Trump’s Choice –John Bolton as National Security Adviser

March 23, 2018

Trump Taps John Bolton for NSA Post

President had discussed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster’s departure for ‘some time,’ White House says

Image result for John Bolton
President Trump’s Choice as National Security Adviser–The Neo-Con (Amb) John Bolton

President Donald Trump said he named former Ambassador John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser, succeeding Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday. “I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.”

Mr. Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has openly discussed his interest in taking the national-security post in the Trump administration. He will be Mr. Trump’s third National Security Adviser in 14 months.

Mr. Bolton, who won’t need Senate confirmation to take the job, has been a controversial figure in Washington and has pressed the White House to take tougher positions on Iran and North Korea in editorials, television commentary and other conversations.

In a Fox News interview Thursday evening, even Mr. Bolton seemed taken aback by the news of his appointment. “I really didn’t expect the announcement this afternoon,” he said. “I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” he added, noting that he was “in limbo” until he takes over next month.

Mr. Trump last week conveyed his decision to replace Gen. McMaster to John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, according to administration officials. The President had sought a more graceful exit for his National Security Adviser than the one he afforded his Secretary of State, whom he fired over Twitter last week.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump began discussing potential successors for Gen. McMaster, according to former Trump administration officials. Mr. Trump met with Mr. Bolton last week and again on Thursday.

In a statement, Mr. Trump thanked Gen. McMaster for his service. “He helped develop our America First National Security Strategy, revitalize our alliances in the Middle East, smash ISIS, bring North Korea to the table, and strengthen our nation’s prosperity,” the President said. “This work and those achievements will ensure that America builds on its economic and military advantages.”

Gen. McMaster said in a Thursday statement that he was “requesting retirement from the U.S. Army effective this summer after which I will leave public service. Throughout my career it has been my greatest privilege to serve alongside extraordinary service members and dedicated civilians.” He said he was “thankful” to the President and proud to have served on the National Security Council.

A White House official said the President and Gen. McMaster had discussed the national security adviser’s departure for “some time” and that the timeline had been “expedited as they both felt it was important to have the new team in place, instead of constant speculation.”

The announcement, coming so soon after the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior officials, left the West Wing in a downbeat mood Thursday evening, with aides offering gallows humor about the number of White House departures and jobs that needed to be filled.

The 69-year-old Mr. Bolton has urged the administration to strike first against North Korea and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in columns published by The Wall Street Journal.

“North Korea test-launched on Friday its first ballistic missile potentially capable of hitting America’s East Coast. It thereby proved the failure of 25 years of U.S. nonproliferation policy,” he wrote in an August 2017 column. “It is past time for Washington to bury this ineffective ‘carrots and sticks’ approach.”

Last month, he penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First,” in which he argued in favor of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, calling the threat “imminent.”

Mr. Bolton has dubbed the Iran agreement the “diplomatic Waterloo Mr. Obama negotiated.” Mr. Trump faces a deadline in May to extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under the accord. The president threatened in January to pull out of the deal if Europe and Congress can’t find a way to address his concerns by then.

Democrats and some Republicans have previously suggested that if Mr. Bolton were nominated for roles at the State Department, they would oppose him, citing his foreign-policy views. Mr. Trump has considered Mr. Bolton for roles including Secretary of State.

“The problem with John Bolton is he disagrees with President Trump’s foreign policy,“ Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) said last year on ABC. ”John Bolton still believes the Iraq war was a good idea. He still believes that regime change is a good idea. He still believes that nation-building is a good idea.”

On Thursday, Republican lawmakers praised the appointment of Mr. Bolton to the national-security post. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) called him an “excellent choice.”

Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon, said he believed that Messrs. Trump and Bolton have “jelled” through conversations over the past year and predicted Mr. Bolton could be a forceful presence in the West Wing.

“Trump likes someone who will tell him straight how it is,” Mr. Kazianis said. “I don’t think Trump would have brought him in as national security adviser if he didn’t think it would work out. It could be a very strong marriage, where Bolton serves out the whole tenure of the administration.”

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Bloomberg News

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which advocates sanctions against Iran and North Korea, said Mr. Bolton’s appointment would likely be the final nail in the coffin for the Iran deal. Mr. Dubowitz expressed hope that the rise of a more hawkish national security team would actually make it less likely that the U.S. would start a war.

“Bolton is a believer in the robust use of all instruments of American power,” he said. “But perhaps the perception that Trump, Bolton and (Secretary of State nominee Mike) Pompeo are willing to use these instruments will make it less likely they have to be used. (Ayatollah) Khamenei, Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin and others become more—not less—aggressive when they perceive American weakness.”

The appointment also drew criticism from Democrats, some former diplomats and others, who said the addition of Mr. Bolton would heighten the risk of a future military conflict. “President Trump is assembling a war cabinet full of ‘yes men’ who will fan his worst impulses,” said Sen. Edward Markey, (D, Mass.).

A Senior Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a frequent commentator on Fox News, Mr. Bolton has cultivated a reputation as a brash conservative with an aggressive style.

He has pushed for limiting U.S. involvement in multilateral institutions and treaties, including the International Criminal Court, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol.

Recent Commentary from John Bolton

Mr. Bolton left his U.N. post after he failed to gain enough support in Congress to be confirmed in 2006. President Bush had originally used a recess appointment to put him in the role after his nomination had been blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

In addition to his U.N. post, Mr. Bolton also served in the Bush administration as Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005.

Gen. McMaster has been working with strained alliances both inside and outside the White House and has faced persistent speculation that he would be pushed out as soon as the White House settled on someone to take his place.

Gen. McMaster has little chemistry with the President and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Gen. McMaster would typically lay out multiple options for the President, explaining each one at length, and Mr. Trump would grow impatient, preferring more to-the-point discussions, the people said.

Gen. McMaster had told associates last week that he believed he was safe and that the President urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November. On Tuesday, he was one of a handful of U.S. officials in an Oval Office meeting between the president and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Another reason Mr. Trump has sought to speed the hiring of a new national security adviser is that he wants to have a team in place ahead of possible talks with North Korea later this spring. This past weekend, Gen. McMaster traveled to San Francisco for a trilateral meeting with South Korea and Japan to discuss plans for the summit.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Corrections & Amplifications
John Bolton is 69 years old. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated his age as 68 years old. (March 22, 2018)

America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P

March 22, 2018

America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P

by Richard N. Haass–haass-2018-03

Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

America’s decision to abandon the global system it helped build, and then preserve for more than seven decades, marks a turning point, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

NEW DELHI – After a run of nearly one thousand years, quipped the French philosopher and writer Voltaire, the fading Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Today, some two and a half centuries later, the problem, to paraphrase Voltaire, is that the fading liberal world order is neither liberal nor worldwide nor orderly.

The United States, working closely with the United Kingdom and others, established the liberal world order in the wake of World War II. The goal was to ensure that the conditions that had led to two world wars in 30 years would never again arise.

Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

To that end, the democratic countries set out to create an international system that was liberal in the sense that it was to be based on the rule of law and respect for countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Human rights were to be protected. All this was to be applied to the entire planet; at the same time, participation was open to all and voluntary. Institutions were built to promote peace (the United Nations), economic development (the World Bank) and trade and investment (the International Monetary Fund and what years later became the World Trade Organization).

All this and more was backed by the economic and military might of the US, a network of alliances across Europe and Asia, and nuclear weapons, which served to deter aggression. The liberal world order was thus based not just on ideals embraced by democracies, but also on hard power. None of this was lost on the decidedly illiberal Soviet Union, which had a fundamentally different notion of what constituted order in Europe and around the world.

The liberal world order appeared to be more robust than ever with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But today, a quarter-century later, its future is in doubt. Indeed, its three components – liberalism, universality, and the preservation of order itself – are being challenged as never before in its 70-year history.

Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

Liberalism is in retreat. Democracies are feeling the effects of growing populism. Parties of the political extremes have gained ground in Europe. The vote in the United Kingdom in favor of leaving the EU attested to the loss of elite influence. Even the US is experiencing unprecedented attacks from its own president on the country’s media, courts, and law-enforcement institutions. Authoritarian systems, including China, Russia, and Turkey, have become even more top-heavy. Countries such as Hungary and Poland seem uninterested in the fate of their young democracies.

It is increasingly difficult to speak of the world as if it were whole. We are seeing the emergence of regional orders – or, most pronounced in the Middle East, disorders – each with its own characteristics. Attempts to build global frameworks are failing. Protectionism is on the rise; the latest round of global trade talks never came to fruition. There are few rules governing the use of cyberspace.

At the same time, great power rivalry is returning. Russia violated the most basic norm of international relations when it used armed force to change borders in Europe, and it violated US sovereignty through its efforts to influence the 2016 election. North Korea has flouted the strong international consensus against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The world has stood by as humanitarian nightmares play out in Syria and Yemen, doing little at the UN or elsewhere in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Venezuela is a failing state. One in every hundred people in the world today is either a refugee or internally displaced.Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

The Retreating Eagle–“America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.–Richard N. Haass

There are several reasons why all this is happening, and why now. The rise of populism is in part a response to stagnating incomes and job loss, owing mostly to new technologies but widely attributed to imports and immigrants. Nationalism is a tool increasingly used by leaders to bolster their authority, especially amid difficult economic and political conditions. And global institutions have failed to adapt to new power balances and technologies.

But the weakening of the liberal world order is due, more than anything else, to the changed attitude of the US. Under President Donald Trump, the US decided against joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. It has threatened to leave the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. It has unilaterally introduced steel and aluminum tariffs, relying on a justification (national security) that others could use, in the process placing the world at risk of a trade war. It has raised questions about its commitment to NATO and other alliance relationships. And it rarely speaks about democracy or human rights. “America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.

My point is not to single out the US for criticism. Today’s other major powers, including the EU, Russia, China, India, and Japan, could be criticized for what they are doing, not doing, or both. But the US is not just another country. It was the principal architect of the liberal world order and its principal backer. It was also a principal beneficiary.

America’s decision to abandon the role it has played for more than seven decades thus marks a turning point. The liberal world order cannot survive on its own, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

Image result for Richard N. Haass.
*Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.


American Foreign Policy after Rexit

March 20, 2018

American Foreign Policy after Rexit

Mr, Rex Tillerson was a poor secretary of state. What follows may be worse.

Image result for tillerson calls trump a moron

Mr. Rex Tillerson paid  a heavy price for calling his White House Boss  “Moron”

EVEN by the reality-TV standards of this White House, the manner in which Mr. Rex Tillerson was sacked as Secretary of State was jaw-dropping. President Donald Trump fired him by tweet, saying that he would be replaced by Mr. Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. He did not call him until much later, nor did he offer an explanation. Mr. Tillerson’s spokesman said that he had no idea why his boss had been fired. So he was fired, too.

Mr. Tillerson was a poor Secretary of State. Having run ExxonMobil, the tenth-biggest company in the world by revenue, he treated diplomacy like business and his department like a division ripe for restructuring. He seemed to regard his underlings as idle assets and they repaid him with their scorn (see article). So, too, did the President, at least after reports that Mr. Tillerson had called him a “moron”.

Image result for mike pompeo and trumpMr. Mike Pompeo


The new man, Mr. Pompeo, has distinguished himself in Mr. Trump’s eyes by talking up a Trumpian, America First view of the world (see Lexington). The result may well be a more co-ordinated policy, with fewer public rifts between the State Department and the White House. But when you look at the two biggest tests facing American foreign policy, the new set-up does not inspire confidence.

The first of these is North Korea. Mr. Trump’s decision to kick-start negotiations by talking directly to Mr. Kim Jong Un is unconventional. A photo-op with the American President is a great prize for Mr. Kim and, rather than holding it out as a reward, Mr. Trump has chosen to give it away cheap. That is not necessarily a bad idea, given that other approaches have failed and that merely talking is a chance for him to reinforce deterrence by setting out his red lines.


Image result for trump


The trouble is that, whereas the talks aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons will be delicate, complicated and technical, Mr. Trump is impulsive and self-indulgent—as this week’s sacking of Mr. Tillerson showed. Mastering the specifications of the North’s programme and knowing how to blunt it require deep expertise. Any deal to ensure that the North does not cheat, as it has so often before, will need to be thorough and enduring. America must not enhance its own security at the cost of lower security for its allies in South Korea and Japan. And if the talks should come to nothing, as is likely, both sides will need to be sure that the bad blood does not lead to conflict.

The combination, to put it mildly, sits ill with Mr Trump’s style of government. In a properly run administration, the fiddly stuff could be left to underlings. Yet America has no ambassador to South Korea and no under-secretary for arms control. Even if it did, it is not clear that Mr. Trump would give them the time of day. He shows every sign of thinking that he has the flair to broker a breakthrough all by himself. There is a risk Mr. Pompeo would seek to flatter his boss by agreeing.

By a curious symmetry, the second test of American policy involves a nuclear deal that Mr. Trump seems determined to wreck. In May he is due to decide whether to stick with the agreement that curbs Iran’s nuclear programme or pull out. Mr. Pompeo, unlike Mr. Tillerson, is a longtime opponent, as are many Republicans. A pull-out is therefore likely.

That would be a mistake. When it comes to deals, Mr. Trump always believes that he can get a better one—especially if they were negotiated by his predecessor, Mr. Barack Obama. But the Iran deal is already the result of hard-fought trade-offs. The chances that it can be substantially renegotiated are slim indeed. Opening it up in the hope that America can expand it to force Iran to limit its regional ambitions is almost certain to fail.

If America walks away, its European allies will stick with the deal but they will conclude that Mr. Trump puts a low value on the transatlantic alliance. The nuclear agreement may not collapse immediately, but the odds would increase of a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt began to prepare for the day when Iran had the bomb. And because of the symmetry, Mr. Kim would surely be less willing to think he could trust an agreement struck with Mr. Trump.

It’s simple really

To hope that Mr. H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, who may shortly be fired himself, or Mr. James Mattis, the Defence Secretary, can be relied on to constrain the president is to clutch at straws. Mr. Trump does not have a foreign policy so much as a worldview rooted in grievance and a belief that others must lose for America to win. He has his tariffs, his talks with North Korea and maybe soon a Middle East peace plan. The world is about to witness Mr.Trump unbound. What could go wrong?

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “After Rexit”

NY Times Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

March 17, 2018

NYTimes Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

by Andrew Sullivan

A Citizen’s Guide
By Cass R. Sunstein
199 pp. Harvard University. Paper, $7.95.

Authoritarianism in America
Edited by Cass R. Sunstein
481 pp. Dey St./Morrow. Paper, $17.99.

It’s really hard to impeach a President.

The founders included the provision, from the very start, as the weakest, “break the glass in case of emergency” mechanism for reining in an out-of-control executive. He was already subject to a four-year term, so he would remain answerable to the people, and to two other branches of government, which could box him in constitutionally. But the founders’ fear of creeping monarchism — the very reason for their revolution — and their deep realism about human nature led them to a provision, rooted in English constitutional precedent, whereby a rogue President could be removed from office by the legislature during his term as well. At the same time, it’s clear they also wanted a strong executive, not serving at the whim of Congress, or subject, like a Prime Minister, to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence.” He was an equal branch of government, with his own prerogatives, empowered, in Hamilton’s words, to conduct his office with “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” He stood very much on his own feet.

“…if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.”–Andrew Sullivan

And so the impeachment power was both strong and weak. Strong as it hovered as the ultimate sanction for any President who might push his luck, but weak insofar as it was deliberately limited to the offense of subverting the Constitution itself or betraying the United States in foreign affairs: the famously grave and yet vague Anglo-American terminology of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which included “great and dangerous offenses.” These were essentially serious political crimes, which was why they had to be dealt with in the political arena rather than the courts. They amounted to one core idea: If the President was to start acting like a king, he could be dispatched.

But if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.

Image result for Impeachment of john Tyler

And even then, the bar for impeachment was very high, as Cass R. Sunstein’s elegant new monograph, “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” explains: Both House and Senate would have to be involved and in favor; and conviction would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, ensuring that a clear national consensus was necessary if a president was to be judged to be gravely violating his oath of office, or betraying the country. This is why in well over two centuries the impeachment power has been invoked against sitting Presidents only four times, and never actually pursued to conviction. The attempted impeachment of John Tyler in 1842 was rightly rejected by the House of Representatives by a margin of 127-83 (he was guilty of innovating the use of the veto on policy grounds alone), and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (on the preposterous grounds that he had no right to appoint his own secretary of war) was turned back by a single vote in the Senate. The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton in 1998 because of a civil sexual harassment suit squeaked through the House on partisan lines, 221-212, but failed in the Senate, with conviction on the least ludicrous obstruction of justice charge reaching only 50 votes out of a needed 67.

Image result for Impeachment of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon resigned before a vote in the full House could be taken. Sunstein assesses his articles of impeachment thus: not impeachable for evading taxes (too personal a crime); probably impeachable for resisting a congressional subpoena (but a President could potentially make a legitimate, if dubious, claim about executive privilege); definitely impeachable for covering up an impeachable offense (abusing the powers of the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Department of Justice to conceal evidence of an attempt to subvert an election by burglarizing the Democratic National Committee).

Where does this leave us with respect to Donald Trump? Sunstein smartly doesn’t answer the question directly — instead teasing out various hypotheticals with some similarities to our current concerns. Here are a few: directing the Justice Department to prosecute someone for political reasons; pledging in advance to pardon anyone in law enforcement who commits a crime; using the F.B.I. or C.I.A. to get evidence of criminality against a political opponent; egregiously defaulting on his core presidential responsibilities; secretly bribing others in a direct quid pro quo or similarly receiving bribes; and secretly cooperating with a foreign power to promulgate false information against a political opponent. Sunstein thinks each of these is an impeachable offense — as they almost certainly are.

With Trump, these analogies are tantalizingly close but probably not close enough. Firing an F.B.I. Director for an investigation into a President’s campaign, for example, is deeply suspicious, but technically kosher, since the F.B.I. Director serves at the president’s pleasure. Campaigning to “lock her up” and initiating a new Justice Department investigation into possible illegality by Hillary Clinton likewise could be described, in a pinch, as mere excessive campaign rhetoric or a genuine pursuit of justice. Spending hours watching cable television, refusing to read his daily intelligence briefing, disrupting negotiations with Congress by constantly shifting positions and dictating policy by declarative tweets are all clearly outside what the founders would regard as good executive leadership, but they are too subjective to be a reliable basis for impeachment. Pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio for violating the Constitution could be defended, however dubiously, as merely an act of compassion for an old man. Failing to abide by clear ethical rules by refusing to divest all business projects is an egregious outrage, but not provable bribery. Venting at an attorney general for recusing himself from a case in which he was involved (but not actually firing him) doesn’t make the cut either.

What about passively cooperating with a foreign power to subvert an American election and then, after clear proof of such interference, refusing to counter that foreign power’s intent to disrupt the next election too? If a President unwittingly benefited from a foreign foe’s meddling (“no collusion!”), and he’s merely guilty of failing to do enough to counter that power’s continuing assault on the American democratic process, he’s in the clear. But if he is actively neglecting a defense of this country’s electoral integrity because he believes the Kremlin helped him win an election in the past, and will almost certainly help him and his party in the near future, then impeachment is a no-brainer. If he knew of the meddling at the time and encouraged it, ditto. In those cases, you have a combination of treason and defaulting on the core responsibilities of his office — at the center of the founders’ concerns (especially being too close to a foreign government). The trouble here is that we have, so far, no proof of anything but a willingness to collude with a foreign power’s interference; and no clear evidence at all of the President’s personal involvement with foreign actors.

Yet even if that evidence were incontrovertible (and that could still emerge in Mueller’s investigation), impeachment remains a political decision. Which means that unless we experience some kind of unprecedented sea change in the pathological tribalism that now defines our politics, impeachment is a dead letter. What makes Trump immune is that he is not a President within the context of a healthy republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party — and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” a collection of essays by a number of writers that has been edited by Sunstein, which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.

Image result for donald trump impeachmentThe 45th POTUS Donald J. Trump: “I am the only one who matters.”

No, Trump is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator. The more likely model for American authoritarianism is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or the Fidesz party in Hungary. The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step, fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News. The neutering of the courts is the second step — and Trump is well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power. Congress itself has far less approval than Trump; its inability to do anything but further bankrupt the country, enrich the oligarchy and sabotage many Americans’ health care leaves an aching void filled by … a President who repeatedly insists that “I am the only one who matters.”

I don’t think Trump has a conscious intent to vandalize liberal democracy — he doesn’t even understand what it is. Rather, his twisted, compulsive insecurity requires him to use his office to attack, delegitimize and weaken every democratic institution that may occasionally operate outside his own delusional narcissism. He cannot help this. His tweets are a function of spasms, not plots. But the wreckage after only one year is extraordinary. The F.B.I. is now widely discredited; the C.I.A. is held in contempt; judges, according to the president, are driven by prejudice and partisanship (when they disagree with him); the media produce fake news; Congress is useless (including both Republicans and Democrats); alliances are essentially rip-offs; the State Department — along with the whole idea of a neutral Civil Service — is unnecessary. And the possibility of reasoned deliberation at the heart of democratic life has been obliterated by the white-hot racial and cultural hatreds that Trump was able to exploit to get elected and that he constantly fuels.

The Democrats find themselves in opposition a little like Marco Rubio in the primaries. Take the high road and you are irrelevant; take the low road and you cannot compete with the biggest bully and liar on the block. The result is that an unimpeachable President is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a President, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

Rex Tillerson Fired

March 14, 2018

Rex Tillerson Fired

by John Cassidy

In the unique and alarming context of the Trump Administration, Rex Tillerson, the departing Secretary of State, seemed like a stabilizing and independent-minded presence.

In the unique and alarming context of the Trump Administration, Rex Tillerson, the departing Secretary of State, seemed like a stabilizing and independent-minded presence.

On Monday, Rex Tillerson, the departing Secretary of State, cut short a visit to East Africa to fly back to Washington. Before he left, he remarked that the nerve-gas attack recently carried out on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, England, was a “really egregious act,” but he also said it wasn’t entirely clear who was responsible. Later on Monday, though, the State Department issued a statement in which Tillerson expressed his “full confidence” in the British government’s assessment that the Russian state was almost certainly the culprit. (In the House of Commons on Monday, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.)

“There is never a justification for this type of attack—the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation—and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” Tillerson’s statement said. “From Ukraine to Syria—and now the UK—Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens. We agree that those responsible—both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it—must face appropriately serious consequences. We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

This was arguably the strongest condemnation of Russian behavior that the Trump Administration has ever issued. And it turned out to be one of Tillerson’s final official acts as Secretary of State. At 8:44 A.M. on Tuesday, Donald Trump announced Tillerson’s firing on Twitter. “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump wrote. “He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Image result for Trump and Mike Pompeo

President Donald Trump and Mr. Mike Pompeo

Some of Trump’s aides immediately insisted to reporters that the President hadn’t dismissed Tillerson because of the Russia statement. Citing multiple White House officials, the Washington Post reported that the White House informed the Secretary of State on Friday that he was going to be ousted. Zeke Miller, of the Associated Press, subsequently filled out this narrative, reporting via Twitter, “WH official says chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson Friday and again on Saturday. Both calls to Tillerson, the official says, warned that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not step aside. When Tillerson didn’t act, Trump fired him.” In brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he had been thinking about replacing Tillerson for “a long time,” because “We were not thinking the same.” He also said Tillerson “will be much happier now.”

At least one of Tillerson’s aides pushed back against this White House narrative, however. Elise Labott, CNN’s global-affairs correspondent, reported that Tillerson only found out from Trump’s tweet that he was fired. Josh Lederman, of the A.P., reported, via Twitter, “We got off the plane with Tillerson less than four hours ago. There was zero indication on flight home that this was imminent.” The White House reacted quickly to this counter-narrative. By early afternoon, the White House had fired the aide, Steve Goldstein, who contradicted its version of what had happened.

If Tillerson did know that the President was about to can him, his statement on Russia was perhaps a final act of defiance. On Tuesday, the Russian government again denied responsibility for the attack in Salisbury and said it wouldn’t respond to British claims unless it was provided with samples of the nerve agent used. Trump also spoke with May, finally, and, after the call, the White House issued a statement saying he agreed with her “that the Government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom.” However, the statement stopped short of saying Trump agreed with the British assessment that the Russian government was very likely responsible.

It is certainly true that Tillerson’s departure wasn’t entirely unexpected. Although he has avoided criticizing Trump publicly, behind the scenes the former ExxonMobil C.E.O. hasn’t hidden his contempt for the President. Last summer, after Trump gave a wacko speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson used to lead, Tillerson reportedly came close to resigning. In October, NBC News reported that after a meeting at which Trump called for a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Tillerson referred to him as a “moron” in a conversation with other officials. One of the NBC reporters would clarify that Tillerson used the term “fucking moron.”

After those revelations, which Tillerson didn’t explicitly deny, there were frequent suggestions that Trump was considering replacing him with Pompeo, a former Republican congressman. Despite this acrimony, the fact remains that Trump announced Tillerson’s firing barely twelve hours after he had forcefully sided with the British government against the Kremlin. Either Trump decided that Tillerson’s show of defiance was the last straw, or he was oblivious (or indifferent) to the impression that firing him at this juncture would create.

To be sure, there were policy differences between Trump and Tillerson—many of them. In addition to the Iranian nuclear deal, where Tillerson was more supportive than the President, trade and North Korea come to mind immediately. Last week, Tillerson reportedly warned White House officials that Trump’s proposal to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports would endanger U.S. national security. On Thursday, just hours before Trump agreed to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Tillerson told the reporters traveling with him in Africa, “We’re a long way from negotiations.”

Maybe that’s why Trump decided to act now, although it wouldn’t explain why he waited five days and then made the announcement on Twitter. It’s also possible that another factor played into his timing. Early Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that Roger Stone, the Republican dirty trickster and longtime Trump adviser, told an associate in the spring of 2016 that “he had learned from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” This conversation took place “before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee,” the story also noted.

As Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff, told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, Trump pays a great deal of attention to how the daily news narrative evolves. After the Post’s scoop appeared, other news organizations leapt on it, and Stone’s name trended on Twitter. In all likelihood, the Post’s story, with its implication of possible collusion, would have dominated the day in cable news. But once the news of Tillerson’s firing broke, it slipped down the home pages, and Stone dropped off the trending list.

Whatever really happened, the fact is that Tillerson is gone—the first Cabinet secretary ever to be fired by tweet. Given his effort to gut the State Department, and the departure of many senior diplomats with distinguished careers in the department, Tillerson’s fall likely won’t be lamented in Foggy Bottom, or in many other places. But in the unique and alarming context of this Presidency, he seemed like a stabilizing and independent-minded presence. At least, he wasn’t a Trump flunky or a Bannonite ethno-nationalist.

With Tillerson’s departure so closely following the resignation of Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who served as Trump’s senior economic adviser, the circle around the President is getting even tighter. Pompeo, Tillerson’s replacement, is a Trump loyalist who has tried to downplay Russian interference in the 2016 election. And so it goes on.

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for

Trump Gun Culture

March 13, 2018

Trump Gun Culture

 by Mike Minehan*

Image result for Trump the Gunslinger


Don’t hold your breath that President Trump will restrict gun ownership in the USA in the wake of the killing of 17 students in Parkland, Florida. And banning the semi-automatic assault weapons that are the weapon of choice in mass shootings? Forget about it.

President Trump supports the National Rifle Association, and the NRA is vehemently opposed to a ban on assault weapons. Apart from some initial vacillations on gun control, Trump’s tweets say it all: “What many people don’t understand is that the folks who work so far at the NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our country and will do the right thing.”

Oh yes, and Trump is hardly impartial – he has a concealed carry permit for the two handguns that he owns. Although as revealed by the web magazine, Politico, Trump said he didn’t talk about his guns before talking about them.


Trump’s solution to preventing more school massacres is, yes, it’s more guns. Arm and train the teachers, he says, But the biggest problem, of course, is the USA gun culture itself and the ease of obtaining weapons.

Other people are proposing other solutions. These proposals include bullet proof backpacks and even bullet proof school clothing.It’s an amazing culture where kids going to school need to think about taking more than just their books and their lunch.

Presumably a backpack that stops bullets from assault weapons will be next. Although a simpler solution could be to carry rubber door wedges to prevent a gunman from opening school doors. But then the doors would need to be bullet proof, too.

Many schools in America also run regular drills to train children what to do when a shooter enters their building. But while the shootings continue, and the death toll rises, the main problem itself shows no signs of going away. This problem is the easy access to guns in the USA, even military grade assault weapons, and the right of just about anyuone to own them.

Watch out American school kids. So far, in 2018 alone, there have been 9 school shootings in the USA. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention report that shootings killed or injured at least 19 children each day between 2002-2014, with boys, teenagers and blacks most at risk.

So when will another deranged, disgruntled former pupil be stalking the next school corridor with an assault weapon he bought legally?

Trump will soon be gifted another pistol for his collection – a 24-carat gold inlaid and elaborately engraved Colt .45. This pistol is hand-crafted and has “Donald J. Trump” engraved in large letters on one side, and “45th President of the United States of America” on the other. .45, 45th President, get it?

If I were a betting man, well, I wouldn’t bet against Trump enthusiastically accepting this gun. The Man with the Golden Gun. It’s all so, so, American. It’s so Trump.

  • Dr. Mike Mineham is Dean, School of Graduate Studies, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this article are strictly his own.