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Washington Could Use a Man Like Nixon Again


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Standing in front of Richard Nixon’s humble farmhouse birthplace at his presidential library in Yorba Linda, California 23 years ago this month, I delivered a eulogy for an American giant. As I look back at that day, I’m flooded with memories of President Nixon—including decades I spent at his side—and it strikes me that our leaders today may need a dose of Nixonian pragmatism in their decision-making.

I predicted on that rain-soaked afternoon that the second half of the twentieth century would be known as the Age of Nixon. Today, I can say with confidence that the beginning of the 21 st century is still the Age of Nixon; we’re still living in world he played a role in shaping. Though our country has changed in many ways in the 43 years since Nixon’s resignation and 23 years since his death, the basic domestic policies and international order that he brought to fruition remain in place.

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Amid partisan strife, what can today’s leaders in Washington learn from a man who thought with great depth about his era, and the long term impact of the tough choices he would have to make for his country?

They can learn what a cohesive, well thought out and well-executed, America-centered foreign policy looks like.

The core elements of Nixon’s transformative foreign policies are still with us, especially with regard to America’s relationship with China. It is important that both the U.S. and China see the benefits of working together on geopolitical issues of importance and consequence, and President Trump’s recent meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping seems to have been an important first step in reaffirming that ideal and building personal relationships.

Nixon realigned geopolitical pillars throughout the world to fit American interests. As I said in my eulogy, he was without a doubt the 20th century’s greatest architect of peace.

Today’s leaders can also learn to think in terms of national interest, versus becoming a prisoner to ideology. Of course Nixon was a partisan, and few possessed such seasoned political antennae as he did. But above all, he was a pragmatist, not an ideologue.

When Nixon took office in 1969, America was divided and distressed, not totally unlike today. He was the first president in 120 years—since Zachary Taylor—to be sworn in with both houses of Congress controlled by the opposition party. Yet he worked with Democrats to transform the country and responded to the cries of the time by reaching across the aisle and accomplishing legislative victories with dramatic legacies.

These negotiations resulted in Nixon’s oft-forgotten (or, more likely, unknown) domestic initiatives—many quite progressive—which continue to help countless Americans. Nixon equaled the playing field by signing Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education; Nixon pledged the first federal dollars to fight cancer; Nixon ended military conscription; as George Shultz has masterfully recounted, Nixon personally fought to desegregate Southern schools; Nixon revolutionized government policies toward American Indians and returned scores of


How to Deal With the Narcissist in the White House

It would be crazy to diagnose the president as mentally ill without a formal, in-person consultation. It would be just as crazy to ignore the troubling signs that something’s not quite right in Donald Trump’s head.

Mental health professionals have long been reluctant to diagnose politicians because of the so-called Goldwater Rule, which holds that psychiatrists should not pass judgment on public figures without having examined them and received permission to speak. Named after Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who was declared by hundreds of psychiatrists in 1964 to be “psychologically unfit” to be president, the rule was written into the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics in 1973 after a fierce backlash. Ever since, calling presidents crazy has been considered a disreputable thing to do.

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Recently, however, a small but growing number of mental health professionals have been willing to stick their necks out to shrink the head of the 45th president; just last week, representatives from a coalition of 800 mental health professionals met at Yale Medical School to discuss what they call their “duty to warn” the public about Trump’s behavior. For the sake of the country, these and other professionals believe it’s time for a psychological diagnosis of Trump, to provide an explanation for, among other things, the bizarre Twitter rants, peddling of easily provable lies, head-spinning policy reversals, incoherent interview answers and unhinged attacks on his perceived enemies.

Let us stipulate that it is not known for a fact that Trump has any kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Let us also stipulate that, to many observers, the most powerful man in the world displays many of the definitional traits of one disorder in particular: Narcissistic Personality Disorder , characterized by behavior that is impulsive, dramatic and erratic. According to the Mayo Clinic , people with NPD “come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious,” require “constant admiration” and belittle people they “perceive as inferior.” This grandiose, bullying shell hides profound insecurity, so “anything that may be perceived as criticism” can provoke “rage or contempt.”

I’m not a mental health professional, so I’m not bound by the APA code of ethics. But forget about a formal diagnosis: It’s pretty clear that Trump is a narcissist at least in the colloquial sense of the word. And at a minimum, he shares a lot of traits of someone who has been formally diagnosed with NPD. So what should we do about it? More specifically, how should those who interact with him frequently on the job—White House staff, members of Congress and foreign leaders—best handle him? As a public service, I have spoken to experts on narcissism and other psychological disorders to pass along their advice for constraining, rather than enabling, Trump’s worst impulses where possible. After all, there is much at stake in the state of Trump’s psyche—the fate of the free world, for instance. Their collective wisdom amounts to a veritable handbook for managing our narcissistic president.

Given the Goldwater Rule, some professionals I contacted were willing


Stephen Vaughn, the Hamiltonian at USTR

What does "Hamilton" have to do with trade policy? More than you might think in the case of acting U.S. Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn, who counts himself among the hit Broadway musical's legions of fans.

Vaughn, a history buff as well as a trade lawyer, says he has long admired Alexander Hamilton, especially the Founding Father's 1791 “Report on Manufactures,” which argued in favor of government action to help U.S. manufacturing, as opposed to Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian vision of America.

“Jefferson really liked this idea of everybody living on their own farm and being self-supporting and self-sustaining, and Hamilton was like, ‘No, we’ve got to be able to make our own materials,'” Vaughn told POLITICO. “That’s what he was arguing in the report on manufacturing. You can’t just say, 'We’re going to do nothing and stay out of it, and whatever plays out, plays out.'”

So it was that Vaughn's "Hamilton" world collided with his Hamiltonian perspective shortly after the election when his future boss, President Donald Trump, got into a Twitter dustup with the cast of Vaughn's beloved musical.

Trump, who campaigned on reshaping trade policy to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., called the show "highly overrated" after a cast member, worried about the incoming administration's policies, implored Vice President Mike Pence, as he was leaving the theater one night in mid-November, to "uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

But consciously or not, Trump is pursuing Hamilton's course on manufacturing and has been stocking his trade team with Hamiltonians of the trade lawyer type — with Vaughn chief among them.

Photo courtesy of King & Spalding.

Vaughn, who spent years representing U.S. Steel Corp. as a lawyer at Skadden Arps before joining the law firm King & Spalding in 2016, has echoed many of Trump’s complaints about how past U.S. trade policy has eroded the nation's manufacturing base.

Take, for example, a manufacturing conference hosted by Indiana University last year, where Vaughn spoke passionately about the challenges facing the sector as a result of government action — and inaction — over the last quarter-century.

“What you’re seeing is a policy crisis growing out of the fact that the promises and the claims that were made for a lot of the trade agreements over the last 24 years simply have not been fulfilled,” Vaughn said at that event . “There’s a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of discussion over why that happened, but what’s clear is trust in this regime is breaking down.”

At the same conference, the 51-year-old trade litigator laid out his wish list for Trump's first 100 days. He included a moratorium on trade deals “for at least one year” and the creation of a high-level, bipartisan commission to “undertake a complete, top-to-bottom review of all aspects of U.S. trade policy and its impact on U.S. manufacturing.”

Two of his other recommendations were also decidedly Hamiltonian — his call for a new, Cabinet-level secretary of manufacturing position


Poll: Trump voters stand by the president


An overwhelming majority of Trump voters approve of the job he is doing as president. | Getty

Donald Trump is languishing in the polls as he approaches the 100-day mark in the White House, but a new survey released Thursday shows the president’s voters are still firmly in his corner.

The overwhelming majority of Trump voters surveyed by the University of Virginia Center of Politics , 93 percent, approve of the job Trump is doing as president. Only 7 percent of voters who said they cast their ballot for Trump now disapprove of his performance, the poll shows.

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“Trump voters are extraordinarily loyal and supportive of the guy they voted for last November,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger, who conducted the poll and focus groups for the school. “All the controversy, all the stuff you read in media about how it’s chaotic, how they don’t have their act together — they don’t see it.”

That sentiment — the idea that what some see as dysfunction in the White House is viewed by many Trump voters as disruptive action — was backed up by focus groups conducted this month by Bolger’s firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

“He said he was going to do something, and he took immediate action, not, you know, ‘We're going to go transition and everything,’” said a male Trump supporter interviewed in Pittsburgh. “He hit the ground running. He went to work right away.”

Trump’s backing among his voters isn’t absolute: While his overall approval rating in the poll is sky-high, more Trump voters are in the “somewhat approve” column (51 percent) than the “strongly disapprove" column (42 percent).

And while some Trump voters are unnerved by elements of his nascent presidency, even those who crossed-over or supported him more reluctantly are still willing to give him a chance.

“Basically, you have a president who's only been in there a couple of months. He's just getting acclimated, really, to the job,” said a male Trump voter interviewed in Canton, Michigan, who had previously supported Barack Obama. “And I'm just going to wait and see what he's really going to be able to accomplish.”

The survey and study also explored the extent to which Trump voters were hesitant to express support for him during the campaign — or even now that he is president. More than a quarter of Trump voters, 27 percent, say they were reluctant to tell others they planned to vote for him last fall. And now that he is president, 15 percent still say they are reluctant to express support for him publicly.

Bolger said the survey and focus groups suggest that reticence may help explain why Trump won some states where polls suggested Hillary Clinton was ahead.

“It depends on what circle you're in,” said a female Trump/Obama voter interviewed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. “You know, I mean, depending on the race of people I'm around … he was very racist, and he came on national television and said he


PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin


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