The compass spins between heaven and hell

The compass spins between heaven and hell September 6, 2018

• Ezra Klein nicely sums up the strange, precarious place at which the United States has arrived thanks to the slow-motion constitutional crisis created by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell: “The crisis isn’t Trump. It’s his Republican enablers.”

This feels like a week of substantial, even shattering, revelations about the Trump White House. But it wasn’t, not really. The early excerpts of Bob Woodward’s book, the anonymous op-ed from the senior White House official — how much did any of it truly change our understanding of the Trump administration? …

It’s no secret that much of Trump’s staff thinks he’s ill-informed, impulsive, even dangerous. Political scientist Dan Drezner has been tweeting quotes from Trump staffers talking about the president as if he is a toddler for years now. There are now 475 tweets in the thread.

And even if there weren’t, these are not the kind of revelations that require insider leaks to alert the public. Anyone who has watched Trump speak or read his statements can conclude he is ignorant, reckless, distractible, narcissistic, illiberal, conspiratorial, and bigoted. …

That Trump has long been Trump has not gone unnoticed in Washington. As Republican Sen. Bob Corker said in response to the op-ed, “this is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one.”

Corker’s statement was meant to be a damning indictment of Trump, but it’s actually a damning indictment of Corker and his colleagues, who have done little to check Trump save complain to the press. They have known the situation was this bad since day one, and they have done nothing about it. … That Republicans in this Congress have proven so subservient to — or scared of — Trump that they have let the fate of the country hinge on whether his staff can adequately distract and calm him is a subversion of the constitutional order and an abdication of responsibility.

This is a lodestone, which is a magnetic rock and not a star. (Wikimedia photo by Teravolt)

• That anonymous New York Times op-ed by a “senior official in the Trump administration” is worth reading as one of your free articles this month for non-subscribers, because we’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s also worth reading because it’s such a bizarre, twisted, tail-swallowing exercise in ass-covering and sanctimonious lawlessness.

Pundits and commentators are feverishly hunting down clues as to who the unnamed “senior official” who wrote this might be. They’re working from lists of cabinet secretaries and White House staffers, but I’d start with a list of First Things subscribers. The op ed has just the sort of ponderously self-righteous right-wing-politics-as-holier-than-thou-virtue tone of that notorious journal.

For example:

We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

The absence of specific examples of Trump policies that make us “safer and more prosperous” is telling. Tax cuts for hedge funds, evidently. Putting brown children in cages, turning away refugees, deregulating pollution, and blank checks for arms dealers, apparently. Defanging Title IX, mothballing the Consumer Protection bureau, subsidizing predatory colleges and unleashing payday lenders, I guess.

But the real tell here is this bit:

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

That rhetoric will be familiar to anyone who’s had the misfortune of spending time around the right-wing white evangelical intellectual wanna-be crowd. So if I had to bet, I’d wager Mark Silk is on the right track with his guess, speculating that this op ed was written by Michael Gerson on behalf of DNI Dan Coats.

If not them, then some other white evangelical dude or dudes. (The categorical condescension of its tone has me convinced it’s a dude.)

• I can’t figure out what this op ed writer(s) imagined his next step would be. The writer says it has been necessary, for the good of the country, to form a “resistance” within the administration — one that has allegedly been “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.” But by going public about this subversive activity, the writer has made it nearly impossible for such work to continue — meaning that, thanks to the publication of this very op ed, all the calamities these “resisters” assure us they have prevented will now be free to occur.

Has the writer accounted for that? Does he realize that he’s just made an already “amoral,” “anti-democratic,” “impulsive,” “half-baked, ill-informed,” “reckless,” “impetuous, adversarial, petty,” “erratic,” and “unstable” man even more so? While simultaneously ensuring that the self-proclaimed “adults in the room” will no longer be welcome in the room to keep him in check?

Maybe the writer does realize this and plans to come forward in the near future to provide the specific, concrete evidence that might finally prompt Republicans in Congress to do their damn jobs. Maybe this guy thinks he can afford to wait until his right-wing allies pack the Supreme Court with one more Federalist Society justice first.

But it doesn’t seem that this wanna-be Deep Throat has really thought this through. He seems, rather, to epitomize what the real Deep Throat reportedly said to Bob Woodward the last time an administration was this pervasively criminal and corrupt: “The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

All of which means that this op ed reads less like an indictment of the president than the feckless defense of some Vichy functionary desperately trying to save his neck by pretending after the fact that he’d been a subversive saboteur all along.

• All this time I’ve always thought one should use either “lodestone” or “North Star,” so I was startled to see “lodestar” become a much buzzed-about word yesterday. Makes me wonder if “Northstone” is also a word of some sort.

Anyway, the whole “lodestar” thing had me thinking of this song from Sting, from which this post takes its title. “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” is not bad advice, but it only works for people who have souls. If you’re the sort of creature who thinks “effective deregulation” and “historic tax [cuts]” for the wealthiest are “bright spots,” and who is apparently unashamed of playing a role in the monstrous crime of  family separations, then this advice will be lost on you:

 

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