Archive

December 27th

Happy Holidays, Donald Trump

    Some things Donald Trump says enrage me while others get under my skin. The pronouncement that does both is his regular claim that until he prevailed, Americans were not free to say "merry Christmas" to each other.

    He was at it again last week in West Allis, Wisconsin, during his Watch-Me-Divide-The-Country-Further "Victory Tour." Trump declared: "So when I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here someday and we are going to say merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas. So, merry Christmas everyone."

    Here's what bothers me: Long before Trump came along we were entirely free to say merry Christmas to each other. Our political leaders could say it, too.

      On her MSNBC program last weekend, my friend Joy Reid demonstrated that President Obama was no Christmas-hating guy trying to hide remembrances of the birth of Jesus Christ behind some noxious wall of secularism. She showed not one but 20 moments when the president said the words "merry Christmas."

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December 26th

Will the GOP be the pro-Putin party?

    Beneath the surface of the controversy over Russia's efforts to help Donald Trump become president is a dramatic reconfiguration of opinion on foreign policy.

    Many Republicans who had long been critical of Vladimir Putin's despotic rule are readjusting their positions to accord with Trump's more sympathetic views. Others are hanging back, fearful of picking a fight with their party's incoming president or undermining the legitimacy of his election.

    At the same time, Putin's fiercest Republican critics, including leading neoconservatives, find themselves allied with Hillary Clinton's supporters. They are calling out the Kremlin's interference with the election and demanding a full accounting of what happened. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been among the most outspoken.

    While some on the left worry about starting a new Cold War, there has been a broad toughening of liberal and Democratic opinion toward Russia. This shift owes in part to outrage over Putin's efforts to sabotage Clinton, but the roots of the mistrust of Putin can be traced back several years.

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December 25th

What happens when Trump starts blaming Yellen?

    The big question about President-elect Donald Trump is what happens when things start to go wrong. There's no doubt they will. Every president has to contend with unforeseen setbacks, and for Trump it will be worse. His outlandish and often contradictory promises guarantee he'll have plenty of bad news to explain away or blame on other people.

    The economy will be high on the list -- and Trump already has a scapegoat-in-waiting. In one of the presidential debates, he attacked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates low for political reasons, and said this would cause big problems once the Fed had to start pushing rates higher.

    The fact is, this economy is not the kind a new president would choose to inherit. It's better to take over in a trough than at what might prove to be a peak. The stock market is testing the upper bounds of plausible valuation, the economy is at or close to full employment, a strong dollar is making life harder for exporters, and the Fed just resumed its effort to get interest rates back to a more neutral level. In short the stage is set for bad news, with Yellen in a starring role.

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Taking office without a clue, and defiantly so

    Let’s say you are president.

    Make that president-elect. Let’s say you’ve had many grueling months of a brutal and bitter campaign, racking up time zones on your personal plane, putting your global business empire on the back burner -- a must-do to make the country your empire. What to do in preparation?

    This president-elect thing is good duty. Let's say you entertain a whole bunch of mightys and powerfuls – Mitt Romney! Kanye West! Before all that inauguration stuff happens, it’s a great opportunity to decide if you want the job.

    One of the amazing things about being president-elect: You get a chance to find out how things work – governing stuff.

    Pentagon stuff. National security stuff.

    So, you’re president-elect, and CIA experts have prepared intricate daily briefings for you. Heck, they’ll come right to your Manhattan office tower if you want and tell you everything they know.

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Lessons Learned From Two Battle Strategies

    President  Barack Obama and Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina don’t agree on many policy questions. But they have found themselves facing a similar political situation this year. And their very different reactions capture the deep — and alarming — differences between our two political parties right now.

    Both Obama and McCrory essentially had their accomplishments on the ballot. McCrory, a Republican, was running for re-election. Obama wasn’t, but his chosen successor was running against a candidate who had personally demeaned him and promised to repeal his agenda.

    As you’d expect, Obama and McCrory each campaigned hard. There, however, the similarities stopped. The differences have played out in three acts.

    In the first act, before Election Day, Obama was faced with evidence that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump win. Obama erred on the side of nonpartisan caution, opting not to announce the CIA findings on Russia’s motives. He was willing to use the presidential bully pulpit to criticize Trump, but not the levers of presidential power to disadvantage him.

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Kudlow is a troubling economics adviser for Trump

    Donald Trump has picked Larry Kudlow to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers. This will doubtless annoy many economists and policy wonks because Kudlow isn't an economist -- he didn't even major in econ in college. He's an econ commentator, much like me, but without the academic training.

    But the general public probably won't even notice or care that he lacks a doctorate in economics. Unlike "physicist" or "biologist," all you have to do to be considered an "economist" is to declare yourself one. This lack of faith in academic credentials might have to do with the low regard in which much of the public holds the econ profession. But in any case, it means that to most people, Kudlow's bona fides are just as burnished as those of Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Ben Bernanke or any of the other former holders of the position.

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China's drone seizure was definitely about Trump

    Spring has come early to the South China Sea. Many analysts had assumed that China would do something to test the newly elected president once he was in office. George W. Bush faced an earlier incident when a Chinese frigate nearly rammed the USNS Bowditch in March 2001 and the spy plane collision a few weeks later, months after he was inaugurated. Barack Obama had the USNS Impeccable incident in March 2009. But for President-elect Donald Trump, China's seizure of an underwater drone, affiliated with the Bowditch, has come ahead of schedule.

    We can only speculate why. Perhaps this was a response to Trump's controversial phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and subsequent comments about changing America's stance toward the "One-China" policy. Perhaps it was something that was going to happen anyway.

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Trump: This Is Not Normal!

    This is my last column of the year.

    In 2015, my last column was a roundup of the year’s biggest social justice stories as ranked by intellectuals and activists.

    I thought that I’d make that a year-end tradition for the column, but this year Donald Trump has intruded.

    That is not to say that issues of social justice have receded. They haven’t, at all. But the election of Trump poses such a significant — and singular — threat to this country that for me all other issues are unfortunately, temporarily I hope, subsumed by the unshakable sense of impending calamity he presages.

    The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue and with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there is little that can be done to constrict or control his power and unpredictability.

    It’s like seeing an ominous weight swinging toward a limb, sure to break it, while you feel utterly helpless to prevent the fracture.

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Trump needs to stop celebrating and start healing

    President-elect Donald Trump needs to heal, not revel. That is, he must work on healing the divided country he is about to lead, not continue to revel in his victory with a round of thank-you rallies.

     Instead, we see: Trump griping about the political correctness of being named "person of the year." Quieting, but not really, chants of "lock her up." Revving up the crowd against the "very dishonest" media. Thanking African-Americans who "didn't come out to vote." Jabbing at the "foolish" White House press secretary for daring to point out that candidate Trump had encouraged Russian hacking.

    Crybaby, the Trump supporters will tweet. He won, get over it. But the president-elect is the one who seems to be having a hard time getting over it, or rising above, or inhabiting the responsibility -- the majesty -- of his new role.

     "Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won," a newly sworn-in President Obama said eight years ago. So I accept: Trump won, Hillary Clinton lost. That has consequences for personnel and policy.

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Trump is on target to violate the Constitution the moment he takes the oath of office

    We have had smart presidents and dim ones, effective ones and incompetents, successful ones and unaccomplished ones. Until now, we have never had one for whom it was legitimate to question at the onset of his presidency whether he could fulfill his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

    As things stand now, President-elect Donald Trump has suggested he will not divest himself of a myriad of businesses around the globe that pose serious conflicts of interest, nor will he liquidate even foreign holdings, the proceeds of which would put him in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

    In an academically sound and federal court brief quality paper, Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurence Tribe conclude:

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