These are just a few of the ideas that were floating around last week in Trumpworld, a place that felt wilder than usual — as turbulent as the stock market, as heated as the 2020 presidential race and as ominous as the talk of recession and the Chinese tanks and trucks massing on the border with Hong Kong.
The President’s 2020 “booming economy” narrative took a cold slap midweek, with the Dow plunging over worries about the administration’s China tariffs. “Turns out trade wars are not easy to win,” wrote market strategist Sven Henrich in CNN Business’ Perspectives section “We’ve never faced a recession with so much debt and so little Fed ammunition available and with negative rates still in effect in many countries. There’s no playbook for this.”
It was all about that base
Meanwhile, the President and his GOP supporters spent the week laying out a baffling menu of increasingly over-the-top news, to the delight of his base and the outrage or bafflement of pretty much everyone else.
On Tuesday, Trump was defending his retweet of a baseless conspiracy theory suggesting the Clintons had something to do with Jeffrey Epstein’s death — a dangerous lie, wrote Michael D’Antonio, but par for the course for a man with “no qualms about trafficking in falsehoods in order to undermine American confidence in government and its institutions.”
On Wednesday he tweeted praise of Xi Jinping as a “good man” in a “tough business” — as China’s military gathered at the border with Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests were under way.
On Thursday, he goaded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into barring entry to Israel to Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, whom he had earlier suggested should leave the country. Frida Ghitis said it was a nakedly partisan move by Netanyahu that undercut Israel’s commitment to democratic principles and helped Trump “to deliberately erode bipartisan backing for Israel in the United States” — which Israel may one day regret.
The White House also proposed changing immigration rules to favor those with money and prospects. And elsewhere, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, was insisting there was an upside to rape and incest, drawing outrage from all over. (“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?”) “No matter who calls for his resignation,” historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote, “Republicans can’t avoid the fact that King’s brand of white nationalism is now firmly ensconced in the White House and in the political culture the GOP has enabled.”
On Thursday, Trump mused about reopening mental institutions as a solution to mass shootings, likely because, wrote David Perry, “it’s politically easier to regulate the bodies of disabled people than the weapons used to kill.”
And on Friday, we learned that the President had floated the idea of buying Greenland — not for the first time, noted Mikkel Rosengaard, and still unacceptable: “In 1946, Harry Truman offered $100 million for Greenland,” but, like now, Denmark said its island was not for sale.
“Proposing to ‘buy’ a piece of land, presumably without asking the people who live there, smacks of the style of colonial rule that European countries would like to think that they left behind in the 20th century,” argued Ask Foldspang Neve.
Trump’s presidency “is off the rails,” Zelizer wrote, “and he is playing with a fire of racism, nativism and social division.” He appears to be impeaching himself, but will only play harder, Zelizer said, the more heated the 2020 race gets.
Other views on the President’s week:
Steven Isenberg: Trump can never admit he made a mistake
Samantha Vinograd: Sue Gordon’s departure is bad news for Trump and country.
A petition to rename the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets “President Barack H. Obama Avenue” collected 400,000 signatures, though city officials said it’s not likely to happen. Still, it would be “just about perfect trolling,” marveled Michael D’Antonio, “because it hits Trump square in the ego.” A plaque below the sign for Barack Obama Avenue might read: “The people of New York honor a president who led with dignity and never declared that he could shoot anyone, anywhere.”
Now YOU write a column!
The summer of 2019 has been intense. Mass shootings, extreme temperatures — and politics. But it was also time for respite, for reading, for taking time to think the big thoughts. We’ve been publishing this newsletter each weekend since the fall and now we’d love to hear from you. This Labor Day weekend, we are turning the newsletter over to you and featuring your thoughts: What did you do with your summer vacation? What did you think about, read or do that keeps you going amid the extremes? Watch out for some buzzy pieces on CNN Opinion this week where we’ll ask for your opinions and check out next weekend’s column/newsletter for more info.
Can Barr pass the buck on Epstein?
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr told a national policing conference in New Orleans that he was “appalled” and “angry” at Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan last week. Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig was amazed: “Listening to him pour fire and brimstone on the rank-and-file who run the jail, you almost have to wonder: Has Barr taken a look at his org chart recently?” Barr is responsible for federal lockups, Honig wrote, and owes Epstein’s victims answers. “What was the plan to monitor Epstein after his removal from suicide watch, and was that plan followed?”
John Avlon slammed the President’s enthusiastic conspiracy-theory retweeting about Epstein’s death. “When the President spreads these theories, he’s not just asking questions — as White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested last weekend — he is amplifying their message from the bully pulpit. And that leads some folks — including the unhinged or uninformed — to believe it.”
The meaning of ‘Blinded by the Light’
S. Mitra Kalita found herself sobbing watching “Blinded by the Light,” a movie about a 1980’s Pakistani teen obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. Kalita heard echoes of her own family’s immigrant experience, she explained, and saw “what feels so unattainable right now — a representation where a laid-off Trump supporter and a left-leaning union guy and a teenage child of immigrants all might see themselves. They might find common ground in that most Springsteen of ideas — being ‘born to run’ — and settle on the idea of a country that has room for all of them. This rag-tag medley of people who feel they don’t belong, who escaped and demand greatness from this land, is actually what makes America great. I must believe this. Because my parents, they ran. Me, I have nowhere to go.”
Statue of Liberty and the public charge change
Never mind the huddled masses — a top immigration official said the Statue of Liberty lifted her lamp only for newcomers who didn’t need a hand up.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote that the administration’s new “public charge” immigration rule was meant to help the country by excluding people who might someday use welfare benefits. “American taxpayers already work very hard to provide for the needs of their own families. The resources needed to fund those coming into the country must not overburden Americans unnecessarily.” He suggested to an NPR reporter that the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty’s base could use a rewrite: “‘Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,'” he said.
Sree Sreenivasan wrote that the new ruling should be a wake-up call to Indian-American supporters of Trump. “If you continue to blindly support the administration after today, you are complicit in NEW problems about to hit millions in this country.”
It could not be plainer, Jill Filipovic wrote: It’s about scapegoating. “This administration is discriminating based on wealth, as though the poor are less deserving than the rich — as though being poor is a moral failing instead of an economic reality. And they’re in effect effacing the Statue of Liberty to do it.”
More smart takes:
Jess Row: Why America still can’t face up to Trump’s racism.
Ralph Eubanks: It’s telling that Mississippi is immigration ground zero.
Priyanka Chopra faces criticism
The Bollywood actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra came under fire this week after a Pakistani-American woman challenged her at the BeautyCon summit in Los Angeles over a February tweet in support of the Indian army. The woman confronted Chopra over India’s recent revocation of Jammu and Kashmir states’ autonomy. “War is not something I am really fond of, but I am patriotic,” Chopra replied. That’s not enough, wrote Rafia Zakaria: “Chopra’s dismissive condescension toward the questioning of her own and India’s position demonstrates a callous lack of empathy … There should be a line drawn between being patriotic and showing sympathy for the Kashmir predicament.”
Pakistani-American actress Mehwish Hayat was appalled at Chopra: “Rather than use her position as a US-based celebrity to broaden what it means to be an Indian celebrity, she has fallen into the same jingoistic role that her fellow countrymen are forced to adopt at home.”
Michael De Dora and Aliya Iftikhar of the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Trump administration to push back at India’s press blackout in Kashmir. “The world is being kept largely in the dark about the state of affairs of millions of people,” they wrote. “Journalists must be able to report freely, and citizens have a right to information from a free press.”
Hong Kong’s point of no return?
The week ended ominously in Hong Kong, where months of pro-democracy protests have swollen into widespread civil unrest, with the Chinese military poised at the border. Michael Bociurkiw saw good reason to worry. “We appear to have reached a point of no return,” he wrote. “Beijing, which is increasingly mimicking Russia’s playbook, must have certainly taken note of how Russia forcibly annexed Crimea with relatively little pain. We can expect an increasingly assertive China to sanction a much heavier crackdown in Hong Kong while the world helplessly watches.” What’s more, he warned “the incompetent handling of this crisis has caused permanent damage to Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable international business center.”
Miracle at Yasgur’s Farm
Before it was exalted as a triumph of peace, love and music, a midcentury miracle on par with the moon landing, “Woodstock was being written off, while it was happening, as a disaster, a hippie Waterloo and the end of a beautiful dream of community,” recalled Gene Seymour, who was a reporter at the time of the festival, 50 years ago this weekend. “Somebody had to find the land, promote the event, figure out where to put the toilets, make sure there is enough food and medical care, and what happens if there’s a thunderstorm?” Its quartet of organizers pulled it off: “a series of accidents that somehow coalesced into something that may never be duplicated.” Read how it happened.
Richie Havens opened Woodstock and had to play for three hours while dozens of other acts struggled to reach the site. Havens, who died in 2013, recounted the day in an essay for CNN Opinion in 2009, including how he came to invent his anthem “Freedom” on the spot.
The Mooch dumps Trump
After a weekend of strafing each other on TV news shows and Twitter, Anthony Scaramucci and Donald Trump appear to have broken up for good. Scaramucci, a longtime Trump loyalist who served in the administration for 11 days in 2017, attacked his former boss as unfit for office. Trump tweeted back that the Mooch “should remember the only reason he is on TV, and it’s not for being the Mooch!” Scaramucci’s rejoinder to CNN’s John Berman: “I think you have to consider a change at the top of the ticket when someone is acting like this.” A key takeaway here, wrote Paul Begala, pointing to a long trail of contemptuous comments from former Cabinet members and others: “To know him is to hate him.” The irony, Begala wrote, is that he is most “beloved by ‘rural, older, non-college educated white folks, people who would be kicked out on their keisters if they showed up at Mar-a-Lago.”
Don’t miss these:
Robert Klitzman: Designer babies are on the way. We’re not ready.
Beto O’Rourke: It’s America’s moment of truth.
Amy Bass: US gold medalists’ Pan Am protests are the right stand to take.
David Miliband: Refugee women face unequal access to jobs. Hiring them could boost global GDP by $1.4 trillion.
Javed Ali and Josh Kirshner: How to fight back against domestic terrorism.
Charlie Firestone: The US has a ‘crimes against democracy’ problem.
Gene Berdichevsky: The electric car revolution will require us to build better batteries.
And one more…
Talk about matchy-matchy
The world learned this week about Rosemary and Francis Klontz, a California couple — married 67 years — who revealed the key to their union. As psychologist Peggy Drexler wrote, “They pray together, sing around town in their a capella group of two, the ‘Singing Chaplains,’ and — the real piece de resistance — wear matching outfits.” Quirky? Well, yes. But social research shows the Klontzes are onto something. “And while the Klontzes (literally) wear their … eccentricity out there for everyone to see, most happy couples have funny foibles that they share every day to remind them that they’re in it together,” Drexler observed. “The lesson? Tend to the weird, special traditions in your relationship.”