A busy and feisty Monday morning! Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump gets tough with a bunch of longtime American allies, but it’s not clear what the next step will be; a doctor asks about NIH funding and the suicide rate, but creates a dilemma for public discourse; the shining example of Charles Krauthammer and the inevitability of being hated for speaking your mind; and the never-quite-explicit calls for amnesty in the illegal-immigration debate.
Is there a Plan to Confront the Great Canadian Menace?
Donald Trump’s complaints about America’s allies and trade partners are usually down the street and around the corner from a legitimate point. Only four members of NATO spent 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2017, the extremely reasonable request the alliance has made of its members. (The U.S. spent 3.5 percent.)
Through multiple presidencies of both parties, the United States government has complained that the Canadian lumber industry is unfairly subsidized by Canada’s national and provincial governments.
U.S. companies have a longstanding, well-founded objection to China stealing intellectual property from companies that do business there.
Of course, when Trump articulates these complaints, he rarely leaves a sense that these are moderate but resolvable problems in an otherwise healthy relationship. There’s a long tradition of countries cutting their allies slack that they wouldn’t cut to neutral countries or hostile states, but this carries no weight in Trump’s mind. From his perspective, the other country’s misdeed defines the relationship, and anything else is window-dressing.
Trump and his fans believe he’s demonstrating “toughness” in ways that previous presidents couldn’t. Perhaps. The question is, what happens after you’ve demonstrated your toughness? Does the other side capitulate, or does the other side dig in? No doubt it’s cathartic to visibly rage at the other side, but does it get you where you want to go?
Trump now interacts with the prime minister of Canada the same way he lashes out at Rosie O’Donnell, Mika Brzezinski, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, by ripping into him on Twitter: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @g7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”
Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, raged on Fox News Sunday: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door . . . that’s what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference.”
Talk about turning it up to eleven. When U.S. policymakers tell a foreign leader that there’s a special place in hell waiting for him, it’s usually a brutal dictator who’s committed atrocities and human-rights abuses.
I guess the thinking is that U.S. tariffs will hurt Canadian workers worse than Canadian tariffs will hurt U.S. workers, and Trudeau will come back to the table, begging for relief. Of course, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — Trump’s own administration — in 2017, the U.S. exported about $8 billion more to Canada in 2017 than it imported. (The figures are a little muddied by goods that Canada exports to places such as Mexico by shipping them through the United States.)
When Trump and his team denounce Trudeau in such strong and personal terms, do you think they weaken or strengthen his resolve? Do you think they made it more likely or less likely that Trudeau will return to the negotiating table, ready to make concessions?
What is it that the president and the administration really want? My suspicion is that for Trump, the tough stance is the end, not the means to the end. Getting others to perceive you as “tough” and not easily swindled is the actual desired outcome, not the particular policy concessions. If the concessions come, great. If it turns into a prolonged, standoff, that’s fine; that’s just another opportunity to demonstrate “toughness” in a test of wills.
Do We Need More Federal Studies on Suicide?
Dr. David Friedman, writing in the New York Times, observes, “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Yet last year, the National Institutes of Health spent more money researching dietary supplements than it did suicide and suicide prevention.”
Okay, except . . . 68 percent of Americans take dietary supplements, as of 2015, and that figure has remained pretty stable over the years. That calculates out to about 220 million people. I don’t mind NIH doing a lot of research into pills that 220 million Americans are taking.
Roughly 45,000 Americans commit suicide in a year; NIH studies calculate that roughly 10 million Americans have “serious thoughts” about suicide in a year.
Friedman means well, and perhaps increased funding and clinical research will indeed lead to reductions in the suicide rate. He’s probably correct when he writes, “we need to talk more openly about suicide, to help people see it as the treatable medical scourge that it is.” Except . . . we also know that media coverage of celebrity suicides can add to a copycat effect:
Nevertheless, there is some convincing evidence for a direct copycat effect. For example, in the book, Final Exit, a guide to suicide for terminally ill persons, asphyxiation is the recommended means of suicide. In the year that Final Exit was published, the number of suicides by asphyxiation in New York City rose by 313% from eight to 33. Furthermore, a copy of Final Exit was found at the scene of 27% of these suicides. A study of Quebec by Tousignant and his colleagues of 71 coroners reports determined that at least 14% of the suicides in the month following a widely publicized suicide of a popular Quebec journalist were at least partially linked to the story. Ninety percent of the suicides used the same method (hanging) as the role model in the story.
We need talk more openly about suicide, and talk more about suicide, but at the same time not inadvertently contribute to the ideation process among those who are depressed, struggling, or troubled. That’s not impossible to do, but not easy, either.
The Lessons of Charles Krauthammer
Friday afternoon, we received the gut-punch news that columnist, essayist, and television commentator Charles Krauthammer will not be with us much longer.
There’s not a lot that can be added to the tributes and appreciations that arrived almost immediately. Fay Vincent writes “he goes out like Lou Gehrig.” Chris Wallace offered an emotional salute to “a great man.” Jonah writes, “Charles is one of the most impressive and decent people I have ever known. He is a mensch in every sense.” What could unify Fox News’ Sean Hannity and CNN’s Brian Stelter these days? Not much beyond a tribute to Krauthammer.
The only silver lining to all this is that he (hopefully) gets to hear how much we appreciated him before he passes.
Every once in a while, I tell the story of applying to be his personal assistant back in the late 1990s. I was in utter awe of him as a writer, and I didn’t know he was in a wheelchair until the first time I saw him in the interview; I must have been a stammering mess. Somehow, I was among the finalists and Krauthammer kindly told me in a phone call that told me I came in second out of a massive pool of applicants, and the one he had picked had been absurdly over-qualified. He was exceptionally nice when he didn’t need to be.
One other point worth keeping in mind, though. Soft-spoken, clear-thinking, clear-writing, ever-polite, never-shouting, never-table-pounding Charles Krauthammer — Charles Krauthammer! — was hated. Throughout his career, left-of-center writers wrote what they perceived as devastating take-downs of Krauthammer on a fairly regular basis. After a throwaway sentence along the lines of “while smarter than the average knuckle-dragging conservative,” the writers would usually denounce Krauthammer with such fury that you could almost see the flecks of spittle on the computer screen. The gist was always the same: “Don’t let your lying eyes and ears deceive you, even though Krauthammer seems smart and eloquent and thoughtful and nuanced and well-informed and all of these traits we’ve assured you are missing from the Right, he’s still every bit as bad as all the rest.”
Over at the Huffington Post, Ben Cohen called him a “neo hawk megalomaniac.” In Esquire, Barrett Brown wrote that he perspectives on Afghanistan and Iraq reflected “a haze of amnesia and inexplicable self-regard.”
Joe Klein rather infamously suggested that his analytical abilities were limited because of his handicap.
“There’s something tragic about him, too,” Klein said, referring to Krauthammer’s confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. “His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.” After getting grief for it, Klein insisted “didn’t mean to imply second-class status for disabled people.” A few sentences later, he accused Krauthammer of starting wars and killing people: “Given his influence with the Bush Administration, his unflinching support for American unilateralism — his invention of the notion of a unipolar world — did extensive damage to our nation’s security and reputation overseas, and caused the unnecessary loss of life.”
News of Krauthammer’s imminent passing brought sneers and cheers from the usual low-life detritus of the political world.
No matter how polite you are, how smart you are, how refined and dignified you are, some people will hate you in the most vociferous terms. The lesson of this is not “never be polite,” but to recognize that being hated does not necessarily reflect that you’ve done something wrong. It is an unpleasant and unfair fact of life about political discourse, not necessarily new but perhaps worsening. If you live a life, and engage in public discourse in as high-minded a manner as Krauthammer did, and you still get denounced as a megalomaniac — has there ever been a less maniacal person than Krauthammer? — and you receive so little positive reinforcement or appreciation for it, why should we be surprised that we see so few following his example?
ADDENDA: A federal judge instituted a one-month delay on the deportation order for Pablo Villavicencio, that Brooklyn pizza-delivery guy who had been in the country illegally for eight years.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo, facing a surprisingly tough Democratic primary fight in his reelection bid, now is arguing, “His arrest and detention appears to be a result of ethnic profiling and does nothing to make our communities safer.” Cuomo doesn’t specify how the arrest stemmed from “ethnic profiling”; he was arrested when the outstanding warrant was discovered after Villavicencio couldn’t show a military-recognized identification to get onto a military base in Brooklyn.
Cuomo also calls Villavicencio “law-abiding,” which is an interesting adjective for someone who promises a judge he will leave the country within two months and instead chooses to stay for eight years.
Villavicencio’s defenders insist his deportation is fundamentally unjust. What they never quite get around to saying is what the consequence should be if you promise a judge you will leave the country, are explicitly warned that the penalty of not keeping your word is automatic deportation, and then break that promise. Their silence on this point suggests that they believe the consequence should be . . . nothing.