"My great and unmatched wisdom"

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)."

            The President of the United States, near midnight, October 7, 2019

 

This tweet illustrates in four short lines that Trump’s narcissism, fueled by three years of the presidency, has grown to galactic proportions.  It is now too vast to temper or control, and those inclined to try have been banished from the White House.  It is the only driver of American foreign affairs (we no longer have a foreign policy).

Trump no longer acknowledges the government he heads. We have only “I.”  Like Louis XIV (L'état, c'est moi), he conflates the country and the “stable genius.” He doesn’t speak for the government of the United States, he is the government of the United States.

His grandiose faith in his infallibility and monarchical sense of indispensability are both debilitating delusions which, when combined with a particularly malignant strain of pathological narcissism, cries out for invocation of the 25th Amendment.  

Before Trump, what would you have thought if anyone referred (without humor or irony) in a speech or written pronouncement to their own “great and unmatched wisdom”?  It’s one thing to think it, it’s another thing to say it.  If a corporate CEO made a public statement referring to his or her own “great and unmatched wisdom,” the Board of Directors would be convening over the weekend, engaging a psychiatrist and hiring a headhunter. 

And then there’s the bully, telling a NATO ally publicly that it most not cross a line defined as “anything that I [again “I”] . . . consider to be off limits,” and threatening to “totally destroy and obliterate” their economy.  This is not only illogical, impossible, unhinged, and illegal, but should mortify every person who loves our country.  And, by the way, the idea that he (again ”I”) has already destroyed the Turkish (or any other) economy provides the icing on a layer cake of delusion.

Note that none of this has anything to do with the substance of his change in policy toward the Kurds.  That was a mistake (ok, perhaps more than a mistake, given our moral obligations to our Kurdish allies).  But it should hardly be a surprise.  He doesn’t understand any of the complexities of the Middle East and acted by midnight tweet based on what the last person he talked to (Erdogan) said.  It’s fascinating that it was this unforced error that finally started to break down the wall of GOP solidarity.  I would invite the Republican Senators speaking out against the policy to reconsider the Tweet and the man behind it. Their former GOP Senate colleague Jeff Flake said: "I never thought I would live to see an American President speak this way, using language that can only be described as authoritarian.  Fellow Republicans, where is the line?"  And while they’re at it, those fellow Republicans might want to ponder Flake’s earlier advice: “Trust me when I say that you can go elsewhere for a job, but you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.”  

The Foundations of our Prosperity

Many of us have focused on how Trump’s galumphing vandalism of our political culture threatens the foundations of our democracy.  But what about our prosperity?

Like many others who rose from humble origins to the professional class, I enrolled in the GOP believing my interests were largely aligned with the party of business.  My fellow Republicans appeared to share my beliefs that trade was the engine of wealth, that trade wars were always ruinous, that free flow of capital and labor was the bedrock of the market economy, that economic growth required stable monetary policy executed by an independent Federal Reserve, and that markets – and not the “orders” of politicians – should guide the choices made by business.   I eventually left the GOP, both because of its embrace of the odious culture-war agenda of “movement conservatives” and because, with maturity, the public good, and not my own economic interests, became the main touchstone of my politics. 

This morning I tried to imagine what would have happened, at any other point during the past six decades of my life, if a U.S. President, all on the same day, had “hereby ordered” every U.S. business to disengage from a key part of its overseas supply-chain and market, declared the Chair of the Federal Reserve to be a national “enemy,” and escalated a ruinous trade war with our country’s single largest trading partner.    The GOP I knew would have swung into full crisis mode, sensing an unprecedented threat to the economy.   The President would have been accused of acting illegally, trampling the private property and contract rights of business in a way that smacked of socialist autocracy, as well as ignoring the inviolable lessons of economic history.  

Instead, what we hear from the GOP is silence.   So has it really come to this?  Is the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the GOP so definitive that none of its leaders can rise to defend free markets, free trade, private property, and rule of law?   Republicans have demonstrated they will do anything to obtain and maintain power.  But what for, if not this?   

 My former party, having become nothing more than the vehicle for a populist demagogue, offers only the self-styled “Chosen One,” whose narcissistic whims and impulses are well on the way to undermining the laws, practices, institutions, and policies that are the foundations of our prosperity.   

London

Every country’s politics function within the bounds of both written rules and a set of unwritten norms.   Most often, the difference between democracy and authoritarianism, or between national greatness and a failed state, lies not with the quality of its written constitution, but with the quality of its political culture.  

Among the catastrophes America has suffered under Trump is the systematic dismantling of a political culture built up over two centuries.   A political culture doesn’t determine the legal rights and prerogatives enjoyed by public officials, but it sets normative limits on how those rights and prerogatives should be exercised, and expectations for behavior within the scope of their official functions.   For example, our political culture developed norms to distinguish between the behavior of a president acting as Head of State, where he/she is entitled to our patriotic support as the representative of all Americans, and the behavior required by a head of government, functioning in the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics.   Our political culture establishes norms such as the non-interference by the President in criminal investigations by the Department of Justice, notwithstanding that the department ultimately falls under his/her authority.   It includes acknowledgement of the fundamental importance of an independent and unfettered press, no matter how annoying or even irresponsible an individual practitioner.  It includes all sorts of standards arising out of separation of powers, including special respect for the independence of the judiciary.   It establishes institutional government, where the authority of the President is exercised within the context of a vast executive branch in which policies are vetted and analyzed, most decisions are taken below the level of the Oval Office, and distilled high-quality advice is provided to the chief executive.  It sets standards for behavior, including at least the veneer of respect, when politicians deal with each other in their official capacities.   It includes the principle that “politics stop at the border” and many others.  

It’s not news that Trump frequently violates virtually all of these norms, and indeed, harbors an instinctive hostility to any political culture that constrains his egocentric, impulsive, ill-informed, “I alone,” no-advice decision making style, or that requires him to recognize limits on executive power, distinguish between government and politics, or make policy based on anything other than the personal (Chairman Kim and I “like each other”) or transactional (everything, and that means everything, is a “deal”).  What is news, I think, is that American government stripped of the political culture that made it the envy of the world, is the new normal.  Its violation – or more precisely, its absence – no longer gets a mention by the mainstream press, or by ordinary Americans reviewing the day’s events around the water cooler.

Today the President, in his capacity as Head of State, is on a state visit to the United Kingdom, where he will meet the Queen as an equal.   In a single pre-arrival tweet, he violated not only the norms of American political culture, but the norms of international diplomacy and universal standards of personal behavior, by calling the Muslim mayor of his host city a “stone cold loser,” adding “Kahn reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job” and then, descending to the inevitable school-yard taunt, added that Kahn is “only half his [de Blasio’s] height.”

But that’s not the terrifying thing.   I listened to the reports on several of the major network radio news shows this morning, the sort of thing millions of Americans are listening to while driving to work.   Trump’s words were reported as matter-of-factly as if he had tweeted something about his administration’s policy approach to the coming trade negotiations.   There was not a word of surprise or context.   Not even an inflection signaling that something out of the ordinary had occurred.  And why?  It hadn’t.  It’s the new normal.   (Here’s a thought experiment:  picture Walter Cronkite telling the nation of JFK’s assassination and the moon landing.  Now try to picture how he would have reported this morning’s tweet.)

Following this incident, the Queen should have refused to meet with Trump.  We know she finds him abhorrent.  The Prime Minister should publicly demand an apology for the gratuitous insult to London’s mayor.   Congress, including Congressional Republicans, should censure the President for his conduct while representing America abroad as Head of State.  John McCain spoke up following Trump’s appalling summit with Putin, calling it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."  Does no GOP Senator wish to claim McCain’s mantle?   Is the self-proclaimed party of patriotism and values really bereft of a single person willing to stand up for America and decency?

250,000 Britons, about the same number as took to the streets during his previous visit, are expected to demonstrate against Trump.    On one hand, this is welcome and inspiring news.   On the other, it is mortifying.   Since the Women’s March, no group of Americans that large has assembled to protest Trump. 

 

 

 

 

 

Theocracy Watch

So, let’s get this straight.  It’s the fourth century BCE and the Persians control Jewish lands.  The Persian King decides to have a beauty contest to choose a new wife, and a Jewish orphan named Esther is forced to enter the contest.  The situation catches the attention of the Hebrew deity, who intervenes to assure that Esther wins.  In the meantime, the Persian King appoints a notorious anti-Semite as chief minister, who offers the King 10,000 silver talents in return for the right to massacre the Jews, a deal to which the King agrees.  You see how this relates to Trump?  No?  Keep reading.

Skipping some convoluted back and forth, Esther proves to be the right person in the right place at the right time, managing not only to convince the King to lift the edict calling for elimination of the Jewish people, but getting permission to kill the evil anti-Semitic minister, his 10 sons, and 75,000 other enemies of the Jewish people.  This massacre is celebrated as “Purim.”   

Still don’t get it?  God sent Esther to deliver the Jewish people from their Persian adversaries, and must have figured that the time was right for a repeat, so he sent us (and right at Purim, no less) Donald Trump to again deliver the Jews from the Persians (contemporary Iran).  Yep, Mike Pompeo thinks Donald Trump is the modern Esther.  “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” says the U.S. Secretary of State.  And then, more robustly, “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” Pompeo concluded.

In case it’s not all clear how this fits together, Trump’s rabidly pro-Israel evangelical supporters believe that all Jews will spend eternity in conscious torment in hell (because they have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior).  Conservative Israelis are prepared to overlook this in return for evangelical support for their agenda.  Evangelicals are willing to overlook this because they need the Israelis to maintain their occupation of Jerusalem (and to rebuild the Temple), which are conditions to the “rapture”  (the time when the evangelicals go to heaven and the Jews – and everyone else not “born again” – are left behind and destined, in due course, for hell).  Talk about a marriage of convenience. 

If you indulge in the illusion that America’s largest religious block may turn its back on the only totally amoral President in history, don’t.  Evangelical leaders argue that God’s prophets and agents are often flawed, and this one – by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, abandoning the Palestinians, and now endorsing the illegal annexation of the Golan Heights – has done more than anyone else to advance the rapture, the most important thing that can or will ever happen.  Trump will be rewarded for this by an outpouring of evangelical support.  

It’s 2019, the age of quantum computing and genetic editing, and the next election in the world’s most “advanced” country may be determined by fundamentalist interpretations of an ancient eschatological myth.  If this doesn’t terrify and anger you, wake up. 

"A decent respect to the opinions of mankind . . ."

Your correspondent is reporting from Abu Dhabi.  While traveling during the past month I have been seeing the situation in America more or less exclusively through the lens of the media in South Asia and the Middle East.   I’ve been making notes and thought you would be interested in the view from the outside.

Seen from this part of the world, the great global threat is an energized far-right nativist and nationalist movement led by opportunistic thugs.  Duarte, Putin, Erdogan, and Trump are spoken of in the same breath.   Every day’s news – most recently Trump’s tortured response to the mosque massacre in New Zealand ­– seems to confirm this view.   The rising generation on this planet has never known the America of E pluribus unum, the America of “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the America that liberated the world from fascism.  They know only the America of white grievance and corporatist greed – an America standing absurdly on the wrong side of demography and history.

The coverage of the 737-Max debacle has been illuminating.   The near universal deference once accorded to U.S. government institutions such as the FAA is gone.  In its place, a belief that under America’s corporatist politics the financial interests of Boeing would trump public safety, and the view that Trump has either politicized or dismantled the U.S. government institutions previously respected by the world.  Papers yesterday noted with approval that Canadian and EU regulators would not rely on the FAA to validate the fixes to the 737-Max software.  Indeed, the media here has been dismissive of the American government’s role, noting that Trump had left the FAA Chairmanship vacant for a year, and then considered his personal pilot for the post. 

Guns are one area where the rest of the world has long been baffled by America’s seeming collective insanity.   But there is an emerging view here that the gun control debate in America is about power, not culture.  A statement in Trump’s March interview with Breitbart was widely noted:  "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump -- I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough -- until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."  And what is that “certain point”?  The elections, of course, if Trump loses.  As one Indian commentator observed, the right has all the guns. Why would they give up power?

Hypocrisy is a major theme of the coverage of contemporary America – which, the argument goes, supports values such as rule of law and free trade when they are applied to others, but ignores them as constraints on its own actions.  It is not easy to be a Gulf state partnering with America in the fight against Islamist radicals on a day when the U.S. Secretary of State appears with Netanyahu in districts key to the coming Israeli elections, and Trump Tweets away decades of bipartisan U.S. policy (not to mention U.S. leverage) by recognizing the illegal annexation of the Golan Heights.  The winners, according to the press here:  Iran, Hezbollah, and Putin (so much for Crimea).

Americans have thick skins.   Culturally, we are comfortable standing alone in the world, adhering to our view of right and wrong, even when prevailing sentiment is against us.   But Americans do not like being the butt of jokes and the subject of ridicule.  So if you travel, steel yourself.  Our President is viewed as preposterous.  America is the new Absurdistan. 

 

The Pilot Who Cannot Fly

You are a passenger on a plane.   A large number of things have gone wrong.  The plane is buffeted by head winds.   The flight radar is down.  The airline’s system for scheduling flight crews was hacked by one of its competitors.   The pilot in the cockpit doesn’t know how to fly.  For the moment, the autopilot is still engaged and the plane is flying normally.

From the point of view of the passenger, which of these problems is the most serious?

Most of us would say that the most urgent problem is that the person sitting in the Captain’s chair lacks the ability to fly.   The autopilot may be engaged, but we know that at any moment we could face a challenge where only the diligence and competence of the pilot stands between us and disaster.

And yet in the analogous situation here on the ground, we suffer from a collective blindness to our most acute risk.   Take the following example.  It is July 2017.   The collective conclusion of the U.S. intelligence agencies is that North Korea had test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.  We now know that the President refused to believe this intelligence, dismissing it as a “hoax” because Russian President Vladimir Putin told him North Korea lacked that capacity.

What is revealed by this breathtaking anecdote?  What about it should concern us most?  For most of the press and commentariat, the main issue was the malign influence of our prime adversary’s leader over our President, and perhaps further evidence of “collusion.”

In my opinion, this misses the point.   The issue isn’t Russia.  The issue is that the pilot cannot fly.   Our present safety is an autopilot illusion.    

·      The President is functionally disabled.  He lacks the ordinary ability to absorb and process information, what psychologists call “executive function.”  Executive function requires the ability to pay attention, gather information and structure it for evaluation, focus and remember details, and make decisions based on available information.  We now have testimony from dozens of former White House insiders about how this disability is manifest:  he lacks interest in many of the problems and decisions presented to the President. He will not read, sit through briefings, or absorb facts relevant to decisions.  

·      Instead, to navigate the world and make decisions, Trump depends on a completely different modus operandi.   A problem is interesting only if it involves him personally.   The world is divided into friends and enemies.  Friends are those who flatter him and appear for the moment to buy into his narcissistic narrative of greatness; enemies are everyone else.  Information is credible if it comes from friends and advances his narcissistic narrative (does it make me look like a winner?).  Information is not credible (to be dismissed as “fake” or a “hoax”) if it does not.  Understanding Trump really is that simple

·      It is possible to be an effective politician without executive function. After all, in politics you win or lose; slogans and messages are based on emotion and content matters little.  Someone passionately convinced of his own greatness will “sell” that illusion more effectively than a non-narcissist.

·      Governing is another thing altogether.   Substance does matter.   A President cannot navigate the complexities of national security without engaging with the facts and making some analysis – or, as an alternative, seeking the advice and taking the counsel of those who do.  But Trumpian populism is deeply suspicious of expertise and authority.  The narcissist is convinced he can fly the plane alone, despite lacking any of the skills of a pilot.

·      So imagine that day in July when the intelligence services presented their analysis on the North Korean missile threat.  On one hand, we have the collective analysis of thousands of independent non-partisan experts and professionals.  It is presented in writing.  It is evidence-based.  It is complex and nuanced.  It isn’t about him.  In the past, the intelligence services have refused to tell him what he wanted to hear.  On the other hand, we have Putin, an A-list celebrity who has flattered him shamelessly, whose strongman rule he admires, and who probably was instrumental in his election.  Putin told him, mano a mano, that North Korea lacked the capacity to develop ICBMs.   It was the answer he wanted to hear.  It should surprise no one which of the two sources Trump would rely on.

It doesn’t matter how much you hate government or wish it would shrink.  The world is a dangerous place.   The man his secretary of state called “a moron” might be able to do the job if he surrounded himself with first class advisors and took their advice.  He doesn’t.  Integrity and competence are causes for firing in the Trump White House.  The republic is in no less peril than our plane with a pilot who doesn’t know how to fly.

Contemporary fundamentalist conservatism has been built on a foundation of Orwellian inversions (e.g, Fox News as “fair and balanced”).  But before Trump, I believed that conservatives who called themselves “patriots” were sincere in their professions of  “country first.”  Not anymore.  Most Republicans have thrown national security under the bus in the pursuit of power.  John McCain called them out before he died, but they didn’t listen.  Our enemies are circling.  We see storms on the horizon in every direction, and yet the GOP fights to keep the man who cannot fly in the pilot’s seat.  When the plane crashes, historians will know where the blame lies.

Institutional Government

In less politically correct times we used to refer derisively to “banana republics.”  Originally applied narrowly to a certain type of Central American country overly dependent on fruit exports, the term later was used more broadly to refer to countries that nominally take the form of constitutional democracies, but that lack the institutions and political cultures to sustain them.   As a result, they typically are run by autocratically-inclined rulers elected by populist forces motivated by empty talk of national greatness.  They maintain legislatures and courts, but these are not effective in reining in the impulses of the caudillo.  The most powerful families and companies live in symbiosis with the autocrat (who they despise), dispensing flattery and political support in return for protection of their interests. 

This type of politics is a tragedy for the citizens of these unhappy countries, but – because the “banana republic” countries usually matter so little – they became fodder for jokes, parodies, and satirical novels.  The United States is not a banana republic, but in some respects, it has started to behave like one.  Unlike Honduras and its ilk, America matters a great deal, and as a consequence, the world is not laughing.

The critical distinction between a mature nation-state (whether a democracy or not) and a banana republic is institutional government.   In a mature state, the political and governmental institutions are strong and high functioning.  The political process for decision making may be messy, but once decisions are made they can be communicated and relied on as the position of the government.   National policies and priorities have broad continuity over time, regardless of changes in political control.  Institutional government is like a supertanker – newly elected politicians may push the rudder hard to port or starboard, but the ship turns slowly. Standing bureaucracies assure that politicians, holding temporary power only, make decisions armed with the best information and analysis arising from a sprawling government.  This stability and coherence is what allows a country with strong institutions to lead.   

Events of the past two weeks illustrate the extent to which our long tradition of institutional government has been abandoned.   On Thursday our special representative in charge of the talks for Afghan reconciliation stated that the United States was committed to the fight in Afghanistan: “the United States will stand with the government and the people of Afghanistan.” On Friday morning, Trump, without informing our Afghan allies in advance, announced the drawdown of our troops.   

With respect to Syria, the National Security Advisor said “we’re not going to leave” and the Department of Defense reassured our allies that we are “continuing operations” and “remain committed.”  A few days later Trump announced by tweet that the U.S. was withdrawing its troops from Syria.   Congress, the State Department, and the Pentagon all are reported to have been “blindsided.”  The Secretary of Defense resigned, still smarting at not having been informed before his impulsive boss announced our cancellation of the Iranian nuclear deal, suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea, or creation of a sixth branch (the “Space Force”) of the U.S. military.   

Banana republic:  impulsive rule by a single autocrat.  Lack of institutional deliberation and process. 

Michael Lewis’s meticulous reporting in Fifth Risk reveals that the executive branch of the federal government is led by a man with no knowledge of, interest in, or need for, the institution which he leads.   Even Steve Bannon, proponent of the “deconstruction of the administration state,” said of Trump’s attitude toward the government he is supposed to be running: “Holy fuck, this guy doesn’t know anything.  And he doesn’t give a shit.” 

Lewis details the President’s failure to fill vacancies, to appoint persons with relevant skills or experience, or to set policy agendas at the department or agency level.   Lewis’s reporting makes clear that while this approach to governing results in large part from not “giv[ing] a shit,” another part results from deliberate vandalism.  Trump wants the institutions of government to get out of his way.  When he does make appointments, the most relevant credential (other than personal loyalty to Trump) appears to be a declared dedication to dismantling or undermining the missions of the agencies they would serve. 

The American right, as a political strategy, has long stoked anger against the Federal government.    GOP candidates competed to list all the departments and agencies they would eliminate.   We’ll get rid of the IRS, the EPA, the Departments of Energy, Education, and Commerce.  It was all good fun, “playing to the base.”  No one took it seriously.  But now it has happened.  We still have these departments and agencies, but they have been gutted and neutered.  Donald’s dream has come true:  there is only Trump.

The President swears to defend the constitution and to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.”  This includes, as the particular duty of the President, to ensure the staffing, management, and effective functioning of the executive branch.   The institutions of the executive branch are mostly established by law.  Their missions and functions are not optional.  

No one reading Fifth Risk could conclude that Trump has “faithfully executed” his office.  Most GOP congressmen know he hasn’t and also know they have a constitutional duty to do something about it. Republican businessmen and financiers, who held their noses and accepted the farcical con-man in return for tax breaks and regulatory reform, now know they put the republic in peril. 

Banana republic:  the political and commercial establishment lives in symbiosis with the autocrat (who they despise), dispensing flattery and political support in return for favors and commercial opportunity

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol

Interior.  Trump, alone in bed, wakes up, roles over, and presses a button.  The three TVs on the opposite wall light up.   He sits up.

On one of the screens, talking heads discuss Bush 41, all agreeing that he was modest, selfless, empathetic, smart, experienced, prudent, a steady and wise leader, a model husband, a true patriot, etc.  Trump becomes agitated and picks up the phone.

Trump:  Get me Hannity.

Hannity:  Good morning, Mr. President.

Trump:  Tell the guys to go light on this Bush funeral thing.  You know, it makes Trump look bad.

Hannity:  Yes sir.  [he pauses]  But exactly how . . .

Trump:  You know, just tell them it’s fake news.

Hannity:  I’m sorry, Mr. President, you want us to tell them that Bush didn’t really die?

Trump:   Nah.  Just play up the wimp thing, tell ‘em that if he had been more like Trump he wouldn’t have been such a loser.   He was a terrible deal-maker.  Tell ‘em that.

Trump hangs up.    He burps loudly and rubs his belly, regretting the three Big Macs he had the Secret Service fetch as a pre-bed snack.  He feels slightly woozy.

His attention is seized by one of the screens, where the Fox anchor has just said, “Mr. President.”  He turns.  The anchor is silent, staring straight at him.   Trump closes his eyes and reopens them.  The anchor leans forward. 

Anchor:  Donald, I’m talking to you.

Trump:  What the fuck?

Anchor:  I am the ghost of Christmas yet to come.  

Trump:  This must be a dream.

Anchor:  No dream, Donald.  This whole Bush 41 funeral thing must be terrible for you.   I mean, it’s all about someone else.  And, let’s face it, the comparison is not flattering.

Trump:  Yea, it sucks.  Worse than McCain.  At least I didn’t have to go to that funeral.

Anchor:  You ever think about your own funeral, Donald?

Trump:  What?  Nah, Trump’s gonna live longer than anyone ever. 

Anchor:  But the day will come.   In fact, you’ll also die a few days before Christmas.   Want to see?

Trump:  Wake up.  I want to wake up.

Anchor:  Look over there. 

The anchor points to the adjacent screen.  Three talking heads sit around a table. 

Trump:  I’m not watching this. 

He tries to close his eyes, but cannot.

Talking Head #1:   So can we all agree that, just as there was never another President like Trump, there’s never been a Presidential death like Trump’s?  How will the nation deal with it?

Talking Head #2:   I think it’s the end of a tragic chapter in American life.   After all, he was the first President elected due to the machinations of a foreign enemy.  The first President suffering from personality disorders that made him a pathological liar and crippled his ability to take advice or make fact-based decisions.   The first President who was the subject of ridicule and derision by every foreign leader he dealt with.  A man who destroyed the political party that nominated him.  The largest election loss by any incumbent President in history.  The only President convicted of multiple felonies arising from his business activities and confined to a Federal penitentiary two years after leaving the White House. 

Talking Head #3, interrupting:  Remember, one of the convictions was under the RICO statute, establishing that the Trump Organization was a criminal enterprise.

Talking Head #1:  Fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion, accounting fraud, larceny, extortion, bribery – I can’t even remember the list.   Remember the interview where he said that running for President was the worst . . .

Talking Head #3, interrupting, laughing:  I seem to recall he said “only” . . .

Talking Head #1, laughing:  Right.  . . .“only” mistake he ever made.  He thought if he hadn’t been President, they never would have discovered the rest.  He said he would have lived out his life at Mar-a-Lago playing golf. 

Talking Head #2:  You know, one of the most remarkable things in retrospect was the lack of loyalty.  Every President leaves the White House with a group of loyalists who spend the rest of their lives defending his reputation and trying to build his legacy.  Can anyone think of a single member of the administration who defended him?  

Talking Head #3:  Just the opposite. They raced to write books, each filled with the lurid details of life in the West Wing.  He was incapable of loyalty to others, so of course in the end no one was loyal to him.

Talking Head #1:  Even Melania.   Her book received the largest advance ever.

Trump:  Enough.  Fake news, all of it.

Anchor, sounding gruff and pointing at the adjacent screen:  It’s not enough.   Look.

On the screen, a cemetery in Queens.   A casket is lowered into the ground.   Three of his five children are the only persons present.   They stand in a group, looking bored.   

Voice over:  It is a most extraordinary sight, unprecedented in American history.  Congress voted overwhelmingly to deny the ex-President a state funeral.   Congressman Menendez, minority leader for the New Republicans, said, “Where there was no honor, there shall be paid no honor.”

Trump throws his water glass at the second screen, breaking it.   He turns back and addresses the Anchor.

Trump:   This vision of Christmas to come, is it the only possible future, or can I change it?

Anchor:  The message of Christmas is that we all have a shot at redemption.   Even you, Donald.