Archive

February 17th, 2017

Mr. President, shake hands with Andrew Jackson

    I've never met Steve Bannon and find most of his reported views repugnant. But I owe him: He caused me to reread Jon Meacham's biography of Andrew Jackson, "American Lion."

    Bannon, President Donald Trump's provocative adviser and theorist, has promoted the notion that Trump is a modern version of Jackson, a populist who ran roughshod over the ruling class and ushered in a new political order. Others like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, always quick to claim historical antecedents for conservative theories, embrace this.

    There are some legitimate parallels. Both men triumphed over and rattled established political elites with support from people of ordinary means. Trump did it in the 2016 elections, Jackson in 1828. Both vowed to clean up corruption in Washington and both had racial ignominies. Jackson was a slaveholder and, as president, mistreated Indians. Trump has insulted blacks, Muslims and Hispanics. After taking office, both suffered from self-inflicted chaos; Trump over flagrant misstatements and managerial turbulence, Jackson over his stubborn defense of the dubious morals of his secretary of war's wife.

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Why Flynn was undone by a phone call

    During a normal transition, at the beginning of a normal presidency, nobody would be surprised if the newly appointed national security adviser got on the phone to speak to a foreign ambassador -- even the Russian ambassador. Or the Chinese ambassador. During a normal transition, at the beginning of a normal presidency, the idea that official sources would share the gist of a transcript of such a call with journalists from The Post would be considered outrageous.

    But this is not a normal presidency, and Donald Trump's team did not run a normal transition. Nor do normal national security advisers start their tenure as reported objects of an FBI investigation. As Michael Flynn took on his role in the Trump administration, the U.S. intelligence community had already unanimously concluded that Russian hacking, and Russian trolling, played a role in the presidential election. But the question of whether Flynn, Trump or anyone else had promised the Russian government something in exchange for that help remained wide open.

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A modern-day '1984'

    Remember George Orwell's Ministry of Truth? In his dystopian novel "1984," its purpose was to dictate and protect the government's version of reality. During the Cold War, Orwell's book was banned behind the Iron Curtain, because readers perceived the novel as an allegory for their own repressive regimes.

    It was a serious crime to distribute information defaming the Soviet social and political system. Such criminal laws were widely used by the Kremlin to silence dissidents, human rights activists, religious movements and groups fighting for independence in the Soviet republics. Similar laws were on the books in East Germany, Poland and other Eastern bloc countries.

    Thankfully, today this landscape is much changed, but increasingly there are disturbing echoes of the past. Amid a debate about the rising influence of fake news and the danger it poses to the political and social order in the West, democratic politicians in Europe have proposed sanctions - and even prison terms - for those found responsible for distributing false information.

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Trump Deserves Flynn

    Donald Trump’s zeal for extreme vetting has one glaring exception, one gaping blind spot: his own administration.

    If you’re a bedraggled sixth-grader from a beleaguered country where the Quran is a popular text, he will stop you at our border. If you’re a retired lieutenant general who hallucinates an Islamic terrorist behind every last garden shrub in America, he will welcome you to the White House.

    Michael Flynn’s fall was foreordained, predictable by anyone with the time, patience and fundamental seriousness to take an unblinking look at his past, brimming as it was with accusations of shoddy stewardship and instances of rashness.

    This is a man who once claimed that Arabic signs along the Mexican border pointed terrorists toward the United States — and who never provided any corroboration of that. I learned of this particular bit of hysteria when it was being discussed one night on Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN. The Trump apologist Kayleigh McEnany was asked for her reaction. She said that no one could prove that there weren’t such signs.

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Trump’s Gold Lining

   Listen up, haters.

    The brief reign of Donald the First has been completely head-spinningly nuts so far. But let’s stay calm and look for the silver lining, or in this case, the garishly gold lining.

    Donald Trump has indeed already made some of America Great Again.

    Just not the aspects he intended.

    He has breathed new zest into a wide range of things: feminism, liberalism, student activism, newspapers, cable news, protesters, bartenders, shrinks, Twitter, the ACLU, “SNL,” town halls, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Hannah Arendt, Stephen Colbert, Nordstrom, the Federalist Papers, separation of powers, division of church and state, athletes and coaches taking political stands and Frederick Douglass.

    As Trump blusters about repealing Obamacare, many Americans have come to appreciate the benefits of the law more.

    Lena Dunham credited the “soul-crushing pain and devastation and hopelessness” of Trump with helping her get a svelte new figure.

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The political assassination of Michael Flynn

    If we are to believe the Trump White House, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn just resigned because he lied about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the vice president. As White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told NBC's "Today Show" on Tuesday: "Misleading the vice president really was the key here."

    That sounds about as credible as when the president told CIA employees that the media had invented the story about his enmity toward the spy agency, not even two weeks after he had taken to Twitter to compare the CIA to Nazis. It's about as credible as President Donald Trump's insistence that it didn't rain during his inauguration. Or that millions of people had voted illegally in the election he just won.

    The point here is that for a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it's strange that Flynn's "lie" to Pence would get him fired. It doesn't add up.

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This stereotype is killing black children

    While police killings of black people sometimes attract front-page attention, black lives lost due to drowning are largely ignored.

    In wealthy, majority-black Prince George's County in Maryland, not a single elementary, middle or high school has a pool. Nevertheless, Sean Barbour, a recent DeMatha High graduate, broke records as a member of the Theresa Banks Swim Club's 200-medley relay team and is now a freshman at La Salle University. Absalom Bolling, a student at the new all-boys Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington, is ranked 18th in the 200-meter butterfly in Potomac Valley Swimming - one of the nation's most competitive swimming groups. Barbour, Bolling and other black swimmers earn scholarships to private high schools and universities.

    But what is normal in the Washington suburbs is a rarity in neighborhoods across the United States. More commonly, a black child will be the only one on a team of more than 100 swimmers, like Sydney Hearn, who swims for the Sylvania Tsunami Swim Club in Ohio. USA Swimming, the nation's organizing body for the sport, has some 337,000 members - of whom only 1.3 percent are black.

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Putin is getting all he wanted from Trump

    The resignation of U.S. national Security Adviser Michael Flynn shows how toxic any connection with Russia has become in Washington. It would be tempting to say the alleged help in getting Donald Trump elected has backfired for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that is not the case: So far, he's been getting exactly what he wants from the U.S.

    Flynn was forced to resign ostensibly because he had inaccurately described the content of his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which took place before Trump's inauguration. He was a liability to the administration in any case because he seemed unable to get along with the Central Intelligence Agency. But it will stick in the public mind that Flynn went because he was too close to the Russians. "Russian for the Exit," trumpeted the front page of the New York Daily News.

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Should you pray for the president?

    When people of faith drop to their knees for nightly prayer, many, I suspect, find themselves struggling with the often preached injunction to pray for those in positions of public trust.

    Are we, they may be asking, to pray for President Donald Trump, the architect of un-American and un- Christian anti-immigrant measures grounded in paranoia and fear of the stranger? That description of Trump's proposals was supplied by the Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral.

    Are they to pray for people placed by Trump in positions of civil authority, such as nationalist Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist; Attorney General Jeff Sessions with his tarnished history on race; and truth-challenged and ethics-challenged sycophant Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president?

    Pray for elected officials on Capitol Hill who will enable Trump and his Cabinet to do bad things to good people?

    Are the faithful expected to commend Trump's agenda to the Lord in prayer?

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Michael Flynn is gone and everything is fine, just fine, great

    To call this past weekend in the Trump administration a garbage fire would be a disservice to garbage fires, which at least shed light and get rid of garbage.

    The Trump administration is doing exactly what I do when I try to assemble Ikea furniture, in the sense that it has clearly not consulted any instructions and now before it has finished its cabinet a big piece has fallen off. Also in the sense that there are dangerous screws loose everywhere. Not in the sense that when I try to assemble Ikea furniture the lives of thousands of refugees are thrown into limbo. Or in the sense that when I try to assemble a cabinet people call Reince Priebus cruel names and he has to joke ineptly to a journalist that he and Stephen Bannon are best buddies and he gives Bannon a back rub every night. (This is an actual thing that happened.)

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