Trump’s Saudi Arabia Speech Condemns Yemen; Shows Shallow Weakness of His Phony Tough Guy Approach

 

Admit it, you’d like to see how Trump would do filling this out, right?

 

I was in the car during the President’s big speech on terrorism to a bunch of gilded heirs in a gilded palace, and there was a certain peculiar horror at hearing that voice saying those words. Even ignoring for a moment the substance of what he said, it was the fact that Donald Trump, who couldn’t be bothered to learn the first thing about terrorism other than “it’s bad, ok, believe me?”, was giving a major talk to rapt heads of state, forced to listen because this was the most powerful man in the world, representing the United States of America. It really put into stark relief the absurdity of our moment.

In a way, it was even worse that most of what he said was insipid and banal, a series of rolling cliches that sounded like the book report of a middling college Republican. His teleprompted bromides made him sound, in our dumb media formulations, “Presidential”. But you also didn’t have to dig very deep to see the bloody soil right beneath his feet.

The President made very clear that only one thing mattered: “defeating terrorism” by force. The drumbeat of his speech, the part they probably most want remembered, is when he dimly intoned with fake-machismo that the collected autocrats and kings should “DRIVE THEM OUT”.  It’s a strange formulation, because for all his anti-PC swagger about how this is an Islamic problem, he seemingly ignores that you can’t just “Drive them out” without addressing the sicknesses and pathologies in society, both internal and imposed, that have led to ISIS.

Clearly, thinking about those contradictions aren’t important to Trump or Bannon or Miller. What’s important is to give free reign to the collected autocrats, which is why the triumph of the weekend was to sell the Saudis $110 billion worth of arms. We should remember that selling rich people something they want to buy could only be done by a master of the deal.

This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase — and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.

And what are these security operations? Well, there is the internal defense of the Kingdom, of course. But he really gave away the game when he was talking about how the assembled countries are already…

“…making significant contributions to regional security: Jordanian pilots are crucial partners against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and a regional coalition have taken strong action against Houthi militants in Yemen. The Lebanese Army is hunting ISIS operatives who try to infiltrate their territory. Emirati troops are supporting our Afghan partners. In Mosul, American troops are supporting Kurds, Sunnis and Shias fighting together for their homeland.”

I was thinking that we can ignore that he pronounced “Houthi” as if it should be followed by “and the Blowfish”; that’s the sort of internet-type snark that obscures bigger issues. Every politician makes mistakes, and anyway, who can blame him? It’s doubtful he’d ever said, or maybe even heard, the word “Houthi” before.

But that’s sort of the point. He blithely lumps the Houthi faction in the overlapping Yemeni civil wars with ISIS, even though Sunni extremists and the Houthis are bitter enemies. And while there is no question that the Houthis aren’t exactly stabilizing the region, the greatest damage has been done by the Saudi coalition, recklessly carpet-bombing the country into a bleak future of starvation and war. And disease. Due to the country’s already fragile infrastructure being destroyed, the WHO estimates as many as 300,000 cholera cases over the next six months.

Yemen shows the disastrous focus of the Trumpian approach. “We won’t tell you how to do your business, as long as you fight ISIS and stand against Iran.” There are so many areas where that is contradictory nonsense. To the extent that the Houthis are aligned, it is with Iran, against the Sauds, and against Sunni extremists, whether that is ISIS or al-Qaeda (in fact, multiple bombings of Houthis by extremists helped start the latest round of fighting, and helped draw them further into national battles). Allowing, or in fact encouraging, Saudi Arabia to have free reign in a country that we see only an “area of active hostility” will hurt the enemies of ISIS and create the very same “safe zones” that the Administration decries.

The problem is that the the primary focus is Iran, and stopping Iranian power. It’s part of Jared Kushner’s big play to unite the Sunni Arab world to stand against Iran, and get a peace treaty for Israel and Palestine out of it. This is one of those grand world plans which was drawn by the great Arabists and Orientalists in the early 20th century, drawing lines on a map, and assuming that “If we get Sunnis here, we’ve got it made.” Those ended in failure and bloodshed, and weren’t drawn by idiots with zero experience.

The problem is that these people think it is simple: a matter of will, and some brilliant negotiating tactics. They have zero knowledge of history, zero concern for how the region actually works, and zero ability to see past their own shallow ideas. They think it is an easy math problem, a quick sell. And there might even be surface-level successes!

There is no doubt that the gilded heirs sitting in Arabesque thrones are happy to see one of their own, and that the strongman tyrants are glad to see someone who emulates them, with his soft hands yearning to be considered callous and callused. I’m sure there will be papers signed and treaties made and grins exchanged. But by papering over everything but the headlines, and focusing on quick results rather than intelligent gains, this administration will set back the cause of freedom, of peace, and of actual security, another generation.

For them, the Middle East is, as is everything else in their dumbshow lives, a quick con and a chance to soak up applause before getting out of town. In going international, we’re finally giving thr world the bill of goods we so eagerly bought.

 

McMasters, Comey, and the Trump Endgame

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The fake king at the end of days

There are two ways that the Trump Presidency could end.

OK, that’s not true. There are many, many ways the Trump Presidency could end, including relatively normally. But that seems impossible, because we’ve elected a spoiled, ignorant, dauphin to become the most powerful person in the world. We’ve elected someone who is, without a doubt, in the bottom 10% of people in this country who should be President. You pull nearly anyone off the street, and the wouldn’t be as implusive, reckless, and vainglorious. They wouldn’t be as poor a manager or judge of people, and they wouldn’t let their ego overtake every affair. I’m not saying most people would be good Presidents (I’d be terrible), but few would be this bad.

And because of that, there are right now two paths that stand out among many, both with terrible repercussions.

The more straightforward one is that with the firing of Comey and the purported memo we’re pretty clearly in an Obstruction of Justice phase. Even Republicans are beginning to come around. Vulnerable ones in Illinois, like Adam Kinzinger, are calling for independent prosecutors, and others are just hiding. They feel the worm turning. Paul Ryan hasn’t come up for air in days, as he basically wants to avoid the parts of his job that don’t involve starving people.

The main counterargument, as Ross Douthat, of all people, points out, is that Trump probably is too stupid to even know he was obstructing justice. He was just asking Comey to do him a solid, lean on him a little bit, etc. No biggie. (Douthat thinks this is true, but says it proves Trump’s manifest unfitness for office).

Now, it is true that obstruction of justice is hard to prove, and it is true that there are enough emotional Trump supporters that the GOP might be scared of offending. They might duck behind the incredibly cynical “oh, so now you like Comey” ploy, as if (not actual!) hypocrisy by Democrats is an absolution for actual crimes. There will be a lot of wrangling as Republicans deal with the full scope of their moral failure, their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton, their insane partisanship, and most of all, placing their desire to throw millions off health care and cut taxes for the rich over the needs of the Republic.

Will they be able to own up to it? If so, expect a lot of talk of their courage and bravery (mostly self-praise), and the nauseating spectacle of their “rising above partisanship”. A Trump impeachement will unleash all the howling anger that is already shaking this country, and they shouldn’t get praise for stopping, too late, a beast they helped create. But we’ll deal with that when we get to it if, hopefully, we do.

There is a worse scenario, here, and that involves H.R. McMaster, who has long been one of the most respected people in America, and certainly in the military, but who has been tainted and corrupted by proximity to Trump, as is inevitable.  Fred Kaplan captures the sadness of McMaster standing up for Trump, in a statement that is mostly a lie, at best an evasion, and in a way, aiding and abetting our deranged king. There is a part in Kaplan that truly stands out.

At the same time, he is still an active-duty officer, duty-bound to obey all legal orders from his commander in chief and perhaps inclined to regard him with respect. Will he remain conscious of the tension between his obligations and his character, asserting the latter whenever opportunities arise? Or will the former subsume all else?

That’s very true. McMaster is active duty, and sworn to civilian primacy. That’s the founding genius of our nation. But what happens if Trump, facing impeachement and disgrace, orders the military to do something terrible and drastic? What if he tries to bind it to him, instead of the country. In August, I argued that such behavior was the primary danger of electing Donald Trump.

Unlike in Turkey, the armed forces here take pride in the fact that they don’t need to guarantee democracy through domestic force; indeed, the fact that they don’t is why our democracy works as well as it does. But if an order is illegal, and insanely so, what then? Do they refuse the order and go against the basis of their existence? Do they do something illegal, which is also a betrayal of their values, because then it means that the military isn’t loyal to the US, but just its temporary and titular head? What happens? Which betrayal is worse? And at what point do they enact the ultimate betrayal in the name of the country: that is, a legitimate overthrowing of civilian power?…

The crisis can come because Donald Trump is a fascist, and think he can and should rule like one. He has no respect for the rule of law, and believes that everything is his toy, and should be used for his greater glory. He feels that civilian control of the military means that they should be loyal to him. That’s not what we are about. The result of this collision is impossible to know. But if he is elected, you can be sure it is coming, and it will be unlike any crisis we’ve faced since the Civil War.

McMaster obviously isn’t in charge of the military, but he is key to this. How long do they stay loyal? Are there mass resignations? Or do they actually betray one duty to uphold another? This is the most terrifying endgame for Trump, and it is far from outside the realm of possibility. It’s what we might be facing. It’s the question that will get hot as the summer starts to boil and the temper of our President reaches rageful and spiteful tantrumic heights: what will the military do?

That we are even asking that is reason why every politician who supported Trump should be disgraced, forever.

Pebble Gold Mine in Bristol Bay A Real Goldmine, Unless You Like Food Or Water

 

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“You know what this could use? Open-pit mining.” -Scott Pruitt

 

May 12 U.S. environmental regulators have cleared the path for a stalled copper and gold mine in Alaska by agreeing to settle current lawsuits and other issues over the project, which had drawn environmental concerns over its potential impact on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement on Friday, said the settlement does not guarantee the proposed Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would ultimately win approval, but that its review would now be carried out “in a fair, transparent, deliberate, and regular way.”

Bristol Bay is one of the world’s most productive salmon breeding grounds. But there is a lot of gold and copper near it, so some companies want to create an open-pit copper mine, even though mining runoff will certainly pollute the waters, and possibly decimate the fishing economy.

But, you know, so what? This is Scott Pruitt’s EPA, in which the “E” and the “P” are strictly optional. It sure is an Agency, though. And they are giving the fishermen the human agency to go pound sand. The extraction industry wants something, right now, and there isn’t a single Republican with any desire not to give it to them.

These people have everything they want for the moment, and are in a mad to sell off public land, reverse any environmental regulations, create open door policies for the extraction industry, punish the poor, and maybe get around to a little light earth-salting before President Cuckoo Clock from Hell fires Reince Priebus and replaces him with a 50-ft high self-portrait.

It seriously seems like they had a contest where users could submit ideas with the theme of “What’s the Worst Thing We Could Do?” and they picked everyone’s entry.  Everyone’s a winner! Well, not the 85% of fishermen who think this could destroy their livlinhood, or the Natives opposed to turning the unspoiled and sacred beauty of the land into something a little more spoiled, and really not anyone who doesn’t own stock in Pebble Limited Partnership, which went up 500% when Trump was elected. But hey: there will be more gold in the world. Who could be opposed to that?

Republicans look to decimate poor to fund tax cuts for rich; sun rises.

Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise

“And then he died penniless on the street!”

I recently read Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein. It’s all about the GM plant closing down, and an old union town being torn apart by the way life was suddenly rent wide open, by the cruelty of decisions made far away, and the impact that sudden poverty had on a stable middle-class town. There are wealthy people who are fine, and there are people who retired with pensions who are doing ok. There are people who lost jobs because they started a month too late. Really, the book is about, if not fate, then luck, and the breaks that can befall even the best-planned life.

Told through the stories of people in the town, it isn’t directly political, though politics plays a role. And it is extremely political in the broad, general sense of our politics being an outcome of the decisions we make and the leaders we elect. And throughout the book, there is Paul Ryan, the local kid who made the big ticket, and is now the Speaker of the House. He’s all downhome modesty, talking about his Janesville values, and how everything he learned he learned in town. He talks in length about his concern for the town, trying to save jobs, pleading with GM not to close down the plant. A regular Jimmy Stewart.

The act would almost be convincing if one didn’t know Paul Ryan. If one did, though, headlines like this Politico one from over the weekend are not surprising.

Republicans plan massive cuts to programs for the poor. 

That’s sort of…well, that could be a permanent headline, really. In order to pay for Trump’s tax cuts, but also honor his promise not to touch Medicare or Social Security (the promise not to touch Medicaid, of course, was altered by $800 billion or so), the Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan is looking to slash “food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits.

If enacted, such a plan to curb safety-net programs — all while juicing the Pentagon’s budget and slicing corporate tax rates — would amount to the biggest shift in federal spending priorities in decades.”

This might be a shift for the government, but it isn’t a priority shift for the Republicans. Because this has been a Republican priority for decades; indeed, it has been the essence of their platform. Because even when Paul Ryan was rubbermasking his mopey concern face about the plant closing, he was fighting to cut unemployment benefits. He was fighting to cut food stamps. He was fighting to privatize Social Security and destroy Medicaid. He was fighting to cut the legs out from under the people who were the direction to which he focused his smuggest sanctimony.

These are their priorities. Most human life, as Ryan’s good buddy Scott Walker so often reminds us, is about becoming sources of capital for the wealthy. It isn’t about getting anything back except whatever salary they want to give you; these are two of the biggest opponents of collective bargaining in America (which a wildly anti-Janesville stance). If you aren’t working, or are poor, or just so happened to hit a spell of bad luck, you’re screwed. You don’t deserve anything. Hurt on the job? Someone else will take your place, desperate and starved, for whatever peanuts they want to throw them. And then you’re on the street, with no safety net.

It is really galling how much they preen and purr about small town values, but do whatever they can to indenture and immiserate any humans, to break the ties of solidarity that come with mutual dignity, and to pit people against each other. There is no comity.  There’s no decency.

Every small town has some kind of legend, a weird swamp monster or a strange dog or that one night everyone heard a strange, almost melodic hum coming from some undefined place, maybe the woods at the edge, or maybe just the air itself. But if small towns really had the values the GOP promotes, if union-proud Janesville was actually a reflection of Paul Ryan, there wouldn’t be any need for these legends. They’d be full of snarling many-mouthed beasts attacking the vulnerable, green drool mixing with blood on the streets, while the very few lived in gated compounds, armed guards keeping at bay both the fiends and their victims.

That’s Paul Ryan’s America. The only value is the dollar, and if you don’t have any, don’t ask. Come talk to us when you’re rich, chump.

 

Spicer and Trump: A One-Act Play About Taping James Comey

REPORTER: Moving on to the news of the week, did president Trump record his conversations with former FBI director Comey?
SPICER: I assume you’re referring to the tweet. And I’ve talked to the president—the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or the residence?
SPICER: As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Does he think it is appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
SPICER: I don’t think that’s a threat. He simply stated a fact, the tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.
It is good to know that Spicer talked to the President (who, remember, is Donald Trump) before meeting with reporters. I am sure that was a good conversation.
SPICER walks into the Oval Office, sees no one is in it except for Mike Pence, grinning broadly, and walks into the annex, where POTUS TRUMP is watching 11 TVs. MNUCHIN is in the corner. 
SPICER: Hey boss, just thought I’d ask real quick before today’s press briefing about the Comey thing.
POTUS TRUMP: Tell them that what Don Lemon said was stupid. Tell them it was disgusting and also that a lot of people say my relationship with Xi is very very good. I think he really likes me, and so why are we talking about currency manipulation? I stopped it, ok?
MNUCHIN: You sure did!
SPICER: Yes, of course, we’ll make sure to get that all out. I can’t wait for Lemon to hear it!
(everyone gives each other thumbs-up for 45 seconds)
SPICER: OK, but, they are probably going to ask if there actually are, you know tapes?
POTUS TRUMP: Who’s talking about tapes? All I said was that there might be tapes, in quotes, and the quotes are very important but the Fake News is always like ‘oh, Trump said tapes’, but they never talk about the quotes, and they never mention Trump’s quotes.
SPICER: OK, so, there aren’t tapes then?
POTUS TRUMP: Who knows? I just said he better hope there aren’t, because if there are, he wouldn’t want to talk, because that wouldn’t be nice. It would be really nasty.
SPICER: So, it obviously wasn’t a threat. It’s just a fact that he should hope no one tapes him.
POTUS TRUMP: Of course it wasn’t a threat. He might say stuff, because he’s very disloyal, you know, and I am never the one who brought up loyalty, and now I hear, oh Tump, he wants loyalty, but I only want people who are loyal enough to fire people who aren’t. Tell them that. You look taller today. Did you see what Rosie said?
SPICER: About Comey?
POTUS TRUMP: No.
(11 minutes of silence)
Spicer: So, nothing furth–
POTUS TRUMP: That commercial didn’t have me in it!
SPICER (exits)

Dear GOP: Mike Pence Hates Health Care and Loves Tax Cuts, Too

 

You guys already bond over horrible things! Wouldn’t this be nicer?

 

If I were a Republican (which sharp-eyed and politically astute readers of this blog will recognize I am not), my basic calculations in the wake of the Comey firing would be this:

  • We’ve supported Trump so that we could kick millions of people off health care and cut taxes for the rich.
  • And oh yeah, destroy the environment and the public good!
  • And he’s been super willing to do that, so it’s been ok to ignore the troublesome what-have-yous over his total lack of mental or moral capacities for the job.  He’ll sign anything to get a win so he can pretend to be Mr. Businessgenius President, and anyway, the Mexican and the Muslim stuff has been a great bonus. Aces all around!
  • But ok, this might be too much. You can’t fire the FBI director because he’s investigating your Russian crimes, man. This looks superbad, even though we love the strongman thing. Except when the black guy does it, then it is tyranny.
  • So, can we get through this? If we get rid of him, can we still get our stuff done?
  • Let’s say we impeach. It’s a bad year, really bad. But we look brave! And the media calls us heroic, putting the country ahead of our party. And then we have President Pence, and he hates taxes, health care, the public good, the environment, hippies, and liberals as much as we do. And he hates abortionists and gays way more than Trump!
  • So we can weather this impeachment, because god knows our democracy is literally under assault, and still get stuff done before the midterms. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually pick up seats for our courage.

There are flaws in this calculation. For one, what if Trump doesn’t care if he is impeached and refuses to leave? And the drama of displacing a President might overtake everything else, especially this President. And you might lose the base entirely. And you might not be done by 2018.

And I may be assuming facts not in evidence. I am assuming there is a baseline of genuine patriotism here. That despite their love for voter suppression, the GOP doesn’t actually want to see us go full banana. That Trump, whole embarrassing, is sort of exactly what they want. So I might be making a few too many assumptions, really.

But dammit, come on. President Pence will give you what you want! I would loathe a Pence Presidency. He’s a theocrat and a bigot and kind of a dummy and I’d fight every one of his policies, but he is so within the acceptable norms. I even sort of fear a post-impeachment Pence, because the sigh of relief will be so great that he will be sort of unshackled. Any opposition might be seen as gauche.

But things are so bad now, and we’re so close to an epochal constitutional disaster, that I’d embrace that. Even if it is for the wrong reasons–to make it easier to pursue their terrible agenda–one has to hope that the GOP discovers some patriotism, before it is too late.

The Comey Firing and the Coming Constitutional Crisis: Crossing the Border

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When talking about the firing of James Comey, that smirkingly moralistic Boy Scout who clearly decided to hand over the election to Donald Trump, there are a few things to stipulate.

  1. The stated reasons for his firing–that he engaged in a grotesque abuse of power, or at the very least, political malpractice in how he handled Clinton’s emails–were the correct ones. James Comey should no more be the Director of the FBI than I should.
  2. The stated reasons are clearly bullshit.
  3. The stated reasons are initially clever, but incredibly witless. They hang a lampshade on how cheap and petty the arrangement is.  They only make it more clear that this is, in one way or the other, about Russia.

You can tell the Administration is somehow stunned that no one believes their nonpartisan rectitude in this manner. They honestly expected to be praised for this. That’s how they operate: they still assume that if they say something, us normal non-billionaire totally un-President people should believe it.  It’s Trump’s way. One of the reasons for his increasingly erratic ways are that it isn’t working. The media isn’t just reporting what he says as reality.

Because really, this is too much. I bet there are 10 hours and 2000 tweets worth of material on top Republicans praising Comey for disclosing the Anthony Weiner email “investigation” (and I still can’t believe we have to talk about that as a world-changing event). Many of these are by the President! We’re expected to believe that they are now outraged about this? And if so, why five months in?

It is belaboring the obvious to say that this is about Russia. It’s either that Comey got “too close” to something they are trying to hide, or just that he refuses to close the investigation, to do the bidding of Donald Trump. Either way, these aren’t headlines we should be reading in America.

But again, the lie is the key here. In his public letter, Trump says “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Why even bring that up? It’s a way to change the story, to say, “see, there’s nothing here!” It’s the typical Trumpian con. You can just say anything, so long as it gets you to a yes.

That reckless cynicism and nearly supernatural disregard for the truth isn’t just a part of this crisis; it is key to it. They actual tawdry crimes and corruption that drive this Administration are, in and of themselves, enough to cause a genuine catastrophe, but it is what they are driven by that makes this moment so scary.

Our system of government is formed less around laws than it is around norms and expected behavior. There are rules, but when they are broken, there is shockingly little that can be done until the rule-breaker himself is forced to change his behavior. When the exemption on conflict of interest rules were carved out for the President due to the complexity of the job, it was assumed that the President would avoid potential conflicts, not that he would see it as carte blanche, an open door. That’s obviously not the case with Trump.

He has no instincts except to enrich himself and to further his brand. There isn’t a democratic bone in his body, or a thought for the greater good anywhere in the arid warped-mirror desert of his mind. That’s why he can fire the FBI Director for lack of loyalty: he thinks this is how it should be, and there is really no way to stop him.

That’s the problem, and that’s why we are in a crisis. It was assumed that the President wouldn’t be in hock to a foreign power and wouldn’t have every top staffer equally entangled. It was assumed they wouldn’t fire the FBI Director for looking into it. It was assumed that they would adhere to some basic democratic standards. Donald Trump, with his unique and terrible sicknesses and vanities, turned out all those assumptions.

That’s what has always worried me the most about this Administration. That the only real mechanisms to stopping his revolt against the Constitutional order were Republicans, enthralled with a right-wing strongman and unable to put basic patriotism over their lust for tax cuts. And even if they did (and now is the moment, boys), there is only so much that can be done.

Let’s say this is impeachable (High crimes and misdemeanors are not just jailable offenses, but crimes against the Presidency), or something is, and the GOP actually decides to do it.  Say they impeach, and the Senate convicts. Then what? What if he refuses to leave? Again, it is assumed that a convicted President will leave office, but what if he refuses to, claiming that Congress can’t usurp an election? What horrors await us there?

This is the problem. We assume a President will behave one way. This one won’t. I’ve been worried that at some point he will order the military to do something flagrantly illegal, or that he’ll govern as a strongman, ruining our democracy, and the military will have to decide to do something. (This is the Turkish model, as I argued) A coup against an elected leader is antithetical to democracy, but it also might be needed. It is a terrible, unfathomable situation. But it is fathomable, now.

We have no idea how this President will act or what he’ll do. We don’t know if we have the legal mechanisms to alter some of his worst behaviors. We don’t know if he’ll follow the Constitution, and impeachment is part of the Constitution. If he doesn’t follow that, then what?

The title of this post is about a border. I felt that on Jan 20th we crossed the border into another land, in a way. Our conceptions of ourselves have changed, because the norms that guided us don’t any longer. It’s a psychic shock, and I think the naked and sweaty corruption of yesterday’s assault on democratic norms is pushing us further across the line.

(B)eyond his ignorance, his vapid stupidity, his tireless and pathetic ego, is that he is the exact kind of dull and base grotesquerie we’d laugh at in other countries. There is nothing there but ego and avarice, brainless pronunciations in the service of cheap laughs from his braying sycophants, who react tumescently whenever he punches down. He’s the comic bouffant strongman, the kind you see in some wretched mountain land. And that’s the border we somehow crossed over.

The true psychic shock of this transition will, I think, be hard to measure, and hard to predict. But I do think, now that the elegies are over and Donald Trump is sworn in, placing his hand on the Lincoln Bible, that there will be a subtle breaking. Its effects won’t be felt all at once, of course. But our conception of who we are will change.

We’ll have a penny-ante Balkan-esque strongman in the White House instead of a President. We’ll have a witless dummy who thinks his smirks are poetry. We’ll have a man whose conception of leadership is finding and punishing enemies. Our country will be different. We’ll be different.

I wrote this in January. I was hoping to be wrong, and the resistance still makes me hopeful. I do think that this might really spur the GOP into action, partly because he made them look foolish (most of them praised Comey for the October letter with effusive partisan bonhomie). But we also might be slowly ground underfoot, one lie at a time, until we think the bottom of a shoe is the wideopen sky.