Bibi and The Donald

It is hard, these days, to miss the striking similarities between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and President Donald “The Donald” Trump.
It goes well beyond their nicknames.
Both of these embattled leaders are facing multiple investigations, both have launched relentless assaults on the media, both use the megaphones of their offices to push a nationalist, autocratic approach to power and both, of course, are running for re-election, Bibi in April and The Donald, presumably, in 2020.
Bibi is currently under the Israeli state prosecutor’s microscope; The Donald is a featured player in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Recent reports from Israel suggest that Bibi will be indicted for bribery in a month or so, before his April 9 re-election bid to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history; The Donald, aka “Individual 1,” has already been depicted as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Michael Cohen case and could well be the subject of a sealed indictment from the Southern District of New York, now universally described on cable news as SDNY.
Both men have dismissed the investigations as groundless witch hunts mounted by their respective “deep states.”
And both leaders are curiously close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bibi has traveled repeatedly to Moscow to confer with Putin on the growing Iranian presence in Syria; The Donald has met the Russian leader five times and had nothing but kind words for him since his 2016 campaign. One major difference: Bibi has not, as far as is known, been negotiating behind the scenes to build a Netanyahu Tower in Moscow.
When it comes to attacking the media, both men have launched full-scale campaigns. Bibi has complained early and often about his treatment in the feisty Israeli press and broadcast networks. His Likud Party recently unveiled a splashy election billboard featuring huge pictures of four leading Israeli journalists with the slogan: “They won’t Decide.”
The Donald, of course, has repeatedly denounced the U.S. media as “fake news” and “enemies of the people.” Over the weekend, the President celebrated the staff cuts at numerous news operations. One minor difference: Bibi is not known to spend hours each day watching cable news and tweeting his reactions.
The two men have been and remain politically close: Bibi has applauded The Donald at every opportunity, Trump has taken page after page from the Israeli playbook by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, an empty, but symbolic move that Bibi has sought for years. If there is anything else Bibi wants from The Donald, apparently he just has to ask.
Both men are adept at manufacturing crises, real and imagined, to distract attention from other problems. The Donald has conjured caravans of drug dealers and criminals assaulting the southern border in order to build support for his Wall; Bibi has repeatedly and dramatically pointed to Iran as an existential threat to Israel, launched multiple attacks on Hamas forces in Gaza, confronted Hezbollah along the Lebanese border and mounted hundreds of air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Many of these threats to Israel are real; confronting them aggressively tends to divert the public’s attention from other, politically awkward headlines.
Finally, both men are gifted political operators: Bibi became Israel’s youngest prime minister when he served in the late 1990’s, returned to office in 2009 and has beaten back repeated challenges over the last decade; Trump pulled off an amazing political upset in 2016 and has dominated the headlines and airwaves ever since.
At this point, the public opinion polls in Israel favor Bibi’s re-election, albeit by a narrow margin; Trump’s prospects are less promising. The President’s standing in the polls descended to new lows after the abortive government shutdown. But it is too early to count him out for a second term. No appealing Democratic candidate has emerged from the growing crowd of declared and undeclared, and the 2020 election is a political lifetime away.

Putin’s Delight

Even in the midst of a cold Moscow winter, Vladimir Putin must be feeling warm and satisfied as he reads the headlines these days from Europe and the United States.
I suspect he smiles to himself as he watches Britain’s Brexit debacle, Emanuel Macron’s desperate “listening tour,” Germany’s sagging economy and the nationalist, anti-immigrant, right-wing rumblings coming from Italy, Hungary, Poland and beyond. Yes, he must say to himself, yes, indeed.
And he no doubt feasts his eyes on the chaos in Washington: a shuttered government, a paralyzed Congress, daily Trumpian tantrums, trade wars, counter-intelligence investigations and roiling markets. Yes, yes indeed. It is all going according to plan, Putin says to his aides and cyberwarfare specialists.
Putin knew it would be a long-term project to destabilize the West; he never thought the wheels would start coming off so soon. He certainly never dreamed that Trump would suddenly pull U.S. troops from Syria, creating an inviting vacuum for Russia and Iran to fill. It’s simply too much to hope for.
So, now the stage is set for more Russian adventures in Ukraine, increased pressure on the Baltic states and more mischief in Syria and Afghanistan.
What a happy new year it is turning out to be!

Where You Stand is Where You Sit on Trump

The first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration seems a good time to take stock of the first full year of the most chaotic, disruptive, unpredictable presidency ever.
Our “very stable genius” in the Oval Office assures us repeatedly on Twitter that he is “the greatest” and that no president before him has achieved so much in so short a time. Neither assertion is demonstrably true, but candid self-analysis has never been our leader’s strong suit. Self-absorption, yes; self-criticism, not so much.
Sui generis was one of the first latin phrases the nuns taught me in St. Raymond’s School in Lynbrook, Long Island. It means singular, unique, nothing quite like it. I’ll give President Trump that much. He is sui generis. None of the 44 presidents before him compares and I doubt any that follow — not even a President Oprah — will seem the same.
None is likely to match his loose relationship with the truth, with facts, with the constitution and the English language, even though he tells us that he “is, like, really smart.” None of his predecessors, not even George W. Bush, who struggled with “strategery,” is his equal as a stream-of-consciousness phrase-maker. None would refer to Haiti and parts of Africa as “shithole countries.”
Now comes Michael Wolff, whose new book, “Fire and Fury Inside the Trump White House,” reports that the President’s closest aides consider him to be an overgrown child who is hopelessly unequipped for his job and a candidate for removal under the 25th amendment because they believe he is “losing it.”
Wolff, whom I have known for years, is not to be taken literally. He has a checkered history of first ingratiating himself with prominent sources (i.e. Rupert Murdoch and others) and then burning them between hard covers. It’s a profitable line of work, but his reporting hardly qualifies as even the first draft of history.
That said, the quotes in his book from Steve Bannon and others about the President and the Trump inner sanctum have the ring of truth. Bannon himself is a relentless, self-promoting loose cannon, but it is worth noting that while he apologized for his comments about the President and his family, he did not deny them.
A far better, more revealing book about Trump and what makes him tick is “The Trumps, Three Generations of Builders and a President,” by Gwenda Blair.
It is a portrait of Trump’s immigrant grandfather, Frederick Trump, who came from Germany and prospered in the Klondike gold rush; his late father, Fred, who capitalized on government subsidies and loopholes to become a major builder in New York’s outer boroughs, and of the President himself and his swaggering career as a Manhattan developer and playboy.
Read it and you’ll understand how, for Trump, life is one “deal” after another and “winning” is not the important thing, but the only thing.
He is taking the same approach to running the country. In each case, he has pushed himself relentlessly, played fast and loose with the truth and claimed credit for the accomplishments of others. His gutter language is just the topper.
Of course, his supporters applaud his performance. They look at Trump’s first year and they see tax cuts, reduced regulation, more money for the military, Justice Neil Gorsuch and other conservatives appointed to the Federal bench, a tough line against North Korea, Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital and a relentless assault against the “fake news” media.
What’s not to like? asks the base, that 38 per cent that supports Trump in the polls, gets their news from Fox and would vote for him again in a heartbeat.
His critics look at the same record and see more income inequality, discarded environmental protections, wasteful spending, right-wing judges, heightened danger of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea, setbacks to the already troubled Middle East peace process and a frontal assault on the first amendment. They also are offended by the President’s style: the bragging, the bullying, the thinly-veiled bigotry and the outright lying.
So, where you stand at the end of the first year of the Trump presidency depends on where you sit. You either see the President as fulfilling his campaign promise to upset the Washington apple cart, or as tearing down the structure and integrity of government.
Take your pick. Your next opportunity to express your opinion of Trump comes in November.

Trump’s Secret

For months now, actually the last two years, I have been puzzled by a persistent, troubling question:
What is Donald Trump hiding?
Through the tumult of the first six months of the Trump White House, through all the resignations and firings, from National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to the spectacular flameout of Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, aka “The Mooch,” I have asked myself:
What is Donald Trump keeping from us?
I first started to wonder at the outset of his presidential campaign when he refused to release his income tax returns.
What was in there that was so damaging?
Was he simply not as rich as he claimed? Or, would his returns demonstrate, contrary to what he has said publicly, that he is or has been deeply indebted to Russian creditors with connections to the Kremlin? Would the returns reveal that the Trump real estate empire is a house of cards, staggering under mountains of debt? Or, more embarrassing politically, would we discover that the real estate mogul has paid few if any taxes over the years?
Obviously, there had to be sensitive material in his income tax returns. Why else would he stubbornly refuse to release them?
The same fundamental question — what is he hiding? — came to mind again and again as Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, tweeted out his fury at the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor and railed against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians.
The whole “Russia thing,” as the President derisively describes it, has clearly gotten under his skin. Why?
There is, after all, no hard, public evidence so far that Donald Trump personally colluded with the Russians during or after the campaign.
His family is a different matter. His son, Don Jr., clearly colluded when he famously met with the Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may well have had improper conversations with the Russian Ambassador and a Kremlin-connected Russian banker.
But again, it is not clear yet that a specific, prosecutable crime was committed. President Trump may or may not be guilty of obstruction of justice, but that is up to Special Counselor Mueller to determine with his investigation.
What explains the President’s furious reaction when reports emerged that Mueller was looking into his past financial transactions? Why did President Trump angrily declare that whole area of his life out of bounds?
The President is clearly, deeply worried about something . Worried to the point of musing aloud about firing Sessions and Mueller and considering pardoning his aides and family members and even himself, if that is legally possible.
Who would even consider such high-risk options that are guaranteed to create a political firestorm and could easily prompt calls for his impeachment? Only a President who feels his back is against the wall. Only a President who fears that the Mueller investigation could bring him or his family members down.
In recent days, we have learned that the Special Counsel has empanelled multiple grand juries that are looking into Trump’s financial dealings and any and all contacts his campaign had with Russians before, during and after the campaign. So stay tuned. We may finally get some answers.

Chesapeake Bay in Trump’s Crosshairs

The Chesapeake Bay had a good week last week.

The annual report card on the Bay’s overall health from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) showed significant improvement, one-design sailboats from around the nation had a rollicking regatta in the waters off Annapolis, and just days before that, Congress preserved funds for the Chesapeake Bay Program for the balance of the fiscal year.

Nothing in Washington is permanent, of course, so the budget battle will resume in September for FY2018 and the Trump Administration is still threatening to zero-out the $73 million annual appropriation for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is headquartered in Annapolis.

The White House has other environmental programs in its budget crosshairs as well. It is calling for substantial reductions in funding for the E.P.A, NOAA and the intricate network of federal agencies that together allocate more than $500 million a year to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay’s waters and fisheries.  Congressional members from Maryland and Virginia will do what they can to preserve the federal funds, but some sort of a fiscal haircut seems likely come September.

The painful irony is that this assault on the nation’s environmental programs comes just as the Bay and its tributaries seem to be turning the corner. The UMCES report found that, after decades of work, the largest estuary in the nation is making a steady, measurable recovery.

The Bay earned an overall grade of C on the 2016 UMCES report card: not dean’s list, perhaps, but one of the highest scores recorded in years.  (Unfortunately, Anne Arundel County’s sluggish rivers lagged behind with a D+.)  The Fisheries Index, made up of blue crab, striped bass and bay anchovies, rebounded to an A, a dramatic sign that the restoration effort is working.

The Trump Administration took no notice, however, and promised to redouble its budget-cutting efforts. The Trump formula: billions more for rebuilding the military and national security, sharp reductions in “discretionary” spending, including the environment.

“I do not think Donald Trump connects with the environment if he cannot play golf on it, or own it,’ said Dr. Thomas Miller, the director of the  Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, an arm of UMCES in Solomons Island. “I sense a profound lack of interest in environmental issues as president and personally throughout his career as a developer.”

Miller worries that if the Chesapeake Bay Program is eliminated or even substantially trimmed, it will no longer be able to monitor the progress being made by the six states and District of Columbia that make up the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. Under the terms of the 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, the states committed themselves to make major progress towards cleaning up the Bay by 2025. It is the Chesapeake Bay Program that coordinates and monitors their efforts to insure that they live up to their commitments.

Tom Horton, the Eastern Shore journalist and author that many regard as the bard of the Bay, is concerned that if the federal funds supporting this effort are cut, the individual states will not make up the difference.  “You can’t assume that the states will pick up the slack,” he said, “Pennsylvania is already struggling to find the money to do what it is committed to do.”

Horton doubts that the Trump Administration, despite its threats, will succeed in eliminating the Chesapeake Bay Program in 2018, but, he said,  “even a modest cut sends a signal that says: ‘don’t bother about the Bay.’”

One statistic might give the Trump budget-cutters pause: a healthy Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine that generates over 5,000 seafood industry jobs and an annual income of $56 million. Altogether, the watershed’s regional economy provides 8.3 million jobs and an annual income of almost $400 billion.

Real money, as they say, even in today’s Washington.


Media in the Age of Trump

For news organizations, the early months of the Age of Trump have been, perversely, the best of times and the worst of times.
The worst, because of the 45th President’s vitriolic assault on the media as dishonest, disloyal “enemies of the people.”
The best, oddly, because the chaos surrounding the Trump ascension has given birth to some remarkable investigative reporting. The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, especially, have been topping each other repeatedly with penetrating reports about the inner workings, conflicts and contradictions of the new Administration and — get this — people are paying for it. It is an on-going newspaper war in the best sense of the word.
And not just newspapers. The New Yorker magazine, renowned for its prose and commentary, has been breaking news about the curious and continuing Trump-Russian connections. The venerable Atlantic magazine, a monthly, has published an in-depth look at what it calls the autocratic aspects of Trumpism.
Most major organizations have beefed up their Washington and investigative staffs since election day. The New York Times has assigned six top reporters to cover the White House full-time. (When I was The Times’ chief White House correspondent in the 1970’s, I was “chief” of myself and one deputy.)
The Washington Post and CNN have added to the collective reporting muscle by building new investigative teams.
It is the best of times, as well, because readers and viewers have responded to the tumultuous times by forking over cash for subscriptions to the most reliable of the “lamestream” media, as Sarah Palin once dubbed them.
The Times, which has been struggling financially in recent years from a crippling loss of print advertising, is experiencing a remarkable surge. The Grey Lady added 300,000 new digital subscriptions since election day. The Washington Post has topped 300,000 paid digital subscriptions for the first time. The New Yorker has picked up 250,000 subscribers in the last three months. Subscriptions to The Atlantic were up 210 per cent in January over the same month the year before.
The timing is hardly coincidental.
These new readers are not just reacting to Trump’s attacks on the press; they are hungry for reliable journalism in an uncertain world. And they are paying for it. Stephen Colbert once dubbed it “truthiness,” and people want it.
The cable news networks, all of which have tasted Trump’s wrath at one time or another, are enjoying an across-the-board
ratings boost. Fox, Trump’s favorite, leads the pack, but even CNN, which the President has labeled “fake news,” is up sharply. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s worldwide president, calls it a “renaissance in American Journalism.”
Have there been mistakes and excesses in the coverage? Of course. But you will get a clearer picture of the Administration in the media than from Kelly Anne Conway and the other Trump spokespeople.
Incidentally, the other great beneficiaries of the Trump Bump have been Colbert, John Oliver and, of course, Saturday Night Live. Late night television satire has never been better — or more popular.
Meanwhile, the normally adversarial relationship between the press and the White House has descended into daily hostilities between Sean Spicer, the beleaguered press secretary, and the reporters who question him. The televised battles have become a daytime hit as Spicer gamely tries to defend his boss’s twitter outbursts.
It is hard at this point to see where all this chaos leads us. David Brooks doubts that Trump can last a year. But the President’s base seems solidly behind him and largely satisfied that he is fulfilling his campaign promises. The Republicans in Congress will not challenge him as long as they believe he will sign their agenda into law.
In the main, reporters have been keeping their heads down, doing their jobs, digging for the truth and, fortunately, not taking the Presidential attacks personally. Most realize it is not about them. This is not a popularity contest, which is a good thing, since neither side would win. But it is reminder that, as the old saying goes, “politics ain’t beanbag.”

News Obsessive Disorder

Are you suffering from News Obsessive Disorder (NOD)?
Do the headlines out of our nation’s capital give you a headache? Does page-one make you anxious? Do you find yourself watching cable news non-stop?
You are not alone. NOD is endemic in the Age of Trump, and growing.
Fortunately, the doctor is in.
Valium might help, or Xanax. But the recommended remedy here is travel. Take a trip, a long trip, preferably outside the circulation area of your favorite paper, ideally to where the internet connection is spotty and wi-fi rare.
My wife and I recently sought such relief.
We left Annapolis on January 22, with the inauguration and Women’s March on the Mall and in Annapolis still ringing in our ears. We flew to Panama, boarded a ship, transited the Canal and turned south along the Pacific coasts of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, crossing the equator and basking in the full summer of the southern hemisphere. It was a speaking assignment for me on a cruise ship, a journey of some 8,500 miles in all, and it came at just the right time to detox from Trumpworld.
It is not a miracle cure for NOD, mind you. The news still gets through. The ship has a satellite that brings in some of the cable channels and sometimes the uplink to the internet works. But — here is the good news — as Washington slips further and further behind you, the headlines seem more remote, less immediate, less threatening.
South Americans know about Trump, of course, but they don’t obsess about him. They have their own worries. In Ecuador, they are still rebuilding from a terrible earthquake, in Peru there is a water shortage, in Chile, where they are in the fifth year of a drought, wild fires are raging.
On board the ship, when the satellite is working, the inescapable headlines from Washington tumble across the television screen: a blizzard of executive orders, a travel ban against Muslims that the President says is not really a travel ban against Muslims and that the courts say is illegal, the Alice-in-Wonderland comment from White House counselor Kelly Anne Conway that the Administration is not lying, but offering “alternative facts.”
President Trump holds phone conversations with a dozen world leaders and hangs up on some of them. Mexico is said to be furious, Australia confused and the French mystified.
Annapolis news is mystifying as well. The Capital Gazette website reports that Mayor Pantelides has fired the Annapolis police chief because he wants to go in a “new direction.” What is that all about?
Every day brings a new headline stranger than the day before. But as you sail further south, it all seems far away, like another planet. It is sunny and warm. You relax and read your book; your blood pressure goes down, you take a nap.
*
Eventually, the trip is over and you come home, back to the world of non-stop “Breaking News” about the chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The television is on morning and night. NOD again.
Once again, you are drinking from a news fire hose: The President has fired his national security adviser after only 24 days in office, the billionaire he nominated for Labor Secretary is out before he was in, North Korea fires a missile, a Russian spy ship is off the coast of Connecticut. The scent of scandal is in the air.
On MSNBC, political director Chuck Todd warns: “Hunker down, this is a Category 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”
Then last Thursday, the President emerges in the East Room to give a 77-minute news conference like no other. It is mostly a rambling, disjointed assault on the news media, whom he loves and hates and loves to hate. NOD again.
Vacation over, it is time to pay attention and remember some hard realities: critical news about Trump is not “fake news,” leaks are not the problem, lies are. Truth is more important — and more difficult to discern — than ever. It is up to the viewer and reader to decide.
That’s unfair, I know, but in the Age of Trump and the era of “alternative facts,” that’s the way it is.

Terence Smith, who lives in Eastport, is a former White House correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News.

Campaign Autopsy: Clinton’s 1,000 Cuts

A month after the most surreal, bizarre Presidential election in my lifetime, I find I have almost as many questions as answers.
Not about Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory, which seems clear, unless the Michigan recount and the Electors who actually cast their votes on December 19, decide otherwise.
Nor about Hillary Clinton’s defeat, which, in hindsight, I guess more of us should have seen coming.
Rather, my questions are about why:
Why did Trump win? What combination of the man, the moment, his message, his blatant manipulation of facts and brilliant self-marketing caused the upset?
Why did tens of millions of voters describe Trump as not qualified to be President and vote for him anyway?
Why did Clinton lose? What combination of the woman, the moment, her message and largely self-inflicted wounds caused the result?
Donald Trump’s victory is history-making and fascinating. To come from nowhere, politically, with no prior experience in elective office, little understanding of the issues or the world and a questionable personal reputation, especially with 52 per cent of the population, is nothing short of amazing.
Indisputably, Trump tapped into some deep-seated sentiments in the voting public, exploited them shamelessly and against all odds, pulled off the most remarkable electoral achievement in modern political history. He broke all the rules of American politics, and won. He lost the popular vote, but won the presidency.
Hillary Clinton’s loss is amazing as well.
Arguably the most qualified person to run for the presidency, with deep experience and an intimate knowledge of the issues confronting the nation, the support of her party and a vast campaign chest, she nonetheless lost. She played by the rules of American politics, and lost. She won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes, and lost.
Why?
It is not an easy answer. The question was put to 20-some veteran Democratic operatives, many of them White House alumni, at a private dinner Wednesday night in a plush, paneled dining room in Washington. It was a collective autopsy of a campaign they all expected to win. The mood was set at the outset by the host, who passed out “Emergency Canadian Residence Applications” as a gag.
Then, seated beneath a glowering portrait of a long-dead Civil War general, the guests were uniformly critical of the strategy and execution of the Clinton campaign. More in sadness than anger, they described a defeat inflicted by a thousand cuts.
In almost telegraphic shorthand, they ticked off the campaign’s failings: No message…took minorities and women for granted…essentially promised a third Obama term…assumed urban supporters would out-number rural opponents, as they had twice for Obama… failed to address economic concerns of white working class men…expected Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to be in the bag, and on and on.
Victory was always going to be tough, they said, given widespread Clinton fatigue…sclerosis of the Democratic Party…polarizing nature of the economic divide over the last 25 years…public disgust with “the establishment”…the challenge of a “change” election, etc.
Hillary herself came in for sharp criticism for mishandling her email controversy, the on-again FBI investigation, especially Director Comey’s bombshell 11 days before the vote, her sarcastic “basket of deplorables” and her remote style and reluctance to answer questions. She ran like a 20th-century candidate, it was said, in a 21st century election where all the old rules went out the window.
Then a single question stopped the conversation cold. Is it possible, one former senior official said ruefully, that running a woman candidate on the heels of the first black president may have been “a step too far” for the average American voter? “Not a pretty thought,” muttered one guest in the silence that followed.
As the dinner broke up, the guests consoled themselves with the thought that American politics have always been cyclical, that parties that seem devastated usually rise from the ashes, and that, as used to be said among enlisted men in the U.S. Army, nothing very good or very bad lasts very long.

Grace Under Pressure?

While sensible people are focused on the Annapolis Boat Show, the weather or even Sunday night football, tens of millions of us will tune in tonight to the second Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Second debates in a series of three are not generally all that consequential. But this one could really matter, especially given Trump’s vulgar taped comments on women and his sexual prowess.
Tonight’s encounter at Washington University in St. Louis will establish whether the Republican nominee can control himself and finally seem presidential, and whether the Democratic nominee can keep her cool under pressure and still make her points. A smile now and then wouldn’t hurt either of them.
The first debate at Hofstra University was the most fractious, chaotic and dystopian Presidential encounter in recent memory. In the aftermath, sports metaphors were overworked but apt. Hillary Clinton clearly scored a TKO, if not a knockout, and got a significant bump in the polls in the process. She nailed Trump on race and gender issues and demonstrated a grasp of foreign and security policy that left him flailing about.
Clinton deftly turned Trump’s graceless attack on her “stamina” around and used it to question his. Some of her better lines (“Trumped-up trickle-down”) sounded rehearsed and shopworn, but they made a point.
Trump was focused at first, scoring points on trade and the economy and repeatedly characterizing Clinton as part of the team responsible for current shortcomings at home and abroad. His implicit message: Hillary and the Democrats got you into this mess; I’m the change agent who can get you out.
But, as the debate went on — watch for this tonight — Trump lost his focus, repeated himself , was belligerently defensive about not paying taxes and his bankruptcies and wandered far afield, ascribing the hacking of the Democratic National Committee to an unidentified 400-pound man texting in his pajamas. How’s that again?
Lester Holt, the journeyman moderator, went missing for periods of time and let the candidates punch and counter-punch. Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker’s resident funnyman, even tweeted a missing-persons alert on Holt at one point. But Holt’s restraint also served to reveal the candidates’ competitive instincts.
Tonight, the moderators will be Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, no shrinking violets, who will likely be more assertive. But half the questions are to come from the audience in the town hall format. We’ll have to see how that affects the candidates.
The forecast for tonight’s debate is stormy. Both candidates know there is a lot at stake, and both have ammunition they didn’t use in the first exchange.
Trump can resurrect the “pay-for-play” allegations about the Clinton Foundation, and charge that foreign donors got special treatment from the former Secretary of State in exchange for their contributions. He has already promised to bring up Bill Clinton’s infidelities, even though in the first debate with Chelsea Clinton in the first row he said “It’s inappropriate…not nice.” Apparently it is nice enough when you are behind in the polls in the key swing states.
Clinton has plenty of fodder to use against Trump if she chooses: his latest bragging about his way with women, the undisputed reports that he lost a breathtaking $916 million in one tax year and likely paid no federal income taxes for nearly two decades, and his continued refusal to release his current tax returns. There is the Trump University fraud, the Trump Foundation scam, his more outrageous campaign promises to wall off Mexico, bar Muslims and deport 12 million undocumented immigrants. The list goes on.
Entertainment suggestion: watch carefully tonight when Clinton gets under Trump’s skin, as she is likely to do; watch his reaction and what it does to his train of thought and debate strategy. Then imagine how he might respond to a similar challenge in the Oval Office.
Increasingly, this bizarre campaign is coming down to questions of temperament and emotional stability. Debates reveal those characteristics better than anything. By the end of 90 minutes tonight, we will have a deeper insight into the candidates’ personalities and their grace under pressure — or lack thereof.
Tune in. You can always record Sunday night football.

The Times, It Is a Changin’

The Times, It Is A Changin’

You see it on the front page of The New York Times, live on NBC and across the spectrum: reporters, not commentators or columnists, calling out Donald Trump for lying.
That role used to be reserved for fact-checkers and editorial writers. The reporters would report, others would analyze, or, leave it to the readers.
But that old formula is not sufficient for The Age of Trump. The lies come so fast and frequently, piling up, one news cycle after another, that in some cases, at least, they have to be dealt with immediately, in the initial report. There won’t be time to sort it out later.
Take Michael Barbaro’s excellent news analysis on page one of The Times on Saturday, September 17. The editors chose to make it the two-column lead of the paper, with the news story inside, on page 10. That was another departure: before The Age of Trump, the editors would usually lead the paper with the news story and either twin it with a news analysis or put the news analysis inside, on the jump.
But this lie was so flagrant, so bald-faced, The Times had to deal with it in the headline: “Trump Gives Up a Lie, But Refuses to Repent.” The lie in question, of course, was Trump’s years of insinuations that President Obama was not born in the United States and therefore not qualified to be President.
Barbaro recounted Trump’s assertions to that effect since 2011 and wrote: “It was never true, any of it.”
Katy Tur, on MSNBC, similarly flatly rejected Trump’s claim that it was Hillary Clinton who started the racially-tinged “Birther Movement” and that he, Trump, had “finished it.” Not true, Tur said immediately.
This is not instant analysis, it is competent journalism, a faithful reporting of facts. It is different, necessary in The Age of Trump, and good.