The national security adviser was ecstatic. The presidents of the United States and of Russia had agreed to a ceasefire in Syria, where years of civil war had killed some half a million people and created refugees of millions more. “The United States remains committed to defeating ISIS, helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering, and enabling people to return to their homes,” the national security adviser said. “This agreement is an important step toward these common goals.” Southwest Syria would become a zone of “de-confliction.” Among the provinces covered by the agreement: Daraa.
The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over longtime Democratic congressman Joe Crowley of New York inspired some hysterical punditry. We were told that the 28,000 people that voted in a district of more than 600,000 had decided the fate of the political universe. Ocasio-Cortez, in this telling, heralds the coming of Democratic Socialist, multiracial, female-dominated America. The 28-year-old bartender and community activist is the Democrat of the future—according to no less an authority than the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And in a polarized media climate, with hyperbolic insinuations of “civil war” and calls for the harassment of political opponents, one is tempted to believe that romanticism and extremism grow ever stronger.
What’s your favorite political cliché? Mine is the quip of former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.” Might be true for congressmen, whose longevity in office depends on the attention they pay to their districts. But it fails to capture the reality of 21st century politics, in which presidential authority, the courts, and national media overwhelm all else. And the idea of all politics being local has been especially wrong for the last three years. Since June 16, 2015, all politics has been neither local nor national. Today, all politics is Trump.
The Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un had drama, imagery, pomp and circumstance, even a Hollywood-style promotional video. There were promises of denuclearization and hopes for a new relationship between the United States and North Korea. What was missing, however, were the specific details and concrete actions necessary to achieve such lofty goals. That work began at a less remarked on, but perhaps more important, meeting in Beijing two days later. Between Mike Pompeo and Xi Jinping.
“This will not be just a photo op,” President Trump said Thursday of his meeting next week with Kim Jong Un. “This will be—at a minimum, we’ll start with, perhaps, a good relationship. And that’s something that’s very important toward the ultimate making of a good deal.” Later that day the president added that he might, if things go well, invite Kim to visit him in the United States, perhaps even at the White House. “He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a “senior Trump administration official” told the Daily Beast.
Maybe you can help me out. I’m puzzling over a line in a New York Times story on The World As It Is, the forthcoming memoir from Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. The article, by Peter Baker, is about the parts of Rhodes’s book that deal with Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton.
“In the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election,” Baker reports, “Mr. Obama went through multiple emotional stages,” including flashes of “anger,” “rare self-doubt,” and taking “the long view.” Do not think, however, that during the final weeks of his presidency Barack Obama was withdrawn or more self-obsessed than usual. People needed him. The day after the election, Baker continues, “Mr. Obama focused on cheering up his despondent staff.”
In 1965 Tom Wolfe visited Princeton University for a panel discussion of “the style of the Sixties.” The author of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, published that year, was scheduled to appear alongside Günter Grass, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Krassner. Grass spoke first. The German novelist’s remarks, Wolfe wrote later, “were grave and passionate. They were about the responsibility of the artist in a time of struggle and crisis.” And they were crudely dismissed by Krassner. “The next thing I knew,” Wolfe wrote, “the discussion was onto the subject of fascism in America.”
On May 15, 1939, philosopher John Dewey issued a statement to the press announcing the formation of the Committee for Cultural Freedom. Attached were the committee’s declaration of principles and the names of 96 signatories. The following day, at a meeting inside Columbia University’s Low Library, the committee adopted its official manifesto. “Never before in modern times,” the document began, “has the integrity of the writer, the artists, the scientist, and the scholar been threatened so seriously.”
I was anxious about Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing. Here was a woman who has spent her life purposefully in the shadows, brought before a committee whose members bask in the spotlight. Here was a career intelligence officer, a keeper of secrets and agent of dissimulation, whose professional future depends, at least in part, on her ability to speak directly and persuasively in a public forum. And close to the entirety of her life remains classified, making her job all the more difficult.