How About “Frighteningly Unpatriotic” as a Label for the Trump Operation’s Newly Revealed Behavior

Obviously, the astonishing developments of the last few days remove from the Trumps any intent or mens rea defenses.  All that is left is that “nothing happened,” which in politics, or in adultery, does not really get you very far.

The developments have also caused the first upswing in  the use of the word “treason.”  There may well be a legal case, perhaps ultimately a compelling one, but for the target population of traditional low information Republicans, it may be a wall too far right now.

So let me suggest that the concept we should be pushing is “patriotism,” or rather the astonishing lack of it.  How can anyone truly patriotic, if and when approached by a foreign and hostile power offering partnership in interfering with our sacred democratic election process, do anything other than say “no,” and then call the FBI.  Nor, would we expect any patriot of another country to do anything other than that country’s equivalent.

Obviously, such an idea never occurred to anyone in the Trump operation.  But, I am sure that the vast majority of Trump voters, while happy to get hear of dirt on Hilary, would not want to be in partnership with Russia to get that dirt.  They are better and more patriotic people than that.

So I would experiment with phrases like “frighteningly unpatriotic to even consider participating with Russia to undermine our election system,” or “at best shockingly unpatriotic and maybe at worst treasonous behavior.”

The point is to use words that resonate with the Republican base.

 

 

“I Tried to Get My Dog to Eat My Homework, But He Didn’t” is Not Much of a Defense, Even for a Young Trump

Let’s get this clear (NYT).

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

But, to the team’s apparent disappointment, the Russians were not handing over any such information.  I have bolded the words “before agreeing”

In other words, “I met with the dealer because they promised me get drugs, but they did not have any.”

There are lots of appropriate ways of responding to such an approach, including calling in the FBI, maybe altering you opponents, maybe ignoring it, or responding that any such meeting or transfer would be inappropriate and a possible crime.  But going to the meeting without any protective cover — apparently without even a memorialization of the invite and its context, leaves me breathless.

Bottom line:  “We wanted to collude, but were not able to.”  That admission will give far greater credibility to additional evidence of actual collusion, whether out of this meeting or others.

In any other context, this story alone would upend US politics, lead to a major investigation, and immediate doubt of the truthfulness of the denial of Trump senior’s knowledge.  Let’s hope we are not too numb.

‘Europeans Can’t Think of Building a Future Without the Americans’ — You Won’t Have To, But We Do All Have to Think Differently

Politico has a great article, with the self-explanatory title, itself a quote from the French Ambassador to the US – ‘Europeans Can’t Think of Building a Future Without the Americans’

Nor can I imagine a US without Europe deeply engaged with us.  (I am coming to be able to understand a Europe without the UK, or rather parts of it, but that is a much simpler matter, more related to Britain’s 150 year decline.)

What North Americans and Europeans have to do is understand that together we are one political  system, although not one nation.  Politics in one of these two mega nations (lumping Canada in with the US for now) are already deeply intertwined, and will get more so.  That is much more the case than any other large countries dyad.

As recent elections have shown, political events in one of the mega-nations trigger and influence those in the other — and not always in fully predictable ways.  Skilled demagogues, well actually all demagogues, will try to use events in one as a source of fear or reactionary possibility in the other, and building a positive “liberal system” vision will always require more nuance and time.

In short, in order to leverage each other, ideas have to flow between the two groupings as easily as capital already does.  We in the US have so much to learn about managing technology to limit the forces of inequality, and our friends in Europe have so much to ,learn about building greater flexibility into their economic system.

In the end, however, we have to learn to think about the impact on the European system of all that we do, and they have to do the same about us.  Think about how Trump’s failure to understand the nuances of this have enhanced European integration, and perhaps even saved Europe from disintegration.  The more Trump embraces Putin, the more the rest of Europe fears him, or rather both of them. I personally will not get tired of these kinds of winning.

 

 

 

The Deeply Disturbing Implications of the Washington Post Story of the Inadequate US Response to Russian Hacking, and a Long Term Proposal

It is almost impossible to force oneself to read the Washington Post’s brilliant reporting of the US failure to respond adequately to the Russian election-related hacking.

However, attention must be paid, and the implications go far further than judgements about the Obama administration, that I am sure will go well explored in classic blame the victim manner.

First,  I think we have to admit that the current situation of a largely unpunished and undeterred coup/attack on the US has to be broadly blamed on the entire political process in the US.  While the lack of response, either public or covert, is hard to defend either now, or then, it has to be seen as in part the product of the hyper-politicization of foreign policy.  The Obama administration was operating in a toxic environment in which any honest reporting or respect was, and would be thrown back in the face of the government and the electorate, without any concern for considerations other than short term victory.   The administration could not ignore the reality of that environment.

That must be recognized as a product of Trump active encouragement of hacking, of his trivialization of any reporting, and of his contempt for truth.  The enablers carry as much if not more of the blame.

Second, we must be honest about where we are.  We no longer can be confident that the American people control our own fates through the political process.  It was and has to be assumed to be about to be again, another Pearl Harbor.  (That the US has its own long bi-partisan history of interference in other counties electoral, and political processes, not to mention coups, does not make this any less serious, it only makes it harder to defeat.)  Given the massive reluctance of Trump to take this threat in any way seriously, or even to recognize the risks of the legitimacy this has already lost him, we can have no faith that the governmental system will protect us against more and worse future surrenders of control.  (If Trump is forced out, as I strongly believe he has to be, and will be, this last is no longer true, but issues of trust and legitimacy will long remain.)

Finally, we have to build a new layer of institutions that protect the integrity of our political system regardless of short term interest.  For a start, I can imagine a Commission led by prior presidents, with an independent staff, with direct access to the intelligent services.  The Commission would have a mandate to issue public reports, including on the credibility of challenges to our democratic electoral system, and to publicly and privately urge actions of all kinds, thereby making it easier for presidents to take needed actions without being effectively accused of putting partisan interests first.  While hacking will be one part of the charter of duties, all forms of foreign interference and collusion will need to be included.

The problem, as always, and as we learned in the cold war, is that is is almost impossible to give groups power that is not democratically constrained without then in fact surrendering democracy to those powers.  In the absence of the consensus of  the cold war years, the need is even greater than it was then, and the risks are far greater.

It is a measure of what Trump and his enablers have wrought, and what his opponents have failed to do, that we now face this choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Rants From The Madman”

Famously, when Jimmy Carter was president, the Boston Globe “accidentally” ran a headline over an editorial that read: “Mush From the Wimp.”  There was no Internet to make it go viral, but today surely it would.

Today, to label Trump’s tweets as “rants from the madman” seems almost an understatement, and there is already plenty of obvious commentary.  So here are some addition questions:

When will be start seeing resignations from the national security team?

Is the legal team now obliged to formally withdraw representations that they have made to the Fourth, and Ninth Circuits, and to the Supreme Court.  Remember, lawyers can not make affirmative mis-representations to a court.

Will we see resignations from the Solicitor General’s Office, or just an inability to find staff to do the work?

Is there any chance that the Supreme Court will now grant review in the “travel Ban case.”  The risk of them being dissed during the process, such as after hearing, or after decision, is great.  If I were Roberts, I would take no action till the Ninth Circuit agrees with the Fourth (as it surely will), and then see if I have seven or more votes to put the President firmly in his place.  If not, I would do nothing, at least till there is a split from another Circuit.  I do not see how the Court can afford to be seen to be baling Trump out after today.  And, a 5-4 either way would be an absolute institutional disaster for the Court (US v. Nixon was 9-0).

Does the almost systematic dissing of one cabinet member after another mean that a 25th Amendment majority is starting to build up?  What is Pence thinking tonight.

Many previously loyal Republican commentators seem numb tonight.  Republican politicians have fallen largely quiet.  When will they start raising issues of Presidential inability to do the job? 

Finally, whatever else you can say, you can not argue with the fact that each week, things move faster an faster.   Things that would, the prior week, have seemed crazy to suggest, actually happen.

Our brains are lagging indicators.  Like any tipping point, when it comes, it will come quicker than we can possibly expect.

 

If Pre-President Trump Does Not Know the Limits, What Will Post-President Trump do?

So, Trump (or at least his most trusted advisor) felt it OK to act as a President, and go around his own intelligence agencies to create a secret channel to an adversary, what will he do after being President?

Set up his own private channel?

Continue to leak secrets from our allies (no, post presidents do not have the declassification power.)

Alienate allies regardless of cost?

Use his reputation to increase the value of licensing his name?

“Take this plane to Moscow?”

Have taxpayers continue to finance his buildings, his travel, and his security?

Undercut his successor has he has tried to do his predecessor?

Bottom line.  There has to be a strategy to keep him under tight control.

 

If They Can not Control Trump While He is Cocooned, How Are The Intelligence Services Going to Keep The Secrets That Trump Knows Secure After He Leaves the White House — However and Whenever That May Turn Out to Be?

If I were a senior executive at Langley (CIA) or in the Hoover Building (FBI), I would not only be wondering how to keep the removal momentum going, but I would also be starting to think about how the endgame has to be structured to keep a “liberated” Trump from doing even worse damage after he is no longer in the White House.  Its going to be a problem however and whenever he finally leaves.

If we have seen anything in the last four months, it is that even a Trump with a rational national security staff around him all the time, and a secret service that can keep him away from most people, can do immense damage to our national security interests.  (“I never said Israel.”)

Take those, and the rest of the cocoon away, and literally anything can happen.  Here are three general possible approaches.

Approach One – Ongoing Cocooning:  Make sure that the end game plays out so that Trump remains under cocooned.  The only sure ways to do that are to imprison him, or put him in a mental institution.  There are likely already grounds for either.

Approach Two – Threatened Cocooning:  Create massive incentives to ongoing compliance.  I.e. have him so that he understands that approach one is triggered if he crosses certain lines.  I do not think that is likely to be reliable.

Approach Three – Information deprivation:  Make sure, starting now, that he really does not know anything that can do any harm.  For all we know, his briefings may well already be carefully structured with this in mind.  Indeed, after this trip, I am not sure it is not professional malpractice to tell him anything that is both true and secret.

The benefits of approach one (ongoing cocooning) accrue to many beyond the intelligence community, so that may well be the one chosen path, if only because it will be easier to build a behind the scenes consensus for the approach.

But following the approach of “stifle and isolate,” maybe it is safer to combine one (cocooning) and three (information deprivation).  The advantage of number three is that the public and the base need never learn of it.

These are such unusual times, that you do not have to be a rabid conspiracy theorist to be thinking along these lines.  I can imagine that many would see it as their duty.