|STEPHEN CROWLEY / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
Let's be clear from the jump that it is exceedingly difficult to have a discussion -- or dialogue or debate or whatever -- about the merits of Trumpcare because there is nothing meritorious about taking away health care from 24 million Americans even if you believe rewarding corporations and the rich with tax cuts and building more aircraft carriers and a border wall is more important. But the biggest reason is that the guy who now owns the most calculatedly cruel piece of legislation since the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act is incapable of understanding anything beyond the alternate reality in which he lives.
That, of course, would be President Donald J. Trump, who even George Will, who is the éminence grise of conservative punditocracy, has finally discovered "doesn't even know what it is to know something."
This includes the history of the Civil War and the fact Frederick Douglass is very dead and has been for 125 years, as well as his continuing insistence that Barack Obama ordered his Trump Tower phones to be tapped although there is not a shred of evidence that happened and it would take a single phone call to the FBI to confirm that.
There is a new addition to this long, frightening and ever growing list: Despite repeated warnings that Michael Flynn was toxic because of his Russia ties, Trump named him national security adviser anyway.
These warnings were not delivered by the Tooth Fairy as The Donald tossed and turned in bed. They came from President Obama when they met privately at the White House two days after the election, again in late November when his national security transition leader, freaked out about the president-elect's laizzes-faire attitude about multiple contacts between his associates and Russians, beseeched him to put Flynn in charge of national security for the new administration, and again when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned Trump's White House counsel in two face-to-face meetings and a phone call that the Russians had kompromat (compromising information) on Flynn that made him vulnerable to blackmail and he possibly was liable for criminal prosecution.
Experienced shrinks are able to identify why Trump is unable to escape his alternate reality world: He is incapacitated by a textbook case of malignant narcissism, which is characterized by grandiosity, an insatiable need for admiration, sadism and fantasies galore.
This would seem to be a perfect reason for invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for replacement of a president who is judged to be mentally unfit, and sending Trump back to Gotham with or without a stopover at Happy Acres Sanitarium, but our Madisonian system of checks and balances makes that and the more traditional use of impeachment extremely difficult this early in his tenure. Which prompts a thoughtful scribe like Will to aver that "it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating with its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict."
While a head case who has access to the nation's nuclear codes is horrifying and helps explain why many of us have been living in an unrelieved state of stress since last November 8, Trump's fandango with insanity extends well beyond the possibility that he will blow us all to smithereens because some tinhorn dictator disses America or the Queen dashes his dream of riding in her gold-plated royal carriage when he visits London in a few months.
Trump's craziness has indelibly colored our lives, country and culture.
In 228 years, only one president has resigned and two have been impeached, and although neither was ultimately removed from office, we can hope.§
This is because Trump is a special case. He is the first president with no experience in the government or military and, in fact, has never done an honest day's work in his life. He is the first president to not merely keep his business empire, but use the Oval Office as a profit center. At 70 years, he's also the oldest person to assume the presidency, and you don't have to be Hippocrates to know that beyond his mental incapacity, he is an overweight physical wreck.
But at the root of Trump's vulnerability -- and what could well determine how long he remains in office -- is that no one likes him.
He has no friends. (I dare you to name one.) Those who say they like or express admiration for him are suck-ups or people who owe their jobs to him. Or both. Congressional Republicans will tell you after a couple of martinis and a good cry that they loath the guy and are hanging with him because they want to enact their legislative agenda. You know, the one that makes having a womb a pre-existing condition.
And speaking of crazy, it may seem nuts to suggest Republicans have been "engaging in increasingly elaborate political suicide attempts," as Ross Douthat, another conservative pundit, puts it. After all, the GOP controls all three branches of the federal government since it controls Senate and House, Trump is president and Neil Gorsuch is now the conservative balance tipper on the Supreme Court.
But the party is in big trouble and Trump will only hasten its electoral exfoliation in 2018 and probably again in 2020. What has the party done since it was reinvigorated in 2010 on the back of the passage of the then deeply unpopular. -- which is to say deeply misunderstood -- Affordable Care Act?
It has twice shut down government for no good reason, unless you consider spite to be a good reason, whinged and lied for seven years about Obamacare without ever offering an alternative, engaged in endless internecine warfare over political purity, and flirted with treason in constantly trying to undermine Barack Obama.
Now the pigeons have come home to roost with Trumpcare.
The legislation was written entirely by men, with not a moderate among them, and eviscerates the very aspects of Obamacare that many Americans have come to embrace because they love entitlement programs (like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) once they start getting checks and benefits. Taking Obamacare away will be political poison, while shopworn Republican arguments like the whopper that Obamacare hinders freedom of choice when the alternative for 24 million Americans is having no health care, has the ring of a sledge hammer on concrete.
The appearance of Sally Yates on Monday afternoon before a Senate subcommittee in the latest chapter of the Russia scandal saga -- you know, the that one our alternate-reality president repeatedly insists is "fake news" -- was expected to be anticlimactic.§
It was not.
Yates, who as acting attorney general in the opening days of the Trump administration was axed for refusing to enforce the president's Muslim ban (which 15 weeks later still has not passed constitutional muster), smiled for the cameras and then testified that she and Obama had done everything short of waterboarding Trump to get him to understand that Flynn was big trouble.
Flynn's "underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself," Yates testified, and this did not even take into account that he was a known Russia propagandist who had been paid $34,000 by a Russian state media outlet. She said she could not reveal the nature of Flynn's "conduct" because it was drawn from classified information, but said that Russia knew about it too, leading the Obama Justice Department to conclude that Flynn "was compromised with respect to the Russians."
Yates said that not only was the Justice Department aware that Russia had proof of Flynn's possible duplicity, but "that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians."
James R. Clapper, Obama's director of national intelligence, testified alongside Yates.
"This is a classic technique they use going back to the Soviet era," he said of Russian attempts to try to leverage Flynn. Clapper also said that intelligence agencies were investigating Trump's own business ties with Russia.
Beyond the president's face-to-face meeting with the president elect on November 10, Yates warned Donald F. McGahn II, Trump's White House counsel, on January 26, she followed up on that warning on January 27 by telling McGahn that Flynn might be criminally prosecuted and then, in response to a request from McGahan on January 30, allowed him to review the underlying intelligence supporting her concern.
We also know that Marshall Billingslea, a former Bush administration national security official and head of the president-elect's national security transition team, was deeply skeptical about Russian intentions and painfully aware that Trump was not.
Billingslea was so concerned about contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials in light of the well-documented Russian effort to throw the election to Trump that he obtained approval from the White House to review a CIA file on Russian ambassador Serge Kislyak, who is widely believed to be a spy, because of his belief that neither Trump nor Flynn were taking seriously the implications of Flynn's contacts with the ambassador, which included discussions about easing Obama administration sanctions on Russia.
Flynn denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak, an assertion echoed by Vice President Mike Pence and White House press secretary Sean Spicer, but FBI surveillance revealed that was false.
(In a shockingly visceral example of how "the truth" is a malleable concept for Trump and his team, Yates noted that McGahn's initial response to her was why does it matter if one White House official lies to another White House official? And after Yates arranged for Trump to see the evidence against Flynn on January 30, he fired her for not enforcing his Muslim ban and not Flynn for being a security risk.)
The rest, as they say, was history.
Flynn, an Islamaphobe with a fondness for conspiracy theories, lasted only 24 days as Trump's national security adviser. He was forced to resign not because of his communications with Kislyak or vulnerability to blackmail, but because he had misled Pence about the meetings, according to the White House line. But the real reason was that The Washington Post found out about and published a story on the multiple warnings.
The responsibility-averse Trump White House has yet to even begin to explain why Flynn was appointed, let alone kept in such an important position for so long despite all the warnings, and blames Obama for the debacle.
In a tweet before the hearing, the ever helpful Trump in what could be construed as witness tampering, accused Yates without evidence of blabbing to the press about Flynn's conversations with the Russians. Yates later testified that she never has leaked information of any kind. And a hearing without mention of Hillary Clinton's emails would not really be a hearing, so Senator Ted Cruz brought them up since Yates' testimony was pretty much indisputable.
Yes, Spicer acknowledged, Obama "wasn't exactly a fan" and implied the former president's warning was sour grapes, and said that if there truly was a concern, Obama should have suspended Flynn's security clearance.
"Where there is smoke there is not necessarily fire," noted the WaPo's E.J. Dionne. "But there is so much smoke from the Trump-Russia probe that you can't get near it without a respirator. Monday's hearing further pumped the bellows."
Click HERE for an index of previous Russia scandal-related posts
and HERE for a timeline of the scandal.
and HERE for a timeline of the scandal.