Blog Chewtoy Long Read: “Does This Man Know More Than Robert Mueller?”

What committed activist could resist the lure of a long-form profile in a glossy NYC-based magazine, nestled between full-page ads for Rolex watches and Broadway hits? Unfortunately, despite Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s best beat-sweetening efforts, Greenwald’s logorrheic arrogance and simmering resentment of all the mundanes who fail to appreciate his brilliance make him sound less like Andrew Sullivan and more like Ted Cruz:

It’s 10:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro time. Glenn Greenwald and I are finishing dinner at a deserted bistro in Ipanema. The restaurant, which serves its sweating beer bottles in metal buckets and goes heavy on the protein, is almost aggressively unremarkable (English menus on the table, a bossa-nova version of “Hey Jude” on the stereo). Greenwald avoids both meat and alcohol but seems to enjoy dining here. “I really believe that if I still lived in New York, the vast majority of my friends would be New York and Washington media people and I would kind of be implicitly co-opted.” He eats a panko-crusted shrimp. “It just gives me this huge buffer. You’ve seen how I live, right? When I leave my computer, that world disappears.”

Greenwald, now 50, has seemed to live in his own bubble in Rio for years, since well before he published Edward Snowden’s leaks and broke the domestic-spying story in 2013 — landing himself a Pulitzer Prize, a book deal, and, in time, the backing of a billionaire (that’s Pierre Omidyar) to start a muckraking, shit-stirring media empire (that’s First Look Media, home to the Intercept, though its ambitions have been downgraded over time). But he seems even more on his own since the election, just as the agitated left has regained the momentum it lost in the Obama years.

The reason is Russia. For the better part of two years, Greenwald has resisted the nagging bipartisan suspicion that Trumpworld is in one way or another compromised by a meddling foreign power. If there’s a conspiracy, he suspects, it’s one against the president; where others see collusion, he sees “McCarthyism.” Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”…

Thanks to this never-ending hot take, Greenwald has been excommunicated from the liberal salons that celebrated him in the Snowden era; anybody who questions the Russia consensus, he says, “becomes a blasphemer. Becomes a heretic. I think that’s what they see me as.” Greenwald is no longer invited on MSNBC, and he’s portrayed in the Twitter fever swamp as a leading villain of the self-styled Resistance. “I used to be really good friends with Rachel Maddow,” he says. “And I’ve seen her devolution from this really interesting, really smart, independent thinker into this utterly scripted, intellectually dishonest, partisan hack.” His view of the liberal online media is equally charitable. “Think about one interesting, creative, like, intellectually novel thing that [Vox’s] Matt Yglesias or Ezra Klein have said in like ten years,” he says. “In general, they’re just churning out Democratic Party agitprop every single day of the most superficial type.” (Reached for comment, none of these people would respond to Greenwald.)

All this has led to one of the less-anticipated developments of the Donald Trump presidency: Glenn Greenwald, Fox News darling. For his sins, Greenwald has been embraced by opportunistic #MAGA partisans seeking to discredit the Trump-Russia story. When alt-right ringleader Mike Cernovich sat for a 60 Minutes interview last year, he praised only one journalist: Greenwald. “My opinion of Glenn ten or 15 years ago was entirely negative,” says Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who now heralds him as one of the “clearest thinkers” in media.

This, by the way, is the reason we’re eating dinner so late on a Tuesday: Greenwald has to be at a TV studio in a few minutes to be interviewed by Carlson. We leave the restaurant and head across the street to the garage where he parked his Mitsubishi Outlander. Unexpectedly, the gate to the entrance has been shut and the attendant is missing. Mild panic sets in. Greenwald begins rattling the gate. Even if we catch a cab to the studio, his TV clothes are in the car, and he is currently wearing shorts and an old polo shirt. “How,” he frets, “can I go on Fox News dressed like this?”…
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(Another Wolff) Open Thread: King Leer in Winter


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And he’s surrounded by the loveliest people. This tidbit has gotta sting…

BIG ambitions, our Princess Ivanka —

I wouldn’t worry too much about that succession, just yet, Javanka…


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In Which The New York Times Epic Search For An Intellectually Rigorous Conservative Goes, Again, Unrequited

So, Bret Stephens has another column explaining why he remains a never-Trumper.  It is, I guess, churlish to dump on someone who has consistently weighed in on the right side of that particular question.  But, frankly, that’s a low bar. The fact that so many of his co-conservative-cultists have failed to surmount it is their shame, and while I’m surely not criticizing Stephens for his stance, I’m not sure how many cookies he’s earned just yet.

And so, I’m unwilling to let this pass unscorned:

Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.

And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?

That’s the question I keep hearing from old friends on the right who voted with misgiving for Donald Trump last year and now find reasons to like him. I admit it gives me pause. I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above.

So here, I’ll confess.  This whole post is an excuse to publish this:

An amazing resemblance, right?

OK. Let’s go through Stephens’ list:

Tax cuts? You mean tax increases on at least 53% of American households w/in the life of this bill.

Deregulation? Like this? Because, of course, no one needs less oversight than those who can wreck an entire coastline.

More for the military? Because, of course, there is no upper bound to the transfer payments to be made to what Eisenhower knew to be a danger to democracy.

Less for the UN?  Because, of course, unilateralism is our best defense.  I take this catchphrase as a synecdoche for the wholesale abandonment of multilateral ties, from hammering NATO to the blanket disdain of multi-nation trade negotiations to the gutting of the State Department.  This is the fever dream of American exceptionalism, and without turning this whole post into Bronx cheer on this one point, I’ll just say that those who’ve actually had self and others at risk in the world tends to think that a gazillions for defense and none for soft power approach is the way of keyboard kommandos and dangerous buffoons.

ISIS crushed in its heartland? I blame Obama.

Assad hit with cruise missiles? And…? (Also, Yemen.)

Troops to Afghanistan? OK — he did that. And…?  This is a success, how? There’s an end goal of what?

Assad hit with cruise missiles? And…? (Also, Yemen.)<

Arms for Ukraine?  This is perhaps the most interesting of the alleged foreign policy successes.  How much of this was forced by the need to be seen not to be in Putin’s pocket? History may relate.  Perhaps this will end well, confounding the sad record of the region.

A tougher approach to North Korea? Really? I mean, Bret, seriously?  Just today the news broke that Trump’s Russian friends are supplying fuel to the North Korean regime.  NK’s nuke program continues to display itself at regular intervals.  Trump managed to make Kim look rather the more self-controlled leader — a task that takes some doing.  Tell me one aspect in which the Trump approach to North Korea has advanced US interests or enhanced the security of our allies?

I’m waiting…

Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital.  Well, NYT colleague Chunky Ross sees the lack of overwhelming Arab anger as proof that this is all going to turn out OK, but, again, tell me one US interest this advances.

I’m still waiting.

The Iran deal decertified? This is good because absent that deal there’s no barrier to the creation of an Iranian bomb? This is just tribal stupidity, of course. And it reflects the state of “conservative” “intellection”: the second step in the chain of reasoning needs never to be expressed.  Decertify Iran and then…what? Profit? As the cartoon has it

Title IX gutted? Because sexual assault is such a messy problem….(This one is going to look less and less good with each passing day, I reckon, but what do you expect from, as Stephens himself puts it, “

the party of the child-molesting sore loser” and its allies, heirs and assigns.)

Yes to Keystone? Come on, Bret. Not even trying here. This truly is just checking off the in-group markers.

No to Paris? Because what is an incorrigible (literally) climate denialist to say? You’d think after the last year even Stephens might be a bit diffident here, but no, that would be to ignore the key aspect of his branding.  He’s the reasonable conservative who is on the merits dubious about the science of climate change, and if he were to admit he were wrong, how much else in the edifice would fall? (All of it Katie.) (And no, I’m not going to bother here to relitigate climate science.  I refer anyone whose interested back to my column of some time ago, and to, well, pretty much the entire research output of the field.)

Wall Street roaring and confidence high? Ladles and Jellyspoons, I give you not so much September 2007 as roughly 2005-6.  It all looks great until it doesn’t, and while all the circumstances of the Great Recession are not (yet?) present, there are a lot of assumptions I wouldn’t be altogether comfortable with lying behind current financial judgments.  I can tell you that in my book-in-progress about the South Sea Bubble, I’m just about up to June, 1720 — and I can tell you it looked just as good from there, so much so that even Isaac Newton was fooled.  I don’t think Bret Stephens is smarter than my man Izzie.

And Neil Gorsuch? Well, Bret, let me just say this. In a column in which Stephens argues that culture and character are vital to the long-term fate of the United States, let me simply say that the fact that Merrick Garland is not now a Supreme Court justice is exhibit [n] that Trump isn’t the cause of any erosion of American political culture.  He’s the symptom of the damage a deranged party chasing power over principle can do.  That would be the party to which you pledge fealty, the Republicans, who blocked Garland in order to pack the court themselves.

Stephens plays on honest conservative broker on the pages of the Times.  He’s actually something less interesting but more revealing:  a case study to show how knowing the answer makes you unable to understand the questions, or reality.

/rant over.  I know that this is all pointless.  Stephens is part of the guild and all of us dirty hippies will never grasp the eternal sunshine of the spotless discourse therein.  But I guess I still want it on the record, some record, that what passes for argument in Stephens’ neighborhood, isn’t.

Image: Facsimile of a miniature from a ms. in the Bibl. de l’Arsenal



Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: They Come Out At Night

More like Speechwriter for Evil, Speaker for Evil, and Chaotic Evil, to be honest.
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Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: The Loneliest Monster

The Media Village Idiots at Politico are trying on a new narrative: Trump is just a uniquely “self-contained” individual, who doesn’t respond to normal primate responses like ‘friendship’ and ’empathy’. He’s not really a monster, he’s just isolated, poor thing!

As someone who also has trouble connecting with humans, I will attest that this is the biggest load of shit since Ringling Brothers disbanded its animal acts. Trump, like any other circus performer, is an entertainer. He’s spent his entire life crafting a “Donald Trump” character, a media-friendly mock-up of everyone’s nightmare Big Boss Business Guy… the guy behind the curtain is just a meatsack that craves familiarity and doesn’t want to be touched.

The tragedy, for the rest of us, is that just as the aging monster’s physical and mental decline became inevitable, a confluence of Republican venality, American stupidity, and Russian cupidity propelled the Donald Trump Show into the White House. Great news for the parasites, not so much for the rest of us:

He’s increasingly isolated in the White House, but for Donald Trump, being alone is not a liability. It’s where he’s most comfortable…

His critics might see his growing isolation as a product of his political inexperience—an aversion to the norms of the legislative process, a penchant for topsy-turvy management. But as unprecedented as this might be in the annals of the West Wing, it’s merely a continuation of a lifelong pattern of behavior for Trump. Take away the Pennsylvania Avenue address, the never-ending list of domestic and international crises, and the couldn’t-be-higher geopolitical stakes—and this looks very much like … Trump throughout his entire existence. Isolated is how he’s always operated…

“One of the loneliest people I’ve ever met,” biographer Tim O’Brien said in an interview. “He lacks the emotional and sort of psychological architecture a person needs to build deep relationships with other people.”

It’s been this way always, because he’s always been foundationally, virulently untrusting. “There’s a wall Donald has that he never lets people penetrate,” a former associate told me. Trump has a dark, dour view of humanity. He considers the world “ruthless,” “brutal” and “cruel.” Through this zero-sum, dog-eat-dog lens, friends aren’t friends—there’s no such thing. “They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you,” he wrote in his 2007 book, Think Big. “… they want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife …” Why he’s like this is the subject of vigorous discussion among psychology experts. The deep-seated influence of his formidable father? The wound of the alcohol-fueled death of his more mild-mannered older brother? Simple genetics? Trump is not self-reflective—“I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” he told a biographer several years back—but he can be self-aware. And on this front, he’s been quite clear, and remarkably consistent.
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Late Night Roundup: Statler, Waldorf & Groucho Review Trump’s “Afghanistan” Speech


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“Let’s Get This Over With” edition:


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Idiot Savvy-ant Open Thread: Ross Doubthat Has A Modest Proposal

Ten thousand bucks, cash on the barrelhead, if he never has to hear from You People again. No, really:

Instead of reparations as an addition to our current affirmative-action regime, then, maybe they should be considered as an alternative — one that directly addresses a unique government-sanctioned crime against part of the American people, without requiring a preference regime that makes lower-class white Americans feel like victims of a multicultural version of The Man.

So, this week’s immodest proposal: Abolish racial preferences in college admissions, phase out preferences in government hiring and contracting, eliminate the disparate-impact standard in the private sector, and allow state-sanctioned discrimination only on the basis of socioeconomic status, if at all. Then at the same time, create a reparations program — the Frederick Douglass Fund, let’s call it — that pays out exclusively, directly and one time only to the proven descendants of American slaves.

What would it pay out? Reparations advocates talk in trillions, which would take this already-unrealistic proposal into the realm of the utopian. But right now, giving every single African-American $10,000, perhaps in a specially-designed annuity, would cost about $370 billion, modest relative to supply-side tax plans and single-payer schemes alike. The wealth of the median black household in the United States was $11,200 as of 2013; a $10,000 per-person annuity would more than double it.

In so doing it would hardly eliminate racial disadvantage, but then again neither has 50 years of affirmative action. What it would offer is a meaningful response to an extraordinary injustice, but a response that does not involve permanent discrimination…

How does that man walk around without an umbrella, to protect him from the passers-by continually spitting at him?

I actually checked to make sure this appeared under the actual NYTimes banner — that it wasn’t a spoof site intended to mock revanchist apologists like Our Mr. Douthat. There are so many layers of wrongness to this idea, from the meagreness of his calculations to the voter-ID twist that surely every local authority would accept the testimony of a prospective “beneficiary” as to their ancestry. It would be nice if a qualified professional, like Jamelle Bouie or Ta-Nehisi Coates, were to fisk Douthat the way he deserves… but why should they waste their efforts on such a pitiful specimen?