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A president with no shame and a party with no spine
IF your puppy makes a mess on your carpet and you shout "Bad dog", there is a good chance that puppy's ears will droop, his head will bow and he may even whimper. In other words, even a puppy acts ashamed when caught misbehaving. That is not true of US President Donald Trump. Day in and day out, he proves to us that he has no shame. We've never had a president with no shame - and it's become a huge source of power for him and trouble for us.
And what makes Mr Trump even more powerful and problematic is that this president with no shame is combined with a party with no spine and a major network with no integrity - save for a few real journalists at Fox News like the outstanding Chris Wallace.
When a president with no shame is backed by a party with no spine and a network with no integrity, you have two big problems.
First, there is no one inside his party or base who is going to sustainably stop Mr Trump from being himself and doing whatever he bloody pleases. The Republican Party has completely lost its way. Don't be fooled by the last-second tut-tutting of GOP senators about Mr Trump's kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and spurning of our intelligence agencies.
Until and unless the GOP-led Congress passes legislation that protects special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Mr Trump or enacts into law specific, deeper sanctions on Russia if it is ever again caught trying to tilt our elections - or secures Mr Trump's tax returns or the transcript of his two hours and 10 minutes of private conversation with Mr Putin - it's all just talk to cover the GOP's behind.
The fact that Mr Trump's party and his network always look for ways to excuse him has been hugely liberating for him. He can actually deny he said things that were recorded - like his trashing of British Prime Minister Theresa May. He can take one side of any issue (like trashing key Nato allies to satisfy his base) and, when he gets blowback, take the other side (claim to love the Atlantic alliance). And he can declare that he really meant to ask why "wouldn't" Russia be the one hacking us instead of why "would" it, as he did say. If you believe that last one, I have a bridge near the Kremlin I'd love to sell you.
"Hey, give him a break," say Mr Trump's supporters, "there is a method to his madness." And that is true. What they don't admit, though, is that there is tremendous madness to Mr Trump's method. And then, there is just his sheer madness ideas he holds that are ignorant gut impulses with no relation to science, math or history.
For instance, Mr Trump is right: We do need to confront China on its trade restrictions, forced technology transfers and non-reciprocal trade arrangements. But then, look at the madness to his methods. How would you try to influence China on trade if you were thinking strategically?
For starters, you'd sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), creating a free-trade alliance around American values, standards and interests, with 11 other Pacific economies, creating a trade agreement covering 40 per cent of global GDP. Then you'd forgo ridiculous steel and aluminium tariffs on our European Union allies and sign them all up instead to join us in our efforts to curb China's trade abuses, which the EU suffers from just as much as we do.
Then you'd go to the Chinese and say: "Let's have secret negotiations - no one will lose face, we will present it publicly as win-win - but, just so you know, we will be coming at you with a global coalition of all your major trading partners and we will be focused on eliminating all your cheating on WTO rules and non-reciprocal trade shenanigans once and for all." Now, that would get the attention of China - not a foolish trade war based on bilateral trade deficits. But what did Mr Trump do with his method? Blow up TPP, blow up relations with the EU and confront China alone - an utterly mad method that I do not believe will produce the meaningful, sustainable trade realignment with China that we need.
And then there is the sheer madness. Threatening the UK that if it doesn't do a full Brexit, it will not get preferential trade treatment from Mr Trump, calling the EU a "foe" on trade, and sneering at the number of refugees it has admitted.
Where do you start? The EU is the United States of Europe - the other great centre in the world of free markets, free people, liberty and democracy. It has kept the peace in Europe after a century of strife there - that dragged us into two world wars - and its economic growth as a trading partner has made both America and the EU steadily richer and more stable. It is sheer madness to believe that it is in US interests to see the EU fracture!
The only way to change this situation is not by hoping the president develops some shame or that this version of the GOP develops some spine. It is by Democrats winning the House, the Senate or both in the mid-term elections.
Only by dealing an electoral defeat to this version of the GOP in the mid-terms will we possibly get a healthy conservative party again (which we need) and curb Mr Trump's power.
Everything else is just words - and words without power change nothing. NYTIMES