THE WEEK IN TRUMP
Trump vs. Kim: In his first address to the United Nations, Trump said that if the US “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Neoconservative columnist Eli Lake wrote, “For a moment, I closed my eyes and thought I was listening to a Weekly Standard editorial meeting.” On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order widening American economic sanctions on North Korea. Kim Jong Un, whom Trump had called “Rocket Man” in his UN speech, said in response that he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.” Trump then tweeted that the “madman” Kim “will be tested like never before!”
Rouhani the Role Model: Amid the war of taunts between Trump and Kim, Iranian President Rouhani reminded everyone what tough talk by national leaders has traditionally sounded like: firm but vague. After Trump used his UN speech to hint anew that he will find a way to end the Iran nuclear deal, Rouhani said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement; but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.” The New York Times reported: “Some say the contrast between Mr. Trump’s belligerent-sounding General Assembly speech on Tuesday, and the more measured address by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Wednesday, had helped give Iran an unexpected edge: the image of reasonableness in the face of an adversary’s angry ranting.”
‘Repeal and Replace’ on Life Support: The GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, seemingly dead as of July, returned in the form of the Graham-Cassidy bill. The bill would cut Medicaid by turning traditional funding into blocks grants to the states, would undo the individual mandate, and would “allow health insurers to once again charge people higher premiums based on their medical history,” according to Vox. Friday afternoon, Senator John McCain said he would not support the bill, rendering the GOP effort to repeal the ACA, if not once again seemingly dead, then seemingly on its deathbed.
Mueller Targets White House: The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for documents about “some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director.”
Late-Night Hosts Take Flak: Stephen Colbert was criticized from the left for bringing Sean Spicer on stage for a joke during the Emmys, and Jimmy Kimmel was criticized from the right for forcefully arguing against the Graham-Cassidy bill.
EDITORIAL: FEARMONGERING ON THE LEFT
“We have been attacked. We are at war.” Thus begins a scary video narrated by Morgan Freeman, to be found at investigaterussia.org. The organization that runs the site, the Committee to Investigate Russia, was launched this week by the Actor and Director Rob Reiner along with such Washington personages as Norman Ornstein and David Frum.
Of course, the war Freeman is talking about isn’t a shooting war—it’s a cyberwar, featuring in particular the Russian attempt to help Donald Trump at the ballot box in 2016. But if you watch the video, you’ll see that it manages to make Vladimir Putin look as menacing as a leader who is poised to use lethal force—indeed, roughly as menacing as Saddam Hussein looked in 2003 after George W. Bush and his fellow hawks had inflated the threat Saddam posed, thus paving the way for America’s disastrous invasion.
Speaking of which: Later this month Reiner will unveil his latest film, Shock and Awe, which is about the false intelligence reports that helped Bush inflate that threat. This, of course, is a more traditional message from left-leaning Hollywood directors: a warning about the kind of fearmongering that gets us into ill-advised wars. But Reiner’s aversion to belligerent fearmongering seems to come and go.
There are three problems with exaggerating the threat Russia poses to the US.
1) It’s wasteful. Time, money, and the power of celebrity are finite resources, and Reiner could have used these resources in other ways. Like, say, figuring out what policies might address grievances that got Donald Trump elected and generating support for politicians who back those policies and oppose Trump.
2) It can not only (as with Iraq) lead to war but can also rend the international fabric in other ways—by, in particular, so damaging relations with Russia as to impede the cooperation needed to address issues like the North Korea nuclear program and the Syrian war. (Russia, as a member of the UN Security Council with veto power, was an essential partner in securing the Iranian nuclear agreement of 2015.)
3) It’s morally self-negating. Trump’s fanning of fear—fear of Muslims and Latinos in particular—is one reason he so needs ushering off the political stage; inflating the threat posed by groups of people, whether religious, ethnic, or national groups, is both dangerous and morally wrong. If you get rid of a fearmonger via fearmongering, the net moral gain is diminished, to say the least.
Besides, it’s not as if awareness of Russian influence on the 2016 election and on Trump’s team is in danger of fading away. Special counsel Robert Mueller is by all accounts looking at various kinds of links between Russians and all things Trump: the Trump family, the Trump campaign, and the Trump administration. And news about the investigation doesn’t exactly have a hard time spreading via social media.
Reiner’s new initiative is notable for the involvement of neoconservatives—Frum and Max Boot, in particular—who strongly supported the invasion of Iraq and have long championed a belligerent stance toward Russia, China, Iran, and various other countries. One difference between them and Reiner is that they seem to understand the implications of what they’re doing.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, wrote a sober and knowing appraisal of where Robert Mueller’s investigation seems to be heading.
The NYT reported that the Trump White House rejected a Health and Human Services Department study which found that refugees “brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.”
Andrew Sullivan wrote a long essay on how tribalism is hurting American democracy.
Conservative Matt Lewis wrote about progressive attempts to discourage the expression of conservative views on campus.
—by Aryeh Cohen-Wade and Robert Wright with contributions from Colleen Smith and Brian Degenhart