Bibi and The Donald

January 28th, 2019

It is hard, these days, to miss the striking similarities between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and President Donald “The Donald” Trump.
It goes well beyond their nicknames.
Both of these embattled leaders are facing multiple investigations, both have launched relentless assaults on the media, both use the megaphones of their offices to push a nationalist, autocratic approach to power and both, of course, are running for re-election, Bibi in April and The Donald, presumably, in 2020.
Bibi is currently under the Israeli state prosecutor’s microscope; The Donald is a featured player in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Recent reports from Israel suggest that Bibi will be indicted for bribery in a month or so, before his April 9 re-election bid to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history; The Donald, aka “Individual 1,” has already been depicted as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Michael Cohen case and could well be the subject of a sealed indictment from the Southern District of New York, now universally described on cable news as SDNY.
Both men have dismissed the investigations as groundless witch hunts mounted by their respective “deep states.”
And both leaders are curiously close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bibi has traveled repeatedly to Moscow to confer with Putin on the growing Iranian presence in Syria; The Donald has met the Russian leader five times and had nothing but kind words for him since his 2016 campaign. One major difference: Bibi has not, as far as is known, been negotiating behind the scenes to build a Netanyahu Tower in Moscow.
When it comes to attacking the media, both men have launched full-scale campaigns. Bibi has complained early and often about his treatment in the feisty Israeli press and broadcast networks. His Likud Party recently unveiled a splashy election billboard featuring huge pictures of four leading Israeli journalists with the slogan: “They won’t Decide.”
The Donald, of course, has repeatedly denounced the U.S. media as “fake news” and “enemies of the people.” Over the weekend, the President celebrated the staff cuts at numerous news operations. One minor difference: Bibi is not known to spend hours each day watching cable news and tweeting his reactions.
The two men have been and remain politically close: Bibi has applauded The Donald at every opportunity, Trump has taken page after page from the Israeli playbook by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, an empty, but symbolic move that Bibi has sought for years. If there is anything else Bibi wants from The Donald, apparently he just has to ask.
Both men are adept at manufacturing crises, real and imagined, to distract attention from other problems. The Donald has conjured caravans of drug dealers and criminals assaulting the southern border in order to build support for his Wall; Bibi has repeatedly and dramatically pointed to Iran as an existential threat to Israel, launched multiple attacks on Hamas forces in Gaza, confronted Hezbollah along the Lebanese border and mounted hundreds of air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Many of these threats to Israel are real; confronting them aggressively tends to divert the public’s attention from other, politically awkward headlines.
Finally, both men are gifted political operators: Bibi became Israel’s youngest prime minister when he served in the late 1990’s, returned to office in 2009 and has beaten back repeated challenges over the last decade; Trump pulled off an amazing political upset in 2016 and has dominated the headlines and airwaves ever since.
At this point, the public opinion polls in Israel favor Bibi’s re-election, albeit by a narrow margin; Trump’s prospects are less promising. The President’s standing in the polls descended to new lows after the abortive government shutdown. But it is too early to count him out for a second term. No appealing Democratic candidate has emerged from the growing crowd of declared and undeclared, and the 2020 election is a political lifetime away.


Putin’s Delight

January 19th, 2019

Even in the midst of a cold Moscow winter, Vladimir Putin must be feeling warm and satisfied as he reads the headlines these days from Europe and the United States.
I suspect he smiles to himself as he watches Britain’s Brexit debacle, Emanuel Macron’s desperate “listening tour,” Germany’s sagging economy and the nationalist, anti-immigrant, right-wing rumblings coming from Italy, Hungary, Poland and beyond. Yes, he must say to himself, yes, indeed.
And he no doubt feasts his eyes on the chaos in Washington: a shuttered government, a paralyzed Congress, daily Trumpian tantrums, trade wars, counter-intelligence investigations and roiling markets. Yes, yes indeed. It is all going according to plan, Putin says to his aides and cyberwarfare specialists.
Putin knew it would be a long-term project to destabilize the West; he never thought the wheels would start coming off so soon. He certainly never dreamed that Trump would suddenly pull U.S. troops from Syria, creating an inviting vacuum for Russia and Iran to fill. It’s simply too much to hope for.
So, now the stage is set for more Russian adventures in Ukraine, increased pressure on the Baltic states and more mischief in Syria and Afghanistan.
What a happy new year it is turning out to be!


In the Wake of a Shooting

July 11th, 2018

It is cold comfort, of course, but the murderous assault on The Annapolis Capital’s newsroom on June 28 was a colossal failure for the shooter.
If the shooter’s goal was to silence The Capital’s voice, he obviously failed at that. The paper has not missed an issue.
If he hoped to settle some years-old score, some twisted grievance against a columnist and an editor long gone from the paper, he missed entirely. Both were elsewhere when he attacked the newsroom.
If he thought he could echo the “fake news” and “enemy of the people” accusations that are hurled at President Trump’s rallies, he did not.
If, most importantly, he thought he could isolate the Capital from Annapolis by killing five of its finest people, his attack had exactly the opposite effect.
In fact, the tragedy instead vividly illustrated the extraordinary bond that exists between a community and its newspaper that, in the case of The Capital and Annapolis, has been built up in good times and bad over nearly three centuries.
That bond was expressed in the universal horror among Annapolitans at the first news of the attack, by the poignant candlelit vigil down Main Street the night after the shooting, by the flags at half-staff, by the applause that welcomed the contingent of Capital staffers in the July 4 parade and by the outpouring of sympathy and support that continues every day in every issue of The Capital.
That bond between the community and its newspaper was not nearly so obvious before the shooter acted. (Note: I’m deliberately not using the shooter’s name, lest he get some of the notoriety that he apparently craves.) Like any town and its newspaper, there have been controversies and even angry arguments over specific issues over the years between the Capital and some of its readers. Such battles are inevitable and doubtless will not stop.
But we can now see, from the public reaction to this attack, that the people of Annapolis care deeply about their newspaper and consider it an essential, integral part of the community.
“Journalism Matters” t-shirts dotted the July 4 parade, along with others that read: “Press ON Annapolis, “Annapolis Strong” and “Respect the Locals.” Those sentiments may not be surprising given what has happened, but they were not apparent or so close to the surface before the June 28 attack. The Annapolis public clearly sees the journalists at The Capital as what they are, not “enemies of the people,” but the people themselves.
The question has been raised whether the shooter was motivated or inspired by the hostile anti-media attitudes expressed nationally these days. Only he can answer that definitively, but put me down as skeptical. From everything we have learned about the shooter’s long-standing grudge with the paper, his assault appears to have been a personal act of vengeance rather than a political statement. He was trying to settle a personal score, not make some broader comment about the media. Even in that, he failed.
The true victims, of course, are the five who perished: Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, editor and columnist; John McNamara, 56, sportswriter; Rebecca Smith, 34, sales assistant and Wendi Winters, 65, features writer. And their families. And the two staffers who were injured, but survived.
The people of Annapolis have already shown their appreciation of the victims and will continue do so through the Families Fund that has been established. A fund-raising concert is being planned for later in the summer.
These and other efforts will illustrate again and again the palpable bond between the city and its newspaper that seems stronger than ever after the shooting.


A Vigil

July 1st, 2018

In the end, after two nightmarish days set off by the mad shooting June 28 in the newsroom of the Annapolis Capital, after countless questions in a score of radio and television interviews, after trying to explain the unexplainable, it was the candlelit vigil down Main Street on Friday night that got to me. As a life-long journalist, I am supposed to be detached from the stories I cover, but this one hit my soul.
The vigil marchers were silent as they headed toward Annapolis’ City Dock. The respectful spectators on the sidewalks barely made a sound.
“Honor the journalists,” said one speaker at the rally of the five who died, of the injured and of those that worked tirelessly to put out a fine Friday edition of the paper under the most difficult of circumstances. In the darkness, the audience applauded and the intimate bond between the people of Annapolis and The Annapolis Capital was palpable.
Speaker Mike Busch, the delegate for Annapolis, spoke of his hometown paper – “The Evening Capital,“ he called it, as it once was known. He said he knew four of the five journalists “who were murdered.” “Murdered,” he repeated, “there is no other way to put it.” He was right.
As a guest columnist who has written in this space for the last three-plus years, I am not a member of the Capital staff, nor can I speak for them. But I’d like to think that I am a distant cousin in the Capital family and certainly I am a colleague.
As such, I fielded dozens of requests Thursday and Friday for interviews from near and far. News organizations called me for comment because editor Rick Hutzell and the surviving staff had rightly decided to devote all their energy into putting out their newspaper. “I’ll let my column speak for me,” Rick explained to me in an email Saturday morning. The “speechless,” nearly blank Capital editorial page on Friday was eloquent in its emptiness.
The breadth of national and international interest in the Annapolis story was remarkable. I got requests for comment from all over the United States, from Canada, the U.K., Australia and Brazil. This assault on journalists and journalism resonated far and wide.
As it happened, Jared Ramos’s attack appeared to be an act of personal vengeance, not partisan politics. He seemed to be settling a score against the newspaper, not scoring points in some ideological debate about “fake news.”
The journalists Ramos killed were not “enemies of the people,” they were “the people.” They were people doing a job that is worthy and protected by the first amendment to the constitution.
May they rest in peace.


A Father, A Son and an Assassination – 50 years later

June 6th, 2018

Fifty years ago this week, it fell to me to tell Sirhan B. Sirhan Sr. that his son had been identified as the assassin who had killed Robert F. Kennedy the day before in Los Angeles. It was a bizarre encounter in which, by meeting the father, I learned a bit about the troubled life and tortured mind of the son.
It was June 6, 1968, the day Kennedy passed away after lingering for hours after the shooting. I was not in Los Angeles. I was thousands of miles away in Israel, where I was a correspondent for The New York Times. I was stunned by the news about Kennedy, whom I had known and covered when he ran for the Senate in New York.
I was attending a cocktail reception at the home of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel that afternoon when Ambassador Walworth Barbour took me into his study, closed the door and told me that he had just learned that the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan Jr., had been born and raised in Jerusalem and that his father still lived in a West Bank village just outside Ramallah.
I thanked the ambassador, left the reception and raced to Jerusalem. With a translator and the Israeli military escort that was required to travel in the West Bank after dark in those post-war days, I arrived at the Sirhan house about 10 p.m. and rapped loudly on the door. After a minute, a light came on and Sirhan Sr. appeared, pulling a pair of pants over his pajamas.
I identified myself and though I am sure he was confused about being woken up this way, he invited me in and insisted, in the tradition of Arab hospitality, on making coffee. Sitting at his kitchen table, I asked Sirhan if he had heard the news about Kennedy. He said he had and thought it terrible. I asked if he had heard the name of the assassin. No, he said, he had gone to bed before that news.
Taking a deep breath, I asked Sirhan if he had sons. Yes, he said proudly, five. I pushed my notebook across the table and asked him to write the names of his sons in order of their birth. He did, including the fourth of the five, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan Jr. I tapped my finger on that name and told him that was the name of the man who had been identified as the assassin.
Sirhan Sr. was stunned. He gave me a hard, disbelieving look and shook his head no. But he could see I was serious. Suddenly, he started to rant and cry, first about how much he admired the Kennedy family, then about how his fourth son couldn’t possibly have been the shooter.
“He was the best of the boys,” he said frantically, sobbing now. “He was the smartest, with the best grades. I was proudest of him.”
Then the father’s face darkened. “If he did this dirty thing, then he should hang,” he shouted angrily. “Kennedy could have been a great president, he could have finished what his brother started.”
Sirhan went on and on like this non-stop, back and forth, railing now, more and more excited, switching between how wrong it had been for Kennedy to be cut down and how good a boy his fourth son was.
By now it was one a.m. I excused myself and rushed back to Jerusalem to write my story
The next day, I located Sirhan Jr.’s former school, the Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran School in the Old City. The headmaster confirmed that the boy had been a promising student, near the top of his class.
But the headmaster also said the Sirhan home was deeply troubled. The parents had terrible fights, he said. Sirhan Sr. had lost his job after the 1948 war, blamed it on the Israelis, became emotionally unstable and beat his wife and children repeatedly. The family finally split up and the mother, Mary, got financial help from a Christian missionary group to move with the children to the United States in 1957. They settled in California.
From the headmaster’s account, and Sirhan Sr.’s outbursts, it was not hard to imagine the roots of Sirhan Jr.’s bitterness, his anger at Israel and even his fury at the Kennedy family, whom he apparently saw as important supporters of Israel. It was that anger that motivated him to act on June 5, 1968, the first anniversary of the Six Day War.


News From Annapolis…

May 2nd, 2018

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley announces new chief of staff

Mayor Gavin Buckley Monday announced a new chief of staff to take over after current chief Jane Hruska’s departure Wednesday.

Buckley named Susanne “Susy” Stout Smith, an Eastport resident, to replace Hruska on Thursday. Hruska plans to move to New Mexico.

Smith served as chief of staff for Norman Mineta when he was a U.S. congressman and Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton. She also advised Mineta when he was Transportation Secretary under President George W. Bush.

Smith also was chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and legislative director of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

“Susy brings a great depth of knowledge and federal experience to our team, complementing a staff with outstanding local, county, and state expertise,” Buckley said in a statement.

Smith also served President Jimmy Carter; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Santa Clara County, California; and the City of San Jose, California. She belonged to the Eastport Civic Association and West Shady Side Neighborhood Association.

Her salary is still being determined, city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien said.

Smith is the wife of Terence Smith, a retired CBS White House correspondent and former columnist for The Capital.


No Winners in the Current Age of Cynicism

April 8th, 2018

Have you noticed something?
We are living in an Age of Cynicism so deep and pervasive that it is distorting our politics, our laws and our society. It is the new normal. What was once clearly wrong now seems ok. Or, at least, “the way things are these days.”
The cynicism spreads across political parties, Congress, the courts, the gun lobby, the media, big business; you name it.
The cynic-in-chief, of course, is President Donald Trump. His lying, his Twitter storms, his crass character assassinations (“Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ James Comey, Little Rocket Man,” etc.) seemed funny at first, then cheap and crude, now, most destructive of all, routine. “That’s Trump,” we say among ourselves, and shrug, With every Trumpian rant, magnified by our cynical indifference, our political discourse descends into the toilet.
Fair question: who is more cynical? Trump, or those of us who voted for him knowing that he was a narcissistic fraud? Some, I suppose, didn’t pay enough attention during the campaign to realize that he was playing a joke on us and supported him in the hope that he really would do the preposterous things he said, like bring back coal and manufacturing jobs, make the economy grow by four or five per cent or magically curb illegal immigration by building a “beautiful wall.”
But what about the others who voted for him knowing he was wholly unequipped for the job? What about those who held their nose and voted for him in order to feather their own nests? Who, really, is the most cynical of us all?
The Republicans in Congress might deserve the title. The Mitch McConnells, the Paul Ryans and the others that indulge the President’s whims and outbursts in feigned pained silence and then vote to embrace policies they know are wrong in order to get their agenda signed into law. So what if the gun lobby makes a mockery of the deaths in school shootings by accepting meaningless “reforms” that do nothing serious to stop the carnage? So what?
Nor are the Democrats innocent. “Chuck and Nancy” may not be as consciously cynical as Mitch and Paul, but those in the minority rarely are. They stake out more progressive positions, call a press conference or two, then throw up their hands as the majority adopts its agenda. Meanwhile, the national Democratic Party tacks to the center to win special elections in Georgia and Pennsylvania as it readies a head-snapping move to the left for 2020. Or not, depending on what will win.
The Supreme Court defined cynicism with its Citizens United decision trashing the concept of campaign finance regulation, arguing that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Its justifications echo the corrupt politics behind Bush v, Gore in 2000 and the notion that the Second Amendment, despite what it says, guarantees the gun rights of individuals rather than “well-regulated militias.” Retired Justice John Paul Stevens finally said what must be said: repeal the Second Amendment, which was never meant by the founders to mean what the NRA says it means.
The media: what is more cynical than the excuses Fox News makes for Trump? Is it MSNBC, when the entire channel is devoted to tearing Trump down? Or talk radio? They are all competing for ratings, adopting the ideology they believe will attract more audience.
Cynicism is not new in Washington, of course, nor unique to the Trump era. LBJ was deeply cynical when he lied to the country about Vietnam because he didn’t want to be the first American president to lose a war; George W. was cynical when he lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to take out Saddam. Lying is not a new presidential activity.
And, even in an Age of Cynicism, there are striking exceptions among us: the young people demonstrating against gun violence in the schools, volunteers who commit time and money to make things better, charitable groups here and abroad. There are bright spots, to be sure.
But the most cynical act of all is to take cynicism for granted. Then we all lose.


Annapolis: A Mayor in Motion

March 19th, 2018

Three months into his mayoralty, Gavin Buckley is in the vision business. Still. Just like his campaign last fall. Morning ’til night, the Mayor is out drumming up support for a vision of Annapolis remade.
In separate conversations several weeks ago and this past week, he described his vision of a different, more vibrant Annapolis:
” A remodeled, more inviting Market House, open and operating, he hopes, by May 1
” A repaved and redesigned Main Street, with a bike and trolley lane and expanded sidewalk dining
” Pedestrian and bikeways across busy thoroughfares like Forest Drive and Spa Road
” Improved public housing and expanded after-school programs.
” Swimmable creeks and coves
” Most ambitious of all, a completely redesigned and inviting City Dock area that he hopes will prove to be a magnet for Annapolitan families and visitors alike.

It’s an expansive agenda and being Annapolis, it will take time. Nothing happens quickly here, nothing. Especially not when you have to build coalitions among preservationists who treasure this lovely city’s rich history, and others who respect the past but want to embrace the future. Molasses, it seems to me, moves faster.
But Gavin Buckley is a mayor in motion. He has been out rallying support at community meetings and visiting, when he can, innovative city redevelopments elsewhere. Just recently he went to see and admired The Wharf, the completely transformed, newly hip waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment area in Southwest Washington D.C. He came back with photos on his cellphone that he displays to anyone who will take the time to look. Just ask him.
Of course, it all takes money. And he still has to balance a budget, negotiate with city employee unions, hire a new city manager and deal with all the daily crises that arise in this or any busy community. Inevitably, there will be opposition to many or most of his ideas.
But he is nothing if not enthusiastic.
“I’m loving it,” he says of his still-new job. “I’m going at twice the pace I did during the campaign, which I didn’t think possible.”
Of all of Buckley’s visions, he is most excited about the transformation he wants to see take place around City Dock, where a parking lot currently occupies the best real estate in Annapolis and cheapens the waterfront view.
In its place, he sees a piazza, a hardscape public plaza that he wants to call Lafayette Square, with a spray park for children and open seating, a promenade around the waterfront, a pumping station and two-level underground garage, a “Cannery” arts center like the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and, as an anchor, a boutique “Maritime” hotel with a penthouse-level terrace bar overlooking the harbor. A raised sea wall would provide an added three feet of protection against the sort of “nuisance flooding” that inundated the area during high tides last week.
In Buckley’s vision, a public-private partnership between the city and a development team led by the entrepreneur Harvey Blonder, the Washington architect Peter A. Fillat III and others would invest some $65 million in the hotel and underground garage. The city’s contribution would be the land, probably as a lease.
If the details can be worked out, the National Sailing Hall of Fame could be housed in the hotel or an adjacent building.
A few weeks ago, it looked as if Newport, Rhode Island, which thinks of itself as the “Yachting Capital of America,” might lure the financially-troubled Hall of Fame with an offer of a large waterfront building.
Not so fast: what seemed initially like a generous proposal has been watered down and has not yet been approved by the Newport City Council, so the Hall of Fame may well remain in Annapolis, especially if Gavin Buckley has anything to say about it.
“I hope we can keep it here in Annapolis,” he said last week. “It’s added value to our identity as the ‘Sailing Capital of America.”
That remains to be seen. But the Mayor in Motion wants movement, not the “analysis paralysis” that he says has been the city’s specialty in years past.
“We have a wonderful, beautiful city,” he says. “But we can make it better.”


A Skeptical View of Trump

February 13th, 2018

If you are wondering how the rest of the world views the United States a year into the Age of Trump, a small, unscientific sampling was available last week aboard Crystal Symphony, a cruise ship sailing the waters off Western Australia.
The occasion was a panel discussion: “Ocean Views: Perspectives from Four Continents” in front of several hundred passengers who hailed from North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The panelists included your faithful correspondent from the U.S.; Michael, a British historian; Danielle, an Australian olympic gold medalist in water polo and Herta, a woman banking executive and lecturer from Nairobi, Kenya.
To a person, the international panelists said they were confounded by the first year’s performance of President Trump and dismayed by its impact on the rest of the world.
“It’s hard to understand what he is doing, much less why he is doing it,” said Herta.
The panelists lamented the loss of U.S. leadership in the world, expressed concern about the rise of China and alarm about the ongoing war of words between North Korea and the Trump Administration. The Doomsday Clock, they said, is rightly set at two minutes to midnight and the world has every reason to be anxious.
The discussion took place as the ship sailed the warm, blue waters of the Indian Ocean to Perth, the capital of Western Australia and, as it happens, the sun-drenched childhood home of Gavin Buckley, the new mayor of Annapolis. This being the height of the Australian summer, Perth was about 50 degrees warmer last week than Annapolis and the beautiful beaches were busy.
As part of the discussion, the moderator polled the audience on how they would vote for U.S. president today versus a year ago. On this same ship on November 10, 2016, two days after the U.S. election, the passengers aboard at that time chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 52-to-38 per cent. Last week, the passengers currently aboard choose Clinton over Trump in a purely theoretical rematch 47 to 41 per cent. Not the same passengers, of course, but a significant switch in sentiment none the less.
Why the sour view of Trump? “We know him better now,” an Australian woman said.
Using hand-held polling devices, the passengers expressed their view on several other topics. By substantial margins, they said the ME TOO campaign in the United States and elsewhere was growing and likely to change the way men and women relate to each other over the long term. By equally big numbers, they said they saw a future for public broadcasting in an era of fake news, fragmentation and political polarization.
With an eye towards the upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea, the passengers and the panelists lamented the impact of doping on the Olympic movement and were pessimistic about the chances of curbing it. They also criticized the interference of international politics in the Olympics, but agreed that the prospect of North and South Korea marching into the opening ceremony under the same flag might reduce tensions on that peninsula much the way ping pong diplomacy helped thaw relations between the United States and China a generation ago.
The passengers were not unanimous on any of these topics, nor are they necessarily representative of a broader view, but they hail from more than 20 countries and share a similar, almost shocked view of President Trump and his foreign policy.
Danielle the Olympian said Australians in general were in disbelief over the headlines from Washington these days.
Herta the executive from Nairobi said the Trump Administrations’ skepticism on climate change was a huge concern. She said that as the United States deliberately shrinks its role in international affairs, China is rushing in to fill the gap, especially in Africa, which she described as the fastest growing continent with the greatest untapped potential. “China is buying up industries and investing,” she said. “Where is the United States?”
Michael the British historian agreed. “China is playing the long game,” he said, “the U.S. is focused on the short game. That alone changes the balance of power.”


Where You Stand is Where You Sit on Trump

January 14th, 2018

The first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration seems a good time to take stock of the first full year of the most chaotic, disruptive, unpredictable presidency ever.
Our “very stable genius” in the Oval Office assures us repeatedly on Twitter that he is “the greatest” and that no president before him has achieved so much in so short a time. Neither assertion is demonstrably true, but candid self-analysis has never been our leader’s strong suit. Self-absorption, yes; self-criticism, not so much.
Sui generis was one of the first latin phrases the nuns taught me in St. Raymond’s School in Lynbrook, Long Island. It means singular, unique, nothing quite like it. I’ll give President Trump that much. He is sui generis. None of the 44 presidents before him compares and I doubt any that follow – not even a President Oprah – will seem the same.
None is likely to match his loose relationship with the truth, with facts, with the constitution and the English language, even though he tells us that he “is, like, really smart.” None of his predecessors, not even George W. Bush, who struggled with “strategery,” is his equal as a stream-of-consciousness phrase-maker. None would refer to Haiti and parts of Africa as “shithole countries.”
Now comes Michael Wolff, whose new book, “Fire and Fury Inside the Trump White House,” reports that the President’s closest aides consider him to be an overgrown child who is hopelessly unequipped for his job and a candidate for removal under the 25th amendment because they believe he is “losing it.”
Wolff, whom I have known for years, is not to be taken literally. He has a checkered history of first ingratiating himself with prominent sources (i.e. Rupert Murdoch and others) and then burning them between hard covers. It’s a profitable line of work, but his reporting hardly qualifies as even the first draft of history.
That said, the quotes in his book from Steve Bannon and others about the President and the Trump inner sanctum have the ring of truth. Bannon himself is a relentless, self-promoting loose cannon, but it is worth noting that while he apologized for his comments about the President and his family, he did not deny them.
A far better, more revealing book about Trump and what makes him tick is “The Trumps, Three Generations of Builders and a President,” by Gwenda Blair.
It is a portrait of Trump’s immigrant grandfather, Frederick Trump, who came from Germany and prospered in the Klondike gold rush; his late father, Fred, who capitalized on government subsidies and loopholes to become a major builder in New York’s outer boroughs, and of the President himself and his swaggering career as a Manhattan developer and playboy.
Read it and you’ll understand how, for Trump, life is one “deal” after another and “winning” is not the important thing, but the only thing.
He is taking the same approach to running the country. In each case, he has pushed himself relentlessly, played fast and loose with the truth and claimed credit for the accomplishments of others. His gutter language is just the topper.
Of course, his supporters applaud his performance. They look at Trump’s first year and they see tax cuts, reduced regulation, more money for the military, Justice Neil Gorsuch and other conservatives appointed to the Federal bench, a tough line against North Korea, Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital and a relentless assault against the “fake news” media.
What’s not to like? asks the base, that 38 per cent that supports Trump in the polls, gets their news from Fox and would vote for him again in a heartbeat.
His critics look at the same record and see more income inequality, discarded environmental protections, wasteful spending, right-wing judges, heightened danger of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea, setbacks to the already troubled Middle East peace process and a frontal assault on the first amendment. They also are offended by the President’s style: the bragging, the bullying, the thinly-veiled bigotry and the outright lying.
So, where you stand at the end of the first year of the Trump presidency depends on where you sit. You either see the President as fulfilling his campaign promise to upset the Washington apple cart, or as tearing down the structure and integrity of government.
Take your pick. Your next opportunity to express your opinion of Trump comes in November.