Wag the Dog

Image result for photo dog wagging tail

Feeling pretty good about the defeat of Ryancare…or Trumpcare…or the Gut-Health-Care-Coverage-for-24-Million-People Act? Hoping this is the start of a long-term slide for the president?

Such hope is helpful and such a slide would be super. But there’s still a respect in which we should watch what we wish for.  As Andrew Sullivan speculates, a Trump slump could lead us into a wag the dog scenario:

A president hobbled domestically by his own party’s divisions and the opposition’s new energy may be tempted — Putin-like — to change the subject in a way that vaults him back to popularity. A foreign altercation from which he will not back down? A trade war? A smidge likelier, I’d say, is an over-the-top response to an inevitable jihadist terror attack in a major American city. A demagogue loses much of his power when he tries to wrestle complicated legislation through various political factions, in the way our gloriously inefficient Constitution requires. He regains it with rank fear, polarization, and a raw show of force. Heaven knows what the Constitution will look like once he’s finished.

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Trump, Russia and the “T” Word. What About the “F” Word?

People walk past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016.

Courtesy of Nicholas Kristof, historian Douglas Brinkley and others, the “T” word is finally in the air. Kristof’s column sums up and speculates about some of what we know about Trump advisors’ potentially treasonous collusion with Russia. As an indication of how this story is evolving in such a fast and troubling way, the piece doesn’t address the recent unprecedented, extremely political decision of House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes to brief a subject of his investigation (Trump) on the investigation itself.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Pottersville

My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Israel. My first memorable step in our convoluted trip was actually a movie I watched on the flight out: Frank Capra’s 1946 fantasy drama, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which an angel shows a kind-hearted but suicidal George Bailey (James Stewart) how bad his friends’ and family’s lives would have been had he never been born.

Bailey also learns that in this alternative reality his wholesome home town of Bedford Falls would have been renamed Pottersville, to honor the venal banker who would have dominated life there but for Bailey’s beneficent influence and call for people to help each other through hard times. Pottersville is a debauched place with no sense of community, where it’s all for none and none for all. Not that I mind some debauchery, but the town resembles what the United States of Trump could become: a small-minded, mean-spirited land that lauds selfishness.

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Other Countries and Autocracy: It Can Happen Here

Image result for photo of trump as king

Not With a Bang…

Rather than blow up with a bang, American democracy may wither with a whimper. That insight lies at the heart of David Frum’s frightening but invaluable Atlantic essay, “How to Build an Autocracy.” It’s the best analysis I’ve read of the damage Donald Trump could do.

Frum is no innocent observer of presidential overreach. A former George W. Bush speechwriter, he coined the “axis of evil” line his boss employed to justify the Iraq invasion. Nevertheless, respect the messenger along with the message this time around. Frum flagged the threat from the outset last year. He warned of the then-candidate bucking the courts if elected, long before Trump started attacking judges.

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Here’s an Import Trump Can Treasure

The Age of Trump could usher in troubling trends and practices we used to only associate with foreign kleptocracies.

That’s the core message of this perceptive blog post by Professor Bonnie Palifka, a corruption expert at a leading Mexican university. The problems start with the Trump Administration’s “possible conflicts of interest, nepotism, insider trading, and other types of grand corruption,” which could trigger a ripple effect of other harms. Drawing on both international research and her knowledge of Mexico (but one of many countries where high-level corruption is pervasive), Palifka warns us of what we might expect from a White House that houses a cornucopia of conflicts of interest.

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