Happy Friday, y’all. You know that relatively slow news week we’ve been having? Today found a way to make up for it. Before we jump in—and I’ll do my best to keep it snappy—I’d like to take one last chance to plug this week’s Primer sponsor, Inner Engineering, which will be hosting courses at the end of the month in Raleigh. Get more information here or by clicking on the ad below. —Jeffrey C. Billman
1. TRUMP MEETS PUTIN.
Today, at the G-20 summit in Germany, President Trump and President Putin, who American intelligence officials believed helped make Trump president, will meet. Russia’s goal, according to its deputy foreign minister
, is clarity: “As for the policy of the U.S. administration, we have to understand first what it will involve.” But however it plays out, Russia thinks it will emerge victorious.
WHAT IT MEANS:
- Nut graph: “Whatever the outcome of the encounter on Friday … the Kremlin is betting that Mr. Putin can stage-manage the event so that he comes out looking like the stronger party. If nothing much emerges from the meeting, analysts said, the Kremlin can repeat the standard Russian line that Mr. Trump is weak, hamstrung by domestic politics. But if Mr. Trump agrees to work with Mr. Putin despite a list of Russian transgressions beginning with the annexation of Crimea and ending with its interference in the 2016 presidential election, he will also look weak while Mr. Putin can claim that he reconstructed the relationship.”
The White House says Trump has no specific agenda, but there are plenty of issues to discuss
. Syria, of course. Also Russia’s incursion into Crimea. But the elephant in the room is Russian involvement in the election, which Trump is loath to admit even happened. Just yesterday, Trump downplayed Russia’s role—perhaps because his discounts American intelligence, perhaps because to embrace it would undermine his legitimacy. The Kremlin wants the U.S. to return two compounds the Obama administration seized in December as retaliation for Russian interference; Trump is facing bipartisan opposition to easing any sanctions.
Given that the Trump campaign is under investigation for colluding with the Russians, Trump can’t appear too publicly solicitous. The Russians get this. Per The Washington Post: “Russian policymakers expect Trump ‘to demonstrate a certain public toughness with Putin for his domestic critics, and they can live with this,’ said Vladimir Frolov, an independent foreign policy analyst based in Moscow. ‘Provided that in private Trump makes it clear he wants to close the page on prior disagreements and start rebuilding the relationship without making it conditional on Russia's dramatic and immediate reversal of its policies in Ukraine and Syria.’” Which is to say, watch Trump’s actions, not his words.
2. TRUMP ASKS IF THE WEST HAS THE “WILL TO SURVIVE.”
In a speech yesterday in Poland, the president warned that Western civilization was at risk of decline
, threatened by “radical Islamic terrorism” and the “creep of government bureaucracy.”
- Money quote: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
In The Atlantic
, Peter Beinart calls Trump’s speech racially and religiously paranoid
. It’s worth a read in full, but here’s an excerpt:
In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.
The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.
The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.
The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white. Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness,” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.
Steve Bannon, who along with Stephen Miller has shaped much of Trump’s civilizational thinking, has been explicit about this. In a 2014 speech, he celebrated “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam” and “our forefathers” who “bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.”
During the Cold War, when the contest between Soviet and American power divided Europe along geographic lines, American presidents sometimes contrasted the democratic “West” with the communist “East.” But when the Cold War ended, they largely stopped associating America with “the West.” Every president from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama emphasized the portability of America’s political and economic principles. The whole point was that democracy and capitalism were not uniquely “Western.” They were not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.
3. TRUMPCARE’S VERY BAD DAY.
In a statement that fully illustrates the the absurdity of modern American politics, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday
that if Republicans couldn’t get fifty votes for their Affordable Care Act replacement, he’d have no choice but to—wait for it—negotiate with Democrats.
WHAT IT MEANS:
- Nut graph: The remarks, made at a Rotary Club lunch in Glasgow, Ky., represent a significant shift for the veteran legislator. “While he had raised the idea last week that Republicans may have to turn to Democrats if they cannot pass their own bill, his words mark the first time he has explicitly raised the prospect of shoring up the ACA. ‘If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,’ McConnell said. ‘No action is not an alternative. We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.’”
- No kidding: “His suggestion that he and his colleagues might instead try to bolster the insurance exchanges created under the ACA is at odds with Republican talking points that they are beyond repair.”
Fifty votes is proving elusive, and McConnell seems to be softening the ground for an inevitable compromise that the GOP base will hate with the fire of a thousand suns. Even in deep-red Kansas yesterday
, Senator Jerry Moran told a town hall of 150 people (in a 277-person town)—he is the only Republican senator holding unscreened town halls this week, which is telling in and of itself—that he didn’t want legislation rammed through on a party-line vote and said he did not want to cut Medicaid. Moran didn’t rule out a yes vote, but then again, this is the most unpopular piece of legislation in three decades
—less popular than Obamacare when it passed, even less popular than the bank bailouts. To make matters worse, Senator Mike Lee, a stalwart conservative, is demanding that any bill weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions
, which is a nonstarter politically. So right now, McConnell appears stuck.
4. WAKE MISSED CHANCE TO CATCH REGISTER OF DEEDS’ LOSSES.
This is complicated, but it gets at the reason why the Wake County Register of Deeds office could have seen $600,000 go missing over two years. The simple reason is this: as the INDY’s Thomas Goldsmith reported yesterday
, the annual county audits didn’t do the trick—the basic audit isn’t designed to catch fraud, after all—and the county chose not to perform a more detailed audit of the office, even though state law seems to require it at least once a year. The relevant section of state law: “The [county] finance officer may at any time audit the accounts of any officer or employee collecting or receiving taxes or other moneys, and may prescribe the form and detail of these accounts. The accounts of such an officer or employee shall be audited at least annually.”
- Money quote: “The reality is we are often caught by surprise. Where there are not sufficient detailed audits done, it opens up the opportunity for these things to occur.” — Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman
The county was supposed to discuss the matter at a two o’clock work session Monday, but that meeting was canceled. (Update: In an email Friday afternoon, the county communications office says that the cancelation “is completely unrelated to the Register of Deeds or the article.”
5. NINE (!) LOCAL HEADLINES.
(Told you it was a busy news day.)
Primer this week is sponsored by Inner Engineering, which will be hosting courses later this month in Raleigh. Check it out by clicking the image below.