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No, it Really is that Bad

[ 208 ] February 16, 2017 |


My default blogging mode is pretty snarky. I guess, in that respect, I’m an old-school academic blogger. The common approach now seems to be professional and scholarly. But sometimes it’s appropriate to set aside the snark—not in favor of scholarly detachment, but to articulate warranted fears.

The United States is facing a major institutional crisis.

While at least some of the leaks we’re seeing about the Trump Administration emanate from factions within the White House, others are coming from the professional civil service—most notably the intelligence community. All of these leaks suggest a White House plagued by incompetence, insularity, and paranoia.

People are searching for scapegoats. But the Cossacks work for the Czar and a fish rots from it’s head down. Trump, as E.J. Dionne wrote yesterday, is simply “unfit to serve.” It’s not just the leaks that suggest this. It’s what we witnessed, through the eyes of patrons paying for access, at Mar-a-Lago. It’s the unhinged Tweets through which Trump riles up his supporters, disrupts diplomacy, and showcases his authoritarian dispositions. It’s a senior White House advisor channeling Carl Schmitt while he reads from cue cards on national television.

But the leaks are, in fact, at the heart of the current crisis. Various conservatives claim that this is a war of the “deep state” against a ‘change agent.’ Some argue that that the revelations about Flynn were a dead-hand effort by the Obama Administration to save the Iran nuclear-weapons deal. This is a profound misreading of many things, including what an actual deep state looks like. But it’s how dysfunction and civil-service blowback play out in a highly polarized environment.

Indeed, some GOP officials are doing their best to avoid serious oversight. Representative Jason Chaffetz has signaled a preference for going after those leaking information. The House GOP voted against even closed-door evaluations of Trump’s tax returns. Because, GOP officials claimed, it would create a slippery slope.

This may be the “standard playbook” with unified government, but nothing is “standard” about the current moment.

Democrats, in general, see the leaks as the only way to get to the truth given Republican and White House intransigence. Many key disclosures have come in the wake of Trump administration falsehoods, or attacks on the intelligence community. The difficulty here is simple. There’s nothing “good” about the status quo. Members of the civil service should not be at war with a new administration. Members of the civil service should not have to be at war with a new administration. And recall that Trump played a major role in starting this conflict by making clear that his priors—and need to avoid cognitive dissonance—take precedence over US intelligence findings.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Trump wants to put a completely unqualified loyalist in charge of a “review” of the intelligence community.

Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

This kind of action would look strange—even foolish—in normal times. In the Trump administration, it seems downright sinister. Multiple press outlets report that long-standing communication between Trump advisors and Russian agents goes well beyond Flynn. While defenders focus on the lack of evidence of active collusion, this is a bit of a red herring, especially. but not only, given that Trump publicly called for Russia to help defeat Clinton.

Beyond that, we have many reasons to believe that Trump’s business interests are becoming intertwined with the Presidency. Not simply in the form of crass moves to “cash in,” such as hiking the price of Mar-a-Lago membership or trying to assist Ivanka Trump’s line of apparel, but in the kind of ways that affect US national security.

These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented—where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official. To date, the Republican-controlled Congress has declined to conduct hearings to investigate the links between Trump’s overseas business partners and foreign governments, or the activities between Russia and officials in the Trump campaign and administration—the very areas being examined by the intelligence services of at least two American allies.

Some details about Trump’s business partners were passed to the American government months ago. For example, long before the president’s inauguration, German electronic surveillance determined that the father of Trump’s Azerbaijani business partner is a government official who laundered money for the Iranian military; that information was shared with the CIA, according to a European source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Of equal concern to our allies is Trump’s business partner in the Philippines, who is also the special representative to Washington of that country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte. This government official, Jose E.B. Antonio, is the head of Century Properties, which in turn is a partner with the president’s business in the construction of Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines. According to people with direct knowledge of the situation, a European intelligence service has obtained the contracts and other legal documents in the deal between the Trump Organization and Antonio. That deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump’s business, with millions of dollars more on the way—all coming from an agent of the Philippine president.

The financial relationship between an American president and the Philippine government comes at a time when the historic alliance between the West and the Southeast Asian country is under great stress. Since the election last year of Duterte, a campaign of slaughter has gripped the Philippines, with death squads murdering thousands of suspected drug users in the streets. The carnage, which intelligence officials have concluded is being conducted with Duterte’s involvement, has been condemned throughout the Western world; the Parliament of the European Union and two United Nations human rights experts have urged Duterte to end the massacre.

There are a number of directions all of this could go. Consider three broad possibilities.

In the first, things worsen. The damage to the United States—at home and abroad—proves profound. One scenario: continued disruption and paralysis, while Trump enriches himself. This results, whether in 2018 or 2020, in sufficient Democratic victories for deadlock, investigations, and other forms of ‘harm mitigation.’ Another possibility is a slide toward soft authoritarianism, starting with the eviscerating of the intelligence community and spreading into other branches of the civil service. As we jump from shock to shock, Trump, as well as Bannon, Miller, and other loyalists, ratchets up the threat level—for example, they scapegoat Muslim Americans, engage in diversionary uses of force, launch investigations against their opponents—until we reach an inflection point. Then, who knows?

In the second, things get better’ Adults take firm control over the National Security Council. Eventually, Trump’s inner circle decides that they need seasoned hands to oversee the White House. We get an increasingly normal Republican administration, albeit with a Justice Department more committed than any before to rolling back civil and voting rights. Perhaps the economy is doing well enough that Trump wins a second term, and the GOP becomes increasingly “Trumpist”—but that Trumpism looks not all that different from where the GOP was in the first place.

The third looks like the second, but is really a variation of the first. That is, the adults solve the day-to-day competency problem, but can’t ameliorate the fundamental dispositions of Trump and his inner circle. So we get kleptocracy, ethno-nationalist governance, and much greater democratic backsliding—but with trappings that make it possible to attract a stable plurality, or majority, of support.

Regardless of how we look back at this period in four years, we should not forget that, right now, on Day 26 of the Trump administration, American democratic institutions are in crisis. We need to mobilize, and organize, to defend them. We must demand oversight, and we must demand that the public learn to what degree this smoke hides raging fires.


Comments (208)

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  1. Crusty says:

    Typo in the title, unless that’s a comment on the Trump administration’s style.

  2. Crusty says:

    The next president is going to have to do an apology tour. For real.

  3. Davis X. Machina says:

    Another possibility is a slide toward soft authoritarianism, starting with the eviscerating of the intelligence community…

    You say that like it's a bad thing. Doesn't anyone else remember the Church Committee?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I’ve been a bit disappointed with the reaction of the actual left on all of this. Government by an unelected “intelligence community” is not a good thing. But just noting that doesn’t really get us very far in assessing the current situation. I continue to feel that the intelligence agencies going after Trump is better than the intelligence agencies not going after Trump. But the best case scenario — the intelligence agencies win — will produce its own threat to democracy.

      Of course, we need to also take full account of the extent to which the current situation is already the result of bureaucratic interference in our electoral system, most notably — but perhaps not limited to — the Comey coup.

      I suppose the overall lesson I draw from this is that the rot in our democracy goes a lot deeper than Trump or even the GOP. And while we do what we can to beat back this acute crisis, there are perhaps harder fights ahead.

      • science_goy says:

        Thanks for articulating this better than I could. The IC may end up saving the world, but progressives have to consider what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. There are plenty of reasons from a liberal standpoint to push for massive reform (and a major reduction in size/funding) of the IC, and we can’t imagine the folks in that community will be any more willing to let a Democrat implement such reforms.

        • dnexon says:

          It may have been too subtle, but my reaction to this is both/and. That is, it’s BAD that the IC is doing this and the reasons they’re doing it are BAD and the Administration is BAD and that’s one reason why it’s a crisis! It’s ALL bad.

          But I’m not sure that the Church Committee is a good analogy. Whatever the arguments about domestic eavesdropping, we’re not in the same boat. Which is not to say that we couldn’t be again.

          • Rob in CT says:

            It may have been too subtle, but my reaction to this is both/and. That is, it’s BAD that the IC is doing this and the reasons they’re doing it are BAD and the Administration is BAD and that’s one reason why it’s a crisis! It’s ALL bad.

            Pretty much.

            • humanoid.panda says:

              Imagine a large ship on fire, with the fire hydrant system offline. Pumping salt water is going to be very harmful to the engines in the long run, but not pumping salt water guarantees a fiery death. This is where we are…

        • so-in-so says:

          I suppose our choices are the IC opposes His Orangeness, or they work for him. Given those choices, even knowing that bridges get crossed that I don’t want crossed when (if) we are in charge again, I still prefer them opposing over supporting him.

        • SatanicPanic says:

          Isn’t the shoe kind of already on the other foot? We’d have President Clinton right now if not for the FBI.

        • synykyl says:

          . The IC may end up saving the world, but progressives have to consider what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot.

          We don’t need any imagination at all to see the problem with this. There is *already* a similar shoe on the other foot. (The FBI and Comey)

        • nemdam says:

          My view is clear: If a Democratic president is elected via the help of a hostile foreign government and the FBI, and the president and his party in Congress stonewall the clear need for an investigation where this can legally be released, then the IC absolutely should leak the information. They are sitting on a bombshell investigation but are out of legitimate means to release it. At this point, given that their duty is to protect the nation and not the president, what else should they do?

          • timb says:

            This. it’s why the Mark Levin’s of the world are screaming about leaks. Oh, and he also wants to know “what’s the underlying crime?”

          • Jean-Michel says:

            Also, if the Democratic Party sent an insane fascist to the White House I wouldn’t shed any tears if the intelligence community worked to bring him down. The “shoe on the other foot” argument assumes that people treat this as a partisan D vs. R thing, and no doubt plenty do. I treat this as a “potential genocide and World War III” thing, and if certain factions of intelligence community actually succeed in toppling Trump (after other factions worked to put him in power), then that obviously raises some difficult questions about the power and role of the deep state that need to be worked through. But given my conviction that President Donald Trump poses a literally existential threat to all life on earth, I’m not working myself into a lather about it.

      • Lurking Canadian says:


        I am increasingly convinced that there are just too damned many secrets. This whole thing is about “who knew what when”. We get these stories about “ashen faced legislators” coming out of closed door meetings, shocked by what they have learned. Well, shouldn’t you share this information with the people who pay your damned salaries, so they can decide what to do?

        I understand Obama’s decision to sit on what he knew, since McConnell (may his black soul rot) certainly would have turned it into a partisan issue, but at some level the whole problem is all this stuff that people “on the inside” know but won’t share.

        • rea says:

          You really don’t want an intelligence community to be open in a way that discloses sources and methods.

        • dogboy says:

          What ever happened with that? I do remember before the election there being comments that “the IC” was sitting on information that Blow Your Mind, but was classified and therefore had to remain secret.

          Someone not in “the IC” still knows that information. Can’t they at least point at the problem?

      • leftwingfox says:

        There’s multiple failures at work here, an incompetent authoritarian president with an extremist cabinet and advisors, backed by a highly partisan congress, fighting an entrenched and unaccountable intelligence community. The closest we have to a properly functioning liberal body here is the judicial system, which is somewhat crippled by that same partisan congress, and already is butting heads against the executive branch.

        Right now, the intelligence community here is the lesser evil; they are functioning exactly as we would expect a whistle-blower to act. Any liberal issues with the agency is not going to be fixed by the executive branch or the current congress; they’ll become an even tighter organ of the authoritarian state.

        • rewenzo says:

          It’s interesting in that the way presidential systems are supposed to fail is when you have an irreconcilable conflict between the Legislature and the Executive.

          Thanks to our American exceptionalism, we’ve found a different way of screwing this up, where because of weak parties, a moron/tyrant has taken over a party, and because of strong partishanship, that party holds the elected branches of government and is unwilling to provide oversight of the moron/tyrant.

          • leftwingfox says:

            I don’t think that’s all that odd. Early Americans were afraid of a monarchy. The single party state rose in reaction to democracy. Madison predicted the dangers of political parties, but had no solution to the problem at the time.

            • ringtail says:

              I don’t think it’s right to say he didn’t have a solution; it’s that in hindsight his solution didn’t pan out.

              In Federalist 10 Madison makes the case that an “extensive”, as opposed to “small”, republic would solve the problems of “factionalism”. I guess he thought cutting the rabble out of governance by avoiding direct democracy and increasing the absolute numbers required to get a controlling voice would prevent capture by any particular party or faction.

              It pretty clearly didn’t work out that way.

      • Little Chak says:

        Adding on: Trump has already made clear his disdain for the independence of the intelligence community and judiciary. If he — and his myriad advisors — had shown to this point that they valued the independence of those institutions, then I might have an issue with the intelligence community withholding certain information from him.

        But when a President’s clearly stated goal is to turn the IC and the judicial branch into rubber-stamping, unquestioning wings of the executive, it actually seems rather important to me that they don’t roll over and tell him if they have incriminating information on him.

        It also seems rather, erm, late (is a charitable way of putting it) to be concerned about members of the IC opposing the President, given that Comey’s FBI already crossed that Rubicon a few months prior — in that case, breaking with established norms that protect democratic government even though the smoke was completely self-created.

        When you have federal law enforcement intervening with partisan statements and then an October surprise in support of a candidate who was leading hate rallies — telling us in very explicit terms that what he planned to do was darkly radical (“we’ll never get another chance at this, folks”) — the dismay and concern expressed over the unelected IC comes off as misguided at best, and malicious at worst. The coup already happened. The fox is in the henhouse. This administration has no respect for democracy, and no respect for the concept of pluralism. The message of “these voters won’t be forgotten anymore” is not a positive one: it’s a reminder that this administration, as stated in the President’s inaugural address, considers the people who voted for him to be “the people” — and no one else.

        The concept of a legitimate opposition does not exist to the Trump administration. “So-called” judges, the media being labeled the opposition party, fake news, etc. The frequent lie about massive, widespread voter fraud is NOT, I repeat, NOT, a small thing. It is a momumental lie of Twilight Zone, 1984 proportions, and a government that pushes this particular lie is a fundamental threat to democracy that must be stopped.

        It has happened here. That doesn’t mean that we can’t stop it. All the bad stuff comes later, if we don’t take the clearly sought goal to deligitimize the opposition and the judiciary, and the cheerleading of “will not be questioned” as deadly serious. Poo-pooing about the IC being unelected, and that therefore open resistance from the IC to the administration is leading us down a dangerous road, seems to me to be missing the forest for the trees.

        • sapient says:

          I love this comment. Thank you for stating this so clearly.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Unleashing the spooks does not necessarily bring us from bad to better. It may well bring us from bad to equally but differently bad. The trees that are distracting you from the forest are on fire and will need to be dealt with next.

          • brewmn says:

            What’s missing from the handwringing over the IC’s pushback against Trump is an acknowledgement that they have never opposed an incoming administration so forcefully before. This suggests that there is something qualitatively different about this administration, and I don’t think we have to look very hard to see what those differences are.

            I assume the CIA/NSA, etc. will go back to business as usual once Trump is ether seriously weakened or removed from office. Then and only then would I start working on good faith reform of those agencies.

          • djw says:

            Who is “unleashing”? They’re as (un)leashed as they’re going to be.

        • nemdam says:

          Beautiful. At this point, if the IC felt they are had legitimate means to release the information they would. But they don’t so they are relegated to becoming whistleblowers.

          Also, their job is to protect the country not the president. If they genuinely believe the president isn’t working on behalf of the country, they have a moral responsibility to inform the country about this however they can.

        • SatanicPanic says:

          It’s also the latest example of people on the left blithely spending time hand-wringing over something about something entirely out of our control (at this time) at the exact moment when there’s a massive problem we might be able to deal with.

      • timb says:

        What are they supposed to do? They saw the evidence, presented it up the chain of command, and nothing happened. Literally, nothing. Congress will not act until they eviscerate the Federal budget. There is only one extant institution to check an Executive possibly comprised in toto by a foreign power.

        There was a lot of speculation on these pages regarding how fascism happens and how the bureaucracy might roll over for Trump and take their orders like they are supposed to. Well, these guys and gals did not.

        I’m not happy with leaks of national security, but in the absences of checks from the Legislative branch or internally in the Executive, then there was only one institution to use.

    • Major Kong says:

      “The enemy of my enemy….”

  4. Jeff (no,theotherone) says:

    I think you’ve covered the main possibilities. Distractions and “threats” and diversions…? We’re seeing it already; get ready for much more of the same.

    As noted elsewhere, that’s Mango Mussolini in a nutshell – he bullies, he dominates, he “wins”, and if by chance something isn’t going his way, he just changes the subject, fakes his way through it, and gets on the plane, or in the car, or whatever.

    He will always be surrounded by yes-people. There is no alternative. These will come and go, and weasel politicians gonna weasel, but… Question is, how many can he buy off…? Bully or lawyer into submission?

    Does he know or care that people are using him like a figure-head or human shield? That they’ll back-stab him when it suits them…? I think as long as he’s gettin’ paid and is the center of attention, he don’t give a rat’s carcass about the rest of it all.

  5. Hayden Arse says:

    I fear that the search for leaks led by Chaffetz will really be an attack on the press, dragging reporters to testify before Congress, demanding that they reveal sources, and jailing them when they refuse. This plays right into the Trumpist narrative that he is being abused by the press. I really don’t like how that could potentially play out, especially when the president refuses to call on any media outlet that he deems unfriendly in press conferences.

    • science_goy says:

      Fortunately, the press (and ACLU) are financially better-equipped to fight this type of thing than they’ve been in years.

      And if Trump won’t take a chance to “correct the record” in press conferences, then the NYT and others can pretty much print whatever (facts) they want without a “on the other hand, the White House says…” qualifier. So I think this tactic is a net loss for him.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      and jailing them when they refuse.

      Not as potent a threat as it once was, unless you start shooting reporters.

      Silencing them is much more difficult in the age of the Internet — samizdat is a mouse-click away.

  6. Karen24 says:

    This Is their current line of attack. Obama is leading a cabal still within the government working to undermine Trump. “Dolchschtossellegende” comes to mind.

    • El Guapo says:

      I’d like to believe this b/c I’ll take anything that looks like a life preserver at this point, but…is there anything to this, particularly the involvement by Obama himself?

    • Lurking Canadian says:

      I had a sort of whimsical thought that somewhere at Langley there’s a document that says, “I preemptively pardon any member of the CIA who has to break federal security regulations to bring down Trump. – Barack Obama”.

      Yes, I know there really is no such thing.

      • rewenzo says:

        I think this was in a Tom Clancy novel where President Ryan wrote a whole bunch of blank pardons and gave them to some sort of intelligence agency before he resigned and said “have fun.”

        • rea says:

          Not a Tom Clancy novel–it’s in Dumas:

          “Another might reply to your Eminence that he had his pardon in his pocket. I content myself with saying: Command, monseigneur; I am ready.”

          “Your pardon?” said Richelieu, surprised.

          “Yes, monseigneur,” said D’Artagnan.

          “And signed by whom–by the king?” And the cardinal pronounced these words with a singular expression of contempt.

          “No, by your Eminence.”

          “By me? You are insane, monsieur.”

          “Monseigneur will doubtless recognize his own handwriting.”

          And D’Artagnan presented to the cardinal the precious piece of paper which Athos had forced from Milady, and which he had given to D’Artagnan to serve him as a safeguard.

          His Eminence took the paper, and read in a slow voice, dwelling upon every syllable:

          “Dec. 3, 1627
          “It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.

        • farin says:

          Reading “President Ryan” just made me gag.

        • sibusisodan says:

          Teeth of the Tiger. So bad it’s…actually just bad.

    • David Hunt says:

      I’m reminded of reading in Nixonland that Nixon was convinced that the Kennedy’s had set up a Government in Exile at the Brookings Institute and they were behind some large percentage of his problems. He was always pushing his staff to set up a break-in to get the dirt on this supposed conspiracy. It was of a part with the Watergate break-ins but he considered it even more important.

  7. NeonTrotsky says:

    But thank god he’s not keeping his e-mails on a private server!

  8. Mike Furlan says:

    My prediction is that the economy booms, the stock market soars, and everybody decides that they really do like Trump. (Then there is another crash, worse than the last one, and everybody changes their mind again.)

    Fun times ahead.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      The 1920s basically with Harding and Hoover combined to one.

    • L2P says:

      (One) reason I don’t support the Republicans is because they’re invariably bad for the economy, but if the economy booms we gotta hand it to them. They probably deserve to keep power.

      I’m not overly worried, though. The economy’s been doing about as well as it can under Obama. It’s not going to get better. And Trump is almost certain to make it worse.

      • MyNameIsZweig says:

        if the economy booms we gotta hand it to them

        Serious question: why? I mean, is the government really able to directly and significantly improve the overall economy, at least if the beginning state is not one of collapse and ruin?

        It’s always been my understanding that government can certainly act in ways that directly and significantly impede the economy, and can do so at almost any time, but the ways in which it helps the economy are less direct and more long-term. I may be wrong about this, but if so, I’d love to hear why I’m wrong from people in the know.

      • econoclast says:

        The government can help the economy in the short run by putting the unemployed back to work. There is probably some slack in the economy — unemployment is low, but there are probably people who would look for a job if they thought their prospects were better — so there is some scope for the economy to improve. But too much, and the risk of inflation or an asset bubble skyrocket.

  9. CaptainBringdown says:

    When I read the NYT story this morning about Feinberg taking on this role, I felt a chill down my spine — here come the purges. But upon reflection I thought to myself, is their any reason to believe that this guy has the aptitude to inflict serious damage? Is he anything other than another billionaire thrust into an arena where he’ll have no clue what he’s doing? Won’t the incompetence be too much for the malevolence?

  10. NewishLawyer says:

    As Ezra Klein stated in December, “Partisanship is a hell of a drug.”

    Almost all conservative outlets except some hold-overs at Commentary and Jennifer Rubin (maybe I haven’t checked) have gone on to the Trump band wagon to varying degrees. The reasons for this are potentially irrelevant but this week I saw a lot of lefty commentators discuss how the National Review went from fully anti-Trump to more or less Trumpists/We have always been Trumpists. Even when they hailed the downing of Pudzer, it was on anti-immigrant rhetoric/stances and faux-populism/protectionism.

    Maybe they a lot of conservatives know deep down that Trump is bad, bad, bad but this doesn’t matter because it would mean agreeing with liberals and that is an act too far.

    My hope of course is for the first part of scenario one. We have Democratic victories in 2018 and 2020 and this leads to a combination of harm mitigation/the rest of the world sweeping it under the rug and pretending Trump did not happen.

    The cynic in me thinks that the most likely scenario is somewhere between soft authoritarianism with the courts and intelligence communities damaged the most and what you wrote in number three.

    Vox had an article on Monday on what is a Constitutional Crisis and whether we are in one. They asked a lot of academics and a lot of the academics refused to say we are in one for whatever reason that is a flaw in liberalism. You had a lot of variants of “I disagree with Trump but we might just be seeing a rewriting of the role of Courts in American life.” What is it about liberals (maybe especially with an academic bent) that makes them unable to say “this is really bad and we need to pay attention now?”

    There is also a tendency of cutseyness in liberalim which makes us seem like the crisis is not really a crisis. How many times do liberals post pictures on social media with protest signs that say “What do we want? Reasonable Regulation. When do we want it? After Peer Review.” Whatever happened to “No Pasaran?!!!” Though plenty on the left are in full alarm mode as well.

    On Slate’s Culture Gabfest this week, they were discussing SNL’s Trump parodies. Emily Bazelon took the stance that these were not going to help because Trump-curious voters are starting to realize they might have made a mistake but insulting them is not going to win them over. Stephen Metcalf made the observation of they made their bed, they lie in it and that sometimes outreach is impossible. I’m more on Metcalf’s side.

  11. Hells Littlest Angel says:

    In a war between Trump and the intelligence community, I’m not betting on the Simpleton In Chief. I think he’s building his own gallows here, and all he cares about is chiseling the contractors out of a few bucks.

  12. keta says:

    Another possibility is a slide toward soft authoritarianism, starting with the eviscerating of the intelligence community and spreading into other branches of the civil service.

    I think the IC holds too many cards, damning, fatal cards, for Trump to gut them.

    In the second, things get better’ Adults take firm control over the NSC. Eventually, Trump’s inner circle decides that they need seasoned hands to oversee the White House.

    That’s ignoring the man-child in the oval office. There is no presidential pivot. There is no calming of the narcissist-in-chief, there is no reining in of the most unfit leader in the history of the US. He’s fucking nuts, and he’s in charge, and he’s either “winning” or going down in flames on his own terms.

    …the adults solve the day-to-day competency problem, but can’t ameliorate the fundamental dispositions of Trump and his inner circle. So we get kleptocracy, ethno-nationalist governance, and much greater democratic backsliding—but with trappings that make it possible to attract a stable plurality, or majority, of support.

    I think this the most likely. Something that passes for cohesion replaces the current chaos, the country (enough of it) decides it can live with the horror because their nationalism is slaked, and the new normal in American governance becomes exceptional in terrible, horrible ways.

    BUT, Trump is fucking crazy, and crazy fuckers usually manage to somehow overstep and torpedo themselves, so this scenario is what I most expect to see. Hell, he might have poked the wrong nest of snakes already in the IC, and his presidency might be grinding towards a blow-up finale as we speak.

  13. (((Malaclypse))) says:

    There is a fourth, albeit unlikely, possibility: the administration declares open war on the permanent bureaucracy, going full-on Great Trumpian Cultural Revolution.

    • DrDick says:

      I really think that the Republicans would love to gut the civil service act, so that they could fire all competent civil servants and replace them with rightwing hacks.

      • L2P says:

        The difference between firing people with the civil service act and firing people without it is effort. They could clean out the EPA right now if they wanted to, but it would take management that cared and wanted to put in the effort.

        And they don’t. Most Republican appointments are some version of political cronies that are looking for a paycheck and to do the stuff they think is fun (investigating Clinton, harassing brown people, etc.) Making a case to fire somebody isn’t fun. They’re not going to do it.

        • tahfromslc says:

          I kind of agree. But putting cronies in power can demoralize the civil service staff to the point where many just leave because it’s impossible to do anything they feel reasonably good about.

          I have had that experience in my career.

        • DrDick says:

          The civil service act actually prevents the worst forms of cronyism in hiring. The people you are talking about are higher level appointees not subject to the act. Presidents get to appoint the people at the top who set and enforce priorities and policies, but not the people who actually do most of the work.

    • sigaba says:

      If this was a possibility the first test case was Flynn, and unquestionably Trump failed the test.

      If Republicans really want a Putin that means that Trump has to do Putin things when confronted with problems people like Putin confront- when people leak to the media, you assassinate. I don’t think Trump actually has the stomach for that.

      He’d cheer on someone else doing it. Pointedly, I think he’d be satisfied if his underlings drifted into a policy of assassination as long as he didn’t have to hear about it and as long as he could just wonder aloud “who will rid me…” But the people who can do those things are all in the IC. Putin was IC so he had the skills and he knew the people. Trump’s just a rich fuck who wants to buy his way into dictatorship, but he doesn’t actually want to be a dictator, he just wants the outward trappings of power without having to do the dirty work.

      • Solar System Wolf says:

        Me, I’m not so sure. Trump admires Duterte and Putin. They don’t do their killing with their own hands, but they order others to do it directly and feel no shame about it. Trump’s already spoken the thought out loud: “I could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue …”

        • Lee Rudolph says:

          Trump admires Duterte and Putin. They don’t do their killing with their own hands

          Duterte has said he does some of his own killing. Maybe he’s lying about that, though.

        • econoclast says:

          But as sigaba points out, Putin was himself a member of the IC. Duterte personally organized death squads before he was elected. Trump doesn’t have the relevant experience.

        • sigaba says:

          Yeah, he says he admires them. Raskolnikov admired Napoleon, but he couldn’t kill one measly old crone and get away with it.

          You have to ask yourself, what exactly does he admire about them? If he loves the fact that they’re powerful and rich AF, he’s already got most of that.

          The thing is, I think Trump believes that Putin and Dutere are popular and loved by their people for their “decisiveness.” But this belief can’t actually be grounded in reality, it’s mostly propaganda by their respective governments, and by our own right-wing media.

          Trump might have believed that he would be “popular” and “loved” like Dutere and Putin are; in his mind, these men are quite popular indeed, but in reality they’re feared and despised, and their base of support is based not on their “brand” or their acts to “clean up” their respective countries, it’s based on terror.

          But Trump ain’t willing to bring the terror, or he doesn’t actually recognize that’s what it’d take, at least he doesn’t seem to. He seems to assume the press should just act like he could have them killed without him having to go to the trouble of killing some of them. (Comparisons with Trump the Brand versus Trump the Man are instructive.)

  14. McAllen says:

    Much of the story here is the failure of Republicans to offer any resistance whatsoever. There’s not even that much being asked of them–sure it’s embarrassing, but at worst they get President Pence or Ryan. But Republicans have shown they fundamentally do not care about good governance, or even non-compromised governance.

    • Jonny Scrum-half says:

      Very true. The tarnished-silver lining in Trump’s Presidency is that he is once-and-for-all exposing those who have no principles. It’s kind of shocking to see how few people actually have principles, which at least makes it easier to understand how awful things happened in the past. Until now it was easy to pretend that things were different now, and events like the Holocaust and slavery could never happen again. (Not saying that any of Trump’s actions are akin to either of those events, but at least now I see that people are really pretty bad at making good choices in difficult times.)

      • El Guapo says:

        Exposing for whom? Those of us in opposition already know it, and those who support Trump/Repubs will either willfully disbelieve or not hear about it since it won’t be told that way on Faux News or on Rush’s radio show. Do we really think there is some squishy middle who is now saying, By Gawd, I thought Paul Ryan was a man of principles but the scales have fallen from mine eyes!

      • Timurid says:

        The tarnished-silver lining in Trump’s Presidency

        That’s more like a tin lining inside an EF-5.

    • Kurzleg says:

      I was about to post my own comment on this when I saw yours, McAllen. I really don’t understand why they’re seemingly willing to go to the mat for Trump. Isn’t he causing them far more headaches than he’s worth? It’s hard for me to accept that anyone really believes the argument set forth in that Federalist Society piece (Obama’s shadow government is undermining Trump), but maybe a significant number of Congressional Republicans do believe it?

      • keta says:

        It’s hard for me to accept that anyone really believes the argument set forth in that Federalist Society piece (Obama’s shadow government is undermining Trump), but maybe a significant number of Congressional Republicans do believe it?

        No, they don’t believe it. But those same congressional GOPers are keeping close tabs on the Republican voters and do they believe it.

        Republican pols care most about getting re-elected. They will stand next to Trump until he threatens their own political survival. Period.

        Self before party.
        Party before country.
        Country before (some) other countries.

        • Kurzleg says:

          But those same congressional GOPers are keeping close tabs on the Republican voters and do they believe it.

          It’s good to make this differentiation, and based on what my aged mother posts on FB, they do, or at least are invested enough in Trump to believe it.

          Republican pols care most about getting re-elected. They will stand next to Trump until he threatens their own political survival. Period.

          This is what gives me some modest level of hope. Pence would clearly be as bad as Trump in terms of the legislation he’d be willing to sign, but his personal disposition would be a vast improvement over Trump. And I’d like to believe that he’s less on board with Bannon and Miller and would steer a more traditional GOP course rather than the monumentally catastrophic one that Trump is steering.

      • muddy says:

        “Can’t pull out, wouldn’t be manly!” (h/t George Carlin re: Vietnam)

      • Linnaeus says:

        In addition to what keta said, there’s one more reason, IMHO: he will, ultimately, sign what they want him to sign.

        This is their best chance for rolling back the liberal achievements of the 20th century. They may not get a chance like this for a long time, and they’re going for it.

        • Kurzleg says:

          Sure, but wouldn’t Pence do so as well? Granted, Pence is a horrible candidate who’d have zero chance of getting re-elected, so maybe that’s part of the equation.

          • keta says:

            But it’s Trump the Republican voters elected. If GOP pols move to oust Trump they piss off the base, and perhaps imperil their own precious selves.

            They’re between the cistern and the toilet seat, and Trump’s on the shitter.

            • Kurzleg says:

              While that’s true, I’d like to think it’s becoming less true as time goes on. Like you say, GOP Congress is solely interested in getting re-elected. I want to believe that we’re rapidly approaching a point where Trump becomes an obstacle to that goal.

              • keta says:

                Yes, I think we’re getting there very, very quickly. The problem, of course, is that even after the boil bursts you still have all the poison in the system that created the boil in the first place.

                • humanoid.panda says:

                  The problem is that it’s not Pence over Trump. It’s Pence over Trump, after a long and painful impeachment/25th amendment process that takes months in which nothing else goes on, and bring us very close to the 2018 midterms, with a splintered party, and 95% probability of a Dem wave.
                  Are they dreaming about Trump dying or resigning, and Pence taking office? You betcha! But we don’t live in a dream world.

          • sapient says:

            There are a lot more people who have colluded with / been compromised by Putin than just the Executive branch, IMO. Remember, Putin helped Congresspeople get elected too, and the Russians have a lot of information on a lot of people. The scandal is probably GOP-wide.

            Republicans would look like heroes if they exposed Trump, except they can’t because they would be exposed too.

      • rewenzo says:

        I really don’t understand why they’re seemingly willing to go to the mat for Trump. Isn’t he causing them far more headaches than he’s worth?

        He’s not ideal, but they have no real better option.

        1) If they stick with him, they take a big political hit. But the pros are:

        a. It doesn’t require them to do anything, which makes it the easiest.

        b. Preserves, for now, party unity among themselves. Trump is popular with a good portion of the House. Any attempt to unseat him would have to reckon with that faction. Given how hard it is they’re finding it to repeal Obamacare, something they all generally agree with, going to war over Trump and winning is not looking good.

        c. They retain a good chance of achieving many of their substantive policy goals, like hurting poor people and marginally increasing the wealth of the richest people in the country.

        d. They avoid primaries from their base.

        e. They avoid the hit that comes from admitting they did everything to elect a tremendous fuckup to the Presidency. If there’s one thing 2016 taught us, it’s never admit to a mistake.

        Additionally, they can mitigate the political fallout by suppressing the vote, which they want to do anyway, and making every Trump scandal a hyperpartisan issue, which they’re doing anyway.

        2) If they try to replace him with Pence, they still take a big political hit and they get very little benefit from it.

        a. It’s not clear to me they would even succeed in doing so. Trump is popular among Republicans.

        b. And even if they did, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Pence administration would completely lack legitimacy and would be substantially handicapped, if not crippled, in carrying out Ryan’s agenda. The attacks on Pence’s legitimacy come from two different directions. A. From the right – Nobody elected Mike Pence. This is like if the GOP had awarded the primary to Marco Rubio at the convention. B. From the left – if anyone is more implicated in the national scandal that is letting such a fuckup be President than Mike Pence, I don’t know who that person would be. James Comey? But that was one decision. Pence was supporting Trump for months.

        c. The House would suffer a legitimacy hit as well. So their agenda would also be at stake.

        d. I think their electoral prospects would crater. Basically they’ve all copped to doing everything they could to elect a guy who would instantly become officially the Bipartisan Consensus Worst President In History. Worse than Nixon, Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, James Buchnanan. None of these guys were convicted. Only one of these guys had to resign – another Republican. They would become the party of Presidents Who Don’t Win Elections Fairly And Have To Resign.

        Paradoxically, their electoral prospects would improve the earlier in Trump’s term they remove him. Then they would have time to recover. The problem is not enough shit will have happened for them to have consensus to remove him until closer to midterms or 2020. It will also be a lot harder for them to publicly cop to this so soon after the election and before they’ve managed to implement their agenda.

        So they’re stuck. Unfortunately, this is not one of those situations where the dilemma of our political opponents works to our benefit. It’s just a bad scene all around.

        • Kurzleg says:

          Paradoxically, their electoral prospects would improve the earlier in Trump’s term they remove him. Then they would have time to recover.

          This is how I’ve been looking at it. The question is what’s the window where enough has happened to remove him but enough time is left to recover? I would say it has to be somewhere in the June-October range. If I’m right, then we’ve got a lot more Trump to endure.

          • humanoid.panda says:

            The problem is that for Trump to be gone in June, the process has to start in March..

            • rewenzo says:

              Well, my thinking is they’re not going to move to remove him at all. If they were gonna do it, they should have done it already, and the incentives to do so from here on out get smaller and smaller.

              Something to keep in mind here is that although Trump looks delusional to probably every Republican in Congress, he looks perfectly sane to virtually every Trump voter. They all look at this stuff as unfairly piling on. And Congressional Republicans will pay more attention to Trump voters than people who didn’t vote for Trump or for anyone.

        • humanoid.panda says:

          This is really smart, and I’d addd another factor: time. Legislative calendars are short, and if you spend your time impeaching Trump, this means you don’t have any time left for passing legislation.

          • lunaticllama says:

            What’s interesting is that Trump now looks likely to imperil the Republican agenda, because his fiascoes are going to take up an ever-increasing amount of Congress’s attention. Every time Republicans have to spend days addressing the latest Trump crisis are days they cannot devote their full attention to passing their agenda. Also, these scandals really distract a key person who could smooth over intra-party disputes, Trump.

            • Bufflars says:

              We’ll have to see, the congressional period just started really, but you may be right. The Repubs were salivating at what a great distraction Trump would be, but I don’t think they were counting on just how much of a complete and utter fuckup he’d be.

              • humanoid.panda says:

                Thing is that its still early, for sure, but by this point, Obama had an enormous agenda item- the stimulus – passed. AS far as we can tell, the GOP is further back on their agenda than they were in January.

        • Srsly Dad Y says:

          Great analysis. Shorter way to think about it: 30% approval = 60% of Republicans, maybe higher among likely GOP voters, including roughly 100% of Tea Party. Stasis.

    • Aaron Morrow says:

      I would actually say that Republicans fundamentally hate good governance.

      I’m not trying to be finicky about word choice here, it’s that I believe so much of conservatism is tied into the failure of government that what we see as incompetence or bungling successfully promotes the conservative idea of government is bad.

      • CP says:

        I keep making the comparison that asking a movement conservative to run the government is roughly equivalent to asking a pacifist to run the army, or a communist to run a private for-profit large corporation. It really is that extreme a case of “fundamentally unwilling or unable to perform this job and unfit to be trusted with it.”

  15. C.V. Danes says:

    This is only the first month, people. Trump’s Cabinet picks haven’t even gotten settled in yet. The real fun has yet to start.

    • lunaticllama says:

      His cabinet and other executive appointments are actually shrinking in number this week, because he hasn’t made any new nominations in the past week and just lost two people.

  16. Sumac says:

    From what I’ve heard on right-wing radio, there exists a huge “liberal bureaucracy,” staffed by career bureaucrats influenced by the New Deal and the Great Society, as well as by extremist Obama supporters, all of whom are dedicated to opposing and undermining the changes Trump wants to make – the changes he was elected to make. The message is that a purge of “liberal bureaucrats” is needed to effect the elimination of godless liberals from the halls of power, and thus to hasten the return to the Christian America that Trump voters deserve to enjoy.

    It’s distressing to imagine how many people might believe this.

    • Rob in CT says:

      I guess that’s what “Drain the Swamp” means to them.

      • Sumac says:

        Yes, I guess it is!

      • lunaticllama says:

        I said many times to previously Trump-curious liberals that I don’t think the railing against the “establishment” means to Trump, or his supporters, what it means to you – that Trump’s “establishment” might be something totally different from the financial elite and the politicians who serve that elite.

    • Kurzleg says:

      It is distressing, and truly, it makes this situation much worse than I realized. Never mind that the intelligence community and FBI are hardly bastions of liberalism. A segment of our country just can’t see things for what they are and instead have to embrace a fairy tale in order to make sense of what’s going on.

    • dogboy says:

      I swear I remember that before the 2008 election there was a fuss over the Bush admin salting the bureaucracy with loyalists to defeat any advances Obama might try to make.

      It’s probably true, since it’s always projection with these people.

  17. DrDick says:

    Great piece and aligns well with my own, non-expert, reading of the situation. Is it too early in the day to break out the bourbon bottle?

  18. Simple Mind says:

    I’ve been noticing that there now seems to be very little talk of Trump’s giant economic stimulus program, customs duties, wall-building or repealing the ACA. We are at a standstill, with things so hot for Trump that, like Rumsfeld during IraqWar, he has to leave town (to bathe in a pageant to stroke his ego, BTW).

    • keta says:

      Oh yeah.

      Congressional Republicans seem wary of offering their own bills, lest Mr. Trump or one of his aides, who have largely been distracted by personnel and intelligence scandals, undercut their efforts. This was most visible when Mr. Trump demanded that Republicans come up with a replacement plan for a health care law they had hoped to simply repeal, sending members flailing. The administration also gave conflicting messages on a tax plan embraced by House Republicans that would apply the corporate tax rate to all imports while exempting exports.
      “On our side, it’s pretty clear who drives policy,” said a Republican aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being written about by Mr. Trump on Twitter. “But take any issue and try to figure that out from their side.”


      • Kurzleg says:

        This is why I think Pence will become more appealing the longer this sort of stuff goes on. Along w / getting re-elected, the GOP wants to get their agenda signed into law. Seems like Trump may be more of an obstacle than we thought.

        • nemdam says:

          Yup, and this is why I think people are seriously underrating odds of impeachment. Pence is more aligned with the GOP agenda, and he can sign his name just as well as Trump. And as a bonus, he is less likely to cause an international crisis.

          The counterargument is “Trump’s base will turn on the GOP!” But as we saw in this election, partisanship is a hell of a drug. The Republicans will simply calculate that all they have to do to make their base come home is hate liberals. And there’s no reason to think it won’t work.

          • Jeff (no,theotherone) says:

            You got it, and the path is becoming clearer: IF Trump is put out of office by some various combo of events, and Pence is in: Media Narrative: “Leftist losers stabbed him in the back! conspiracy – HillaryObamaGate – INVESTIGATE!*”

            *pay no attention to the de-regulation and tax cuts flowing upwards in the background, of course – CLAP LOUDER!

            • Jack M. says:

              That’s been my thought, as well. If the Republicans can get Trump impeached and somehow pin it on the Dems, they absoly-fragging-lutely will.

              • nemdam says:

                Wow, I never even thought of this angle. I always thought they would use an impeachment of their own president to brand themselves as Honest, Unimpeachable Men of Integrity. But now that you’ve correctly point out they can also blame Democrats for forcing their hand? It’s over. They have all the justification they need. When angry Trump cultists go after them, they will just say “Democrats, the coastal, elitist Washington establishment, and the NYT made us do it! We had no choice! Now vote for us so we can stick it to them.”

                • humanoid.panda says:

                  That’s been my thought, as well. If the Republicans can get Trump impeached and somehow pin it on the Dems, they absoly-fragging-lutely will.

                  Yeah, guys, I think you are overthinking this. “We impeached the president because the minority made us” is not going to fly with anyone.

                • Jack M. says:

                  Well, I *did* say ‘somehow.’ I’ve seen enough intellectual incuriosity over the past six months to, at this point, believe that the Republican Congress could say ‘up is down’ and get most of their base to say that gravity is a liberal conspiracy. … Okay, that’s hyperbole. But c.f the SCOTUS nom shenanigans.

                • gmack says:

                  Yeah, humanoid.panda has this right. Just a couple of reminders:

                  (1) Trump is very popular with most Republican voters.
                  (2) Given (1), Trump is also very popular with many in the Republican caucus.
                  (3) The idea that the Republicans would then somehow decide that he’s a liability to them and then impeach him is, under the current organization of things, impossible.
                  (4) Therefore, if Trump is impeached, this could only be the result of a significant realignment in the Republican caucus; either sufficient numbers of Republican voters will have withdrawn their support for Trump, or sufficient numbers of Republican Congresscritters will have decided that their seats are no longer salvageable with Trump in office.
                  (5) If that kind of realignment were to happen, it would take the form of a split in the Republican coalition (and the caucus), with all of the anger and shotes about betrayal that accompany such splits.
                  (6) Which means that impeachment is highly unlikely. The Republicans have made their bed, and they understand (just as they did during the election) that trying to turn on Trump now is pretty close to political suicide.
                  (7) Just as importantly, were an impeachment to happen, it would render Pence pretty close to powerless. The Republican coalition he’d need to rely on to accomplish significant reforms would be shattered; their voters would be demoralized, and the party would almost be certain to lose massively in the next election cycle or two.

                  All of which is to say that political coalitions and organizations of power are fluid; you can’t assume that something as massive as an impeachment by one’s own party could occur while simultaneously assuming that the old power structure would could simply remain intact.

    • Crusty says:

      Are you suggesting that his administration is grossly incompetent and his campaign was just a load of bull?

    • Jeff (no,theotherone) says:

      Blech, bathe, stroke, ego, I was trying to eat lunch, thanks….!
      [retching sounds]

  19. MacK says:

    We have a president of the United States, who, starting at 6-7am in the morning, seems to spend the first 2-3 hours of his day working himself up into a rage and sending incoherent tweets. This is really nuts! I mean, Clinton suggested this at her debate (“who does that”), but it is still incredible. The whole thing is crazy – Steve Miller is a key policy advisor? What!

    • Jon_H11 says:

      Isn’t it odd that all his personal advisors are just media people?

      Bannon – Right Wing website editor
      Conway – Public relations rep
      Miller – ditto, press secretary

      What is the qualification for a campaign scribbler to advise on policy? I guess they might understand the optics, but it’s not optics all the way down.

  20. MacK says:

    The first primary of 2018 is February 20,2018 – 1 year and 4 days away. The Republicans can expect to be consumed with the issue of reelection by late this year.

  21. humanoid.panda says:

    Off-topic, but Pew has the first detailed poll of the Trump era. The topline number is predictable (yet amazing, in context) 39% approve – 56% dissaprove. Since this is a survey of adults, this is not in territory where GOP starts to fracture. But the key finding is that only 29% (2 above 27%!) of public STRONGLY approves of Trump. Which means that, despite popular belief, he still is far from his bottom.

    • Chip Daniels says:

      I am curious to see how the numbers move after this week.

      I have to hope that there are a significant number of non-Jim Hoft style Republicans out there for whom the Russian puppet issue is starting to sink in.

      • nemdam says:

        It seems inconceivable that Trump could ever do anything that would improve his popularity. Even if he did do something potentially popular (infrastructure spending, hating Muslims/immigrants), he is so incompetent that he will turn it into a negative. Like the Muslim ban.

        • humanoid.panda says:

          If I were to advise him, I’d say he should
          a) Shut up, most of the time.
          b) Occasionally chew a CEO for outsourcing.
          c) Find way to pick a fight with House Republicans, over healthcare,maybe. They will stay be on your side as long as you sign tax cuts.
          d) Did I mention shut up?

          If the economy stays decent and there are no foreign crises, one could see how that strategy improves his popularity.

          • nemdam says:

            Agree, but I’m sure he has been given this advice many times. I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Trump doesn’t take advice, especially advice that tells him to shut up because it hurts him.

          • gmack says:

            Yes, this. Trump’s campaign worked like this too. There were several apparent meltdowns, and then he’d stfu for a few weeks, during which time his polls would tend to rebound some. Granted, part of that had to do with focusing attention back on Clinton, who was also unpopular.

            But yes, his numbers could easily go back up if he’d just be quiet for a while and get some normal stuff done. Whether he could do that, well, I have my doubts.

    • The Great God Pan says:

      Who are the 8% of Democrats who approve of Trump, and will they be dying off soon?

  22. No Longer Middle Aged Man says:

    Mulvaney confirmed as OMB director. 51-49 vote again demonstrates that McConnell is an excellent vote counter, allowing McCain and Manchin to desert the rest of the Repubs in order to make a face-saving / grandstanding vote against Trump’s nominee.

  23. NewishLawyer says:

    OT but Trump’s new labor pick. This seems almost reasonable as Republican picks go:

  24. guthrie says:

    As everyone knows, rot at the core spreads outwards.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I don’t even understand it. It’s a tweet-length insult of Trump followed by a recipe.

      • guthrie says:

        I wondered too, then realised it’s basically doing the opposite of the media, i.e. condemning him at short length then going to something more relaxing and useful. Whereas the media either condemn at great lenght if we are lucky, or don’t condemn at all, then keep going on and on in a useless way.

  25. Crusty says:

    I have his press conference on now, and aside from being a big baby throwing a tantrum, he is incoherent and knows nothing about foreign relations, policy, anything. And he’s still talking about the election.

  26. Timurid says:

    This press conference… Oh my God.

    Repeated public appearances in which the President appears to be drunk, high or otherwise impaired just aren’t that big of a deal?
    Nobody cares that he has literally forgotten how to count?

    • El Guapo says:

      Nobody cares that he has literally forgotten how to count?

      C’mon, everyone knows that if you don’t know how to count, you get appointed Secretary of Energy, not President.

  27. Origami Isopod says:

    O/T but The Economist is Vewy Vewy Concerned about all us mean liberals who aren’t nice to Trumpanzees.

  28. Frank Wilhoit says:

    This is not an institutional crisis in progress. The institutions failed gradually and silently over a long period. They look like they are still there; but now we need them, we reach out and touch them, and they fall to dust at our touch.

    The house is not even on fire. We have come back from a 38-year road trip to find that the place burned while we were out.

  29. alexceres says:

    Guess they should have leaked all this before the election instead of pissing into the wind now. They all stood silent after the FBI lied to the NYT.

    • bs says:

      Well, most of the IC are conservative. They, like the non-27% Repubs., thought tilting the playing field rightwards would only result in the usual Repub. disasters: depressions, massive looting of the financial sector, losing land wars in Asia. Then the Dems get elected to clean up the mess, Reps. point out cleaning up is no fun, campaign on trashing the place again, and the cycle repeats. Spooks only just now realized there may be no cleanup phase after the nukes start dropping.

  30. americanpride says:

    Things are looking pretty bad for the Trump administration. According to WaPo, Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. That’s a felony and up to five years in jail. Keep in mind, this occurred after Trump team (including Flynn) was briefed on Russian hacking of the campaign. His reputation is already ruined, so now it’s about him avoiding jail time. That means Flynn will talk about who gave him the orders – either someone in the Trump team or the Russians. Since Flynn was senior national security advisor to Trump during campaign, I think the orders came directly from Trump.

    (1) Flynn is a retired general and former head of the DIA (who was fired, which rarely happens). He ends up in Moscow sponsored by RT and meets Putin. He was clearly being targeted by the Russians. Given that Flynn is one of the purveyors of fake news, I’m fairly confident that the Russians were playing him the entire time and he was foolish enough to not recognize it.

    (2) How does Flynn know the Russian ambassador? According to press reporting, there were only a couple of calls, so it’s not like he had a personal relationship with him. So – who introduced them? Someone in Flynn’s position just does not contact the Russian ambassador unilaterally, especially when it comes to talking about future policy like easing sanctions.

    (3) Trump and Pence are on record stating that there were no other campaign contacts with Russians. This has been proven false also. So now it’s just a matter of establishing whether both Trump and Pence lied about it (in which case, why lie? What were they protecting?) or they had no control over their people.

    (4) In today’s press conference, Trump said that Flynn was not in the wrong, that he did something right. He also said that if Flynn was not talking to the ambassador, then he would have ordered him to. Either Trump is unfamiliar with the details of the situation (which is not surprising) or Trump is trying to justify his still undisclosed role in the scandal.

    (5) There is other circumstantial evidence of collusion, including (a) Trump campaign unilaterally changing GOP position on Ukraine/Russia conflict, (b) at least three senior Trump campaign officials with establish business and professional relationships in Russia, (c) a senior Trump official declaring advanced knowledge of Wikileaks releases, which have been established to be part of the Russian hacking campaign, (d) Trump himself calling on the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails, and (e) the fact that Trump has never uttered a single negative word about Putin. Ever.

    (6) Flynn is just the start of this unfolding scandal that can probably sink the Trump team. CNN reported that FBI says it is not pursuing charges against Flynn, probably because he is already cooperating. Yates and Comey waited until after Flynn FBI interview to inform White House – his lying to the FBI was the last nail needed in the compromised coffin. That means we can expect more revelations about Trump/Russia relationships in the future.

  31. BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial says:

    given that Trump publicly called for Russia to help defeat Clinton

    I just can’t take anybody serious after they say something like this. Here is the clip. It’s pretty obvious he is making what he thinks is a good joke.

  32. […] that I wrote in November that garnered—from my perspective—a surprising amount of attention. I alluded to another variation of this theme recently: the assumption that just because ‘things work […]

  33. […] Daniel Nexon, a professor at Georgetown University who studies US foreign policy, writes at the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog. “But it’s how dysfunction and civil-service blowback play out in a highly polarized […]

  34. […] Daniel Nexon, a professor at Georgetown University who studies US foreign policy, writes at the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog. “But it’s how dysfunction and civil-service blowback play out in a highly polarized […]

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