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Gerson: Trump can't lose a grasp on reality he never possessed


Because of President Trump’s absence of downward loyalty, his elevation of the morally impaired and his encouragement of staff factionalism, his administration will produce any number of damaging memoirs and leak-filled exposes. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” is the latest in this genre, but surely not the last.

Yet what is most striking about Wolff’s book is its superfluity. We do not require a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s instability, childishness and narcissism, because he provides revelations about his fragile state of mind nearly every day. Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

If many of the statements Trump has made publicly in the last few weeks were contained in a tell-all, we would suspect the author of malicious exaggeration. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,” attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes, urged “Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists, claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” re-election to keep up their ratings, displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health reform plan, claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming, boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un, tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book, and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

The intimacy of Twitter—providing daily and sometimes hourly updates on the state of Trump’s mind—has encouraged a question: Is the president reaching some kind of psychological breaking point? That is difficult to diagnose from afar. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

We have almost too much information in assessing Trump’s stability and fitness for high office. His combination of transgression and transparency is numbing. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick. Even the most easily alarmed among us have come to discount outlandish and offensive things.

But what if we took this seriously? What should we learn from the tell-all that Trump himself has authored?

The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership—which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation. He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate. The Chinese have made an art of this—ushering Trump toward regional irrelevance on a red carpet. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

In addition, Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,” he argues. Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned. Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired. Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

Trump’s defenders point to the absence of oppression as proof that these concerns are overblown. But protecting legal and political institutions from executive assault has been the constant vigil of the last year—as it will be for the next three. And we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

All this presents a particular problem for elected Republicans. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.

So GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader. I empathize with their political dilemma. But they will, eventually, be exposed.And by then the country may not be in a forgiving mood.

Guest Views: NAFTA too vital to state to scrap

For Wisconsin, and southeastern Wisconsin in particular, the new year brings hopes for strong, if not spectacular gains on the economy and jobs front based in large part on the plans moving ahead for the Foxconn campus here in Racine County.

That could fuel economic growth not only for the county, but throughout the region. It could also affect the construction industry, jobs and a host of supply-chain businesses.

Foxconn hopes are high. But Wisconsin, along with fellow Midwest states Michigan and Minnesota, also faces nagging worries over the lack of progress of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

After five sessions of talks last year, and no significant movement, the talks resume at the end of this month in Montreal.

For the Badger State, much is at stake. Almost half of Wisconsin’s exports go to Canada and Mexico, accounting for $9.6 billion in trade and supporting 249,000 jobs.

If NAFTA issues are not resolved and the U.S. decides to pull out of the trade pact—as President Donald Trump has suggested on several occasions—Wisconsin’s agricultural exports would be sorely affected, particularly the dairy industry which could see a 45 percent tariff on cheese exports to its top market, Mexico.

Minnesota faces similar worries, with farm exports to Mexico and Canada topping more than $1.5 billion for exports like pork products, soybeans and corn.

And Michigan tops the regional list of NAFTA exporters with 65 percent of its exports, worth $35 billion, headed to Canada and Mexico.

There is no question that some industries, and some countries, benefit more than others under trade agreement rules and the trade imbalance between the U.S. and Mexico of $55.6 billion in 2016 has been a point of contention.

But the fact is, too, that regional trade among the three countries has more than tripled to $1.1 trillion per year.

The U.S. has already dropped away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, ceding trade rulemaking leadership to China in that 12-country deal. In Europe, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union continues to go ahead with separation slated for 2019.

Clearly the winds of isolationism are afoot, and that could hurt trade and in turn hurt whole industries and consumers as well.

That’s worrisome, as it should be—particularly for Wisconsin, which depends on exports for one of every five of its jobs.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, gets that. According to a Wisconsin State Journal report, Vos told a trade association meeting in Madison last month: “NAFTA has worked for Wisconsin. It’s not the time to put new obstacles in place that would hurt the very markets that our business owners and farmers depend on.”

We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that Vos’ words get to the president and to NAFTA negotiators before Wisconsin’s trade gets caught in the cross hairs.

—The Journal Times (Racine)

Your Views: Spoden violated public trust and should be censured

Spoden violated public trust and should be censured

I commend Rock County Board member Rick Richard for submitting the resolution censuring Sheriff Robert Spoden’s attempts to interfere in the investigation of a serious injury that occurred during an August underage drinking party attended by the sheriff’s son. The resolution of censure says the sheriff violated the public trust and his office’s code of ethics for officers.

As we teach our children, just because an action is legal, it does not mean that action is a wise or morally sound decision. Spoden’s arrogant and defiant responses to concerns by his professional colleagues and the district attorney illustrate how Spoden views himself from his position of power. Whether he has always been able to rationalize his actions, or his years in office have convinced him that the rules do not apply to him, Robert Spoden’s current unethical behavior signals that it is time for him to step down.

Those leaders we most respect hold themselves to higher standards than required by their positions. They lead with integrity, putting the good of those they serve ahead of their own interests. I strongly urge his supervising entity, the county board, to send a message that violation of the public trust and use of positional power for any reason is unacceptable.



Teachers, watch out for this smoking device

We know that teachers are used to dealing with disruptions in the classroom on a daily basis: passing notes, using cellphones, talking out of turn, etc. Unfortunately, there is now an additional burden for teachers to carry, and it’s because of a new e-cigarette product called JUUL.

These products are small in size and resemble a USB flash drive. They can be charged in a computer just like a flash drive, so students could be using these in vaping devices in the classroom without a teacher even noticing. Because of the product being so small, it makes it easy to use discreetly.

JUUL comes in flavors such as cool mint, fruit medley and even crème brulee. Using flavors like these has been a successful strategy in getting youth to use this new product. The state Department of Health Services has noted that at least 80 percent of youth trying tobacco products for the first time are choosing these fruity-flavored products. That is an alarming statistic.

The state has recently launched a new campaign called Tobacco Is Changing to raise awareness of how candy flavors and deceptive packaging are successfully luring kids into a lifetime of addiction. Locally, Youth 2 Youth 4 Change has been taking steps to raise education and bring awareness to this growing trend in our local communities.

You can learn more about the Tobacco Is Changing campaign and local tobacco prevention efforts at


Beloit School District homeless liaison

and Youth 2 Youth Coalition chair

GOP vampire using tax bill to feed on ordinary folks

The wealthiest Americans nearly doubled their share of national income since 1980—from 11 percent to 20 percent. The rest of America hasn’t seen a decent raise since 1980, so inequality is soaring. Look at the stock market, where investors are raking in enormous profits. Does it look like the wealthy need help?

Most of We-the-People oppose tax cuts for the rich, but our voices are displaced by money, which former President Jimmy Carter calls “oligarchic bribes.” Our representatives safely ignore us and blithely lie that tax relief for ordinary folks is the focus of the bill. Every time the GOP takes charge, this trickle-down vampire revives. Not one time has it worked: Create more jobs, blah, blah, blah. Where are the deficit hawks that would prey on Democratic leaders if they proposed a tax bill that added $1.5 trillion to the deficit?

You can be certain Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-time dream of destroying through privatization every program that helps seniors or the needy will be next on the agenda. Cuts are already in the budget. “Billions for the rich, but not one cent for the needy” is the rallying cry of unregulated war-hawk capitalists as they sit comfortably in warm homes while the rest of us freeze, literally.