Approval Junkie Would Kill Us All to Get His Fix


So, we’e a little more than 100 days into the misery of a Trump presidency (and what I hope is at least 90% of the way done with it), and I can honestly say that it’s gone better than I expected. So far, Trump’s ego has killed just one Navy SEAL and an American child in his botched raid in Yemen back in January. And think of all the places we haven’t yet had a war with! We’re somehow NOT exchanging nukes with with North Korea or China, which I consider a win.  Sure, Trump is pointlessly escalating the largely pointless war in Afghanistan (Did you think that was over? Wrong!), but if fighting there could keep him distracted from starting a new war, maybe we can call it “harm reduction” rather than “waste of human life.” Sorry to the US soldiers about to lose life and limb for that, but it seems like reality TV just isn’t enough to occupy our fine leader these days, so someone’s gotta do it.

In light of Trump’s cavalier attitude about sharing top-secret information with a Russian that our experts say is a spy, some conservatives are coming around to the idea that Trump maybe just maybe doesn’t have the temperament for a job as a bingo caller, much less to be president, though others are still willing to defend a president who is “unschooled” (as if ignorance of how the office of the presidency works is something we should just tolerate in the honest-to-God-I-still-can’t-believe-it POTUS). I suspect that if they didn’t mind his bringing the nuclear football to lunch and showing up in selfies, they won’t mind him revealing sensitive information about vulnerable allies in the fight against ISIS (which was, I think, supposed to be solved in February, right?).

All of this is predictable. After all, senior intelligence officials warned about it during the campaign.

As a Christian, I like turnaround stories–the scales dropping from Paul’s eyes and his conversion from the chief persecutor of Christians to the architect of the early church. Those who anticipated such a dramatic change between Candidate and President Trump were looking for an equally large miracle, and they were foolish. At 70 years old, Trump’s character was pretty well-formed (or, rather, ill-formed); changing it would be difficult even if Trump himself wanted to, and he doesn’t–and why should he? It, along with inherited millions, got him this far.

Trump’s character is familiar to any of us who have had extended contact with those with fragile egos (by which I mean sense of self, not arrogance). Apparently, 60 million of us didn’t learn this simple playground lesson: the vacuum inside a bully can never be filled from the outside.

Trump’s decision to compromise the safety of allies who provided us with information about ISIS was not even a decision–it was a way for him to get the approval he needs like you and I need oxygen, and he doesn’t hesitate to suck up flattery like we suck in air. Trump, when facing a man his own fragile masculinity recognized as savvier than him,  did the only think a fragile ego can do: he begged for approval. Oh, he can’t ask “Do you like me? Am I the best? Do you respect and fear me?” So instead he brags about his intel–he has “the best intel.” (Of course you do, you rube. You have all the power of the presidency. No one is impressed that you have intel.) Like so many other fragile men, he needs flattery and is willing to trade anything for it. He gave away important, dangerous information, jeopardizing our relationships with our allies, in exchange for the chance to brag about it. He isn’t “the best”; he is the neediest.

Trump’s embarrassing dependency on other’s approval threatens us all. We need to recognize it as a permanent condition, not a temporary lack of judgment. 

That kind of emptiness can never be filled. In exchange for others telling him he is a big and powerful man, Trump would give away every secret, endanger every member of the US military, alienate every ally, stuff the nuclear football in Kim Jong-un’s Christmas stocking, hand Xi Jinping the keys to Fort Knox, and appoint Vladimir Putin as the new Secretary of State. And he would still not be satisfied  because a person without a core, without an identity apart from the admiration of others (which is easy to get when you are rich, even though those who claim to love you–perhaps your wives–despise you), can never have that need met. It’s bottomless.

Which means this will not stop until Congress makes it stop.

Which means, really, it’s up to us.

Breaking: Trump Will Nominate a Gay Man as Vatican Ambassador

Callista Gingrich speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. / Gage Skidmore


Ok, that headline is false. I’m just messing with you.

Here is what’s going on.

President Trump will name Callista Gingrich, the wife of campaign surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as his ambassador to the Vatican — an unlikely pick who will now be charged with reconciling the commander-in-chief’s rough populism with the Holy See’s focus on social justice.

The 51-year-old third wife of Gingrich is currently the head of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia company for which she produced a number of documentaries, including one about Pope John Paul II.

Callista and Newt had a six-year affair while he was married to his second wife.

Now: I understand the Catholic Church pretty much frowns on divorce and remarriage. And the Catholic Church is also famously against being actively gay, and gay marriage is right out.

So it’s fun to think about a president — any president — nominating an openly gay man to represent America in Vatican City. I just don’t see it happening.

Why the difference, do you think?

Me? I’m not one to tell a whole religion what rules to have. But I’m never surprised when it’s conservatives who turn out to be “Cafeteria Catholics,” picking and choosing which doctrines really matter. It is, however, worth occasionally pointing out.


Donald Trump Is an Insecure Braggart. He May Be Endangering the Nation Because of It.


You’ve heard by now that Donald Trump revealed classified information … to Russian officials … in the Oval Office?

Here’s how it reportedly went down:

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

For Pete’s sake.

Let’s acknowledge the story’s just broken, and that further facts may reshape this scoop. What follows remains the case regardless.

It’s been apparent since before he took office — really, since the 1980s, at least — that Trump is a narcissistic, insecure braggart whose personality traits would’ve made him a Darwin Award winner long ago, were it not for the fortune his daddy bequeathed to him.

Before the election, I wrote that Trump’s temperament — maybe more than any of his loathsome policy positions — would be his downfall:

Understand: Probably all politicians (and writers) are narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. The smart ones put that self-regard to the service of a broader agenda, one that benefits the people that they represent.

The, uh, less smart politicians have a two-year-old’s sense of object permanence, unable to see past the irritation in front of them to take the long view. And that leads to trouble.

With Trump, we know. We know exactly what we’re getting and … we know exactly how that story ends.

Nothing that’s happened since the election has altered that assessment, or the prospect of the likely end. We’ve crossed the line. The man cannot be trusted with the office. Even if it means we get a near-full term of President Mike Pence (ugh!) it’s time to to begin pushing for his removal.


Everything wrong with American Evangelicalism in “the Best Commencement Speech Liberty University has ever had”


Did you listen to Donald Trump’s commencement address at Liberty University, the dominionist university started by Jerry Falwell and now headed by Jerry, Jr?

As usual for Trump, it included ample bragging about his surprising electoral win in November and another crass reference about how vital their support was for his campaign (“And I want to thank you, because boy did you come out and vote, those of you that are old enough, in other words your parents. Boy oh boy, you voted, you voted.”). The speech has the usual vacuous references to the graduates’ futures, a quotation misunderstanding Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and some lousy theology (“Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud,”) that frankly should have offended the premillennialists, but, really, evangelical Christians have no standards at all any more, so it’s not surprising that they are unbothered by this detail. For Trump, it was almost coherent.

Falwell and Trump

Above, two lying, talentless conmen who have benefitted from nepotism: Donald Trump and  Jerry Falwell, Jr., who has called Trump evangelicals’ “dream president.” They stand in front of a framed cover from Playboy. Jerry Falwell, Sr., campaigned against the placement of pornographic magazines in convenience stores and sued Hustler in a case that went to the Supreme Court. “Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud.”

One passage, though, strikes me as as almost prophetic:

“A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand everyone want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think, but you aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know that you are right.”

Here, Trump is talking about Washington, DC–a “small group of failed voices” (you know, the ones elected by the people), but, “boy oh boy” could he be describing evangelical Christians. American evangelicalism has failed to turn its adherents into Christians, and those who claim that their evangelical Christianity prompts their conservative politics… well, they are failing too. They can’t persuade the majority of Americans to vote like them, and they can’t staff a Supreme Court who will ignore the Constitution in favor of their dominionist views. But they’ll keep at it because the know that they are right. Sigh.

More repulsive, though, were Jerry Falwell, Jr’s words praising Trump for dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US military’s arsenal in Afghanistan. Falwell sees this as a defense of Christians in the region, who are persecuted by ISIS. Neither Falwell nor I can speak to the theology of Christians who are facing genocide at the hands of ISIS. What I can say is that, whether the US bombs ISIS or not, Christians, even those at Liberty University, should not rejoice in the death of those who would persecute them.


For Mother’s Day, Rod Dreher Decided to be a Jerk


I’ve written the following about Rod Dreher on this blog:

I love Rod Dreher. I hate Rod Dreher. He’s essential reading. I sometimes have to turn off his RSS feed for weeks or months. He’s incredibly thoughtful. He’s a kneejerk reactionary. He’s terrified of the influence that gays will have on American society. He’s really good friends with Andrew Sullivan — who kind of helped kickstart the gay marriage movement decades ago. He’s profoundly human, but I wish he could be a bit more humane and less purely contemptuous of people who think differently than he does. I think there’s stuff we have to learn from him, and for God’s sake sometimes I wish he’d just shut the hell up.

Tonight, I wish he’d shut the hell up. Why? Here’s Twitter.

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Now. Maybe it’s because I just celebrated another Mother’s Day without my mother — the day after what should’ve been my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.

Or maybe it’s because I saw the image posted earlier in the day, by a friend who spent many years longing to become a parent — she and her husband finally adopted a couple of years back, a joy to them and all who know them — and who, I know, still vividly remembers the pain of that yearning.


Rod Dreher has written not one, but two books substantially centered on his daddy issues. Some people draw memes suggesting flowers for people who have family issues; Dreher’s made an income from his.

And Dreher’s whole shtick is that modern American society is destroying the family, and that civilization will soon follow. So why not make fun of people who yearn for family, or to improve their family relationships?

Dreher’s feelings get hurt easily. We know that from reading his blog and books. But he doesn’t reciprocate the sensitivity he seeks from others. One moment where a bit of humanity might’ve proven beneficial from him, and he chose to go for the hurtful snark.

So screw him. He deserves as much of a respectful hearing as he gives others. Which is to say: None.


P.S. “Participation trophies” are for folks who have lost competitions. Family isn’t — shouldn’t be — a competition.

P.S. again: Dreher didn’t like my series of tweets castigating him for his tweet. Apparently he can dish out the “participation trophy” disses, but can’t stand when the heat is redirected. That’s fine.

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OK, Maybe It’s Time for Impeachment Talk


I haven’t been down with talk of impeaching Donald Trump up to now. There were two reasons for this:

• Congress is held by Republicans. As a political matter, it’s highly unlikely, even improbable, that this Congress would impeach this president. Is there a line he could cross that would prove too much for Congressional Republicans? One hopes so, but one hasn’t actually seen sign of it.

• More importantly, I wasn’t convinced until this week that we had grounds for it. “I don’t like the president’s policies” isn’t good enough — elections have consequences — and the emoluments clause is vague enough for it not to get the traction it probably should.

But this week, the president fired the FBI director. Then gave implausible reasons for doing so. And it seemed the only plausible reason was that he didn’t like the FBI investigating whether Russia colluded with his presidential campaign.

Then, this morning, this happened:

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.10.54 AM

Yes. That’s the president of the United States telling the former FBI director: “Shut up about what you know, or else I might have incriminating information about you.”

Does this meet the legal, chargeable definition of “blackmail” as a criminal offense? I don’t know. As a practical matter, it’s blackmail, the work of a thug done publicly.

The threat came on the heels of a number of stories, but here’s one I found particularly interesting:

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.

I think we have evidence that President Trump wants his cabinet members to subvert their oaths of office. Those oaths require a fidelity to the Constitution — not any single person within government. I’m not sure Donald Trump knows the difference between himself and the state he leads. I’m not sure he ever did.

All of which is to say: I still don’t think Republicans will impeach this president. But I’m starting to have a firmer sense of the grounds upon which an impeachment might be possible.

— Joel