved in. Being a chosen people with a sacred mission didn’t make them arrogant, it gave their task dignity and consequence. It made them self-critical. When John Winthrop used the phrase “shining city on a hill” he didn’t mean it as self-congratulation. He meant that the whole world was watching and by their selfishness and failings the colonists were screwing it up.

As Philip Gorski writes in his new book, “American Covenant,” which is essential reading for this moment, the Puritans understood they were part of one covenant and had ferocious debates about what that covenant meant.”

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Read the full Brooks op-ed at the link above.

PWS

03/21/17