Category Archives: Personal

Information of a personal nature.

How Republics End

My Comments: We are now six months into the Trump presidency. I somehow knew it was going to be a challenge because the values that surround him are so very different from mine. What I didn’t expect was the utter fecklessness, wrapped inside a veneer of patriotism.

I now have many more unresolved fears about the world I’m leaving to my children. I can only hope they find a remedy for how our society will evolve after I’m gone. Unless there is a clear and viable understanding of what’s at stake, it may not matter that the next generation of voters show up in numbers at the polls. Who is there to say that if they do vote in large numbers, it will make a difference if their votes are not counted.

We are at an inflection point, and simply offering prayers will not help. It might make you feel better but those pulling the strings don’t give a damn how many prayers are offered. It may be that Paul Krugman is overreacting, as am I. But if we’re not, are you ready to give up without a fight?

Tell me how it might play out in four years if a Democrat wins the White House. Who’s to stop Congress and Donald Trump from the same stunt pulled last fall by the outgoing governor of North Carolina. They just wrote the playbook on this and the other side caved. They had no options left.

Paul Krugman \ DEC. 19, 2016

Many people are reacting to the rise of Trumpism and nativist movements in Europe by reading history — specifically, the history of the 1930s. And they are right to do so. It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.

But the ’30s isn’t the only era with lessons to teach us. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the ancient world. Initially, I have to admit, I was doing it for entertainment and as a refuge from news that gets worse with each passing day. But I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.

Here’s what I learned: Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.

On the first point: Roman politics involved fierce competition among ambitious men. But for centuries that competition was constrained by some seemingly unbreakable rules. Here’s what Adrian Goldsworthy’s “In the Name of Rome” says: “However important it was for an individual to win fame and add to his and his family’s reputation, this should always be subordinated to the good of the Republic … no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power.”

America used to be like that, with prominent senators declaring that we must stop “partisan politics at the water’s edge.” But now we have a president-elect who openly asked Russia to help smear his opponent, and all indications are that the bulk of his party was and is just fine with that. (A new poll shows that Republican approval of Vladimir Putin has surged even though — or, more likely, precisely because — it has become clear that Russian intervention played an important role in the U.S. election.) Winning domestic political struggles is all that matters, the good of the republic be damned.

And what happens to the republic as a result? Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.

Consider what just happened in North Carolina. The voters made a clear choice, electing a Democratic governor. The Republican legislature didn’t openly overturn the result — not this time, anyway — but it effectively stripped the governor’s office of power, ensuring that the will of the voters wouldn’t actually matter.

Combine this sort of thing with continuing efforts to disenfranchise or at least discourage voting by minority groups, and you have the potential making of a de facto one-party state: one that maintains the fiction of democracy, but has rigged the game so that the other side can never win.

Why is this happening? I’m not asking why white working-class voters support politicians whose policies will hurt them — I’ll be coming back to that issue in future columns. My question, instead, is why one party’s politicians and officials no longer seem to care about what we used to think were essential American values. And let’s be clear: This is a Republican story, not a case of “both sides do it.”

So what’s driving this story? I don’t think it’s truly ideological. Supposedly free-market politicians are already discovering that crony capitalism is fine as long as it involves the right cronies. It does have to do with class warfare — redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy is a consistent theme of all modern Republican policies. But what directly drives the attack on democracy, I’d argue, is simple careerism on the part of people who are apparatchiks within a system insulated from outside pressures by gerrymandered districts, unshakable partisan loyalty, and lots and lots of plutocratic financial support.

For such people, toeing the party line and defending the party’s rule are all that matters. And if they sometimes seem consumed with rage at anyone who challenges their actions, well, that’s how hacks always respond when called on their hackery.

One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.

But if there is any hope of redemption, it will have to begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are. American democracy is very much on the edge.

Make This Obstruction Thing Go Away

My Comments: Coming to terms with the chaos in Washington, DC is not easy. Especially if you are inclined to favor Democrat Party values and themes. The insights expressed here may help Democrats and Republicans alike. I simply know many of us on the left are not happy.

By Dahlia Lithwick / June 22, 2017

It will shock nobody to learn that Donald Trump doesn’t understand what lawyers do. If you are a “successful businessman,” it’s hardly surprising that you would conceive of lawyers as well-compensated plumbers and cocktail waitresses—folks who make crap disappear and bring you everything you want, wordlessly and with short skirts. If you are a Trump-style “successful businessman,” one who is apt to hinge his success on infinite lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, and the invitation to your creditors to file other lawsuits, your lawyers are pretty much just the guys and gals who empty your ashtrays of whatever debris is left behind once the court has ruled. If one lawyer won’t get you the outcome you desire, the next one surely will. With massive fees and important connections on offer, there will always be a nearly infinite pool of people willing to file some brief on your behalf.

As soon as Trump started to talk about lawyers and the law on the campaign trail last year, I recognized the type: a rich guy who had never been told “no.” If you have small children you, too, will recognize the type. It’s a developmental stage that usually ends at toddlerhood, but if the toddler has enough money, power, and influence, that person can grow up to be an adult who is a nightmare to represent. Before I was a journalist I briefly worked at a family law firm, and I occasionally had the professional obligation to assist extremely wealthy “successful businessmen” with their divorces and custody battles. Sometimes these folks were on the other side. Always, they held a view of lawyers I didn’t remember learning about in law school: They believed attorneys were the help and that laws were problems that—with enough help and enough money to buy even better help—could be made to go away.

It was a good life lesson, in that I came to understand that there are people who can at once achieve the greatest heights in corporate America and remain truly baffled that they can’t get sole custody just because they want their ex-wives to suffer. Some of these people had quite literally never encountered judges who had told them “no,” much less lawyers who said, “This is the statutory child support formula, and it’s not negotiable.” So when Trump began to suggest on the campaign trail that, say, Judge Gonzalo Curiel was a “hater,” or that Merrick Garland didn’t deserve a Supreme Court hearing, I was pretty unsurprised. Trump is every fancy divorce client ever, announcing that judges and lawyers either play for his team or get canned.

Much has been made of the fact that Trump fired his FBI Director James Comey either because of Comey’s Russia investigation or not because of it. Much has been made of the fact that he fired Sally Yates because he didn’t like the advice she offered about Michael Flynn and that he fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara because Bharara wouldn’t return his phone calls. Trump also makes endless businessman-y noises about his plans to fire Rod Rosenstein; Robert Mueller; and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. And in the meantime, he surrounds himself with other lawyers, many of whom have no experience in government service but seemingly infinite experience in emptying his ashtrays. The personal attorneys he’s recently brought on to deal with the FBI investigation (which he claims doesn’t exist, incidentally) include a fellow who appears to be engaging in the same branding and get-rich side gigs that Trump dabbles in himself and another lawyer who was on the losing side of the massive Trump University suit for which the president had to pay $25 million to settle claims from students who alleged they’d been defrauded. Nobody should be surprised, then, that Trump’s personal lawyer is now doing work that should be done by the White House Counsel’s office. We also shouldn’t be surprised that some of the Trump ashtray-emptiers now have to hire their own ashtray-emptiers. Nobody’s ever said “no” to those guys either.

This pattern goes a long way toward explaining why most serious Washington lawyers want nothing to do with the president’s dubious criminal defense dream team. Lawyers who have been trained to answer to the Constitution first and their wealthy clients far later don’t want to be in the position of having to tell the world’s largest preschooler that sometimes no bendy straw for the juice box really means no bendy straw for the juice box. And lawyers who have done far more with their careers than Sherpa a “successful businessman” through multiple bankruptcies may have a hard time explaining to the president that no amount of money or power in the world can make certain judges and some courts disappear.

In the end, the same intellectual underpinnings that gave us the “unitary executive” theory—the notion that the president has unbounded control over the executive branch and its agencies—plus the burgeoning belief that corporations are people and that money is speech have created the preconditions for a president built of equal parts money, power, and a return to Louis XIV’s conviction that “l’etat, c’est moi” (“the state is me”). And as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has been arguing, so long as dark money can continue to buy judicial seats, the president’s view that “successful businessmen” are above the law will increasingly be affirmed in the courts.

I suspect that if one asked Trump if there was any difference between the Office of Legal Counsel, the White House Counsel’s office, the attorney general, his divorce attorney, and the FBI director, he would say, without guile or uncertainty, that they all work for him. Perhaps the unitary executive crowd would agree. But as we inch nearer to a showdown between Mueller’s and the president’s views of what lawyers do each day, it’s worth considering that there is one place left in America in which lawyers in crumpled shirts work for a tiny fraction of what their law school classmates earn. In Washington, the “successful businessmen” may buy a lot of $100 signature cocktails at the Trump International Hotel bar, but lifelong government lawyers don’t usually empty ashtrays for anyone.

Trump’s robber baron view of all attorneys as fungible well-paid loyalists may someday prove to be the Washington way. But so long as the rumpled, badly paid government lawyers are sitting on the other side of the table, this won’t be as simple as a divorce settlement. And Trump still has to contend with the most rumpled and principled government lawyers of them all: the judges who haven’t been much impressed, at least thus far, with all the president’s men.

A Look Back at Michael Flynn

My Comments: With recent testimony from James Comey, the narrative we’ve been glued to for the past many months takes a new turn. Please understand that once elected, I wanted 45 to succeed. I’m not happy with all the talk of impeachment. It’s not in my best interest as a citizen of these United States to have a duly elected official fail. But the odds of that happening are increasingly likely.

I profoundly disagree with most of his policy suggestions, but know that we are a substantive and significant collection of caring human beings in this country and we will survive. This article was written a few weeks ago and is worth a revisit. It lends credence to the story about how we arrived at the point we’re at today.

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst \ Wed May 3, 2017

It’s been 11 weeks since Gen. Michael Flynn was ousted as national security adviser. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russians, lobbied on behalf of Turkey while an adviser to the Trump campaign, and is now seeking congressional immunity in exchange for his testimony about Russia and the election.

Not a great scenario for a new administration. But it’s one that could have been avoided had the new team actually done its homework about the man they nominated. Only they didn’t.

Consider this scenario, retold by multiple sources with knowledge: When Donald Trump’s initial transition team met for the first (and last) time two days after the November election victory with its executive committee — which included Trump family members — the group was visited by two people who were not expected to be at the session: Gen. Michael Flynn and Gen. Keith Kellogg. Apparently invited by Jared Kushner, the men were asked by both Kushner and Ivanka Trump to talk about the positions they would want in the new administration.

Kellogg wanted to be White House chief of staff, which was apparently a non-starter. And Flynn told the group there were only three positions he would accept: national security adviser, secretary of state, or secretary of defense. The trouble is, he was not on the transition team’s list for any of those jobs.

But he was on the family’s list.

The rest is history: The next day, transition chairman Chris Christie was ousted, his voluminous plans scrapped, and the rest of his team was gone shortly thereafter. And Flynn became the first big Trump appointment, named national security adviser within 10 days of Trump’s election — only to be gone just over three weeks into the Trump presidency.

The rise and fall of Flynn

The story of Flynn’s rise and fall — from loyal Trump adviser and campaign rabble-rouser to a very short-term top job in national security — is the story of an insular family takeover of a transition process the President himself never wanted. (In fact, one source says that Trump wanted to close it down, thought it was bad karma, but was told that transition preparations are actually in the candidate’s best interest.)

According to multiple sources familiar with discussions inside the first transition team, Flynn was viewed suspiciously. He was considered a “wild card” — someone who made officials uncomfortable. But because he had been so loyal to Trump they reluctantly put him on their list as the director of national intelligence.

After the election — and the Christie ouster — the transition was outsourced in name to Pence, who led a largely inexperienced team, including Trump’s family — especially his daughter and son-in-law. What’s more, this new transition was hobbled by inadequate vetting and preparation, falling woefully behind in nominations. And Flynn’s appointment as national security adviser was an easily avoidable mistake, say initial transition officials, but apparently no one was interested in listening to advice about extreme vetting.

Flynn was announced as national security adviser with the clear backing of the Trump family. But Flynn did not have something just as important: a complete, new, deeper internal vet of his associations and potential conflicts.

The new transition team had prepared “public source” vetting on potential nominees — which means anything available on the public record — but had not gone beyond that. And the ousted transition team had specifically warned the new administration not to nominate anyone officially until more robust investigations could be complete.
But it didn’t happen that way.

So Flynn was nominated, says one source with knowledge, “without anything deeper than a public vet.” Another source familiar with the transition added that Flynn “certainly wouldn’t have passed my vetting to be anything with a security clearance.” The lack of homework created obvious problems.

The main questions are these: Why didn’t the Trump administration know about either Flynn’s business or his Russian contacts? Wouldn’t a fuller vetting process have sent up red flares?

The explanation now from the Trump administration is that it’s the Obama administration’s fault. Flynn, they say, had the proper clearance because he was vetted by the Obama administration — having served as their Defense Intelligence Agency director before he was fired from that position in 2014.

Donald Trump explained it this way: “When they say we didn’t vet, well Obama I guess didn’t vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration.” And Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said there was no need to “rerun a background check” on someone who had a high position in intelligence” and “did maintain a high level clearance.” He said it’s done every five years, and can be updated which, he said, “occurred in this case.” So case closed.

More elaborate vetting?

Except that intelligence officials have told CNN and others that any high-level job like national security adviser should require a separate, more extensive background check, even for those with current security clearance. And as Flynn’s predecessor — former national security adviser Susan Rice — pointed out in an interview with Fareed Zakaria last week, those appointed to high positions normally receive “a separate and much more elaborate” check than a security clearance. “It gets into the financial information. It gets into your relationships and contacts. It gets into your behavior.”

During the campaign, Flynn was cleared, along with Christie, to accompany then-presidential nominee Trump to a briefing with intelligence officials. (“Maybe that’s the Obama vet they’re talking about,” speculated one source. “But that’s not the vet you should get if you are going to be national security adviser.”)

It was held at FBI headquarters in New York. One source with knowledge of the briefing says that “Trump acquitted himself well,” but that Flynn was “an abomination with an ax to grind” against the intelligence officials with whom he had formerly worked. Even Trump started having concerns about Flynn, this source says, but acknowledged his loyalty.

In the end, loyalty wasn’t enough. “Flynn was their responsibility,” one transition source says. “If they had truly vetted him before any announcement, none of this would have happened.”

A few more Laws from Murphy

A reminder: Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will.

So here are a few more:

Cohen’s Law: What really matters is the name you succeed in imposing on the facts, not the facts themselves.

Manly’s Maxim: Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

Murphy’s Corollary: Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.

O’Toole’s Commentary: Murphy was an optimist.

Rudin’s Law: In crises that force people to choose among alternative courses of action, most people will choose the worst one possible.

First Law of Revision: Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after – and only after – the plans are complete. (Often called the ‘Now They Tell Us’ Law)

Witten’s Law: Whenever you cut your fingernails, you will find a need for them an hour later.

Today’s Last Law: Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

Donald Trump’s Big Problem

My Comments: To my Trump supporting friends, this is not a rant against our president. Governments work, or don’t work, on vastly different rule sets than does private enterprise. Government is a public enterprise and the outcomes by their very nature will be markedly different. His skills as a businessman don’t necessarily translate effectively to the public world he now inhabits.

The words written by Matthew Yglasias below are the observations of someone well versed in the mechanisms by which decisions are made at the highest levels of government. These decisions almost always appear somewhere in the 24 hour news cycle, and which, to a greater or lesser degree, affect ALL of us regardless of our age or status.

by Matthew Yglesias on April 17, 2017

Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This became clear when he said he realized dealing with North Korea was “not so easy” after 10 minutes with the Chinese president.

Dealing with complicated problems is an occupational hazard faced by outsiders in all fields — and there’s never been a president who is more of an outsider to the realm of public policy. Consequently, a lot of his assertions about critical matters of public concern are based on … nothing at all. As president, he is fitfully coming into contact with concrete policy choices, actual information, and well-informed people. And it’s making a difference.

That’s the dynamic behind many of this spring’s jarring policy reversals on backing out of NATO, Chinese currency manipulation, and relations with Russia.

And to the extent that Trump is replacing ignorance with information and bad policy with good policy, it deserves to be celebrated rather than mocked. But the wild swings themselves are disturbing and have consequences. And Trump’s actual habits around issuing ignorant pronouncements and failing to obtain sound information don’t appear to have changed. Most fundamentally of all, Trump’s laziness and ignorance leave him easily manipulated.

Some of the things he’s “learned” since taking office aren’t true, like when Paul Ryan convinced him Republicans had to do health care reform before tax reform. And as his equal-opportunity openness to both new information and new “information” become clearer to all interested parties, the race will be on to manipulate the president and incite further chaos in American public policy.

Trump didn’t realize being president is complicated

Trump’s basic worldview, as articulated on the campaign trail, was that all the major dilemmas of American public policy had easy solutions. The reason the problems had not been solved already was that America’s political leaders were too stupid, too corrupt, or too “politically correct” to solve them.

This is a reasonably widespread view of things among the mass public, but as Trump has been discovering since taking office, it’s not true.
• Trump pronounced in February that “nobody knew health care could be this complicated” until he sat down to look at legislative options.
• Earlier this week, he explained that he’d changed his mind about North Korea after speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping because “after listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.”
• Having talked it over with his economic and foreign policy advisers, Trump has realized that China stopped manipulating its currency some time ago, and that slapping the country with an official currency manipulator designation would impair cooperation on other issues, like the aforementioned North Korea.

Trump’s reversal on Russia and Syria doesn’t yet have a pithy quote attached, but it’s a fundamentally similar issue. During the campaign, Trump again and again called for the United States to take a tougher line on Iran and a softer line on Russia. From a broad, hazy, distant view of the world heavily colored by ethnic nationalism and Islamophobia, this combination of ideas makes sense.
But the real world is, well, complicated. Trump’s desire to cozy up to the Gulf states and confront Iran led very quickly to conflict with Moscow — which anyone could have explained to candidate Trump had he cared to ask.

Trump decided the Export-Import Bank is good after talking it over with the CEO of Boeing, and a handful of high-level meetings have convinced him that NATO is worthwhile after all.

Trump still hasn’t learned how to learn

A lot of this is change for the better, but the fact that it keeps happening suggests Trump has not really internalized the key lesson.

Peter Baker of the New York Times reports that “only after he publicly accused Mr. Obama of having wiretapped his telephones last year did [Trump] ask aides how the system of obtaining eavesdropping warrants from a special foreign intelligence court worked.”

One particularly chilling example of Trump’s casualness about information gathering is that Michael Crowley and Josh Dawsey report he was asking aides for information about why Assad would use banned chemical weapons only after American Tomahawk missiles had destroyed Syrian military targets. The shocking truth is that it’s probably Trump’s own rhetoric about Syria in particular and chemical weapons in general that led Assad to think there would be no consequences for violating his 2013 agreement.

A clearer and better-organized policy process could potentially have avoided the gas attack, the subsequent perceived need for a US military response, and the inevitable worsening of relations with Russia that resulted from it.

The other turnabouts are also a little alarming. Like Trump, I am not deeply versed in East Asian security issues and long had a fuzzy impression that China could make North Korea do basically whatever it wanted. Then I went on a journalists’ tour of China, organized by the Chinese government, during which Chinese officials argued fairly persuasively that this is wrong. But I didn’t just take their word for it. Having had my thinking challenged, I went and checked to see if credible Western experts agreed — and indeed they do.

After all, one problem with simply changing your mind after talking to a well-informed person is that lots of well-informed people are nonetheless wrong or pushing a partial agenda. In my experience, business lobbyists on both sides of the Export-Import Bank issue are deeply informed — better informed than I am, for sure — and make somewhat persuasive arguments. Trump tends to resolve this kind of situation by simply agreeing with the last person he talked to.

Trump is “learning” things that aren’t true

The fundamental problem here is that what Trump “learns” is sometimes actually bad information.

Baker also reported that before becoming president, Trump “had never heard of the congressional procedures that forced him to push for health care changes before overhauling the tax code.”

One reason Trump had never heard of these procedures is that he was not familiar with congressional procedure. But another reason Trump didn’t realize that procedural rules in Congress forced him to push for health care changed before overhauling the tax code is that this isn’t true.

Since becoming president, Trump has several times referred vaguely to complicated statutory requirements that forced him to prioritize Obamacare repeal. His explanations of this are invariably fuzzy because in fact there is no statutory requirement for him to do health care reform before he works on tax reform.

Instead, this “health care before tax reform” idea was simply Paul Ryan’s legislative strategy. Ryan wants to pass a tax reform plan with a party-line vote, which means he needs to use the budget reconciliation process to avoid a Senate filibuster.

You can’t write a reconciliation bill that increases the deficit over the long term. So Ryan’s plan is to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which, among other things, would sharply reduce taxes on the rich, but would avoid increasing the deficit since the cuts will be offset by spending less on insurance for the poor and middle class. Then, having locked that tax cut into place, Republicans could move on to a revenue-neutral tax reform using the lower revenue number as the baseline.

Ryan has his reasons for wanting to do it this way, and those reasons to involve procedural arcana. But nothing is being forced on anyone here. It’s simply a choice he made and then apparently tricked the president into endorsing.

Things are going to keep getting harder

Trump is currently dealing with extremely difficult issues for the simple reason that he is the president of the United States and the issues the president deals with are generally complicated and difficult. But in all honesty, he hasn’t yet handled any truly hard cases.

Even something as tough as a North Korean nuclear test or a Syrian chemical weapon strike is, fundamentally, a ripe issue that the professionals in government have had a long time to chew over. What inevitably happens over the course of an administration is that some genuinely unpredictable crises emerge. There could be an infectious disease outbreak, or revolution in the capital of a friendly autocracy, or a recession, or a bank failure, or a terrorist attack.

Unforeseen crises truly put a leader and his team to the test, drastically altering the policy space and creating opportunities to push new agendas.

Sometimes, as with the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014, a crisis can be successfully resolved by persevering with an approach that is met with initial criticism on Capitol Hill and cable news. Other times, a crisis can be an opportunity for people with strong opinions and poor judgment to push the country into a reckless misadventure, as with the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

Based on what we know of Trump’s decision-making, it’s difficult to imagine him doing the former and very easy to imagine him doing the latter.

Donald Trump Is Not Having Fun

My Comments: Please understand I am not interested in throwing gasoline on an existing fire. I am interested in understanding how we got to where we are and how we might influence the future for the betterment of EVERYONE OF US.

Yes, I did vote for Hillary and did not vote for DT. I didn’t much like Hillary but as someone trained and experienced in evaluating existential risks, I felt there was a greater threat to my future well being, and that of my children and grandchildren with DT in the White House than if HT was there.

I’m OK with a fundamental evaluation of the assumptions that permeate out society. What, exactly, are our values as a society and how do those manifest themselves as a nation? That includes how we treat our elderly and less capable citizenry, climate change, health care, the environment and our role on the planet, both economically and militarily.

DT is a disruptor and if he is to be the initiator of this re-assessment, I can live with that.

But so far I’ve seen gross negligence, incompetence, and the inability to identify people to populate the various agencies that define us as a nation in the 21st century. The unanswered questions about Russia and their influence on our re-assessment I find troubling. The process of governing cannot simply disappear from the scene, but that’s what appears to be happening. How this will all play out is anyone’s guess, but play out it will and all of us must make our thoughts heard over the next months and years.

By Katy Waldman \ March 21, 2017

If your name is Donald Trump, the past few weeks have brought a crescendo of bummers. Your party’s vaunted health care plan appears dead on arrival, beloved by none and mocked by all. The “fake news” has continued to harp on Russia, emboldened by treacherous leakers and disrespectful TV comics. You dragged yourself to yet another meet-and-greet with a foreign leader whose professorial eloquence made you feel like a shlub. This time, it was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who proceeded to shame you and your Muslim ban with a flowery ode to America’s history of welcoming refugees. “Four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp,” Kenny said, as you steamed and darkened like a charcoal briquette, “we [the Irish] were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans.”

Then, the crowning indignity: As reports swirled about your record low approval ratings, you had to play nice with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman who dares to disagree with you on trade and immigration but not in a sexy, impertinent way. (Flashbacks to that nasty Hillary Clinton.) After a private conversation during which you could neither tweet nor watch Fox News, you were forced to prolong the unpleasantness by inviting the press into the Oval Office for questions and photos.

Let the record show that President Trump, in this moment, is not having fun. The bulk of his torso caves in on itself like the imploding Affordable Care Act. As Merkel leans toward him for a handshake—a perfunctory gesture of politeness—Trump angles his body in the other direction and refuses to meet her eyes. His shoulders hunch, his arms hang limply, he shifts uneasily from side to side. They can’t make me! he seems to sulk. Being president stinks. I want to play golf and yell at babies.

Trump does not quite have it in him to leave the room. His tantrum is equal parts fury, self-loathing, and a desire for love and approval. When a large enough star collapses, it becomes a black hole, thirsty for all the light and warmth it can swallow. This president is the teeniest, tiniest of black holes. He doesn’t have the gravity to attract anyone or anything. He is enraged, exposed, alone.

Before the Merkel summit, Trump’s handshake mostly made the news for its aggro endlessness. (The president manhandled Japan’s Shinzo Abe for 19 seconds.) That said, Trump has declined to clasp ladyfingers before. During the second presidential debate, he and Hillary Clinton sparked a mild scandal by forgoing the traditional greeting at the top of the show.

Back then, however, Trump smiled. He stood tall, perhaps anticipating the highlight reels his fans would create. He knew he was flouting convention and seemed delighted to play the rogue. On the campaign trail, Trump was a troll with a gleam in his eye, mischievously selling himself as an alternative to the pious bullshit of politics-as-usual. Standing across from Clinton, he wasn’t so much skipping the handshake as “skipping the handshake,” polishing his brand through a kind of kayfabe that mingled ironic posturing with genuine cruelty.

At rallies, candidate Trump zigzagged hypnotically between charm and menace. After an infant interrupted his speech, he cooed that he loved babies. “What a baby. What a beautiful baby,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, you know?” Then, in an instant, he transformed into a baby-hater: “I was only kidding. You can get that baby out of here.” Which was Trump the character, and which was Trump the person? Speaking to reporters in July, he quipped, “I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening—I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” But he couldn’t possibly be inviting a foreign power to hack his electoral opponent, right?

As Emily Nussbaum argued in her essay “How Jokes Won the Election,” the GOP nominee’s willingness to claim he was “just teasing” allowed him to smuggle evil into the mainstream. We thought the outrageousness was part of the act. In retrospect, we fell for a man using irony to veil his true hatred and bitterness.

Now that veil is gone. Having checked his bag of winks at the White House door, Trump has morphed into a professional angry person. He seethes at his staff. He fumes at celebrities. He threatens other countries. He denounces the judiciary. The typical Trump press conference no longer consists of sly innuendo and catchy slogans. Instead, we watch Trump rail against the Democrats and declare BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.”

On Twitter, insult comedy (“Happy Thanksgiving to all—even the haters and losers!”) has become conspiracy-mongering (“This is McCarthyism!” “FAKE NEWS.”) Trump’s online persona “seems to have shifted from puckish to paranoid,” mused the New York Times on Tuesday, in one of many articles documenting his mounting rage. Even attempts at humor, such as the president’s suggestion that he and Merkel might bond over being wiretapped by Obama, read as poorly disguised resentment. They evoke candidate Trump’s cringeworthy routine at the Al Smith dinner, which appeared to be less about diffusing tension than exorcising demons.

Why is Trump so out of sorts? It could be that he’s simply found, in fire-and-brimstone Donald, his latest role. Yet it seems equally likely that Trump has stumbled into an Aesop’s fable of his own making. Having received what he so fervently wished for, he’s now found that leading the free world is a miserable chore. Trump, who loves Trump more than he loves anything else, used to jet around selling that self-love to voters. Now he’s stuck in meetings pondering policies and ideologies that matter a whole lot more to the American people than they matter to him. As a candidate, he got to accuse the establishment of trashing the country. He played hype-man for a future in which he’d refresh our ideals. Now he’s accountable in the present to all the men and women whose lives haven’t become fairy tales since he took office. That’s not fun. That’s a full-time job, and that’s the one thing Donald Trump has never wanted.

We used to have six more letters in the English alphabet

Brexit-4My Comments: WHAT THE ETH?

By Hannah Poindexter

Along quaint New England streets, you’ll probably spot a sign or two declaring itself “Ye Olde Tavern” or “Ye Old Soda Shoppe.” But before you adopt a British accent and order a pint of ale inside, there’s a bit of history you should know.

Phrases like ye olde are actually just some of the late 19th century’s first marketing ploys, meant to evoke a sentimental connection to older times. And ye has its own complicated story—based in the history of the alphabet.

English has always been a living language, changing and evolving with use. But before our modern alphabet was established, the language used many more characters we’ve since removed from our 26-letter lineup. The six that most recently got axed are:

Eth (ð)

The y in ye actually comes from the letter eth, which slowly merged with y over time. In its purest form, eth was pronounced like the th sound in words like this, that, or the. Linguistically, ye is meant to sound the same as the but the incorrect spelling and rampant mispronunciation live on.

Thorn (þ)

Thorn is in many ways the counterpart to eth. Thorn is also pronounced with a th sound, but it has a voiceless pronunciation—your vocal cords don’t vibrate when pronouncing the sound—like in thing or thought.

Today, the same th letter combo is used for both þ and ð sounds. There is a pronunciation difference—thorn is a voiceless pronunciation and eth is voiced—but that’s just something you pick up as you learn to speak. Of course, you’ll never hear about this in school, because that’s English for you.

Wynn (ƿ)

Wynn was incorporated into our alphabet to represent today’s w sound. Previously, scribes used two u characters next to each other, but preferred one character instead and chose wynn from the runic alphabet. The double u representation became quite popular and eventually edged wynn out. Ouch.

Yogh (ȝ)

Yogh was historically used to denote throaty sounds like those in Bach or the Scottish loch. As English evolved, yogh was quickly abandoned in favor of the gh combo. Today, the sound is fairly rare. Most often, the gh substitute is completely silent, as in though or daughter.

Ash (æ)

Ash is still a functional letter in languages like Icelandic and Danish. In its original Latin, it denoted a certain type of long vowel sound, like the i in fine. In Old English, it represented a short vowel sound—somewhere between a and e, like in cat. In modern English, æ is occasionally used stylistically, like in archæology or medæval, but denotes the same sound as the letter e.

Ethel (œ)

Ethel also once represented a specific pronunciation somewhere between the two vowels o and e, though it was originally pronounced like the oi in coil. Like many clarifying distinctions, this letter also disappeared in favor of a simpler vowel lineup (a, e, i, o, u) with many different pronunciations.