January 20th, 2017

Dear Trump: Defending democracy is no vice

    For decades, American presidents have used their inaugural addresses to celebrate the values of freedom. In his second inaugural address in 2005, President George W. Bush declared, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." Sixteen years earlier, his father had asserted, "We know what works: Freedom works. We know what's right: Freedom is right." President Ronald Reagan said the same at his second inauguration, declaring, "America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally."

    At his inauguration on Friday, President Donald Trump will take to the podium to declare his aims for his next four years in office. Will he have anything to say about the importance of freedom? Will he depart from decades of Republican Party tradition -- and American tradition -- by declining to embrace America's role as the leader of the free world? As a presidential candidate, Trump had almost nothing to say on this score. If he persists in ignoring the United States' special relationship with these ideals, he risks undermining democrats around the world and damaging American national interests.

Trump vs. Lewis: One is a legend. The other is a lightweight.

    We shouldn't be surprised anymore.

    There's apparently no depth too low for Donald Trump to sink in his unpresidented attacks on anyone who challenges him. And Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., certainly did that, citing Russian interference in the election and questioning the legitimacy of Trump's presidency .

    Even so, the president-elect's Twitter tirade against Lewis at the beginning of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend is still mind-boggling and a national embarrassment.

    Trump called Lewis, who risked his life to defy segregation, who has been arrested 40 times for his unrelenting activism, who helped get voting rights for millions of Americans, who kept fighting even after his skull was fractured, "All talk, talk, talk - no action."

    So let's compare Trump's actions to Lewis's actions.

    We can start in 1960, when Trump was 14 and Lewis was 20. They both clearly showed their leadership potential early.

Forget Putin; Fox News and Trump is the biggest romance in politics

    When Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, becoming the 45th president, two factors will have helped in a big - no, huge - way. He had one dominant message and one dominant messenger.

    A new Pew Research study shows that Trump voters coalesced around a single primary news source: Fox News.

    Hillary Clinton voters did the opposite. Some watched CNN and MSNBC or local TV news; others read the New York Times or listened to NPR. No news organization got more than 18 percent of the Clinton-voting total, while Fox had 40 percent of Trump voters. (Facebook was a major distribution source for voters of all stripes, but doesn't produce its own news.)

    Trump's theme was memorable and constantly hammered home. Clinton's was muddled and hard to understand.

    As for the message, The Washington Post reported Wednesday after a telling interview with Trump that he arrived at his campaign slogan way back in 2012, just after President Barack Obama was re-elected.

With All Due Disrespect

    As a young man, Congressman John Lewis, who represents most of Atlanta, literally put his life on the line in pursuit of justice. As a key civil rights leader, he endured multiple beatings. Most famously, he led the demonstration that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, suffering a fractured skull at the hands of state troopers. Public outrage over that day’s violence helped lead to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

    Now Lewis says that he won’t attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, whom he regards as an illegitimate president.

    As you might expect, this statement provoked a hysterical, slanderous reaction from the president-elect — who, of course, got his start in national politics by repeatedly, falsely questioning President Barack Obama’s right to hold office. But Trump — who has never sacrificed anything or taken a risk to help others — seems to have a special animus toward genuine heroes. Maybe he prefers demonstrators who don’t get beaten?

Why Obama is the Jon Snow of American foreign policy

    As Barack Obama packs up his belongings and prepares to not be president anymore, the postmortems and assessments of his administration are coming in at a rapid pace. I have a pretty strong interest in foreign policy, have written at length about Obama's grand strategy and concluded that his record is actually quite significant. For both good and bad reasons.

    Let's start with the good: I don't think even foreign policy folks remember just how bleak America's position in the world appeared to be in January 2009. The outgoing president was spectacularly unpopular. In the preceding few months, the worst financial crisis in a century had hit the acute phase. The U.S. economy was shrinking by about 8 percent. Lots of foreign observers, and lots of American observers, too, were writing the obituary for American leadership in the world. The German finance minister was predicting that the United States would lose its status as the financial superpower. Beijing was on the rise, and the looming power transition seemed to augur poorly for American interests in the world.

    And yet, as I wrote over the summer, things turned out rather differently than a straight-line extrapolation would have predicted:

Trump picks the perfect time to show off his ignorance about black Americans

    How did you celebrate MLK Jr. weekend?

    President-elect Donald Trump decided it was the perfect occasion to criticize a living civil rights icon, unloading a series of tweets describing Rep. John Lewis's Georgia district as "crime infested" and accusing the former Freedom Rider of being "All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"

    He later added: "Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!"'

    Sad indeed. But Trump's tweets might have actually been MLK-weekend-appropriate, in a perverse way. They serve as an illuminating if disheartening preview of what the next four years might look like for black Americans, unwillingly led by a president who sees us as a barely functioning sector of society.

    Whatever his political flaws, President Barack Obama helped to normalize the idea that black people in the United States are, in fact, people - who could be professionally successful, have admirable family lives, might live not in crumbling projects but even in the White House.

With Trump's conflicts, corporate America wouldn't hire him as CEO

    Whatever else President-elect Donald Trump represents, it's clear he premised his appeal in large measure on the idea that he "built a very great company" -- inviting voters to think of him as America's CEO. At last week's news conference, Trump (sort of) laid out how he proposes to resolve the conflicts of interest that his vast holdings create. He'll presumably turn over management of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, who'll make decisions "without any involvement whatsoever" from the president-elect, appoint an ethics adviser to vet potential conflicts and avoid entering into any new deals with foreign partners. If he were up for a job as an actual corporate chief, would that plan be good enough?


John’s Gospel of Trump’s Illegitimacy

    On Friday, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and Donald Trump inauguration-boycotter John Lewis told NBC’s Chuck Todd something that I believe millions of Americans are thinking.

    “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

    The release of the clip in which Lewis made his stark assessment came on the same day that the FBI director, James Comey, and other intelligence officials provided a classified briefing to members of the House, no doubt divulging information to which we mere mortals are not privy. After the meeting, Rep. Maxine Waters of California blasted: “It’s classified and we can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the FBI director has no credibility!”

January 19th

Trump: Kremlin Employee of the Month?

    Humor writer Andy Borowitz recently joked that Donald Trump had been named the Kremlin’s “employee of the month.” I giggled at that, and then winced. It’s painful even to joke about.

    Some of the most explosive reports about America in the last few days appeared in Israeli newspapers. They suggested that U.S. intelligence officials had warned Israel to “be careful” about sharing classified information with the Trump White House, for fear that it would be given to Russia.

    U.S. intelligence officials reportedly cautioned that Vladimir Putin might have “leverages of pressure” to extort Trump. That presumably was a reference to the hanky-panky recounted in the dossier alleging that Moscow compromised Trump by filming him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

    Perhaps more troubling are suggestions of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

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Trump is not the real danger

    I take my next-door neighbor's political temperature by perusing his bumper stickers. During the reign of Bush II, Rob's work van sported this exhortation: "Visualize No Liberals." I didn't take it literally. I even managed a smile. It was pithy and rather witty.

    I knew Rob didn't want me gone, just like I didn't believe what I heard in Catholic school: that all Protestants were going straight to hell. My mother was an eminently lax Episcopalian.

    No, it would take more than a bumper sticker to drive a wedge between Rob and me, not to mention his wife, Helen.

    For years, Rob hayed my field and stored the bales in my barn before selling them. We've cut firewood together, drunk beers together on our decks, swapped organic vegetables and fresh eggs. I feed his cows on occasion, and a time or two I helped corral them when they got out. When an intruder spent the night in our house while my wife and I were away, Rob collared the guy. Now that's a good neighbor.

    Besides, I like bumper stickers. One of my all-time favorites was on the rusty old pickup driven by a guy who helped build our house: "I Brake for Hallucinations." Nobody tailgated John for long.

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