The Morning Jolt

White House

Criticism Comes with the Job, Mr. President

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, June 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A president is rarely loved in office, and thus anyone who steps into the Oval Office has to be ready to endure relentless criticism; the White House could have a more coherent argument against impeachment but is so far choosing to simply denounce critics; the House passes a resolution against the Armenian Genocide, raising the question of which reality-show star has the most influence over U.S. policy.

Presidents Are Rarely Loved While in Office

Back when Donald Trump started his presidency, a once-controversial figure who had hosted and interviewed him quite a few times offered a trenchant observation about the new president’s personality and the job he had sought and won.

“I personally wish that he had never run, I told him that, because I actually think this is something that is gonna be detrimental to his mental health too, because, he wants to be liked, he wants to be loved,” said infamous radio talk show host Howard Stern. “He wants people to cheer for him.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a healthy experience. And by the way, he’s now on this anti-Hollywood kick. He loves Hollywood. First of all, he loves the press. He lives for it. He loves people in Hollywood. He only wants to hobnob with them. All of this hatred and stuff directed towards him. It’s not good for him. It’s not good. There’s a reason every president who leaves the office has grey hair.”

Stern was right. Presidents are rarely widely beloved while in office. Their approval ratings may go up and down with events, but the criticism rarely stops. There are always problems, and the decisions a president makes to address those problems inevitably irk someone. Entire American mass media structures exist to tell people how wrong the president is. Today, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, NPR the Washington Post and others greet their audiences with daily updates that amount to, “here is what the president did wrong today.” The late-night comedians, Saturday Night Live and the rest amplify that message. When there is another Democratic president, their coverage will get softer and less critical; the criticism will come from Fox News, talk radio, blogs, and other media will begin telling you, “here is what the president did wrong today.”

Some of us might argue that the largest problems facing the country stem from political leaders who fear or hate the idea of being disliked, and who do not acknowledge difficult truths. The safest message for any American politician is to assure the public that the answers are obvious and easy and could be quickly enacted if it wasn’t for that dastardly opposition party. The national debt will matter someday, interest payments on the debt will eat up more and more of the federal budget, and we would be better off dealing with it now instead of later. The lesson of health care systems around the world is that they can feature two of three important qualities but not the third: fast, good, cheap. We can withdraw our military forces from around the world, reducing the risk to our men and women in uniform, but the cost is a more violent, chaotic globe that features massacres, invasions, and genocide. It is impossible to build an economy that is dynamic and creates lots of new jobs while never endangering the old industries and the old jobs.

A president has to accept criticism as part of the job, and he has to accept that his advisors will often disagree, both with him and each other, and seek to correct him.

A few days ago, former White House chief of staff John Kelly discussed his departure from the administration and said he had offered a prescient warning. During an interview, Kelly recalled, “I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached,” Kelly said he does not believe the president would be facing impeachment right now if he had stayed as chief of staff.

The reaction from the White House to Kelly’s comment was appropriate for North Korea: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”

Trump hired John Bolton to be his national security adviser, presumably because he had some faith in Bolton’s judgment in handling foreign affairs. Bolton reportedly thought Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-books efforts to influence the decisions of the Ukrainian government were outrageous, calling Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” and comparing their efforts to get an investigation of the Bidens a “drug deal.” Trump had the option of listening to Bolton. He chose not to, and pursued a different path . . . and now, here we are: facing a near-certain impeachment by the House, and a trial in the Senate that will probably end with somewhere around 50 votes to remove — not enough to end Trump’s presidency, but an embarrassment nonetheless.

How to Respond to an Increasingly Inevitable Impeachment by the House

Trump is convinced he has magic instincts, and no amount of counterevidence ever seems to persuade him otherwise. Trump has one card he plays against criticism: counterattacks. This wins applause from the president’s supporters but that’s not going to work much here. Further contentions that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer and key witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry, has dual loyalties because he was born in Ukraine is only going to alienate Republicans who ought to be his allies, like Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. Joni Ernst and John Thune. Not only is the charge not persuasive — how many dual loyalists earned a Purple Heart in Iraq? —  it is so weighted with ignorant xenophobia that many Republican lawmakers will feel compelled to defend the administration critic under attack. Like the president, declaration that the Kurdish terrorist group PKK is more dangerous than ISIS, this administration often picks the weakest arguments in support of its positions.

Andy McCarthy is right (as usual) when he declares that this White House desperately needs a coherent strategy to deal with the coming impeachment, instead of complaining about the process — complaints that will become moot once the House formally votes to begin the inquiry and starts holding open hearings.

Andy laid out a much more coherent series of arguments in favor of the president: The aid to Ukraine was delayed but not withheld; no harm, no foul. Most of this criticism is political opportunism; most Democratic lawmakers care little about Ukraine and only started paying attention after the outcome of the 2016 election. Had the request for assistance in anti-corruption investigations gone through official channels, no one would have any legitimate complaint. The deal to put Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was indeed an effort to ensure the company had a well-placed ally in the Obama administration, and it is a legitimate avenue for criminal investigation for bribery. Even if Trump blurred his personal and political interest with the national interests, it does not rise to the level of removal from office, particularly in a country that decided, 21 years ago, that perjury and suborning perjury are not sufficient to remove a president from office.

Finally, I think Republicans have one counter-argument that gets stronger with time. If the Senate trial begins in January and stretches into February, as many increasingly suspect, does it make sense to remove the president about ten months before the country decides whether he deserves another term?

The U.S. Recognizes the Armenian Genocide

Yesterday, the House passed a resolution denouncing the Armenian Genocide, accomplishing a long-sought goal of the Armenian-American community and its allies like Nancy Pelosi. Two factors made this year different: Turkey’s blatant military aggression against our previous Kurdish allies in northern Syria, and . . . I am not making this up: Kim Kardashian.

For years, Kardashian West has evoked the memory of her Armenian-American father, the late Robert Kardashian, to publicly press for the United States to recognize as genocide the massacre of more than 1 million mostly Christian Armenians. But that advocacy has taken on a new dimension in recent months, with Kardashian West discussing the issue in one-on-one meetings with top officials in Armenia, personal chats with members of Congress and text messages to senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner.

Kim Kardashian is pushing U.S. policy in a direction that is tougher against an increasingly Islamist ally, and Kanye West is making gospel music. (Mickey was right all along; who knew watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians counted as political research?)

Back when I lived in Turkey and shortly thereafter, I didn’t think passing the resolution was worth the cost to U.S.-Turkish relations. The Iraq War was still being fought next door, the U.S. needed Incirlik Air Base for resupply and flights, and Turkey was still a vital ally in the fight against al-Qaeda. And while U.S. policymakers never would have made Erdogan their first choice, the Bush administration believed they could do business with him in certain key areas.

By 2010, the calculus of U.S. interests — and the tone of Turkish leadership — had changed. I wrote then, “Staying on good terms with the Turks is still important, but it is not quite as supremely vital as it was in previous years. The decisions of the current Turkish government, headed by Erdogan, are increasingly irksome, pushing the country in a more Islamist direction. The Turks don’t have to make decisions that we like, but they ought to recognize that when they do, there are consequences, including a waning interest in discouraging developments that irk them, like the Armenian Genocide resolution.”

ADDENDUM: Be careful out there tonight; it’s Devil’s Night, or if you grew up in New Jersey, Mischief Night. Apparently Vermonters call it “Cabbage Night,” which doesn’t sound quite so menacing.


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