The Perils of Trump’s Monumental Erection

TUCSON, Arizona - When Ronald Reagan declaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” a sardonic addendum came to mind: “We need it in Arizona.” Even back then, too many Americans believed that some physical barrier could actually keep them safe in an unruly world.

And now today Donald Trump, committed to a monumental erection to satisfy his base and his own vanity, threatens to seal the entire southern border. That would shut Americans in, evoking the Berlin Wall that choked off a paranoid despotic state.

True, migrants can slip through barbed wire along some remote desert stretches south of here, unless bandits get to them first. But even if those green border patrol SUVs bristling with gun barrels don't swoop down, survival odds amount to a snowball's chance in a sauna.

Only the poorest, eager to work menial jobs and avoid trouble, come in the hard way. Drug smugglers tunnel under or fly over sturdy fences already in place. Mostly, those “bad hombres” Trump reviles fake papers or sneak past ports of entry in trucks and freight trains.

In fact, more Mexicans have returned home than have come north since 2010. Now Central Americans, driven by crop failure or violence, besiege the border. Trump's answer is to stop the economic aid they need to stay home and to embrace regimes they fear.

This standoff reflects a global threat second only to rising temperatures. Scores of millions are fleeing poverty or war. Europe has taken in many, but hard-right movements refuse more. As the climate worsens, human tides will swell, increasingly desperate and embittered.

Rebuffed people in dire straits are easy prey for extremist recruiters. But Trump, taking sensible pushback as a personal affront, paralyzes America's own government in the delusion that he is protecting the country from terrorism that his policies feed.


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Like Arab Spring, Gallic Winter Upends Social Order

PARIS – Café de la Paix went on war footing, its Belle Epoque windows near the Opera shielded by thick plywood panels. The Champs-Élysées, normally alive in December with a Christmas market full of food and fun, looks as if the Grinch stormed past in an armored column.

This is still France, with plenty of joie left in its vivre. But the Gilets Jaunes, quickly mastering Internet mob democracy, are rattling the foundations of an old society buffeted by extremist threats, a new world disorder and a fast-changing physiognomy.

The insurgency has neither leaders nor a plan. Yet, as Facebook alone suggests, it has millions of sympathizers in France, and those neon-yellow vests are spreading across Europe and beyond. On Friday, 1,000 “Elod Tsahov” (the Hebrew translation) wore them on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Attention focuses on louts who enliven their Saturdays by pitching cobblestones at cops. Riot police fire off teargas canisters directly into the scrum. Emergency rooms and jail cells fill. Ranks swell with kids from well-off families attracted by revolutionary zeal.

Mostly, though, the Gilets Jaunes are simply pissed-off people who work harder than ever yet still come up short, while a rich upper class (in French, “les ‘appy few”) socks away yet more wealth and pays less tax. They plot on social media and take to the streets to show their force.

The result is a Gallic Winter, a faint echo of the Arab Spring. Remember? A vegetable seller in a Tunisian backwater, protesting petty authority, set himself aflame. A groundswell deposed the president. Then Egyptians rose up against Hosni Mubarak. Things have not gone well since.


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By Now, Climate Denial Amounts to Mass Murder

“Sometimes it seems as if I’ve banged out a trillion words over the last half-century in news dispatches, books and assorted screeds. None, I believe, are more important than these.”

PARIS – Let's be clear before it is too late. Any government leader or corporate executive who flouts irrefutable evidence of climatic shifts is complicit in murdering the human race.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman called willful denial of climate change “depravity” in a New York Times essay on heedless greed and hubris. That's not the half of it.

Bill McKibben, in The New Yorker, outlined in devastating detail what he has watched closely since sounding the alarm 30 years ago. Yet as fire, flood and famine steadily worsen toward Endgame, the world dithers.

“It's now reasonable to ask,” he wrote, “whether the human game has begun to falter - perhaps even to play itself out.”

As people obsessed on a flash of street mayhem in Paris, few noticed wise old David Attenborough speak gravely in Poland: “If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Crocodiles and cockroaches will survive as temperatures rise, but humans will be among the first to go. When? Does it matter?


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Bonfire of the Insanities

WILD OLIVES, France – As Donald Trump skulked home on Armistice Day after letting the world know what he thinks of it, Tom Wolfe came to mind. Remember “The Bonfire of the Vanities”? A Wall Street master of the universe gets lost in the Bronx and bumps hard against reality.

Unlike that chastened bond trader, Trump neither reflects nor regrets. Back in Washington, he flipped European allies the finger. France, he tweeted, would have lost both world wars were it not for America’s military. Possibly true. But the United States would also be speaking German.

An isolationist America waited each time until no other choice remained. Imagine if it had confronted Hitler at the outset. The earlier “Great War” mushroomed out of control, a failure of despots and diplomats. Along with those 116,516 Americans, it killed 17 million Europeans.

Today, the big picture is clear. A vainglorious fool focused on money alone, telling patent lies that feed the ignorant fears of one sector of American society, imperils an entire planet.

China plays dirty. But head-on public attack spurs Xi Jinping to fortify his military, block sea lanes and seek monopolies on raw materials and strategic metals. Russia is a foe, but Vladimir Putin’s arrival sparked a shit-eating grin from Trump as he sat sourly among friends in Paris.

In North Korea, Trump jabbed a sharp stick into a hornet’s nest, then elevated Kim Jong-un to a coveted place on the world stage. Kim, now madder than ever because of sanctions, is still building nukes. Trump is awaiting his Nobel Peace Prize.


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Trump’s Response to “Invasion” Is the Real Threat

PARIS - Wasting $100 million to send more U.S. troops to the Mexican border than are now in Afghanistan is plainly a cynical campaign stunt. Less obvious is what it shows about where Donald Trump's hollow heart is leading America and the world beyond.

That piteous march, hardly an “invasion”, will stop at a secure fence. But writ large, it reflects 68 million people on the move. If global leaders ignore the reasons why, their numbers will soar. And as more desperate fathers see children sicken and starve, expect the worst.

This last week sharply defined the real Donald Trump: a deceitful manipulator who exploits the gullible. Unless a new Congress can curb him, he has two more years, maybe six, to unmake America and encourage despots who follow his worst instincts.

Like all nations, the United States must control who crosses its borders with case-by-case screening. But a rich democracy built by immigrants fleeing famine or fear needs to set an example by doing that with human empathy.

Trump just told troops that if someone throws a rock they should “consider it a rifle” and shoot. Nigerian authorities echoed that message to police in the capital, Abuja, who Amnesty International reports then shot dead 45 protesters.

U.S. law says firing needlessly on unarmed people is murder. Yet it appeals to a frightening new mood in America.


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