The Washington Post - 22.08.2019

(Joyce) #1




or a man who sees himself as the mes-
siah, President Trump has a lacklus-
ter record on Earth.
On Wednesday morning, he tweet-
ed out with approval a conspiracy theorist’s
claim that Israelis view Trump “like he’s the
King of Israel” and “the second coming of
God” (a theology Jews reject). He shared the
conspiracy theorist’s puzzlement that Ameri-
can Jews don’t view him likewise.
Hours later, he explained why he has tak-
en a tough trade policy against China: “I am
the chosen one.”
Holy God complex!
I lack the celestial sources to fact-check
Trump’s claim. But as messiahs go, King Don-
ald of Israel, Blessed Be His Name, appears to
be a false prophet:
 The economy teeters on the verge of
 The federal government’s finances reach
the worst point in 75 years.
 A trade and currency war rages.
 Threats grow from the Islamic State,
North Korea and Iran.
 Trump feuds with Britain, France,
Germany, Canada — and now, preposterous-
ly, Denmark.
 He calls the vast majority of American
Jews stupid and twice calls them disloyal.
 Polls show Trump losing next year to
Democratic challengers.
It would take a miracle to get out of this.
And Trump can perform one.
He can declare victory — and then say he’s
retiring after his first term. He can depart the
White House in a flaming chariot, if he pre-
fers that to Marine One.
That would be divine.
A combination of Trump-incited interna-
tional tensions and shortsighted policies
have put us on borrowed time. The question
is not whether things will unravel, but when.
If the economy collapses in the next
15 months, dragged down by Trump-
instigated international instability, he will
lose reelection in disgrace. If he wins and
things go south after that, he’ll be blamed.
Precarious U.S. finances and international
isolation will make recovery more difficult.
Alternatively, Trump can step aside now
and blame his successor for the problems he
created. He can claim he achieved everything
he wanted in just four years, instead of eight.
By one measure, Trump has been remark-
ably successful: causing chaos and disrup-
tion. He cut taxes, gutted regulations,
cracked down on immigration, slapped tar-
iffs on China, and withdrew from the Paris
climate accord, Iran nuclear deal and
Trans-Pacific trade partnership. And though
he didn’t repeal Obamacare, he seriously
sabotaged it.
But the consequences of Trump’s disrup-
tion are now surfacing.
The Congressional Budget Office forecast
Wednesday that the 10-year federal deficit
will balloon $800 billion more than expect-
ed, caused in part by Trump’s 2017 tax cut. As
The Post’s Jeff Stein noted, this puts the na-
tion’s debt at levels not seen since the end of
World War II.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick
Mulvaney this week braced Trump donors
for what he hopes will be only a “moderate
and short” recession, Politico reported.
Three-quarters of business economists
expect a recession by the end of 2021, their
trade association announced Monday.
Trump confirmed on Tuesday (before recant-
ing Wednesday) that he is considering a tem-
porary payroll tax cut to fortify the economy.
Much of the drag can be traced to the trade
war. JPMorgan Chase forecasts Trump’s
existing and threatened tariffs against China
will cost the average U.S. household $600 to
$1,000 per year.
Overseas, the Islamic State, which Trump
proclaimed defeated, has again surged in
Iraq and Syria and poses a new threat in
Afghanistan. Also, Japan reportedly believes
North Korea achieved the miniaturization
of nuclear warheads — well after Trump pro-
claimed North Korea no longer a nuclear
At home, white-nationalist violence is
expanding, as Trump attacks racial and
religious minorities and immigrants (the
administration unveiled yet another crack-
down Wednesday on migrant families). On
Tuesday, Trump claimed that Jews who vote
Democratic (nearly 80 percent of them) have
“a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”
— reviving the anti- Semitic dual-loyalty ca-
nard. He repeated the slander Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Trump grows more erratic
daily. He has contradicted himself on the
payroll tax, gun background checks and his
perverse determination to buy Greenland
from Denmark. After Denmark told him
Greenland wasn’t for sale, he canceled a trip
to Copenhagen, blasting the Danes and their
“nasty” prime minister, a woman.
Even if Trump were to pull himself
together and win reelection, he has no better
chance of achieving his remaining unmet
promises in a second term. Eliminating the
national debt? Getting Mexico to pay for a
border wall? Draining the swamp? Not gon-
na happen.
No, it would be better for Trump to claim
that he won so much and made America so
great that there’s no reason to serve any lon-
ger. With so much bad stuff coming, he
should quit while he’s ahead — or, rather, less
behind than he will be.
Trump would enjoy a happy retirement,
munching on Big Macs and asserting his
messianic bona fides while blaming others
for the ungodly messes he left behind.
Twitter: @Milbank


Trump should

quit while he’s

less behind


orry to be so obvious, but isn’t it
clear that what the United States
needs is a Democratic Richard
M. Nixon?
No, not that one. We’ve had plenty of
truth-bending, political dirty tricks and
abuse of authority from both political
parties over recent years.
I’m thinking of the “other” Nixon, the
one who longed for a place in history and
whose shrewd instinct for the political
center produced: the Environmental Pro-
tection Agency; arms talks with the same
Soviet Union he had built a career on
denouncing; wage and price controls that
violated every canon of his party’s philoso-
phy; and, of course, the opening of rela-
tions with “Red” China.
That sort of Nixon, with a Democratic
pedigree, is the figure our republic could
use sometime soon.
The breakthrough needed now doesn’t
involve China (though relations there cer-
tainly could be improved), it’s about na-
tional solvency. After radically swelling an
already dangerous national debt under the
most recent presidency, the nation is on
track for a similar run-up during the next
few years.
There is no need to restate all the ruin
that unpayable debt does to nations that
indulge in it. Debt such as what we are now
piling up will end badly. With entitlements
and interest payments devouring available
funds, the result will be some combination
of economic catastrophe, the collapse of
basic services or a disastrous weakening of
national defense. For anyone still in deni-
al, the Flat Earth Society is accepting
No Republican can even put a dent in
this problem. The party’s Scrooge stereo-
type, however unfair in many cases, is too
burned into the public and media con-
sciousness to permit the necessary ideas to
be advanced from that quarter. The
ludicrous but effective slandering of
then-Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in 2012 for
his interest in Medicare reform — a TV ad
portrayed the then-Republican vice-
presidential candidate as literally pushing
an elderly woman in a wheelchair over a
cliff — is all the evidence one needs. And
anyway, under present management, the
GOP shows zero interest in even raising
the issue of the national debt.
Hope must come from the other direc-
tion. Just as Nixon, one of his era’s most
vigorous anti-communists, used the credi-
bility of his personal record and party label
to undertake his startling initiatives, a
Democrat — and only a Democrat, protect-
ed by the party’s tribune-of-the-poor repu-
tation — can lead the country fiscally
where it desperately needs to go.
Arguments fully consistent with the
Democratic image and catechism are al-
ready available, and if they are politically
premature today, they will become more
apparent and viable with each passing
year of procrastination. Modernizing the
public safety net is not about trashing it, as
our puerile public debate now asserts, but
about saving it. Absent significant
change, Social Security, Medicare and
Medicaid will go bust, and no one will be
harmed more than those most dependent
on the programs.
Continued entitlement drift is choking
the discretionary government most dear
to Democrats — a squeeze that will grow
inexorably tighter. Saving public housing,
mass transit, federal education funding
and (fill in your favorite social program
here) will become ever-stronger rationales
for what must be done. Attempting to
enact even the tiniest portion of the latest
Democratic policy fads will require creat-
ing some fiscal space on the spending side.
For the moment at least, the Democratic
brand is strong among younger voters.
These of course are the Americans about to
be plundered and gouged by the wanton
borrowing in which we, their elders, are
engaging: borrowing not for appropriate
investment in their future but for our
current consumption.
Today’s young may not know much
about the nation’s history or civic institu-
tions, but they will not remain forever
oblivious to this giant, unconscionable
threat to their economic futures. Here, too,
a Democrat has a far greater entree to
share the stark facts and make the case for
Nixon was a practitioner of the maxim
“If your base isn’t a little mad at you, you’re
doing something wrong.” A considerable
portion of the Democratic core will remain
obdurate on entitlements, determined
never to be confused by the facts. But it
may be possible to lead a large and
growing segment to see their self-interest
being positively affected by reforms such
as means-testing and moderating the in-
creases in autopilot transfer payments.
It’s fair to observe that China, as a
political “third rail,” was never as high-
voltage as Social Security or Medicare. But
that’s where the legacy opportunity comes
in. Assuming that our republic summons
the maturity and discipline to steer away
from a fiscal Niagara Falls, the leader at
the helm of that achievement will be
rewarded with what every president must
yearn for: a place of historical honor. More
likely than not, that person will be a

Mitch Daniels, a Post contributing columnist, is
president of Purdue University and a former
governor of Indiana.


The Democrats

need their

own Nixon


ven a casual observer of the
entertainment industry
knows that Hollywood is
hooked on established intel-
lectual property at the expense of
original ideas and is awash in more
money than it knows how to sensibly
spend. But three stories about the
business of pop culture that broke
this week illustrate just how dull
American entertainment has be-
come, and how hard it is for even the
most brilliant creators or innovative
companies to escape the undertow.
Warner Bros. Pictures announced
that Lana Wachowski would return
to write and direct a fourth install-
ment in the Matrix franchise and that
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss
would return as Neo and Trinity, de-
spite their characters’ seeming
deaths in “The Matrix Revolutions.”
That news came immediately after
reports that, because Sony and
Marvel had been unable to agree on
financial terms for their partnership,
Marvel will not be involved in future
Spider-Man movies. Peter Parker,
currently played by Tom Holland, will
likely vanish from the Marvel Cin-
ematic Universe.
And, in the story that kicked
things off, the Financial Times re-
ported that Apple is spending as
much as $6 billion on original pro-
gramming for its Apple TV+ stream-
ing service, set to launch in Novem-
ber. That number is contested, but
it’s clear that Apple is splashing fan-
tastic sums on programming such as
“The Morning Show,” which stars
Jennifer Aniston as the anchor of a
TV program in turmoil, and which
might cost more per episode than
HBO paid to produce the later sea-

sons of “Game of Thrones.”
Taken together, these reports rep-
resent a kind of unholy trinity of
depressing Hollywood news.
Word that Wachowski is returning
to the Matrix franchise is a particular-
ly dispiriting reminder that Holly-
wood’s fear of risking money on any
idea that viewers haven’t already em-
braced means the industry has gone
all-in on recycling, and not in a good
way. And it’s especially grim given
both how wildly original “The Ma-
trix” felt when it was released in 1999
and how resolute Wachowski and her
co-director and sister Lilly Wachow-
ski have been in their past opposition
to sequels. During a rare interview in
2015, Lana Wachowski expressed her
distaste for critics who are “obsessed
with sequels and derivative material.
They wildly crave it. That kind of
environment is hostile to originality.”
At the time, Lilly Wachowski dis-
missed the possibility of new Matrix
movies as “particularly repelling.”
Perhaps Lana Wachowski has a
fresh story she’d like to tell in the rich
and unsettling universe the sisters
created together. Still, after a series of
stunning but underperforming proj-
ects, including “Speed Racer,” “Cloud
Atlas,” “Jupiter Ascending” and the
Netflix series “Sense8,” it appears that
at least one Wachowski, unlike her
most famous creation, has given in
rather than continuing the fight.
The Sony-Marvel impasse repre-
sents a second stage in the drawn-out
death of Hollywood creativity: Busi-
ness models don’t just determine
what movies get made, they increas-
ingly determine how they’re told.
Marvel has long argued that the inter-
connected stories its movies are tell-

ing makes its franchise distinct. But if
Spider-Man is expendable, so is the
marketing pretense that sprawling
serial storytelling elevated Marvel
movies above their competitors — as
are the rising indie directors who
Marvel brings in to lend a gloss of
credibility to the franchise.
And whatever Apple is actually
spending on content, it’s clear the vast
sums of cash sloshing around the
streaming ecosystem have created
more, and more expensive, content.
But more expensive does not neces-
sarily mean better. Good for Aniston
for landing herself a $1.1 million-
per-episode salary for “The Morning
Show,” even if she did so more on the
continuing strength of “Friends” as a
draw for streaming customers than
on anything she has done in the
15 years since the show went off the
air. Maybe even good for Martin Scors-
ese for getting Netflix to drop
$159 million so he could tart up a
movie about Teamster boss Jimmy
Hoffa with anti-aging technology. But
it turns out that when cultural pro-
grammers turn to computer program-
mers for insight about what to make,
the reward audiences get for binging
on comfort fare is an eight-picture
Netflix deal for Adam Sandler.
Maybe it’s fitting that Lana Wa-
chowski is heading back into the
world of machines at a moment when
it feels as though our entertainment
is more engineered than ever before.
Whether the machines in question
are cash registers or viewer algo-
rithms, it’s hard to see how we’ll find
our way out of this era of illusion. Too
many of us are content to be sedated
and to pay for our anesthetics.
Twitter: @AlyssaRosenberg


Pop culture has reached

Peak Predictable

An inflatable Spider-Man at the world premiere of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in Hollywood on June 26.



fter the carnage in El Paso and
Dayton, Ohio, we are finally
talking more about the in-
creasing threat of domestic
terrorism, which has killed more people
in America since 9/11 than the foreign
terrorism of al-Qaeda and the Islamic
State. With the body count growing at
an alarming rate, it is time to turn from
talk to action and confront this threat
before it claims more American lives.
As former homeland security and
counterterrorism advisers in Demo-
cratic and Republican administrations,
we saw the operational, organizational
and legal changes that are needed to
meet terrorist threats. In this era of
polarized politics, where too often the
political extremes dictate action — or
more often, inaction — we need some-
thing even more important from our
leaders. We need them to do their duty.
Duty is the age-old notion that one
should do what is right, regardless of
whether it is personally beneficial or
costly. That moral equation has always
been a fundamental precept of our
national character. Duty is a central
tenet in the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, the principle that we reaf-
firm with the Pledge of Allegiance and
the idea that inspired generations of
Americans to sacrifice their lives and
well-being to break from Britain, fight
slavery in the Civil War, defeat tyranny
and fascism in World War II, and stand
up to institutionalized injustice during
the civil rights movement.
Duty says our leaders should priori-
tize the public’s interests over their
own. That means acknowledging and
acting against a threat to our national
security — whether from domestic ex-
tremists or Russian hackers interfering

with our electoral process — no matter
which constituency might object. It
means working with the other party to
find solutions to immigration and gun
control, rather than leveraging those
problems for political gain. And, it
means living a life of duty that sets an
example for the rest of us.
We have seen leaders choose duty
over self-interest before, even quite re-
cently. We saw it when President
George W. Bush sponsored aggressive
financial rescue legislation amid the
economic crisis in 2008, in the face of
criticism from allies and contrary to his
own inclination against federal inter-
vention in the economy. We saw it when
President Barack Obama placed na-
tional security over political expedien-
cy and extended some of Bush’s coun-
terterrorism tools, contrary to his cam-
paign promises and the urging of many
in his party.
We saw it in John McCain’s forceful
rejection of a supporter’s bigoted attack
on his rival during the 2008 presiden-
tial campaign, and we saw it in Bush’s
dignified refusal to criticize his succes-
sor after he left the White House.
We have seen it most recently in
Robert S. Mueller III’s work as special
counsel investigating Russian interfer-
ence in the 2016 election. For Mueller,
duty is the defining force that has
driven a lifetime of decisions, from
enlisting in the Marines during the
Vietnam War to returning in mid-ca-
reer to the front lines as a homicide
prosecutor in Washington.
It was not surprising that Mueller
answered the call in 2017 to serve as
special counsel, knowing full well that
the job would probably subject him to
criticism from both sides of today’s
political divide, and then agreed to
testify before a polarized Congress last
month, knowing that it would be a

lose-lose proposition. Ever the dutiful
Marine, he accepted his mission, en-
dured two years of personal attacks,
and fielded questions and accusations
at his hearings with dignity and dogged
insistence on facts at the expense of
theatrics, disappointing those who had
hoped for a different style or fodder for
their particular view on impeachment.
More than one reporter described
Mueller and his performance as being
“from another era.” Sadly, those report-
ers might have been right.
All too often these days, we tolerate
leaders who promote their own inter-
ests at the expense of duty, especially if
their political affiliation or agenda
aligns with ours. We need to shed that
cynical approach to politics.
Instead, we should reaffirm the im-
portance of duty in our own political
lives by looking for and lifting up the
dutiful leaders among us who remain
loyal to the common good. If we do that,
perhaps our leaders will follow our lead
and recognize the imperative to look
past their own interests, to prioritize
national unity over tribal division and
to make the hard choices necessary to
confront threats such as hate-filled do-
mestic extremism.
Over the past two years, Mueller did
his duty as a leader and citizen, as he
had so many times before. In the proc-
ess, he gave us a lesson in what it means
to be American and what we should
demand of our leaders and of ourselves.
Let’s hope, for the sake of our country
and our democracy, that we can learn
that lesson.

Lisa Monaco served as homeland security
adviser to President Barack Obama. Ken
Wainstein was homeland security adviser to
President George W. Bush. Both Monaco
and Wainstein served as chief of staff to FBI
Director Robert S. Mueller III.

Do your duty, America

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