Essence of Trump

Oct 19 2019

Thursday was an amazing day even by the elevated standards of the Trump era. In the span of a few hours, these four things happened:

1) The Trump administration said it had orchestrated a five-day ceasefire—whose wording, it turns out, validated Turkey’s invasion of Syria the week before and its goal of creating a 5,400-square-mile “buffer zone” in the Kurdish part of Syria.  

2) In proudly discussing the ceasefire, Trump seemed to validate, as well, one product of that invasion: the ethnic cleansing of some 150,000 Kurds over the past two weeks. Trump said that, from Turkey’s point of view, northern Syria had to be “cleaned out,” and that sometimes you need to exercise “a little rough love,” an “unconventional, tough love approach.” Which in this case apparently entailed invading a country in plain violation of international law, shelling and bombing it, and, for good measure, deploying Syrian jihadists who set about committing atrocities that terrified Syrian Kurds into fleeing—all of which left Kurdish troops little alternative to accepting the ceasefire. Or, as Trump cheerfully characterized the dynamic he’d set in motion by abruptly withdrawing US troops from northern Syria: “When those guns start shooting, they tend to do things.”

3) The White House announced that next year’s G-7 summit will be held at Trump’s Doral golf resort. This would seem to violate the Constitution’s Emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from accepting “any present, Emolument [profit or benefit], Office, or Title” from a foreign government. Even if you accept Trump’s claim that Doral will give everyone such a deep discount that he won’t make a profit (warning: don’t accept that claim!) there is huge “branding value” in hosting the G-7 summit—both the publicity emanating from the event and the longer-term value of the resort becoming historically significant. (No doubt Trump is already imagining Doral’s walls adorned with commemorative plaques and pictures of him and his fellow potentates.) But I guess if you’re getting impeached anyway you might as well go whole hog. And speaking of impeachment:

4) Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, openly admitted that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure it into seeking information that would help him politically—specifically, evidence that would support his claim that Russia hadn’t actually hacked the DNC’s email in 2016. This admission doesn’t add as much fuel to the impeachment bonfire as would have been added had Mulvaney said that investigating Hunter Biden was another goal of the arm twisting. But it added enough fuel that Mulvaney, after a brief period of reflection and consultation, said he hadn’t actually said what he’d said.  

As a rule, this newsletter ignores the white noise of Trump’s ongoing ethically and legally dubious behavior. After all, the premise behind the newsletter’s predecessor, The Mindful Resistance Newsletter, was that mounting serious opposition to Trumpism requires discipline—not being distracted by Trump’s daily antics and transgressions, not reacting to them in ways that play into his hands, and not letting a perfectly understandable loathing of him warp our view of the world. In fact, this newsletter, like its predecessor, spends at least as much time criticizing people who abet that warping (see, for example, my criticism of the New York Times immediately below) as criticizing Trump. 

Still, every once in a while you have to pause and take stock—reflect on how high the stakes are and, lest Trump’s biggest transgressions be normalized, note what big transgressions they are. Any one of the four things listed above would, in ordinary times, dominate the news for many days. And rightly so. So let’s do pause briefly and reflect on Thursday, October 17, 2019—the 1001st day of Trump’s presidency—before getting back to the war on Trumpism. 

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