The Week on Planet Trump: Tough on North Korea, Soft on Nazis. Sad!

Monday: The Debt Ceiling Crisis

Sometime in October, the United States is likely to default on its obligation to pay its bills as they come due, having failed to raise the federal debt ceiling. This will cost the Treasury tens of billions of dollars every year for decades to come in higher interest charges and probably trigger a severe recession.

The debt ceiling is politically imposed, and the decision not to raise it, and therefore to choose to default, is also political. It’s something America has avoided in the past. This time, though, will be different.

This country has hit the debt ceiling once, in 1979, and then largely by accident and only to a minor extent. But even that foot fault was estimated to cost the United States about 0.6 percent in higher interest costs for an indefinite period. More recently, congressional debt ceiling brinkmanship in 2011 led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the credit rating of the United States.

An increase in Treasury interest rates of just 0.2 percent a year would cost the government about $400 billion over the next 10 years. It also would lead to higher borrowing costs for American businesses, because borrowing rates are set by reference to Treasury rates. Moreover, each month holders of tens of billions of dollars in valid claims against the United States would go unpaid, triggering a major recession.

Edward D Kleinbard, The New York Times

Tuesday: How Aerica Lost Its Mind

Much more than the other billion or so people in the developed world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and the miraculous, in Satan on Earth, in reports of recent trips to and from heaven, and in a story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago.

We believe that the government and its co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous and shocking truths from us, concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of aids, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more.

And this was all true before we became familiar with the terms post-factual and post-truth, before we elected a president with an astoundingly open mind about conspiracy theories, what’s true and what’s false, the nature of reality.

We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.

Kurt Andersen, The Atlantic

Wednesday: “Fury and Fury”

What’s at stake in this confrontation was underscored by discussions this weekend at an annual gathering of the foreign policy establishment called the Aspen Strategy Group. This year’s meeting included five Trump administration officials, as well as a collection of former top officials from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

Among the clearest points of consensus among former officials was that the North Korea crisis provides what one participant called a “catalytic” moment. If China and the United States can find a common path and resolve the crisis peacefully, they will succeed in “modernizing the global order,” which was the broad topic of the Aspen discussions.

And if they fail? If Trump’s fiery rhetoric alienates Beijing rather than motivates it? If Pyongyang decides to test its doctrine of self-sufficiency with a roll of the nuclear dice? If Trump becomes the first president since John F. Kennedy to truly find himself at the nuclear brink? One way or another, the coming months will shape global security for many years ahead.

David Ignatius, The Washington Post

Thursday: Trump’s Cold War

Beneath this longing for the old Cold War is a deeper tension that will not be resolved by impeaching the president, achieving full employment, or de-escalating the rapidly escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula. The search for the past is always a search for the present. It is about not knowing who we are or ought to be. This was, of course, the crux of the 2016 presidential election, and it is central now to how we think about the president and his many stupidities and tweetstorms and, more generally, the threat he poses not only to America, but the world. The threat is existential, but not in some mindless, concrete sense. There will still be an America after Trump. Our “existence” is not in doubt. But the nature of our existence—and, more importantly, the reason for our existence, the reason for America—is unclear. Unlike the Russians, our idea of ourselves has not exactly been stripped from us. But it has faded. It feels more like a pale adumbration of its original iteration. And it has failed, so far, to adapt.

We are not waging a new Cold War with Russia, but Russia, as always, forces America to confront itself. It demands to know who we are, and it broadcasts to us all of our failures and misgivings—about America, the world, our role in it. The next president will necessarily do battle with Russia, but that battle will be contained. It will not be total. It will not be hot. It will not even be cold. The more important challenge this future president will face will be returning America to its idea of itself, melding that idea to a changed landscape, explaining America to Americans, not in a way that sounds pedantic or churlish, but in a way that is hopeful, intelligent, imaginative, that tells us something essential about ourselves that we did not already know.

Peter Savodnik, Vanity Fair

Friday: Be Strategic Not Impulsive

We didn’t get into this North Korea problem the short way, and we are not going to get out of it the short way. But the least bad option now is to gear up for a long game that contains, deters and isolates a nuclear-armed North Korea — by getting China, Russia, South Korea and Japan to see that America is ready to make peace with North Korea’s regime if it will abandon its nuclear weapons — and to keep that game going until the North either relents or cracks.

The more we freak out about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, the more leverage it has. Instead we should be telling Kim Jong-un: “Hey, pal, not impressed with your nuclear toys, been there, done that with the Soviet Union. Time is on our side — and now the whole world is asking why you won’t accept our credible peace proposal. So have fun with your firecrackers! Don’t even think about lobbing one near us, or we might just shut off all the lights in your pathetic failing state. We can do that — just like we can make your rockets blow up or go off course. Have you noticed? And when your people get tired of eating potatoes every night, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Donald.”

Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

Saturday: Trump's Failure

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.”  An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers.  

Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

Sunday: This Is What They Voted For


Today marks the first terrorist attack to occur on this president's watch, but it did not come at the hands of that one religious group he denigrates at every opportunity, and whose adherents he wants desperately to ban from entering the country. Instead, it was committed by people who have been living among us all along, quietly waiting for an opportunity that, at long last, has arrived. Hate has always existed in America. Donald Trump just made it fashionable again.

Jay Willis, GQ

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