Looking back on speeches American presidents have made in Europe, James Fallows points out just how much President Trump diminished our country and its ideals when he spoke in Warsaw this week:
When John F. Kennedy gave his celebrated remarks in Berlin a few months before his death, he presented both the United States and free West Berlin as proud illustrations of a larger idea: “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” (You can read the text of the speech, and see a video of its still-remarkable five-minute entirety, here.)
Nearly 25 years later, when Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, he gave a speech that became famous for its rhetorical plea, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But the surrounding tone was like Kennedy’s.
How was Trump’s speech, which you can read here, different?
The minor problem was the routine neuralgia of Trump’s “formal” (from a script) rhetoric. These included the almost willfully pedestrian language (has no one there bothered to read even the great conservative orators, from Churchill to Reagan?). And the off-hand misstatements of fact, as when Trump discussed NATO obligations as if they were club-dues on which members were in arrears. And the unique-to-Trump phenomenon of his ad-libbed “Hey, that’s interesting!” commentary when he comes across information in a prepared text that is apparently new to him. This was most breathtaking in today’s speech when he read a line about Poland fighting simultaneously against Hitler’s Nazi army and Stalin’s Soviet army in 1939, and then said: “That's trouble. That's tough.”
But the major departure in Trump’s speech was its seeming indifference to the American idea. At least when speaking to the world, American presidents have emphasized an expanded “us.” All men are created equal. Every man is a German. Ich bin ein Berliner. Our realities in America have always been flawed, but our idea is in principle limitless. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Trump gave grace-note nods to goals of liberty and free expression. Mainly, though, he spoke not about an expanded us but instead about us and them. He spoke repeatedly about our “heritage,” our “blood,” our “civilization,” our “ancestors” and “families,” our “will” and “way of life.” Every one of these of course has perfectly noble connotations. But combined and in practice, they amount to the way the Japanese nationalists of the early 20th century onward spoke, about the purity of “we Japanese” and the need to stick together as a tribe. They were the way Mussolini spoke, glorifying the Roman heritage—but again in a tribal sense, to elevate 20th century Italians as a group, rather than in John F. Kennedy’s allusion to a system of rules that could include outsiders as civis romanus as well. They are the way French nationalists supporting Marine LePen speak now, and Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., and “alt-right” activists in the United States, and of course the Breitbart empire under presidential counselor Steve Bannon. They rest on basic distinctions between us and them as peoples—that is, as tribes—rather than as the contending ideas and systems that presidents from our first to our 44th had emphasized.
Every day this man remains in office, we are diminished just a little bit more.
Perhaps, if more people had history classes in school in America, something this stupid would be less likely:
For 29 years, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” has celebrated the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators.
This historically uncontroversial testament to the nation’s founding document proved uncontroversial-no-more in the year 2017.
After NPR tweeted the accompanying text of the declaration line by line, Donald Trump backers (seemingly unaware of the source document) accused the media organization of playing partisan politics and attacking the president.
“So, NPR is calling for a revolution,” Twitter user @JustEsrafel wrote.
“Propaganda is that all you know?” another asked.
On this Canada Day, let's pause and reflect that populists of the Trumpian variety just don't get traction in Canada. Why? Because the Canadian identity is one of tolerance, according to New York Times columnist Amanda Taub:
n other Western countries, right-wing populism has emerged as a politics of us-versus-them. It pits members of white majorities against immigrants and minorities, driven by a sense that cohesive national identities are under threat. In France, for instance, it is common to hear that immigration dilutes French identity, and that allowing minority groups to keep their own cultures erodes vital elements of Frenchness.
Identity works differently in Canada. Both whites and nonwhites see Canadian identity as something that not only can accommodate outsiders, but is enhanced by the inclusion of many different kinds of people.
Canada is a mosaic rather than a melting pot, several people told me — a place that celebrates different backgrounds rather than demanding assimilation.
“Lots of immigrants, they come with their culture, and Canadians like that,” said Ilya Bolotine, an information technology worker from Russia, whom I met at a large park on the Lake Ontario waterfront. “They like variety. They like diversity.”
Taub says the trend started in 1971 on the Liberal side and continued through the Conservative victories in 2011 and 2015. It makes a thoughtful person wonder about spending time north of the border.
Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:
Time for a martini, clearly.
The Washington Post has a quick guide to who's being investigated for what:
Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign
This is where it all started. James B. Comey, who led the law enforcement investigation until he was fired as FBI director May 9, testified last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he has no doubt that Russia attempted to influence the presidential race by hacking the Democratic National Committee and launching cyberattacks on state election systems, among other tactics.
Possible attempts to obstruct justice
Comey testified last week that while he was still head of the FBI, he told Trump on three occasions that the agency was not investigating him, individually. “Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing,” The Post reported Wednesday.
Possible financial crimes
We know less about this prong than the other two. The Post reported last month that “in addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally asked congress to prosecute medical-marijuana clinics, so that we can spend millions of Federal law-enforcement dollars hurting sick people. Gotta love the Republican Party.
Jennifer Rubin attempts to explain "what stops Republicans from behaving rationally:"
First, unlike Senate and House Republicans during Watergate, there are few genuine leaders of principle whose sense of propriety is offended by Trump. The moral and intellectual quality of the current crew of Republicans pales in comparison to the type of Republicans who finally told Richard Nixon the jig was up. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), who went to the White House, have few if any equals in today’s House and Senate.
Second, elected Republicans by and large cower in the shadow of Fox Non-News hosts, talk-radio opportunists and right-wing interest groups. They fear noticeable distancing from Trump will prompt the vultures of the right to swoop down up them, leaving only bones behind. So long as the characters who populate the right stick with Trump, elected Republicans, sadly, won’t lead.
Krugman, channeling Nate Silver, sees lopsided election wins in Republican districts and epistemic closure as the root causes:
But mightn’t even Republican voters turn on you if you seem too slavish to an obviously corrupt leadership? Well, where would those voters get such an idea? For all practical purposes, Republican primary voters get their news from wholly partisan media, which quite simply present a picture of the world that bears no resemblance to what independent sources are saying. Even though most Republicans in DC probably know better, their self-interest says to pretend to believe the official line.
So if you’re Representative Bomfog from a red state, your entire career depends on being an apparatchik willing to do and say anything the regime demands. Suggestions that the president’s men, and maybe the man himself, is in collusion with a foreign power? Fake news! Firing the FBI director in an obvious obstruction of justice? Let’s make excuses! Analyses suggesting that your bill will cause mass suffering? Never mind. Party loyalty is all — even if it demands humiliating displays of obsequious deference.
The one thing that might cause Rs to turn on Trump would be the more or less certain prospect of a wave election so massive that even very safe seats get lost. And at the rate things are going, that could happen. But if it does, it will be nothing like a normal political process; it will be more like a revolution within the GOP, a regime change that would shatter the party establishment.
Meanwhile, Kevin Baker has a good argument that Trump isn't Nixon, he's Jackson, but without the skill or strategy.
Bend over, here it comes again. Welcome to the kakocracy:
As Trump went around the large table, one by one, most [cabinet secretaries] praised the president, while others gave brief updates on their departments' work.
When it was his turn, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said it was "an honor to be on team," telling Trump that "my hat is off to you" for pulling the United States out of Paris climate agreement.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley proclaimed "a new day at the U.N.," where she said Trump has provided "a very strong voice."
"People know what the United States is for," Haley said. "They know what we're against. They see us leading across the board."
And the tributes kept coming:
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: "Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this time under your leadership."
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: "As your [Navy] SEAL on your staff, it's an honor to be your steward of your public lands."
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: "Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to fix the trade deficit."
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue: "I wanted to congratulate you on the men and women you place around this table. ... I want to thank you for that. These are great team members."
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went even further, telling Trump: "We thank you for opportunity and blessing you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people."
I mean, if this were any other English-speaking country, the Dear Leader would have heard this as scathing sarcasm and understood his days in office to be numbered in single digits. I'm talking Chamberlain after Dunkirk or Ford after pardoning Nixon. On the other hand, in any other English-speaking country, the ministers would have intended scathing sarcasm, not the unprecedented sycophancy that the chief administrators of the United States displayed today.
But this is Donald Trump, who has no shame, no irony, no perspective, and no humility. And this is the modern Republican Party, who have no shame, no irony, no perspective, and no sense.
But thank you, people of New York, for the Senate Minority Leader:
Vladimir Putin biographer Masha Gessen explains why autocrats like Putin and President Trump tend to be so gloriously incompetent:
[A] careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.
Modern strongmen are more obviously human. We have witnessed the greed and vanity of Silvio Berlusconi, who ran Italy’s economy into the ground. We recognize the desperate desire of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be admired or at least feared — usually literally at his country’s expense. Still, physical distance makes villains seem bigger than they are in real life.
In the past few months, Americans too have grown familiar with the sight of a president who seems to think that politics consists of demonstrating that he is in charge. This similarity is not an accident (nor is it a result of Russian influence). The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal.
Simple people like the simple message of other simple people. But the world has 7½ billion points of view, and is more complicated than ever, making the autocrats' incompetence more dangerous than in years past.
We have a child in the White House. And European leaders are saying they can no longer rely on the United States:
Trump’s speech alone is likely a sufficient explanation. But I suspect there’s an additional element. Most of the major European and NATO leaders had already met Trump in Washington – Merkel, May, Gentiloni, Trudeau and others. But I suspect in meeting as a group, over a more extended period and in a context specifically focused on Europe and NATO there was a further realization that what they are watching from across the Atlantic is no act. Indeed, Trump appears more impulsive and erratic in person than on TV. Rather than growing into the job he’s growing into the role of aggressor.
Another, perhaps more critical realization, is suggested in this Twitter thread by Max Fisher of the Times: That is, it’s not just that Trump is greedy or impulsive or unreliable, indifferent to the North Atlantic alliance but that he is positively against it. He and Vladimir Putin are in a de facto alliance against ‘Europe’ or to put it less geographically, the liberal internationalist state system which has rested on and built out from the United States and Western Europe.
I've imagined the damage that Trump can do to the world, and I am seeing how what I've imagined is coming to pass. I hope Europe is stronger than they have seemed so far.
Andrew Sullivan's note Friday analyzes the President's trip to the Vatican from a distinctly conservative and Catholic perspective:
Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.
Every pillar of Trump’s essential character is a cardinal sin for Christians: lust, gluttony, greed, envy, anger, and pride. We are all guilty of these, of course, but there is in Trump a centrality to them, a shame-free celebration of them, that is close to unique in the history of the American presidency. I will never understand how more than half of white Catholics could vote for such a man, or how the leadership of the church could be so terribly silent when such a monster stalks the earth.
He also fumes about Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia, a country we trade with but shouldn't exactly want to emulate.