Monday, June 25, 2018


In Europe they know what happens when a would-be dictator is pushing his way to power.

Here, we don’t.

For those who missed it, here’s an op-ed from last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times:  By Molly McKew

A little more than a week ago, as President Trump completed his world mini-tour, my Ukrainian researcher emailed me. She witnessed some of the violence of Ukraine’s latest revolution and tends to be clear-eyed about the state of (the) things. Watching Trump’s behavior at the G-7, and then with Kim Jong Un, she couldn’t shake that something profound had occurred.

“Every time I hear fireworks at night, ” she wrote from Odessa, “my first thought is that it is not fireworks, so I wait to make sure. Low, loud planes make me wonder each time, too. Yet, Trump’s words (at) the G-7, and after—as well as the following silence—are the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen, heard, or sensed.”

Her fear is felt by many of our allies. Across Europe and Canada, I’m asked, “Where are the Americans?” The silence from so many of our leaders, from us all, is seen as acquiescence to the president’s radical reordering of the alliances the world has relied on for seven decades of security and prosperity, and the abandonment of the values that underpinned those alliances. The Europeans I know simply do not understand how Americans can watch that legacy slip away without a fight.

Our allies are unnerved. In the midst of starting trade wars (and personality wars), with Canada and Europe, Trump stormed out of the G-7 in Charlevoix, removing his signature from the joint communiqué. His bullying was captured in a now-famous photo of the American sitting petulant and isolated, surrounded by irritated peers, with German chancellor, Angela Merkel leaning in.

In Singapore, Trump issued fatuous praise for North Korean tyrant, Kim, who—with the complicity of Russia and China—has starved his people in order to build nuclear weapons to threaten the United States. The president’s pledge to end military exercises on the Korean peninsula delivered to North Korea, Russia, and China a prize they have wanted for decades, for which the United States got nothing in return. Our Asian allies were left as shaken as our European ones.

Despite the president’s rhetoric, our allies cut us a lot of slack. They want to believe Trump’s worst instincts can’t challenge the deep institutional ties that bind us together. But stateside developments make this more difficult.

In Europe, in particular, the images of child migrant detention camps read as a data point in a pattern of troubling behavior. Trump spurred a rally of his supporters to scream about migrants being “animals,” and he talks about them “infesting” the country. When former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden warned of Nazi echoes in Trump’s “zero tolerance policy,” many Americans objected to the comparison. In Germany, however, and in nations that were captive to the U.S.S.R., people nodded. They remember the 1930s, and what it was like to wake up in a country that had slowly gone mad. And they hear that “following silence” from America.

Our Allies know that American decline will not occur in isolation. Indeed, Trump’s loyalists work to spread the corrosion. Europe faces the rise of its own anti-immigrant, nativist political movements—many of which are advised by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. The president’s new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, told Breitbart that his goal was to “empower” these far-right anti EU parties—a wild statement from a diplomat, for which no one apologized. Just days ago, Trump lashed out at Merkel via Twitter, projecting his own narrative of lies about migrant crime onto Germany, “implicitly cheering,” wrote one reporter, for an end to her government,.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt responded: “Is Putin interfering, (trying to destabilize) the politics of the EU? Yes. But Trump is at the moment far worse. This is unheard of.”

The United States, perhaps as a byproduct of geography and history, has tended toward isolationism. We were late, reluctant entrants in World War I and World War II—a sentiment the president taps in his base. But after 1945, we stayed, and built, and helped forge a continent into a counterpart—the other pole of an alliance that remade the world.

Americans may not understand what’s at stake. If we lose our post-World War II allies, we lose the foundation that has made us a superpower. Our allies—and enemies—get it. Trump’s performance at the G-7 and in Singapore—and everywhere since—have caused lasting damage to the United States for, at best, short-term gain. As the president prepares for summits with NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin next month, NATO couldn’t be more nervous—and Putin happier—about the state of affairs.

Putin, as a leader, has been defined by silence. Stationed in Dresden as a KGB officer during the collapse of the USSR, he called for backup to defend his post against growing demonstrations.  “We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” came the response, “and Moscow is silent.” Such silence was the hallmark of the Soviet collapse—and it was inexcusable to Putin. He has worked to ensure there is never again silence from the center, even as his power requires the silence of his people when they question his methods.

Putin was born of a brittle system and believes “the people” are nonsense. This core cynicism is what he projects to undermine Western ideals. But the American people are resilient, and we have never been a nation defined by silence. Our values are enduring, and have outlasted fraught presidents before. And now our voices are needed to overtake the silence, reassure our allies, and defend what is ours. 

       (Molly K. McKew advised Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government in 2009-13, and former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in 2014-15. She splits her time between Washington and the Baltic states, where she works to identify and counter Russian hybrid warfare.)

P.S. It may take a serious plunge in the stock market—thanks to Trump’s vindictive tariffs--to make his supporters grasp what he’s doing to America.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Exactly like they worked in prewar Germany. 

I can’t stand this anymore.

By nature, I’m an optimist, always apt to see the glass half full.  By inclination, I invariably tune in to people’s best qualities. 

Yet every morning, on nearly every page of the newspaper, I find our president lying to his fellow Americans. Or effusively praising a foreign dictator (most of whom feel free to murder their own people), while alienating the leaders of decent, Democratic countries. Or abrogating worthwhile treaties, like the Paris Accord and the Iran agreement. Or proposing tariffs that will eventually harm American businesses. 

Or I look at television news. And there he is again, telling the world, “I don’t like seeing children taken from their parents. It’s the fault of Democrats, it’s a Democratic law,” when in truth there IS NO LAW—Democratic or otherwise.  (There’s only bible-quoting Jeff  Sessions). Trump declares, “Manafort only worked for me a short time—maybe 49 days,” when in truth Manafort (now jailed), was the president’s campaign manager for at least four months, maybe five, and was given high praise by Trump on the campaign trail. Or Trump says of outright cheater, Scott Pruitt, “He’s doing a helluva job.” (While Pruitt dismantles every U.S. safeguard against dirty air and water.)    

I go to my computer—and some 25-to-50 messages tell me that half our Congressmen support this guy, (and/or the NRA,), and while none will lift a finger to stop the yearly gun deaths of 36,000 Americans, neither will they permit a Congressional vote which might confront or disturb our Machiavellian leader.  

Sometimes I imagine I must be crazy: Nobody can think Trump is a good president.  But people do. Polls declare that 90% of Republicans think he’s just fine.

I know what family and friends will say:  If Trump is upsetting you so much, stop reading about him. Stop thinking about him. What they really mean is, Stop Living.  

I can’t do this, because Trump is everywhere. We can’t stop talking about him, lest we get so complacent we hand him our country . . . meaning we stop fighting, no longer push back—until, like Hitler, he and his cronies obliterate America’s long-standing laws, traditions, and institutions. Until lying becomes our everyday discourse.    

No matter how few are still listening, I, for one, will never give in to this monster who presumes to be president.  Every so often I’m driven to say what needs to be said.       

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


In the beginning, Hitler was a nobody.

In one of my favorite books, The Past is Myself, by Christabel Bielenberg, I long ago read the account from a British woman married to a German lawyer, of what it was like to live in Berlin as it was overtaken by the Nazis. Though these aren’t her exact words, this is what she said. “At first we didn’t take Hitler seriously. We were educated, and he was out on the streets ranting and yelling. For God’s sake, he was a house painter!”

And then everything changed. Suddenly Bielenberg and her friends saw that the man was gaining power, and now thoroughly frightened, they began sending messages back to Britain, and even to the United States. “Take him seriously. This man is dangerous!”  To her chagrin, she was forced to report, “Sadly, nobody out there listened.”  Within a short time Bielenberg’s life changed radically. “We could no longer talk to anybody, even our trusted neighbors. We simply didn’t know who was now aligned with Hitler and who wasn’t.” 

Bielenberg’s story was so compelling that its British publishers chose to reprint the book no fewer than 25 times!         

Last week, members of my family and I were among a contingent of UCLA alums who took a Celtic Lands cruise, which ended in Normandy with a view of venerable Omaha Beach—a wide swath of brownish sand at low tide, and 5 miles long.

There we witnessed the still-visible signs of destruction that Hitler had wrought.  Among them: the massive cement bunkers from which Nazis machine-gunned incoming Allied troops; never-filled bomb-holes in the nearby weeds; a cemetery filled with 9387 white crosses from  the 40% of American families who chose that their loved-ones be buried in Normandy. Each cross contained the name, rank, and age of the victim. All so sad—and mostly so young.

East of the graves, a stunning, “walls of the missing” memorial structure surrounded a male statue dedicated to American troops. Within this monument and in front of the statue, our shipmate, David Eisenhower (grandson of Dwight), gave a stirring talk. And off to the side, garbed in green, stood his youthful wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

As a side note: both Eisenhowers were so gracious that they welcomed conversations with fellow passengers on the French ship, Le Boreal. On one land tour, we were surprised to find the Eisenhowers on our bus--seated in the row in front of us. For a brief moment, I dared tell Julie about my tenth grade French teacher in Denver who, in May of 1944, was almost speechless in her excitement as she tried not to tell us “the beeg news” she’d gleaned by short wave radio from her friends in France. In class on June 6, 1944, she nearly exploded as she said, “What I couldn’t tell you was D-Day!” She whirled and clapped and laughed and then said, “For weeks I knew all about it!” 

As Rob has reported, our cruise was many-faceted: The Churchill expert, Allen Packwood, reported in his talk, (approximately) “No man has ever studied the face and gestures of his lover harder than I studied Roosevelt.”  Churchill was hoping, of course, to persuade FDR to join the Brits in repelling Hitler. Unfortunately, one of Packwood’s two talks came on the heels of a vigorous morning castle-visit, followed by a lavish luncheon,  then soft seats in an auditorium with lowered lights. On every side, my fellow passengers slowly drifted into sleep.   

Our ship tour included, besides numerous castles and bus tours in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, on the ship itself a lively Irish multi-instrument quartet (which had us clapping on cue), heel-and-toe Irish dancers, six different lecturers, and in late evening (if you were still awake),  French entertainment in the theater.

Of special joy to me were the passengers who became our warm friends—especially the UCLA lecturer, Michael Allen and his wife, Elena, whom I soon felt I’d known a lifetime. And our own family, loudly cracking jokes at meals: Chris and Betty-jo, Ken  and Melanie, and Tracy.

Other moments stand out: All the men in various countries who helped me down escalators, up and down stairs, and through revolving doors—and the funny moment in a long Amsterdam taxi line when I shouted for my daughter at the other end.  After I fruitlessly yelled, “Tracy!” several times to no avail, numerous men in the line between me and her relayed my call, each one yelling “Tracy!” one after the other, until she finally heard us.

Another highlight was visiting our new great-granddaughter, Eva, in the heart of Amsterdam. With her parents, Jamie and Mike, joining us in wonder and laughter, we realized that Eva, at four weeks, had a lovelier head of dark hair than any of us. For hours we sat at their apartment’s enormous picture window, watching the hundreds of cyclists pedaling past the nearby intersection. Only with a combination of patience and daring could an automobile penetrate the non-stop parade of two-wheelers.  

Our visit to Normandy was the predictable high-point of the cruise. As we departed on the bus, I mused about how much one evil man with murder in his heart can change the entire world. In the end, Hitler was responsible, world-wide, for some tens of million deaths!

My second thought as we arrived home: all those newspapers we missed told me that a different kind of danger—loss of integrity and a rabid hostility--is afoot in our government, even here in America.