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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

An Indelible Image From Trump's 'On Both Sides' Press Conference

It read like a poem—or, perhaps, an elegy.

this egregious
bigotry, and
no place in"

And there the words ended. They were snippets of the text of the statement President Trump had delivered on Saturday, reacting to the events that had taken place in Charlottesville. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence,” he said—before adding, apparently as an ad-lib: “On many sides, on many sides.” They were words that the president had repeated on Monday, when he made, under pressure from his colleagues and from American citizens, a more expansive statement on Charlottesville. The bigotry on display in that city, he said, reading directly from a prompter, “has no place in America.” 

On Tuesday, however, those words were replaced with new ones—during a press conference, set in the lobby of Trump Tower, that was meant to be about infrastructure. At one point, as President Trump spoke, he removed from his jacket pocket the text of the earlier statement, printed in large and blunt sans serif, to refer to what he had said before: “I brought it, I brought it,” he said, reading the text before putting it...

Analysis: Can Kelly Rein in the Unruly President?

One of the more interesting political questions these days is whether Gen. John Kelly can bring some semblance of order to the Trump White House. If anyone can transform the most disorganized and confused White House in modern history into something resembling a functional Office of the President of the United States, it might be a retired four-star Marine general. President Trump seems to respect only high-ranking generals and people who have been as successful or more successful than he’s been in the business world, and for now he’s giving Kelly more latitude than outgoing Chief of Staff Reince Priebus ever dreamed of.

It can be argued that given the level of dysfunction at the White House, any improvement would be immediately obvious. But then again, the chaos flows from the top down. President Trump is not someone who values order and reflection, rigorous fact-gathering, and analytical decision-making, so any structure that is imposed is more cosmetic than real.

So far, Kelly’s moves have been impressive. Before he arrived, friends, family, and advisers meandered into the Oval Office, seemingly at will. Meetings dragged on endlessly and often with little direction. Paper reached the president’s desk from...

What We Know About Trump's 'Tapes' Tease

It’s the biggest mystery in Washington—or the biggest tease.

Is there a taping system at the White House, did it catch the conversations between President Trump and his ex-FBI director, James Comey, and if the answers to those questions are yes, will the president make the tapes public?

The Secret Service added one small piece to the puzzle on Monday when it told the Wall Street Journal that if there are tapes, it doesn’t have them. That is significant because the Secret Service handled the White House recording systems for previous presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The agency’s response, provided to the Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, still allows for the possibility that another government entity—or perhaps Trump’s team itself—is managing a recording system. It was the president who launched this whole guessing game exactly one month ago with a tweet warning that Comey “better hope there are no ‘tapes’” before he starts “leaking to the press.” The ousted FBI chief ignored the threat, and in fact, he told the Senate intelligence committee last week that Trump’s tweet about tapes prompted him to give his now-famous...

James Comey's 'Shock and Awe' Testimony

Imagine that two years ago, you sequestered a jury of 12 Americans, kept them in a news-free zone, and brought them today to hear former FBI Director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Chances are that all of them—no matter what their political beliefs—would be stunned and outraged.

From the perspective of one of these Americans, Comey dropped bombshell after bombshell: The Russians are mucking around in American democratic elections, trying to change how we think, how we act, how we vote—and they will be back. The attorney general cannot be trusted to ensure impartial enforcement of the law. The president fired the FBI director and then lied about why he did it. Yet by the time Comey said these things in an open hearing, all of it was old news. It should have been more shocking than it was, but on some level, Americans were used to it. 

Some historical context here is important. Only one FBI Director has ever been fired since J. Edgar Hoover took the job back in 1924: William Sessions, who was sacked by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after the Justice Department's own Office of Professional Responsibility found...

The End of America’s Global Leadership?

American presidents in recent decades have spent a great deal of time proclaiming U.S. leadership of the global system. The decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement undermines much of what they have said. For any student of global politics, it represents a watershed moment when it comes to debating America’s role in the world.

Becoming a global leader

In practice, global leadership can take two forms.

The first version confers leadership because a country is the most powerful. It has the strongest military, the biggest economy, the most innovative technology. But beyond that, a global leader has to be willing to cast aside its own short-term interests in favor of a longer-term outlook. This isn’t altruism. It is seeing beyond the horizon, what psychologists define as “enlightened self-interest.”

Sometimes a dominant power must endure costs to achieve a collective benefit. American behavior since 1945 has often fitted that description, from supporting NATO to setting up international institutions like the World Bank or funding others like the United Nations. It is why Americans describe themselves, in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as “the world’s indispensable nation.”

The second version confers leadership...