Republicans Frightened by the Bell

Most of us have heard some version of the tale. It has been around for a long, long time. Vermont scholar Marjorie Dundas is retired from teaching, but she has made a sort of second career in collecting variations of the same legend.

Thumbing through the anthology, I am struck by the diversity of nationality and ethnicity. The ancient wisdom of a judge in India, of a magistrate in mainland China, a county governor in Taiwan. Could the same ancient story come from so many places? I admit to a suspicion that the single origin of all those versions may be the creative imagination of some forgotten writer.

The story I heard as a kid was about the ancient Chinese magistrate. A priceless item has been stolen. A host of suspects appear before the magistrate. Each swears to innocence. There seems no way to find the actual thief. So the magistrate resorts to the supernatural.
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Trump Truth

The young inexperienced security guard had quickly won over pretty much all of us. He had a sort of naive air about him that almost compelled us into a protective mode. He made friends. So, when he and his wife lost the baby during her difficult pregnancy, our small office sort of closed ranks around them both.

One loutish supervisor tried to comfort them with a larger perspective. “A miscarriage is just nature’s way of getting rid of its mistakes.”
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Ethnic Logic: Children to Become Strangers in a Strange Land


I cannot claim to be diligent about exercise.

It has been years since I ran or even walked for any purpose other than getting some short distance away.


It isn’t a defiance of mild medical admonition, exactly. It’s more an issue of time. Sometimes what is most important is not what is most urgent. At least that’s the story I tell myself.

I still see folks as I commute. You can tell the people doing their daily obligation to health and wellbeing. They do the same thing I sometimes did in my less sedentary days. I carried a stick. It was for a couple of reasons.

It signaled to me that it was time to adopt a fitness persona. Tired? Keep running because I had the stick.

But it was also for early morning or late night protection. I’m pretty big and kind of dopey looking. So nobody is likely to bother me. And walking in most neighborhoods is safer than you might think. But why take chances?

So I see folks walking or running with their sticks in hand, and I know they’re exercising.

A few years ago, one early morning walker in Montgomery, Alabama, suddenly found himself surrounded by police. Officers from two patrol cars were joined by another on a motorcycle. They questioned the man. Did he just come from South Perry Street? As questioning went on, the reason became apparent. The police had a report of someone walking with a crowbar.
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Sheriff Joe is Not a Good Guy


She was getting angrier as we argued on the Church parking lot. She controlled her irritation at my unreasonable position. But, finally, she had had enough. She pointed her finger at me and spoke deliberately. “When you get to be my age…”

The words went through my head: “I’m in love.” She had no idea how much younger she was than was I.

It was years ago. We sometimes tell the story together, and she makes a point of assuring me I still look much younger than my age.

Our argument is lost to me now. I wonder if she remembers it. It probably had to do with some change in ritual.
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Why Trump Goes Flake Squeezing

The Christine Jorgensen Story was a bit of a stylistic throwback, even in 1970. It was kind of a low-grade melodrama, but the sympathetic treatment of its subject was groundbreaking.

In 1970, we were barely emerging from an ethos in which any sort of sexual divergence from socially approved norms was considered perversion.

Christine Jorgensen was a real person. She had started life as George and became Christine through sex reassignment surgery in 1951. That was way, way before transgender became a word known to much of anyone. The film introduced the idea to a resistant society. Most viewers had to have nodded in recognition of our common upbringing:

George, remember? I told you before. Your sister has her toys, and you have yours.

Look, you have so many lovely toys of your own. Come over. Take a look at your Erector set, why don’t we build something?

Your father will be so proud of you. Let’s build a beautiful, big skyscraper. The best building, the most beautiful building, in all the world.

The Christine Jorgensen Story, 1970

The film brought her into what would probably have been a fleeting bit of fame. But then she found herself at the center of a United States Senate campaign.

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed a Republican to take his place in the United States Senate. Rockefeller had always been more conservative than was generally acknowledged. He had a reputation as a liberal Republican mostly because of his clashes with what we euphemistically called “cultural conservatives” in those days. That was the polite, politically correct term for those who thought black people were too damn pushy about voting rights and anti-discrimination laws. In those days, lots of folks felt that black people should have been grateful that lynching had been confined mostly to the south.

Rockefeller appointed conservative Congressman Charles Goodell to fill Kennedy’s seat. Goodell was not well known except as a sort of right winger. But a student intern from Wellesley College, working in his office, described him as a thoughtful man who had growing concerns about the conflict in Vietnam. That conservative Republican student was developing doubts of her own. Her name was Hillary Rodham.

After Goodell became Senator Goodell, he began openly questioning the war. Soon, he was speaking out at protest rallies. I remember listening to him him as we peaceably assembled in October, 1970 in Washington DC. He voiced his departure from a vain and tragic hope:

That we can convert, by words alone, a corrupt Saigon government into a government representative and responsive to the needs of its people.

Senator Charles Goodell, October, 1970

It was not a surprise that the Nixon administration conducting that war was not happy that their conservative friend was urging us to get out of a losing situation. President Nixon sent Spiro Agnew out to destroy Senator Goodell.

Those of us who remember Nixon’s Vice President are most likely to recall a few pithy phrases:

…an effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.


nattering nabobs of negativism.

His attacks on Charles Goodell were, at first, notable:

I will NOT support a radical liberal no matter what party he belongs to.

Then they became spectacular. His most aggressive attack seems pretty mild today. At the time, the words were considered so inflammatory they were disowned and criticized by Republican candidates for office across the country. He was asked about his criticisms about Senator Goodell, who was, after all, a member of his own party.

If you look at the statements Mr. Goodell made during his time in the House and compare them with some of the statements I have been referring to, you will find that he is truly the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party.

Spiro Agnew, October 8, 1970, New Orleans

And so Christine Jorgensen became a household name. She was the subject of interviews, mentioned inferentially in films and television shows for decades. Christine Jorgensen died of cancer in 1987 at the age of 62.

Charles Goodell was defeated in his 1970 re-election campaign. The New York liberal vote was divided between Goodell and Democrat Richard Ottinger. Conservative Party candidate James Buckley was elected for a term with slightly more than a third of the votes cast.

I occasionally think about that 1970 campaign. It was a contentious and discouraging year. The attack using Christine Jorgensen’s name forced me to think about, and to be ashamed of, the way I had always considered sexuality and those whose orientation differed from my own.

Now I think about 1970 as a year of protest. And I think about the spectacle of a conservative Republican national administration targeting an otherwise conservative Republican Senator for defeat because of genuine differences of conscience.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is said already to be a target of the Trump administration in next year’s campaign.

The White House has met with at least three actual or prospective primary challengers to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in recent weeks, a reflection of Donald Trump’s strained relations with the senator and the latest sign of the president’s willingness to play hardball with lawmakers who cross him — even Republican incumbents.

Politico, July 17, 2017

It seems unlikely that this is a result of the failure of healthcare repeal. It is true that Senator Flake did not endorse the last proposals to end healthcare for millions of people. Neither had several other Republican Senators who are not targeted by our President.

Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas announced they would vote against repeal. Two other Republican Senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine had already said they would vote no on repeal. They were not targeted by Donald Trump for defeat.

Senator Flake has not yielded to loud and persistent pressure from his constituents to come out against healthcare repeal. He has refused to oppose President Trump.

In fact, on most issues, Senator Jeff Flake is among the Senate’s most reliable conservatives. The NRA is enthusiastic about him. Opponents of abortion rights give him a 100% rating. He is a hardline hawk on deficit spending. He is a firm advocate for a balanced budget amendment. He opposes gay marriage. He is a reliable vote against any enforcement of laws against hate crimes that target gay people. The list goes on and on.

Yet President Trump vowed to spend a million dollars of his own money to defeat Senator Flake. Why?

Here’s why.

In 2016, Senator Jeff Flake was reported to have told then candidate Trump that some of his remarks about women were personally offensive, and that some positions seemed like those of a hopeless bigot. He told him that to his face.

Here is what he said publicly:

There are certain things you can’t do as a candidate, and some of the things he’s done, I think, are beyond the pale.

Senator Jeff Flake, June 12, 2016

And there it is: the difference between today and almost half a century ago.

In 1970:

Spiro Agnew worked at provocation. He used alliterative phraseology to attract attention to what he called “positive polarization.” But, in the end, his motivation was an actual important difference.

Senator Goodell has sought, flamboyantly and ceaselessly, to openly divorce himself from our President and from the Nixon administration.

Spiro Agnew, October 7, 1970

The word for that is policy.

And today:

A year ago, Senator Jeff Flake told his constituents, and told Donald Trump to his face, that he didn’t like how Mr. Trump was acting. The President still seethes with resentment.

The word for that is petty.

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The Presidential Denial that Denies Itself


She was adamant.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

The young woman was insistant. And she, emphatically, was not telling the truth.

A carefully planned celebration was about to fall through.

The manager of our St. Louis branch office had become a popular figure among employees. He had a talent for listening carefully, for detecting hidden motives. When he had caught a glimmer of what inspired an individual, he would use that insight to motivate.

One employee wanted to learn a new computer language. The manager loaned him books, then made a point of asking him about his progress. When progress lagged, the manager stayed after hours and worked with the aspiring employee.

Later, when a recruiter was told about the developing skill, word spread. The employee found himself in demand. He turned down job offers and continued studying after work with the encouragement and occasional help from the manager.

I should know. I was that employee.

The manager’s penchant for helping seemed to dovetail with company goals. That made him popular with the home office in Iowa. In retrospect, the announcement seemed inevitable. The manager was being promoted. He would no longer be among us.

Employees made plans for a going away party. It would be a surprise. An upscale restaurant was around the corner and arrangements were made. A trophy was prepared, speeches were composed. The President of the company was contacted and booked a flight. It got to be a big deal.

On the final day, the little group who had been working with the restaurant made excuses and dashed off to prepare tables and placements.

They were soon back with the bad news. The planner at the restaurant told them there was no room after all. Unexpected crowds had shown up for lunch and the reserved tables were suddenly filled with patrons. They returned to the office, defeated.

I was among those who went back to the restaurant to find out what had gone wrong. We located the manager, who summoned the planner. The conference turned into a confrontation.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

The manager could have posed for a portrait of befuddled confusion.

It all eventually turned out okay. A few hasty telephone calls to a competitor restaurant a few blocks away solved the problem. They were busy, but their people would find a way to make it work, and they would find that way now. Right now.

I have had occasion to remember that incident, and the planner who denied any planning, as our national drama continues to unfold.

One constant throughout our history, even during foreign invasion, even as the White House was burned to ashes, even during the Civil War, has been a reverence for free elections. The possibility that close elections were stolen has been a matter of nationwide controversy.

The idea that a hostile foreign government, a traditional adversary, had succeeded in influencing how voters cast their ballots has been earth shattering. As evidence has piled up, that idea has acquired more than plausibility.

The possibility that the very systems used to house voting registration records had been infiltrated, that the infestation had occurred in more than three fourths of the states, has matured from possibility into near certainty.

The prospect of actual participation of Americans in that interference has produced reactions ranging from furious rage among patriots to angry denial among those who might be suspected. It should produce both.

Throughout it all, our new President has combined protests of innocence, counter accusation, executive orders to close off investigation, and furtive actions that have created and intensified suspicion. The firing of the head of the FBI did not douse the flames. Flirtations with officials of the former Soviet Union have not helped. Unexplained policy lurches favoring that nation of confirmed conspirators have not quelled the mistrust of our new national leadership.

But political life being what it is, Republican officials have cautiously defended my President.

Lindsey Graham tiptoed to the edge of a forthright defense on Face the Nation:

The hearing was pretty good. No collusion with a Russians … yet.

That “yet” was more than an escape hatch. It was a wide open side door. At least it seemed that way at first.

Then the good Senator proved what a friend he could be as he explained why my President must be innocent:

He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong with the Russians and I tend to believe him.

He can’t collude with his own government. Why do you think he’s colluding with the Russians

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), June 11, 2017

So President Trump is innocent. Because he is not competent enough to be guilty?

Others are more steely in their insistence. When it comes to President Trump’s denials that Russians interfered in any way with 2016 elections, conservative David French, at National Review, has been a true believer.

The Russians hacked a few computers, but they did not “hack” an election. The media’s persistent insinuations otherwise are leading millions of Americans to believe that the Russians actually meddled with the election process itself, including with voting machines. There is zero evidence that occurred. None. Zilch. Nada.

David French, the National Review, March 31, 2017

As we might expect, Sean Spicer agrees. He has been carrying the President’s message for months. There is no evidence of meddling. None.

There is zero evidence that they actually influenced the election.

Sean Spicer, January 2, 2017

The New York Times publishes a bit of research, a story replete with Trump operatives, Russia, spies, and technology. And so, of course, President Trump’s Chief of Staff talks about fake news:

I can assure you, and I’ve been I’ve been approved to say this, that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated. And it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.

And so, if I can say that to the American people, then what does it say about the story?

Reince Priebus, February 19, 2017

Yeah. If he can say that to the American people, what does that demonstrate? Well, let’s see.

My President, President Trump, who has denied that anyone had any evidence that Russia had interfered in the election that put him in office, now says this:

Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that. The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even — before the election.

President Donald Trump, June 25, 2017

There has been some internet ink spilled over President Obama’s unwillingness to make public the evidence of Russian interference unless Republican leaders in Congress agreed. Senator Mitch McConnell threatened to accuse him, and his administration, of making up the story, of lying.

Several observers make the same interesting point. One is an internet site aptly named Political Irony:

How can Trump claim that he just found out about the Russian meddling? He is the president, and the CIA (with their evidence and proof) reports to him. There is no way he didn’t know this.

It does bring back memories of the restaurant planner who nearly destroyed an office celebration at the promotion of a popular manager.

We eventually got an apology from her boss, the manager of the restaurant, and his boss, a Vice President of the restaurant chain. Both the manager and the Vice President put on aprons and catered a company luncheon for us at our office at no cost.

How did they know she was not telling the truth? They explained. In her insistent denial, she had gotten mixed up.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

Then she blurted out what she thought was additional conclusive proof.

Besides, I told them on the phone that we would be too busy that day.

I thought about the moral equivalent, substituting a defensive President for a defensive restaurant planner.

There was no Russian interference. There is no evidence. There is nothing to investigate. It’s all fake news.

Besides, with all that evidence of Russian meddling, OBAMA should have done something.

“The CIA gave him information on Russia”

“He did nothing about it.”


Donald Trump should put on an apron. Honorable man that he is, I’m sure he’ll want to cater an apology event.

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Demanding Loyalty,
Demanding Adoration


President Trump responds to the allegation that he demanded personal loyalty from then FBI Director James Comey:

I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean, think of it. I hardly know the man. It doesn’t make sense. No, I didn’t say that.

President Donald Trump,   June 9, 2017

Some boorishness might be expected in a well known figure thrust suddenly, unexpectedly, into a position of national leadership. Some might have expected that the disrespectful liberties taken with unwilling women would provoke lasting damage. History will show none of that. Such incidents instead have served as a portend, a quest for complete dominance characterizing every relationship.

Even taking control of ongoing investigations, manipulating them to his own purposes would never serve as a warning to the most slavishly loyal of his followers.

When a national leader, one who insists on personal loyalty above all else, even loyalty to country, meets with officials of his administration, we might expect some bowing and scraping. After all, those whose future depends on the good will of the one they serve are to be expected to heap praise upon him, to seek his blessing, to assume an attitude of worship.

There is no actual transcript of the meeting. If there ever was, it was lost to history. But there are occasional reenactments. The entire nation witnessed one theatrical performance the other day.

There were expressions of humble gratitude, humble thanks for unexpected honor:

thank you[1]

thank you for the opportunity[7]

For the privilege

can’t thank you enough for the privileges[9]

an incredible privilege[14]

great privilege you’ve given me[1]

privileged to be here[8]

It’s a privilege to serve[13]

greatest privilege of my life[19]

The honor

what an incredible honor[9]

an honor to serve[14]

It was a great honor[2]

it’s an honor[3]

an even greater honor[2]

honor to serve[1]

Deeply honored[8]

a great honor[10]

deeply honored[5]

Personal Praise

the leadership that you’ve shown[9]

with your direction[16]

leading across the board[15]

I want to congratulate you[6]

You’re absolutely right[16]

my hat’s off to you[12]

Messages from the people, his people,
of their love and adoration:

The response is fabulous around the country.[4]

excited and enthusiastic folks are[9]

Hundreds and hundreds of people
were just so thrilled

The enthusiasm was uncontainable,
soaring into worship

It’s a joy[17]

an honor to be your steward[5]

It’s a new day[15]

Finally blossoming into a climactic benediction of worshipful praise and gratitude:

We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us[18]

A sort of deification of national leaders can be expected after they are gone: a part of traditional reverence to the past, a respectful bow toward those who once led the most powerful nation on earth.

Still, we might expect a bit of shock when an emperor proclaims himself to be a god while he is still living.

As we learn that those same leaders were then ordered to wait on him and run beside his chariot as if they were hounds, we can begin to get the full measure of the obeisance he needed, and demanded, and got.

The dominance, the demand for personal loyalty, the need for worshipful adoration, were part of his eventual downfall.

Nearly two thousand years later, Caligula is still remembered.

He will never be remembered fondly.

Note: We thank the participants in this week’s re‑enactment:

  1. Rex W. Tillerson
  2. Steven Mnuchin
  3. James N. Mattis
  4. Jeff Sessions
  5. Ryan Zinke
  6. Sonny Perdue
  7. Wilbur Ross
  8. R. Alexander Acosta
  9. Tom Price
  10. Ben Carson
  11. Elaine L. Chao
  12. Rick Perry
  13. Betsy DeVos
  14. Mike Pompeo
  15. Nikki R. Haley
  16. Mick Mulvaney
  17. Dan Coats
  18. Reince Priebus
  19. Mike Pence

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When Trump Meets Kim – One Precondition We Must Demand

In the Presidential debate of July, 2007, the candidates are talking about talking.

The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

Senator Barrack Obama, July 24, 2007

Presidential candidate Barrack Obama came under sustained attack during the summer of 2007 for his openness to talks with countries who had no love for the United States. The question he had answered dealt not only with Iran, but also with Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. That would be Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. The totalitarian dictatorship that has imprisoned the northern half, and threatened the southern half, of the Korean Peninsula for longer than the grandparents of most of the world’s citizens have been alive.

Senator Obama took a lot of heat for that.

This is dangerous. It isn’t just naive; it’s dangerous.

Senator John McCain, October 14, 2008

Obama was right. His critics were wrong.

We don’t talk with our adversaries because we agree with them. We talk with them because we disagree. The purpose of talking, even with enemies, is to find some area, however small, where a meeting of the minds can happen.

That is why I cautiously agreed with Donald Trump when he was still candidate Trump. He told Reuters News Agency what approach he would take with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

I would speak to him. I would have no problem speaking to him.

Donald Trump, May 18, 2016

There are, of course, dangers in such talks, dangers that are magnified by quantum levels beyond any that our last President might have faced.

President Obama was nearly obsessive in preparing for every eventuality. His daily briefings were detailed. Even at that, he frequently asked for, and got, additional background sourced information.

President Trump famously regards daily briefings as a sign of mental weakness.

You know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.

Donald Trump, December 11, 2016

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau had some fun, a couple of weeks back, imagining schoolchild Donny Trump refusing to read the class assignment. “Reading is for losers!” he declares to a classmate. “I’m about winning.”

In class, the teacher calls on him. What does he think European countries have to fear from Russia?

He has no idea, not having read the assignment. So he tries to bluff his way through.

“Well, I want to just start by saying hopefully they’re going to have to fear nothing, ultimately. Right now there is a fear, and there are problems — there are certainly problems.”

The child babbles on. The teacher looks skeptical.

“But ultimately, I hope that there won’t be a fear and there won’t be problems, and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.”

The teacher gets impatient. Donny is determined to come up with words that will give the illusion of preparation.

“It’s crazy what’s going on — whether it’s the Middle East or you look at — no matter where the — Ukraine — you look at — whatever you look at, it’s got problems, so many problems.”

Finally the teacher interrupts. “So no clue.”

The cartoon would be a harmless, pretty much meaningless, slap, but Trudeau reveals what inspired the fictional classroom dialogue.

Well, I want to just start by saying hopefully they’re going to have to fear nothing, ultimately. Right now there is a fear, and there are problems — there are certainly problems. But ultimately, I hope that there won’t be a fear and there won’t be problems, and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.

It’s crazy what’s going on — whether it’s the Middle East or you look at — no matter where the — Ukraine — you look at — whatever you look at, it’s got problems, so many problems. And ultimately, I believe that we are going to get rid of most of those problems, and there won’t be fear of anybody. That’s the way it should be.

Donald Trump, Press Conference, April 12, 2017

Yeah, that’s the way it should be.

The problem with unconditional talks with this President is one not faced by our last President. Little Donny Trump has grown up, but the stubborn refusal to prepare lives on. His lack of preparation, the fast-talking bluff-your-way-through approach, lends itself to blunders in a nuclear age. His need to impress combines with panic when he has no knowledge with which to impress. He seizes whatever tiny morsels of information are available. Sometimes this includes what his visitors let him know.

Intelligence experts tell us that Russia is not the only country that has figured out how to push the right buttons to convince Donald Trump of just about anything. Personal flattery, especially about his intelligence and political prowess, can lay the groundwork. Then, a foreign leader need only put whatever spin is needed on policy.

The strategy has worked for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Russia has had additional advantages, but Sergey Kislyak has used flattery, artful spin of information, and a skillful exploitation of a Presidential craving to impress. Saudi Arabia has met with President Trump and now has an agreement to a new arsenal of arms. The combination has even worked to a lesser degree for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The President blusters before meeting. Then, across the negotiating table, he wilts when flattered. When he is then confronted with a tsunami of information and spin, he is helpless.

His meeting with the leader of China is one small example. As long as he was out of the presence of President Xi Jinping, he could boast about the tough approach he would take. On retaliating against China’s currency manipulation, he previews his planned hard line:

Listen you m*** f***s, we’re going to tax you 25%.

Donald Trump, April 28, 2011

More calmly, and more recently, he explains how China controls North Korea, and how he will control China. The Korean problem will be ended immediately.

At the same time, I would put a lot of pressure on China because economically we have tremendous power over China. People don’t realize that. They are extracting vast billions of dollars out of our country. Billions. And we have tremendous power over China. China can solve that problem with one meeting or one phone call.

Donald Trump, May 16, 2017

Face to face with China’s President, Xi Jinping, things change quickly.

President Xi explains many things to him, and student Trump becomes devoted to newly discovered truth. Hostility is gone. Peace reigns as he copies from the Chinese leader’s paper.

China, as it turns out, is not a currency manipulator after all. The situation with North Korea turns out to be very complicated. Much more complicated than most people realize. And, one very interesting piece of history that is not generally known, China has a history with Korea. In fact, China has a legitimate claim. Korea has historically been part of China.

That last provoked rage in South Korea, but President Trump had been taught by the best.

All that had to happen was a bit of education, one President to another.

So, yeah, I still favor a meeting with North Korea. Every citizen ought to. Congress and the Senate should support our President. Democrats and Republicans should have his back.

But everyone, in government and out, public officials and ordinary citizens, should insist on one and only one precondition.

We must demand, before any meeting with President Trump, North Korea will make one firm guarantee.

Kim Jong Un must first agree never to educate our President.

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The Delicate Art of Turning a Patriot into a Traitor

How does an enemy agent turn a decorated General, a patriot, an authentic American hero, into a traitor? What goes through the mind of a trusted, high ranking military officer as he sells out his country to a hostile foreign power?

The saga of General Michael Flynn reminded me of a movie from more than 50 years ago.

The Great Escape, the film, was based on an actual event in World War II, as captured allied soldiers tunneled out of a German prison camp in a massive break. Most were re-captured. Many of those captured were executed on orders from Hitler in what became an infamous war crime. But they succeeded in tying up resources of the Nazi war machine.

The escape could probably not have happened without the cooperation of a few German guards. These were not bold military men putting themselves into harm’s way out of deeply held principle. Most were enticed, little by little. The film illustrated what accounts in the real spy world tell us are classic methods of inducement. Bribery, flattery, playing on resentments. Most important, the steps must be incremental. Start small and aim high.

A prisoner played by James Garner befriends a young, earnest guard with chocolates and conversation. The break comes when he picks the young man’s pocket and acquires the prison guard’s wallet. The aim is not as much contents of the wallet as it is the desperation of the young man.

Robert Hendley: What’s the matter, Werner?

Private Werner: My wallet, my papers, my identity card. Gone. I lost them. Everything.

Hendley: (explaining to another prisoner) He lost his wallet. Do you realize what would happen if Strachwitz found this out? The Russian front.

Werner: I’ve looked every place, every place. I must have lost them while I was in here.

Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.

Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !
[About to leave]

Hendley: Oh Werner! There is…
… one
… small
… favor.
A camera.

A camera.

Little things, a candy bar and conversation, lead to a lost wallet, which leads to a camera, which leads to travel papers for use in the coming escape. The papers lead to more. If his superiors find out, Werner is in for some very tough times. At each step, young Werner is safe … as long as he cooperates in something a little bigger, then a little bigger than that.

I wonder if something similar, some small item, was amplified over time, as Major André went to work on his American victim.

An American general can’t be turned easily, not one who has distinguished himself in combat, rallying troops against what seemed like hopeless odds to win two important battles. In one case he was partially drenched in his own blood. He nearly lost a leg. Yet he and his men prevailed.

Resentment had to play a part. He felt betrayed by the leader of our country. He had been passed over by a half dozen officers who had nowhere near his record of bravery or victory. Major André played on those resentments.

Then there was the faltering lifestyle, sustained by debt. Offering cash payments is a delicate business. André’s success will be required reading for anyone with an interest in how patriots can be subverted.

Major André is long gone, but Russian Ambassador and top spy Sergey Kislyak has many of the same skills. He met numerous times with Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner. But his greatest success seems to have been the turning of American general Michael Flynn.

The parallels are striking.

Military heroism and skill are there.

General Flynn saw combat in Grenada, then helped turn military intelligence into a modern force. President Obama eventually put him in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

And, of course, there was the same seething resentment toward the leader of our country.

It was as Director of Intelligence that his career took a nosedive. He gained a reputation for hasty conclusions supported by hazy or entirely made-up facts. His subordinates called his insistent interpretations “Flynn Facts.” His reports became the stuff of fantasy. In the end he was forced out.

In his mind, President Obama had put him into a high position of authority, only to turn on him. It wasn’t fair.

At the Republican National Convention, his bitterness toward all things connected with Obama was on full display. His rage at Hillary Clinton was palpable. We watch on video: General Flynn gives his speech as if it is ALL IN CAPS. You can almost feel the angry spittle hit the inside of your screen.

What was not known by most was that resentment, money, and Russian spymaster Sergey Kislyak had formed a decisive chemistry. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to him through corporate channels, speakers’ bureaus, and a Danish shell company. He became a secret paid agent, first of Russia, then of Turkey. His views took a radical turn toward both.

At one point, he huddled with Turkish agents to talk about the best way to kidnap an Islamic cleric who was critical of the Turkish government and was living in exile in the United States.

In all, while he was advising Donald Trump on National Security, attending meetings involving classified issues, he was secretly on and off and on the payroll of foreign governments. The fact that he was a foreign agent was still a secret when he was formally named as National Security Adviser. By then, the small payments had led to larger payments, and had built up to more than half a million dollars.

Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican Chair of the Investigating Committee, April 25, 2017

What was worse than the payments was that he had kept them secret. The Russians knew about them. President Trump, presumably did not. At least at first. Secrets can lead to threats of exposure.

Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.

Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !

Hendley: There is…
… one
… small
… favor.

And so, as Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned, then later testified, General Flynn became vulnerable to greater and greater blackmail.

Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the National Security Adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

Sally Yates, in sworn testimony, May 8, 2017

General Flynn was, for a second time, forced out of government service, weeks after Sally Yates carried her warning to the White House.


The skillful Russian master spy, Sergey Kislyak, has diplomatic immunity. The master spy from long ago, Major John André, did not. Without that immunity, at considerable personal risk, Major André manipulated the seething resentments harbored by his victim, and was able to use his crushing financial situation.

Even exploiting those weakness, considerable skill had to have been applied by the British Agent. In the end, General Arnold turned over plans detailing the American military post at West Point, along with suggestions of how enemy forces could defeat the American defenders.

British Major John André was caught by the Americans, tried, and eventually hanged. Benedict Arnold escaped and lived out his years in London.

There is some speculation, but only speculation, that President Trump is himself vulnerable to old information Vladimir Putin now possesses: records of massive money laundering and videotapes from stays at Moscow hotels run by the modern version of the old KGB.

Respect for the office of President requires skepticism at the most extravagant claims until actual facts are produced. In a free society, official investigations have, in the past, combined with a free press to eventually get behind the curtain of cover-up, to reveal truth. We can have some faith, perhaps more hope than faith, that the pattern will hold.

What we know now is that, on May 10, 2017, President Trump met in the Oval Office with modern spymaster, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Ambassador Kislyak brought with him the Russian hardline Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, high-tech cameras and equipment, and a photographer from the Russian News Agency TASS. That’s the same TASS that, for decades, was the official Soviet news agency. American news cameras were barred from the meeting.

At that meeting, in a moment of impulsive bravado, the leader of the free world offered this boast: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” Then he offered a free sample of secret high level information.

The information came from a foreign country, most reports say Israel. The country of origin asked only that the classified information be withheld from other countries, especially Russia, Russia being a close ally of Israel’s enemies. Israeli agents who have infiltrated terrorist groups are already in harm’s way. Apparently, Israel does not want to have them exposed by enemies of Israel.

The Presidential boast and the top level information was a startling breach of trust. The President of the United States had casually revealed sensitive information to back up a brag that could have been issued by any longtime occupant of a corner stool at a neighborhood bar. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” The continuous presidential craving for approval must be met at any cost.

Word is that Israeli officials regard the boasting as a betrayal of their agents, information that may lead to their identities, then to death.

I was especially struck by the telephone contact that provoked the meeting in the White House. A few days earlier, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin had made a personal request, just one … small … favor, that President Trump invite to the Oval Office Russian spymaster Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a TASS photographer, and all the camera and associated equipment that could be carried in.

Hendley: Oh Werner! There is
… one
… small
… favor.
A camera.

And our President did not hesitate.

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Two Presidents, Two Confrontations, One Winner

It was a last ditch effort by President Trump to pull support from conservative Republicans for the final repeal of the healthcare that Democrats had put into place seven years before. We have no recordings. We have no transcript. We do have what Republicans themselves are saying.

From Politico:

Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act … when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s**t,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The word, as quoted was not “stuff”.

A participant of the meeting explains to a reporter that the President

did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

Another conservative is quoted by Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker magazine that it is…

…astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy of this.

It is a clear enough summary of a Presidential approach. The “small” stuff, that was not called “stuff”, was what would affect the health of millions of American families. The “big picture” was politics.

The meeting brought to mind another confrontation that made the news. That encounter had to do with Obamacare as well. We know more of that meeting. We have transcripts. We have a video record.

House Republicans had scheduled a retreat in Baltimore a few weeks into 2010. Barack Obama had been President for just a year. Republican leaders had a great idea. They decided to invite the new President. Their top policy experts would join together, subjecting the chief executive to a grilling that would make political history.

President Obama’s one year of Presidential experience would be no match against all of the accumulated expertise of veteran house members. They would make him look foolish.

Then the President surprised them with a monumental blunder. His staff actually asked if the event might be televised. Republicans were gleeful. President Obama would not only be humiliated it would be broadcast to a national audience.

On January 29, 2010, President Obama was warmly greeted by the Baltimore gathering. Then the questions began.

The President was attacked for a lack of transparency on healthcare by Jason Chaffetz of Utah:

When you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t. I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.

The President responded mildly, correcting the assertion.

Overwhelmingly the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN, because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating.

The President suggested the Congressman look to the record.

I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership.

The President was sure and confident. Republicans had not expected this.

A new member of Congress challenged the President, accusing him of tolerating wasteful congressional earmarks that would benefit only special interests within key congressional districts. The President smiled at the question.

Some in the audience had to have squirmed as he addressed earmarks specifically designed by Republicans to benefit Republicans. The President acknowledged that some earmarks might have been defensible, but that they all shared an important defect:

They haven’t gone through the regular appropriations process in the full light of day. So one place to start is to make sure that they are at least transparent, that everybody knows what’s there before we move forward.

Then President Obama issued his own challenge to the new member.

The challenge I guess I would have for you as a freshman, is what are you doing inside your caucus to make sure that I’m not the only guy who’s responsible for this stuff, so that we’re working together?

A questioner demanded to know when the President would ever begin to listen to Republican ideas on conservative goals.

When will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost, and be fair to the American taxpayer?

The President waited for the applause to settle, then corrected the premise.

Actually, I’ve gotten many of your ideas. I’ve taken a look at them, even before I was handed this. Some of the ideas we have embraced in our package. Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.

He then mentioned several specific Republican proposals, detailing a brief analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each. It became clear to the audience that he had prepared. This was not going as they had planned.

The challenges went on. Questions ranged from softball to aggressive and harsh.

Jeb Hensarling, of Texas, demanded to know why the President wanted to triple the national debt. President Obama calmly corrected him.

I’ll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was 1.3 trillion dollars – 1.3 – So when you say that suddenly I’ve got a monthly deficit that’s higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that’s factually just not true, and you know it’s not true.

When questions became especially hostile, President Obama turned accusations around and gently used them to make his own point about Republican obstruction.

Jeb, with all due respect, I’ve just got to take this last question as an example of how it’s very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we’re going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign.

And he did not shrink from challenging some assertions.

I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.

In the end, the gleeful Republican joy at the prospect of embarrassing President Obama had become a shambles. The disappointment turned into a simmering fury. Angry Republicans told reporters that the White House had ambushed the Republican gathering. The suggestion for television cameras had been a trap contrived to make them look silly in front of a national audience.

The President had violated Republican expectations. He had not been humiliated. He had humiliated them.

President Obama’s mastery of Republican proposals, his ability to put policy into understandable language, his gentle responses to conservative aggressiveness made the news. It survives now, every nuance preserved on video. He had faced a hostile audience, he had done it in public, and he had surrounded angry arguments and gently destroyed them.

That event provides a remarkable contrast to President Trump’s private meeting with a friendly group of conservatives. We have no transcript. We have no visual record. We do have the accounts of Republicans themselves.

heard enough about policy and process.

no grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy.

One President stressed policy. The other told conservatives to ignore policy.

One spoke of the health of ordinary Americans. The other did not think the effect on real lives was worth considering.

One seemed to know more about conservative proposals than did the conservatives making those proposals. The other did not know, did not want to know, those little details.

Americans are learning to deal with a new President, a President with a limited attention span, with limited patience for other lives, with an obsession for how things look politically.

Americans are learning again each day how fondly they remember the last occupant of White House.

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