The Politics of Dilettantism: Diana Mosley and Ivanka Trump

ivanka-and-dianaFifty years from now, some interviewer will sit down with an elderly Ivanka Trump. What will she say?

“I can’t regret it,” maybe. “It was so interesting.”

Was her father anti-Semitic? “He really wasn’t, you now. He didn’t know a Jew from a Gentile. But he was attacked so much by Jews that he picked up the challenge.”

What was her relationship with him like? “He was obviously an interesting figure. It was fascinating for me, to sit and talk with him, to ask him questions and get answers, even if they weren’t true ones. No torture on earth would get me to say anything different.”

Those aren’t Ivanka quotes, of course. Not yet. No, those are Diana Mosley quotes, and she was talking about Adolf Hitler.

Diana Mosley, you may remember, was one of the Mitford girls — six upper-crusty sisters who grew up in 1920s Britain and went on to lead, to greater or lesser degrees,  splashy, dramatic lives. Diana’s sister Unity was even more enamored with Hitler, to the point that she attempted suicide at the beginning of World War II, surviving but effectively reduced to a childlike state for the rest of her life. Jessica was a communist and muckraker; Nancy wrote novels; Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire. (Pamela is the one you have to think about for a moment before saying, “Oh, yes, and Pamela.”)

But Diana was a fascist, wed to a fascist in Goebbels’s drawing room, having tea and crumpets with Hitler. She and her husband were both imprisoned in Britain during World War II, and they continued to help finance the British Union of Fascists long after the war ended. And just as I was reading about her fascination with Hitler in Laura Thompson’s Take Six Girls (which I can’t recommend; read Mary Lovell’s The Sisters instead) Ivanka Trump was making news for telling Fox News, “I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. . . . People want to work for what they get.”

Ivanka has since been dragged in a thousand editorials for her lack of self-awareness and stunning hypocrisy, but I could not stop thinking of Diana Mosley. Ivanka and Diana remind me of each other, not so much because each was or is in the sway of a particularly terrible world leader, but because of their dilettantish approach to politics. Hitler ran roughshod over Europe while Diana exulted over how exciting it all was for her and gushed over Der Fuhrer’s blue eyes and charming manner. Ivanka posts Instagram photos of herself snuggling with her two-year-old the same weekend that children are being violently separated from their parents and chit-chats with a long-suffering Angela Merkel, attending foreign policy meetings in her father’s stead while bringing no expertise or experience to the table.

This is a problem in nations afflicted by ever-widening income inequality: the wealthy can afford to approach politics as a diversion, congratulating themselves on having interesting life experiences and wielding influence (and in Ivanka’s case, actual political power) while secure in the knowledge that they will be forever protected from the consequences of the policies they tacitly or explicitly approve. It’s not so much a lack of self-awareness as a hyperawareness that nothing truly terrible will ever happen to them.

And yet perhaps they are not always entirely right about that. Sometimes the stakes are so high that their wealth and privilege cannot quite protect them from their actions. Diana Mosley and her husband spent three years in prison during World War II (Laura Thompson regards this as cruel, but neglects to mention that Diana told her interrogators that “she would like to see the German system of government in England because of all it had achieved in Germany”). It remains to be seen what will happen to Ivanka. Will she be charged and convicted by the state of New York, or by the federal government’s Southern District of New York? (Rumors abound that she and her brothers have already been saved from prosecution once, years before her father’s presidency.) Will her father agree to resign to spare her prison? Will he pardon her? Or has she skirted closely enough to the edge of the law to prevent culpability?

But then again when all is said and done, when the prison doors have opened and they have returned to high society with wealth and status largely intact, maybe even prison is just another life experience. When this era is behind us, in the twilight of her life, what will Ivanka say? Will the scales ever fall from her eyes? “It can’t regret it, it was so interesting.” It’s not hard to imagine an eighty-year-old Ivanka reflecting. “No torture on earth would get me to say anything different.”

John McCain’s Last Wish: Trolling Trump

When Charles Dickens divorced his wife, her sister sided with him and even lived with him for several years to help him raise the children. The ex-Mrs. Dickens took this remarkably calmly, but when she died she left her sister one piece of jewelry: a ring shaped like a snake. I have long regarded this as the finest example of throwing shade from beyond the grave I have ever encountered.

Until today.

 

Morning Reading, May 25, 2018

This morning:

  • Harry Litman, writing for the Washington Post, tells Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Christopher Wray to resign in protest:

    Resignations are a time-honored response for executive-branch officials and Cabinet members — think Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus in the Nixon administration — confronting orders that violate their consciences or oaths of office. We take it as not only permissible but also commendable, and at times morally necessary, for senior officials to resign rather than comply with objectionable presidential directives. Their actions are widely seen as a matter of higher duty, and an expression of fealty to law over men and office over officeholder.

  • The New Republic has a really fascinating story about John McCain and the media, and why the Washington press corps loves him so much. The thesis: that the press adores McCain because he  gives them access that no one else does, and also he seems to be interested in them as people.

    McCain understands something elemental about journalists: They love to hear good stories, and they love to tell good stories. This might seem obvious, but few politicians, in 2000 or 2018, have shown a willingness to give reporters the necessary access for such stories—nor do many politicians have personal stories as dramatic as McCain’s. Thus, most campaigns and congressional offices these days are more tightly scripted than a prime-time crime procedural on CBS.

    I have always liked McCain, as I think most people do, even though I find him frequently infuriating. How much of my affection for him is his own likability, how much of it is my connection to his PoW experience (my grandfather was a PoW in World War II), and how much of it was affected by media spin? It’s hard to say.

  • In the Nation, Laila Lalami argues that publicly shaming racists is totally appropriate:

    Schlossberg’s assertion of authority over public space is, of course, protected from government interference by the First Amendment. But that right doesn’t protect him from the social consequences of his speech, including disruption and discomfort. Those protesting Schlossberg’s actions are, in fact, exercising their own free-speech rights to object to his racism and nativism. The simple truth is that if racist behavior is insulated from social shaming, it will likely continue and multiply until it becomes accepted. What happens when a majority of Americans hold views like Schlossberg’s?

    The history of this country is replete with examples of how public space was regulated to ensure that one racial group was made comfortable at the expense of others. This is why it’s important to speak out, and speak out now. Allies can help to stop the harassment, or at least deflect it.

  • And Foreign Policy has a really interesting piece on the vote to repeal the pro-life amendment to the Irish constitution:

    As polls have shown the repeal vote maintaining a significant lead, some on the wilder fringes of the anti-abortion rights campaign have been evoking catastrophic scenarios in which Ireland becomes depopulated, baby-hating Muslims take over, and the Irish become “strangers in our own land.” Others, concerned by evidence that compassion is at play among voters, have stated in recent days that it will be possible to legislate for “hard cases” — such as pregnancy arising from rape, suicidal tendencies arising from crisis pregnancy, and pregnancies involving fatal fetal abnormalities — without repealing the constitutional ban on abortion. They are saying this despite 35 years during which there have been multiple attempts to create laws for the so-called hard cases of rape and fatal fetal abnormalities, but all have been ruled unconstitutional.

    The Taoiseach, Varadkar, has firmly rejected such scare tactics. He told the Dail, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, this week: “I would contend that it is actually our hard laws that create those hard cases. And the Eighth Amendment is too hard and forces a very hard law on Irish people and Irish women.”

    Thousands of young Irish emigrants are returning home from Britain, the United States, and farther afield to vote for change. Whatever the outcome, feminism has energized the people, reached the halls of power, and made it into Ireland’s mainstream public debate at last.

Morning Reading, May 24, 2018

Weird that yesterday felt very busy and full of news and yet this morning’s articles weren’t particularly interesting. Maybe everyone is, like me, processing last night’s The Americans.

  • In the New Republic, Maya Wiley writes about how district attorneys can change criminal justice:

    These are different campaigns, in different communities, but one thing they all have in common is a focus on how “prosecutorial discretion” can be used as a tool for reform.

    It’s a relatively new idea. For decades, reformers focused on changing America’s criminal justice system through its legislatures, a process that is vital but necessarily slow. Entrenched, powerful constituencies, like police unions and DA associations, can often slow legislation or stop it altogether. The California legislature, for example, took almost two decades to amend the notorious 1994 “three strikes” law, which required a 25-years-to-life sentence for a third felony conviction. This was despite the fact that just two years after its enactment, black people were receiving three strikes at 13 times the rate of whites. Today, with more than two million people languishing in America’s prisons and jails, at a cost to taxpayers of $87 billion per year, waiting for a legislature to act is not acceptable. Families with members suffering abuse in jail, job loss, and separation simply can’t afford to wait.

    The quintessential example of this, of course, is the high-profile Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, but according to Wiley, other cities — such as Albuquerque, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, and Tampa — have also elected reforming prosecutors. It does make me wonder why it’s so hard to convince politicians to change the laws, since apparently these kinds of prosecutors are becoming more popular.

  • In the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last surprises me by offering up a solution for the kneeling-NFL-player conundrum that I can actually get behind, if for slightly different reasons than he suggests. Yesterday the NFL owners announced that players could remain in the locker room during the anthem, but would be fined if they knelt during it. Here’s Last’s alternative:

    [T]he League understands the underlying point of your protests and we agree with you. The statistics on police use of deadly force are sobering. The statistics on police shootings of African-American men are sobering, too. And the specific cases of misconduct that America has seen over the last few years are simply awful. No matter which side of the culture war you’re on, a case like the murder of Walter Scott and the attempt of police to cover it up, ought to fill you with rage.

    So instead of making a gesture by kneeling during the national anthem, we want to try to address the problem in a concrete way. The League is going to start funneling some of its charitable giving to local police departments to fund body cameras.

    I . . . kind of agree with this? (This is very confusing for me.) My issue with the kneeling is not that I think it’s unpatriotic or an insult to the troops or any nonsense like that; the best way to honor the troops, in my opinion, is to take full advantage of the Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms they fought for. It makes no sense to me to elevate a symbol (the flag) over the substance (the Constitution). But why are liberal protestors ceding patriotism to the right anyway? If there’s anything that the last eighteen months has cemented in my mind, it’s that protestors are the real patriots. So protesting in a way that allows the Right to feel morally superior is not my favorite. But I do like the idea of the NFL owners ponying up some of their own cash to try to actually solve the problem, and of them stating on the record that police brutality is a real problem that deserves a solution.

    My guess is that Last’s compromise wouldn’t work largely because a lot of the owners don’t think that police brutality is a real problem. They can’t even be convinced to take it seriously when their players are arrested for domestic violence!

  • At Lawfare, Tamara Cofman Wittes writes about her experience observing the Lebanese elections. Her conclusion:

    New movements in any democracy take time to see electoral gains—the more so in a system as clientelistic and fractured as Lebanon’s. While the United States has for years hoped to see alternative Shia movements to Hezbollah and Amal emerge in Lebanon, such efforts remain marginal and face relentless intimidation and harassment from Hezbollah. Still and all, the emergence of trans-confessional, independent politicians and the continued pressure for improved governance mean that there is hope for change in Lebanon. The United States currently provides $80 million in economic aid and $120 million in military aid to the country, with funds focused on the army, education, and governance. Developments over the nine years since the last parliamentary elections strongly suggest that change in Lebanese politics won’t come from above but rather from the grassroots. The lesson for American policy makers is to stay in the game.

  • And Rosie Gray profiles Stormy Daniels’s colorful attorney, Michael Avenatti, for the Atlantic:

    As far as media coverage, the Daniels story has started to resemble nothing so much as major spectacles like the Simpson trial did. It’s an all-encompassing vortex that has pulled all kinds of issues into its wake and become about much more than Trump’s alleged affair: Cohen’s selling of access to the president, his potential role in Russian efforts to help Trump, and what his role in Trump’s world says about how the whole thing works. None of these angles have gotten by without a boost from the smooth-headed Avenatti, who broke the news of the payment from a Russian oligarch to Cohen. “I’m the lawyer for Stormy Daniels in the first instance and I’m the lawyer for the truth in the second instance,” he said on MSNBC last week.

    It’s kind of confusing to me how much people on the left seem to like Avenatti. I suppose it’s because (unlike Robert Mueller) he seems to be spilling information all over the place. But he’s just a lawyer: I believe that he wants to represent Stormy Daniels to the best of his ability but I’m much more skeptical that he’s a disinterested warrior in the battle for the Truth.

Morning Reading, May 23, 2018

Yesterday was primary day! At least in Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, and my home state, Arkansas. I am relieved to report that the woman who made her gun range into a “Muslim Free Zone” did not win Arkansas’s Republican gubernatorial primary, nor even come close. You can find coverage of the most important and interesting races at Vox and FiveThirtyEight.

Also this morning:

  • My favorite result of the night: Stacey Abrams won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia and could become the first Black woman to govern one of the United States. I love her, and I think she has a real shot in November, especially since the Republican primary is going to a runoff, which means that the two top Republican contenders will be fighting with each other instead of Abrams for the next two months. The Nation has complete coverage of the Abrams win from Joan Walsh and Steve Phillips. Here is what Phillips says about Abrams’s strategy:

    Especially in light of the resistance to Trump, Democratic voter turnout is up in previously conservative-voting Congressional districts, and those re-energized progressive whites can help pick up crucial seats in Georgia, as well as help capture the governor’s mansion.

    Smart investors look at trends, where things are going, not where they were. The plain truth of the matter is that every single day, America—and Georgia—get browner by the hour. Nationally, every single day, 7,000 more people of color are added to the population while the net growth of whites is just 1,000 people (that’s births minus deaths plus legal immigration (which shows why Trump is obsessed with immigration).

    It will cost about $10 million to mobilize the 230,000 previously-uninspired voters of color required to close the gap in Georgia. The question and the challenge for the progressive movement is will they put their money where their mouth is?

    I don’t think this strategy will work in every single state (I thought it would have been idiotic to try to primary Joe Manchin in West Virginia, for example). But I think Georgia might be a place where it will work, and I’m excited to see how this race goes in November.

  • The other big news of the morning (other than the president tweeting nonsense again) is that the death of a major American novelist, Philip Roth. I never could quite warm up to Roth, partly because I couldn’t relate to a sensibility that seemed extremely and specifically male to me (I feel the same way about Saul Bellow, although I did like John Updike for some reason). I also never quite forgave Roth for a passage in his memoir, Patrimony, in which he describes his father having a vulnerable moment and asking Roth not to reveal it to anyone — and then Roth put it in a book. Still, Roth’s work meant a lot of many people and Jeet Heer’s appreciation in the New Republic is well worth reading:

    What liberated Roth was popular culture. As a boy he had been an avid radio listener and as an adult he got to see the birth of modern stand-up comedy in Chicago, where Nichols and May, along with Lenny Bruce, were inventing a new form of stage humor based on the interplay of voices (cerebral, sex-obsessed, and often inflected with the language of therapy). It was Roth’s genius to realize that the language of stand-up comedy could reinvigorate literary fiction.

    The 1960s were also the great age of pop art, with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein bringing the stylistic tics of advertising and comic books to canvases. Roth did something similar to literature: He wrote pop novels, where voice (often wise-cracking, satirical, and self-critical) was central, Flaubertian coolness be damned.

  • Dahlia Lithwick has a long piece in Slate about the moral dilemma some Republicans are finding themselves in: do they give up their positions in government in hopes of retaining personal dignity, or do they stick around in hopes of possibly mitigating the damage the president is doing to the country?

    Moral courage in this setting is almost impossible to define. It’s, in one way, completely understandable and actually quite a relief that so many good people have stayed on at the highest levels of the Justice Department, the State Department, and other agencies, despite the fact that the commander in chief has no compunction about insulting them, their mission, and their leadership almost daily. We need good people to stay on to act as a bulwark against cruelty and instability. But we also need good people to leave, and to speak out, to signal that cruelty and immorality are wrong.

    The question remains the same. At what point are Trump’s attacks on his own law enforcement and national security apparatus potentially damaging enough to warrant some kind of response from patriots in both parties? And are the momentary tweets and the occasional rousing speeches and the retirements and subsequent book tours truly the kind of moral and effective responses that are warranted in times that feel imperiled as they now do?

    Lithwick doesn’t really come to any conclusion about the answers to her questions, other than yeah, some people need to leave but other people need to stay, and every serious Republican should be considering their options. If I were one of these conflicted GOPers, I don’t think this article would clarify anything for me! But it’s interesting and thoughtful nonetheless.

  • And in Foreign Policy, Terence McNamee uses a novel lens to look at the North Korea problem (at least it’s not something I’d read about or considered before): maybe it’s really like South Africa:

    North Korea’s failed promises to dismantle its arsenal in the past and its recent signaling — willing and pragmatic one day, intransigent the next — are obvious reasons to be wary. Yet we can’t assume Kim thinks North Korea can remain a pariah forever any more than de Klerk believed South Africa could. Nuclear weapons may be the only currency North Korea can leverage to rejoin the family of nations. South Africa’s experience offers a glimpse of what a verifiable drawdown of North Korea’s program might deliver internationally.
    If we dare imagine that Kim Jong Un — the third-generation Kim to rule North Korea — is a closet reformer like de Klerk, he might also have an eye on what could be achieved domestically. De Klerk used nuclear rollback as a wedge to steamroll opponents of political reform, particularly in South Africa’s security establishment.
    No one outside North Korea really knows whether a fundamental shift in the country’s nuclear posture would go smoothly or not. A congruence of interests across the constituencies affected — including the military, scientists, senior officials, and Kim himself — cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the resistance de Klerk faced from recalcitrant generals could be feeble by comparison. Conversely, Kim could be the most hawkish of the bunch, unable to conceive of any foreign-policy alternative to nuclear brinkmanship.

    Unfortunately, McNamee doesn’t offer any ideas about how we get Kim Jong Un to have the same epiphany that de Klerk seemed to have (I mean, sure, I guess he could be a secret human rights devotee who just happens to have tens of thousands of his own people in brutal prison camps), and now that the words “Libya model” have been uttered it’s hard to imagine how it could happen. An intriguing idea nonetheless.

Morning Reading, May 22, 2018

This morning:

  • A long Christopher Caldwell article in the Weekly Standard about the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte:

    There is no world leader quite like Duterte, but in his special claim to run a country being drawn at lightning speed into modernity, he bears a resemblance to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who also made the leap from big-city mayor to maximum leader. As Erdogan once was in Istanbul, Duterte was an extraordinary boss of Davao, the largest city on the vast and violent island of Mindanao. Duterte is political royalty there—his father was a governor of the province of Davao. When Duterte himself became mayor in 1988, Davao City was one of the most violent places in Southeast Asia—racked by both the New People’s Army (the Maoist armed wing of the Philippine Communist party) and radical Islamic terrorism. Islam moved through Indonesia to what is now the southern Philippines centuries ago, and Muslims make up 5 percent of the population. Most of them live just west of Davao and many want self-determination and even independence. Last year ISIS-inspired guerrillas took over the city of Marawi and were rooted out only after the army and air force waged a Stalingrad-style house-to-house campaign of urban warfare that killed hundreds. Muslims have brought their war to Davao with terror attacks, and Manila’s malls will remind Israelis of home, with bag-opening guards at the doorways of coffeehouses and sneaker stores.

    That is the secret of Duterte’s electoral success. Over two decades, at a time when Davao was doubling in size to over 1.5 million, Duterte transformed the city from a Third World hellhole into a pleasant place for a law-abiding person to live—even a business hub. He pulled this off by mixing wiles and ruthlessness, offering Muslims and Communists financial incentives to carry their campaigns elsewhere and threatening them with retribution should they not. Many human rights groups hold him responsible for about 1,000 unsolved killings during his tenure, carried out by shadowy assailants who came to be called the Davao Death Squad.

    Prior to reading this profile, I knew nothing about Duterte other than a vague impression that he was an anti-democratic authoritarian who used personal death squads to rid his country of drug dealers. That’s all true! But the Caldwell article does draw interesting parallels to the current situation in the United States; Trump and Duterte have similarities, alas, but the country is also seeing the same kind of breakdown in the separation of powers and the delegitimization of the media that we’re experiencing here.
    Most alarming of all is this quote from a Philippine senator: “The strategic aim of the [extrajudicial-killing] campaign is not to win the war on drugs. It is to promote a broader authoritarian agenda by establishing a climate of intimidation and fear that will make the destruction of democratic political institutions and political rights and their remaking in an authoritarian direction a ‘walk in the park.’” Isn’t the same thing true of the draconian crackdown on immigrants in the United States?
    I don’t necessarily agree with Caldwell’s conclusion (“Under the circumstances, it would be natural if the Philippines looked increasingly towards China, which has made ‘build, build, build’ the cornerstone of what it offers its allies, and less towards the United States, which in recent years has contented itself with ‘nag, nag, nag'”): I don’t see how it follows naturally from what came before it; it felt a bit tacked on. And I get the feeling that Caldwell has some pangs of admiration for Duterte that I do not share. But the deep dive into Philippine politics and culture is interesting.

  • In the New Republic, David Dayen takes down Paul Ryan:

    The next six months before the midterms will put the ungovernable House on display. They still have to pass a budget in September to avoid a government shutdown. There can be no greater boost to Democratic hopes to win the midterms than a Republican government unable to fulfill such basic tasks.

    You can lay that at the feet of one man. Ryan will likely leave office with Nancy Pelosi or another Democrat taking his speaker’s gavel. His own seat, in Republican hands for decades, is now a toss-up. He achieved almost none of the vaunted “reforms” he spent a lifetime promoting: Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and countless other policies remain mostly the same as when Ryan entered office. Sure, Republicans got their tax cuts—that’s no feat with a caucus of tax-cutters—but Ryan imagined the overthrow of the welfare state and got next to nothing. However he exits the House this year, it’s sure to be an appropriately ignominious end to his political career.

    Congratulations, David Dayen, on making me almost feel sympathy for Paul Ryan. This is brutal. Accurate, but brutal.

  • Duelling articles on impeachment in the Nation and the Atlantic. In the Nation, John Nichols argues that congressional Democrats are too skittish about the idea of impeachment:

    Top Democrats have largely refused to embrace an essential truth of the American experiment: that the threat of impeachment is a necessary tool for maintaining a functional system of checks and balances. It is an unfortunate fact that the Republicans who currently form a majority in the House—the chamber that is charged with beginning an impeachment inquiry—are unlikely to respect their oaths of office. It may even be the case that some of those dishonorable members are conspiring with the president to undercut the inquiry.

    But that is no excuse for dialing down discussion of impeachment. If there is any point to a two-party system, it is this: When one party is acting in a lawless manner, the other must be all the more vocal in explaining and defending the rule of law.

    I agree with Nichols that impeachment should be the consequence of Trump’s really egregious misdoings; where we disagree is whether it’s wise for the Democrats to bring this up now. I just don’t think this is the energy we need to be coming from the Democrats before the midterms. He calls that “cowardly”; I call it pragmatic.
    Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, David Frum reviews the new book by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, which throws oold water on the idea of impeachment.
    The thesis of this book is that voting and activism are more effective in the long run than impeachment; as they put it, “Under most circumstances, removing the president from office this way is bound to be divisive and disheartening. Even when taking that step is fully justified, the price may be higher and the benefits more modest than some would envision.” Frum–a never-Trump conservative–calls this “aspirin to cool a political fever.”
    But (without having yet read the book) my feeling is that this point ignores one enormous problem: Trump is perhaps unprecedentedly incapable of doing this job. By many accounts, he pays little attention to briefings and makes wide-ranging decisions out of fits of pique, without caring about or even considering their long-term consequences. He is also inclined to use the powers at his disposal not just to enrich himself and his family but also exact revenge on his political enemies. He is literally dangerous to the world, and becomes more dangerous the longer he remains in office; and for that reason I believe he should be removed as soon as possible, political consequences be damned.

  • And Foreign Policy has two articles about the Trump administration’s plans for Iran, one in favor of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s strategy, the other opposed.
    Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz write that “The United States today has a strategy, one that is expansive in its ambitions, justified in its tactics, and judicious in its assessments of Iran.” Their argument is that Iran is so dangerous that its “clerical imperialists” must be defeated and the Iranian people won over to the West’s way of thinking.
    On the other side, Jon Wolfsthal and Julie Smith say that making a series of unilateral demands is no way to negotiate, and that the United States has no way to make Iran accede to any of its preconditions, especially given that Europe isn’t showing any signs of abandoning the accord the Trump administration just withdrew from. “So, Iran remains a problem, ” they conclude, “the United States is more isolated and less trusted abroad, and Iran is now able to, at a time of its choosing, turn up the nuclear pressure, because the nuclear accord is on life support. That is not a strategy for success. It is a strategy for disaster.”
    I incline more to the Wolfsthal/Smith side; if making unilateral demands isn’t going to work with North Korea I don’t see why it would work with Iran. (Luckily no one has yet used the words “Libya model” in regard to Iran; maybe that’s next week.) Regime change hasn’t worked in Iraq, so why would it solve the Iran problem?

Morning Reading, May 21, 2018

This morning:

  • I thought I was all done with the royal wedding, but then this morning I read a Vox article by Dylan Matthews arguing that a constitutional monarchy is better than an elected head of state:

    Monarchs are more effective than presidents precisely because they lack any semblance of legitimacy. It would be offensive for Queen Elizabeth or her representatives in Canada, New Zealand, etc. to meddle in domestic politics. Indeed, when the governor general of Australia did so in 1975, it set off a constitutional crisis that made it clear such behavior would not be tolerated. Nothing like it has happened since.

    As Margit Tavits at Washington University in St. Louis once told me, “Monarchs can truly be above politics. They usually have no party connections and have not been involved in daily politics before assuming the post of the head of state.” But figurehead presidents have some degree of democratic legitimacy and are typically former politicians. That enables a greater rate of shenanigans — like when Italian President Giorgio Napolitano schemed, successfully, to remove Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister, due at least in part to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s entreaties to do so.

    I am sympathetic to this point of view, partly because I think the American system (where we just tack on all the responsibilities of being head of state to the president’s already overwhelming portfolio) is a hot mess. Both because the president doesn’t really have time for ceremonial duties and because the fact that the president has just survived a highly contentious, several-month-long election means that a sizable chunk of the country doesn’t feel represented by and, in fact, very likely wants nothing to do with him (or, someday, her). Some countries elect their head of state, which solves the first problem but not the second.

    To be clear, I think there are big philosophical issue with monarchies (the financial arguments against them are pretty weak to my mind) but I’m not convinced they don’t work better than elected heads of state, and if you don’t elect the head of state and it’s not an inherited position, how do you choose someone? Maybe in the future we can use a lifelike robot.

  • In the Atlantic, Joel S. Wit writes about a series of meetings with North Koreans that he attended in 2013, and what the North Koreans said then about denuclearization. His argument here is that Bolton’s “Libya model” (in which North Korea unilaterally denuclearizes and then receives rewards in return) will doom the summit and that the United States needs to be prepared to make upfront concessions of its own:

    . . . [W]hat they outlined was a step-by-step process of denuclearization accompanied in each phase by U.S. measures of their own. It is entirely different from the “Libya model” espoused by John Bolton, which involves giving up its program first and only then getting benefits in return. Indeed, the Trump administration doesn’t necessarily endorse Bolton’s view. Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state in charge of Asia, said last week that it was obvious there would be multiple steps in a long process of denuclearization, and the key issue was what happened first.

    How those differences over denuclearization are resolved inside the Trump administration, and whether common ground can be found with the North Koreans, will determine the future of the Korean Peninsula. The stakes are nothing less than the success or failure of the world’s best current chance to disarm North Korea. The Thornton approach could mean, over the long term, that it really happens. The Bolton approach would assure that it won’t.

    Wit seems a little more bullish on the summit than I am (my own view is that it’s either going to be cancelled or we’re going to be taken the cleaners, since I suspect Kim both has a much firmer grasp of the issues at hand and is less desperate for a win than Trump is). I think it’s possible we could get somewhere if we had the right people at the table, but I don’t think we do. Also, if they were so open to negotiation and ultimately denuclearizing as Wit claims, why couldn’t previous administrations get this done? I couldn’t help but wonder if Wit wrote this article before North Korea threw a fit over previously scheduled joint American/South Korean military exercises and the U.S. caved and canceled them. I’m more skeptical of the North Korean’s sincerity than Wit seems to be.
    (Also, this article introduced me to Wit’s North-Korea-centric website, 38 North, which looks excellent and informative.)

  • Slawomir Sierakowski writes in Foreign Policy about the collapse of the left wing in Europe:

    In his latest research paper, titled “Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right,” the economist Thomas Piketty presents an interesting theory of how we ended up here. Analyzing electoral results in France, Britain, and the United States and comparing them to data on voters’ income and education, he found that in the 1950s and 1960s, left-wing parties drew most of their support from poorer, less-educated voters. Since then, the political left has gradually become associated with well-educated voters, giving rise to a “multiple elite” party system in the past two decades: Highly educated elites now vote for the left, while high-income elites vote for the right. In other words, elites control both the left and the right.

    Under these conditions, the working class, which does not feel represented by the left, is giving its support to populist parties, and only the center-right remains to confront them. The European political spectrum has been reduced to the mainstream right and the populist right, with the mainstream gradually evaporating as it absorbs the ideas and rhetoric of the populists.

  • And I guess I’m going to have to talk about the Constitutional crisis that the president is absolutely determined to provoke. Two pieces on this caught my eye this morning: one by Theodore B. Olson in the Weekly Standard and another by Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.
    Olson (who turned down an offer to represent Trump a few weeks ago) argues that the president can’t be required to testify before a grand jury because Mueller hasn’t yet shown it is legally necessary.

    The importance of all this to the president is that it is unlikely that he can be forced to give grand jury testimony simply to satisfy Mueller’s curiosity and submit to a potential perjury trap. He could, in short, put Mueller to his proof—make Mueller show that the president’s testimony was necessary to prosecute someone else. And that such evidence could not be obtained elsewhere. That is a high bar, indeed, and one that at this point Mueller has not shown he would be able to surmount.

    I am not a lawyer! But I don’t really understand this argument: Mueller hasn’t shown he would be able to surmount the bar, however high it is, because he hasn’t yet tried. All we know about potential subpoenas of the president come from leaks or from the not-necessarily-reliable chatter of Rudy Giuliani. So why would we assume that Mueller can’t make the case if he wants to? It just seems odd to me to argue that Mueller hasn’t shown something when he’s never, to my knowledge, attempted to make a legal argument for it. I am a little surprised at how insubstantial this article seemed; I usually think Olson is smart and thoughtful even when I disagree.
    Meanwhile, Wittes is decorously freaking out over the president’s tweet yesterday:

    I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!

    Which, I grant you, is a pretty extraordinary tweet coming from the president of the United States. As Wittes says:

    It’s a statement of intent to issue a specific investigative demand of the Justice Department for entirely self-interested and overtly political reasons. And Trump published it in the absence of a shred of evidence that might support the demanded action. If we take his tweet at face value, the president is announcing that he will on Monday “officially” “demand” the Justice Department launch a specific investigation of activity that would be criminal were it true—about whether the DOJ and FBI spied on the Trump campaign for an improper purpose and whether the Obama administration demanded such action of them.
    This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the president to discredit and derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human intelligence source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed.

    As Wittes also says, though, given that Trump is Trump it’s hard to know how much this means. It could mean that tomorrow he’s going to order Rosenstein to pursue a full-fledged investigation (Rosenstein said yesterday he had asked the OIG to look into it, which may or may not appease the president); or, it could mean that he needed a nap and by the time he woke up this morning he’d forgotten about it. Who knows? My guess is that Rosenstein’s statement yesterday will be enough to calm him down and forestall a Monday Afternoon Massacre. So we’re OK for the short term, but the long term could get sticky.