Posted at 05:58 PM in American Politics, Books, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Television, Think Tanks, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Technorati Tags: Ben Wittes, Brookings Institution, classified information, Clinton, Clinton e-mails, criminal charges, Department of Justice, FBI, Garrett Mitchell, Hillary, Hillary Clinton, HRC, James Comey, Lawfare, Loretta Lynch, presidential campaign, The Mitchell Report
Posted at 08:08 PM in American Politics, Current Affairs, Environmental Issues, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Religion, Think Tanks, Travel, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
June 18, 2016
Obama, in my reading, does not—contra his right-leaning critics—suffer illusions about the pathologies afflicting the broader Muslim world. If anything, his pessimism on matters related to the dysfunctions of Muslim states, and to the inability of the umma—the worldwide community of Muslims—to contain and ultimately neutralize the extremist elements in its midst, has, at times, an almost paralyzing effect on him.
Obama and Radical Islam, Jeffrey Goldberg
If you’re looking for that perfect last-minute Father’s Day gift, planning a quiet celebration of the 204th anniversary of the U. S. declaration of war against Great Britain, thus commencing the War of 1812, or recalling listening to Winston Churchill’s ‘their finest hour’ speech 76 years ago today, then you’re an ideal candidate for this weekend’s TMR ‘Reader’ assignment.
It’s another of journalist Jeffery Goldberg’s candid and deeply researched essays on President Barack Obama, and it comes on the heels of Donald Trump’s mind-boggling assertions about the President and the horror of Orlando, as reported in this Washington Post blog:
“Asked by a Fox News anchor why Obama didn't immediately call the attack ‘Islamic terrorism,’ Trump replied that Obama either ‘doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.’ He then continued, saying that ‘we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or has something else in mind.’
“When NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked Trump to explain that last comment, Trump sort of passed the buck. ‘Well, there are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it,’ he said. ‘A lot of people think maybe he doesn't want to know about it.’
And on that point, he was joined by none other than his ‘friend’ John McCain, who facing the toughest race of his career, both in the primary and general election, has set the bar for responsible campaign allegations lower than the limbo bar at the world championships in Trinidad and Tobago.
But if you are interested in understanding why the President has consistently chosen to avoid using the term, ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ or any of its variations, Goldberg’s reporting will fill in the blanks. For this and several other important considerations about the President and the strategic options for dealing with this menace, I highly recommend this most recent piece.
Happy Father’s Day to all and Happy 74th birthday to Paul McCartney.
P. S. And if you either missed, have mislaid, or not gotten around to reading Goldberg’s tour de force about Obama and foreign policy — “The Obama Doctrine” — consider this a bonus gift to all fathers, their family and friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
Posted at 04:02 PM in American Politics, Books, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Religion, Television, Think Tanks | Permalink | Comments (0)
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don't receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having "the best" of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.
Yes, the title — The Anatomy of an Illness — is ‘borrowed,’ or ‘appropriated,’ if you prefer. It’s from the 1979 book by Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review magazine for three decades, and the author of a remarkable article forty years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine about his struggle with a pernicious disease — one of the rare occasions in which an article by a layperson was published in this prestigious medical magazine.
The full title is, “The Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration,” and is among the most prized books in my library.
Because this TMR deals with the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, we will focus only on the ‘the anatomy of an illness’ — his disorder. “As perceived by the patient,” doesn’t work with a hard core narcissist. And we will leave ‘healing and regeneration’ for another day.
Because there is considerable knowledge about Trump’s ‘illness’, we have a portal — a psychological frame — through which we can understand the salient factors about the man and the persona.
There is a considerable body of literature on the psychology of individual American presidents, including, “Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study,” by William Bullitt and Sigmund Freud (and yes, you read that right.)
More recently, “Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents,” by Drs. Steven Rubenzer and Thomas Faschingbauer, which examines presidents on ‘big five’ traits — neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and on thirty ‘facet’ elements.
Perhaps the most prolific scholar on presidential character was James David Barber, Duke university professor, author of two highly acclaimed studies, Presidential Character (1972) and The Pulse of Politics (1980), who established a four-typology model for assessing presidents — active-positive, active-negative, passive-positive, and passive-negative. Barber was revered by many presidential observers, most notably Time magazine’s Hugh Sidey, but often viewed with lesser esteem by austere members of the academy.
In a 1980 article on Barber for VQR (Virginia Quarterly Review,) by journalist and college professor, Michael Nelson, he includes Barber’s perceptive, predictive observation written on the eve of Richard Nixon’s inauguration. Nixon was an ‘active-negative’ in Barber’s typology (before the 1972 election he would amplify that with ‘psychologically defective active-negative.)
“The primary danger of the Nixon administration will be that the President will grasp some line of policy or method of operation and pursue it in spite of its failure. . . . How will Nixon respond to challenges to the morality of his regime, to charges of scandal and/or corruption? First such charges strike a raw nerve, not only from the Checkers business, but also from deep within the personality in which the demands of the superego are so harsh and hard. . . . The first impulse will be to hush it up, to conceal it, bring down the blinds. If it breaks open and Nixon cannot avoid commenting on it, there is a real setup here for another crisis”
Enough about Nixon. What about Trump? Both psychologically and characterologically defective, albeit in different ways.
For insight, we turn to the Mayo Clinic definition of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which allows us to anticipate the behavioral conduct and organizational temper of a Trump presidency, if not its specific policies. For substantiation, we can consider his Tweets following the Orlando massacre, which had nothing to do with the carnage and profound field of pain and anguish, but with the congratulatory notes he received for having divined such an incident. 50 dead, 50 injured, a community in crisis, first responders, family, and friends in shock, and yet his Tweets were about him. To further prove his warped mindset, he followed with thinly camouflaged remarks to suggest that the President of the United States was somehow in league with its causal factors.
It is on occasions of this magnitude that we have a unique opportunity to take the measure of a leader. These are ‘teachable moments,’ not to be dismissed or discounted.
In the case of Orlando and Trump, we observe the radical distinction between a narcissistic personality versus a narcissistic personality disorder. The former can be trying and troublesome, the latter is genuine psychopathology: a POTUS with NPD is a treacherous proposition, a game of American roulette, upping the ante from one bullet in the chamber to three or more.
And yet, the leaders of the Republican Party continue to tiptoe around the elephant in the room, or the ‘giant sea tortoise,’ as Garrison Keillor describes Trump in his most recent riff:
“The dreamers in the Republican Party imagine that success will steady him and he will accept wise counsel and come into the gravitational field of reality, but it isn't happening. The Orlando tweets show it: The man does not have a heart. How, in a few weeks, should Mr. Paul Ryan and Mr. Mitch McConnell teach him basic humanity? The bigot and braggart they see today is the same man that New Yorkers have been observing for 40 years. A man obsessed with marble walls and gold-plated doorknobs, who has the sensibility of a giant sea tortoise.
“His response to the Orlando tragedy is one more clue that this election is different from any other. If Mitt Romney or John McCain had been elected president, you might be disappointed, but you wouldn't fear for the fate of the Republic. This time, the Republican Party is nominating a man who resides in the dark depths. He is a thug and he doesn't bother to hide it. The only greatness he knows about is himself.”
Trump will continue to be Trump. To think otherwise is fanciful. To accept his iniquities is folly. And to imagine that somehow this will all sort itself out on Tuesday, November 8th is fatalism of the worst strain.
Republicans are facing an existential crisis, which if not addressed at or before Cleveland will be a watershed moment unlike any other in the history of presidential elections. No one should pretend that this is an easy decision for the GOP leadership. There is the reality that Trump cleared the field; that ‘the people have spoken;’ and that the nomination is, by all rights, his to claim.
But by his words and deeds, Donald Trump has shown what a Trump presidency would produce. He has spent the past year consistently hitting below the belt, flouting the standards of decency and demeaning the aspirations of what G. K. Chesterton described in his 1922 classic, “What I Saw in America” as ‘the only country with the soul of a church.’
Warts and all, and there are warts aplenty, this is still a great nation, indefatigable if not uniformly indispensable, intent on doing good even when doing its opposite, and despite all of Donald Trump’s stentorian screeching, the most active agent for the preservation and enhancement of the liberal democratic order.
As historian Robert Kagan writes in “The World America Made:”
“In most respects, Americans are like any other people with a blend of selfishness and generosity. More than most, they have been a people of contradictory impulses and a most ambivalent view of what role, if any, they ought to play in the world.
“They are a people rife with potent national myths that both inspire and mislead them.
“They are not missionaries. But neither have they been able to escape their democratic identity, their democratic conscience, and their conviction that their special cause is, as Ben Franklin said, the ‘cause of all mankind.”
To borrow a phrase from our friends in Texas, Mr. Trump is ‘all hat’ and as he keeps shouting through it, the emptiness of his bespoke suits and the vacancy of his soul speak loudly and clearly.
R. Garrett Mitchell
The Mitchell Report
June 16, 2016
Posted at 05:14 PM in American Politics, Books, Current Affairs, Environmental Issues, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Think Tanks, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
June 3, 2016
Hobson’s Choice: the option of taking the one thing offered or nothing
Sophie’s Choice: a choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen
Morton’s Fork: choice that yields equivalent and most often undesirable results
With this restrained, unadorned statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan offered what has been termed an ‘endorsement’ of the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Donald J. Trump:
“[Trump] would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people's lives. That's why I'll be voting for him this fall.”
It might have been more accurate to characterize Ryan’s statement as an ‘acquiesence,’ less an endorsement, a concession to the reality of the Republican primary season. In any event, it’s safe to say there’s no joy in Janesville tonight.
So, what were Ryan’s options? And what led him to this choice? What were the elements of Ryan’s Choice?
Absent having the list of strategic options that a decidedly left-brained Paul Ryan might have charted out, it might look something like this:
Option A: Full-throated endorsement
Option B: Tepid endorsement
Option C: Holding Pattern
Option D: Terse statement of non-support
Option E: Clear statement of non-support and resignation as Speaker of the House
The options range from the heroic (E) to the craven (A)with a couple that split the difference. For some in the GOP, this was the moment to repudiate Trump's puerile tactics, his splenetic polemics, and the incessant appeal to the lowest common denominator.
For those who have boarded the Trump bandwagon, this was a time for a clarion call for party unity, and a Professor Harold Hill–76 Trombones-style march to victory five months hence.
Instead, it fell in between the two ends of the spectrum, a harbinger of things to come, perhaps.
At several points along the way, Paul Ryan had used the Speaker’s ‘bully pulpit’ to express his and the GOP’s stark differences with Trump on slurs and smears about Mexicans, Muslims, persons with disabilitiies, and other of Trump’s crude inanities. Despite those signals of disapproval, the Republican nominee continued along this path showing no sign of abatement — coy allusions to the fiction that the Clintons might have been responsible for Vince Foster’s death; oblique references linking Rafael Cruz (father of Sen. Ted Cruz) to Lee Harvey Oswald and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and more to come undoubtedly.
Trump has become the National Enquirer and Comments Section of blogs rolled into human form, and it seems to work for his supporters.
So, with no apparent agreement in which Ryan secured assurances from Trump to tidy up his act, to move to a more civil space, and to demonstrate a willingness to allow the disparate components of the Republican Party to begin patching up their considerable rifts, what prompted yesterday’s action?
Answer: the realization that the time had come to defecate or default. The recognition that the electoral equivalent of “to govern is to choose” had arrived, and that a delay until Cleveland would only exacerbate an already deteriorating circumstance with implications beyond the race for the White House.
It is as if the Great GOP pooh-bah had visited Speaker Ryan’s chamber and said:
“It’s not about you or your principles, Paul. It’s about holding on to the House and the Senate, even if it means endorsing the most unprincipled, unqualified, presidential nominee in our history.”
Here’s the logic:
• Trump will be the GOP nominee; barring a “July surprise,” that reality won’t change
• It’s unlikely, but not impossible, he will defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election, given the Democrat’s electoral college advantage, and Clinton’s considerable lead with Hispanics, African-Americans, and women:
• Democrats begin with 217 votes in ‘safe’ or ‘favor’ states v. 191 for Republicans; this increases to 249 by adding states that ‘lean’ Democratic; a total of 270 needed to win
• Trump has a considerable deficit with non-White voters, who were 28% of voters in 2012, and are expected to be 38% in 2016
• Trump has a profound gap with women, who are 53% of voters; they provided a 10% advantage for Obama in 2012, and are currently showing a 40% preference for Clinton in 2016
• Ryan’s endorsement will have little effect on Trump’s chances for victory. However, a choice of Option D or E, would weaken Trump’s prospects, and create a larger liability for the Republican Party; down-ballot legislative candidates would be at a competitive disadvantage, thereby running the risk of the GOP losing the Senate, the Republican margin in the House, or becoming the minority party in the House again:
• ‘split-ticket’ or ‘crossover’ voting — i. e., voting for a president of one party and a legislative candidate of another — has been in decline during the past few election cycles; in 2012, for example, in only five of the Congressional districts that voted for Mitt Romney did voters ‘split’ to vote for the Democratic candidate for the House; in prior elections of 2004 and 2006, the incidence of ‘splitting’ was substantially higher
• So, the calculus is that by encouraging the party faithful to vote for the Republican party’s nominee, distasteful though that might be, it enhances the likelihood that they will also vote for Republican candidates for House and Senate seats. Trump will likely lose, but the GOP legislative team could survive his loss and be reelected. And if Trump wins, this strengthens Speaker Ryan’s hand considerably.
• Reagan acolytes might call this a 21st century version of “Get one for the Gipper,” although in this case it isn’t about the Gipper but about Team GOP. Or one could say that if Ryan will “take one” for the team by giving Trump a limp thumbs up, the greater good will be served.
The bottom line in “Ryan’s Choice,” one suspects, is that no one wins, no one loses, no one is happy, no one is hurt, and principle is the innocent bystander. It recalls this definition in Ambrose Bierce’s, “The Devil’s Dictionary:”
"Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.”
Posted at 08:25 AM in American Politics, Books, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Television, Think Tanks, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Technorati Tags: Donald Trump, endorsements, GOP, Hillary Clinton, Hobson's Choice, Janesville, Morton's Fork, Paul Ryan, presidential nominees, Republican Party, Sophie's Choice, Speaker of the House
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
“When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild ... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Joseph Nye Welch, Chief Counsel, U. S. Army
June 9, 1954
Today’s Washington Post carries an op-ed by Sheila Foster Anthony, sister of Vincent W. Foster, counsel to President Bill Clinton, who took his own life thirteen years ago this summer. Her remarks speak eloquently about his loss and the struggle with depression, and in the wake of Donald Trump’s “just saying’” gambit, reminds us that we have been here before in our politics, even if in the form of a rhyme not a repetition.
In the mid-1950s, the Republican Party, and the country, were being held hostage to the vile and vindictive political theatrics of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. For those not of sufficient age to recall, this was a one man show aimed at rooting out Communists from every nook and cranny in the federal government, including the military, and particularly in the State Department.
Not unlike today, when many leading Republicans have either boarded the Trump bobsled — racing to the bottom of a slippery rhetorical slope at heretofore unimaginable speeds — or are performing sleight-of-tongue verbal arabesques to provide some distance but not to disavow, the majority of GOP leaders, including President Eisenhower, stood silently by for years before finally moving to censure McCarthy. Meanwhile, lives and careers were destroyed.
Likewise, America’s news media organizations were seen as culprits of a sort, a subject which the distinguished Milwaukee Journal reporter, Edwin R. Bayley, dealt with in his 1981 book, “Joe McCarthy and the Press.”
In a Harvard Crimson review (January 1982) of Bayley’s book, the critic Robert McCord, opens with this observation:
"He [McCarthy] lied with such boldness that he distracted a nation and shot it full of distrust. Few regret it more than journalists. By offering the print of page-one articles and the air-time of lead stories, American news media fed McCarthy the publicity he needed.”
And then the reviewer assesses Bayley’s treatment of the press during the McCarthy era:
"Bayley’s most insightful offer of circumstances mitigating the press comes with his discussion of McCarthy's uncanny ability to force himself into the news. Reporter after reporter testifies to McCarthy's manipulative skill, describing the Senator's skill at exploiting deadline pressure and competition within the news industry. He would release his accusations hours, or even minutes, before wire services sent out their releases, leaving them without time to investigate. And McCarthy released his charges simultaneously to several different wire and newspaper conduits, so that a failure to print a day's charges could lead to some newspaper's public embarrassment at seeming uninformed.”
And all this before the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter.
The unknowable at this point is whether the man who just captured the Republican nomination by garnering 1239 delegates, two more than required, is on a roll, or whether Americans will tire of the charade, the serial duplicity and patent prevarications, the bombast, the unprecedented ignorance about public policy, and the profound disregard for decency, even in the blood sport of American politics.
It is of little comfort that Donald Trump’s likely opponent has her own significant liabilities, including a moderately tortured relationship with the truth. Mrs. Clinton may be on the verge of a prosecution stemming from a yet-to-be-completed FBI investigation; and just this week a report from the State Department’s Inspector General provides considerable fuel to a seemingly eternal flame about ‘your damn emails,’ as Candidate Sanders put it last October.
In the absence of knowing where we will travel in the 165 days between now and Tuesday, November 8th, and whether there lurks inside those Trump tax returns that are ‘none of your damn business,’ information that could puncture his balloon, we will close with the final graf in the Crimson review of Bayley’s book:
"Possibly, Americans withdrew their support from McCarthy not because he was a proven liar (as with Richard Nixon, the evidence had been there a while), but because he had been upstaged by trial lawyer Joseph Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings. Or possibly, people simply grew tired of McCarthy and his tremulous voice, tired of him as they grow tired of over-exposed rock musicians whose hate-filled music finally becomes stale and offensive."
May 27, 2016
“Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite scripture for his own purpose”
The Merchant of Venice
I’ll cop to being an unabashed fan of Frank Bruni, and this piece on Dennis Hastert — “The Many Faces of Dennis Hastert” — is Bruni at his best. Not only does he lay bare the umpteenth example of a ‘born-again Christian’ engaging in a most un-Christian-like behavior — from the sexual abuse right on through to the cover up, and in between a Speakership that set new lows for ‘regular order’ and common civility — but he also finds the larger issue of how ‘our talent for compartmentalization’ explains behaviors that are bipartisan in nature. But what seems most disconcerting about the phenomenon isn’t whether it’s more common among one political party or the other, it's how prevalent it is among the so-called evangelicals, born-agains, faith-based, and as that stalwart American politician, Tom DeLay put it, “He [Hastert] is a good man that loves the Lord. He gets his integrity and values from Him.’
If this is what ‘loving the Lord’ can lead to, then perhaps this is good time for people to read a remarkable new book — “Putting God Second: How To Save Religion from Itself,” by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. In his examination of how the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism frequently fail to deliver individuals and societies that fall short of the highest ethical standards, he makes this observation, which we shall treat as the final punctuation mark on the Hastert business:
“ . . . the failure of religion to produce individuals and societies that champion the values advocated in them is both puzzling and unsettling. Even more troubling is that often religious faith itself is the catalyst that emboldens individuals and governments to murder, maim, harm, and control others in the service of ’their’ god. While it is not credible to suggest that people of faith are definitely worse than those who do not believe, the fact that a life with God does not seem consistently to make people better is a failure of religion on its own terms, and ought to be a source of consternation for any serious believer.”
Happy May Day to all.
R. Garrett Mitchell
The Mitchell Report
Posted at 04:38 PM in American Politics, Books, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy and National Security, Political Commentary and Analysis, Public Diplomacy, Public Policy Issues, Religion, Television, Think Tanks, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)