How a week of triumph for Trump was convulsed by chaos and contradiction

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump step into the Grand Foyer of the White House for a state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron on April 24, 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
 April 26 at 5:57 PM 

The final week of April was designed to be a triumphant one for President Trump.

He hosted his closest foreign counterpart, French President Emmanuel Macron, for a state visit, complete with a 21-gun salute. He may be on the cusp of a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea for the rogue state to abandon its nuclear weapons program. And he is set to put an exclamation point on it all where he feels most at home: onstage Saturday night in Michigan, riffing and ripping the elites at a rally of his fervent supporters.

But instead, it became yet another week in which the Trump administration was convulsed by chaos and contradiction.

A darkening cloud hung over Trump’s Cabinet on Thursday, as he had to abruptly withdraw his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny L. Jackson, amid explosive allegations of poor conduct and negligence as the president’s personal physician. Jackson said the allegations were false, but still took his name out of consideration for the VA job.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt also struggled Thursday before a Senate committee to answer for his ethical lapses and profligate spending. Two days earlier, Mick Mulvaney, who heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as directing the Office of Management and Budget, told banking executives that as a South Carolina congressman he prioritized meetings with lobbyists who gave him campaign contributions.

The Cabinet struggles do not end there.

Ronny Jackson withdraws from VA nomination

White House doctor Ronny L. Jackson withdrew from the nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, the White House said on April 26. 

Gina Haspel’s nomination to become CIA director is imperiled because senators are protesting her work overseeing enhanced interrogation on CIA prisoners, including techniques critics liken to torture. To get confirmed, a senior administration official said, she will have to have “a near perfect performance.”

Haspel is in line to succeed Mike Pompeo, whose nomination to become secretary of state was so uncertain that on Monday Trump had to personally lobby Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to table his objections and vote to approve Pompeo.

“There are enough nominees to deal with, just with the president’s executive calendar on the courts, and then on Cabinet and ambassadorships, without churning through Cabinet members like this,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “It’s not helpful.”

Said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment: “It’s a joke. The whole thing is a joke.”

There is some concern among Republican strategists that the converging controversies could weigh down GOP candidates in November’s midterm elections.

Scott Pruitt kept dodging ethics questions before Congress

Scott Pruitt tried to talk about anything other than his ethics issues in front of Congress.

“We’re living in a season of corruption the likes of which we haven’t seen but in a banana republic,” said Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican Party operative and Trump critic. “. . . Everywhere you look you see incompetence, malfeasance, self-dealing and corruption.”

But others said the sagas gripping Washington are unlikely to affect voters in the rest of the country. In North Dakota, home to one of the biggest Senate battles, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) said the farmers and energy workers he meets with hear about controversy and are inclined to believe the media and political establishments are out to get Trump.

“There’s a sense that if ‘the swamp’ is not busy trying to block the Trump agenda and block Trump appointees, they’re trying to drive down those people on the Cabinet pushing the agenda,” Burgum said.

As former Virginia congressman Tom Davis (R) put it, “Voters don’t care about the emoluments clause and all the background noise. . . . People just push the mute button.”

Inside the White House, the responses to this week’s convulsions were being personally directed by Trump, who has been acting as his own strategist and making decisions unilaterally — sometimes to the surprise of his senior staffers.

“It’s starting to feel like the early days again, with everyone running around red-faced, trying to keep up with this president,” said a Republican strategist close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

Personnel matters are ordinarily the purview of the chief of staff, but John F. Kelly is a diminished figure these days. His influence a mere shell of what it was in his heyday of near-complete control — a downfall one West Wing staffer characterized as moving from the enforcer to an afterthought.

So it was that Trump’s, and thus the administration’s, support for Jackson zigzagged over a chaotic 36-hour period this week.

White House officials said they were unaware Monday that accusations about Jackson would be coming, but allegations first surfaced later in the day that Jackson had improperly dispensed drugs and became intoxicated on duty. Trump on Tuesday initially guided his nominee toward the exit.

“I said to Dr. Jackson, ‘What do you need it for?’ ” the president told reporters, bemoaning the Senate confirmation process as “too ugly” and “too disgusting.” “If I was him,” he added, “I wouldn’t do it.”

But a couple hours later, after huddling with Jackson, Trump decided to stand by the man he affectionately calls “the Doc” or “Doc Ronny.” He told advisers that although he was fine with Jackson dropping out, one of them said, “the doctor really wants to fight.” In addition, another adviser said, the president was reluctant to dump Jackson because he was afraid it would be interpreted as him giving in to criticism that he had hired a physician with no significant management experience to run one of the government’s most sprawling bureaucracies.

“The president is clearly of two minds about it,” said a third Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “His typical instinct is deny, deny, deny, defend, defend, defend, fight, fight, fight. But what he said out loud at length [on Tuesday] was giving Ronny the opportunity to bow out and in some ways encouraging him to.”

Trump ordered the White House staff to rally to Jackson’s defense, and a full-throated, proactive campaign was launched. Communications aides scrambled late into the evening to craft talking points for the media. Surrogates were deployed on cable news to praise Jackson and knock down the allegations. Military aides, Secret Service agents and others who had worked with Jackson were asked to help push back on damaging stories. And legislative affairs director Marc Short worked senators as what one outside adviser described as “a one-man band trying to keep Ronny L. Jackson afloat.”

Staffers said they readily rushed to Jackson’s defense in part because they were told to by the president and in part because they found the allegations inconsistent with the doctor they had come to know through many days traveling together.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that Jackson’s record as presidential physician was “impeccable.” She said that he underwent four separate background investigations, including one by the FBI, that found no indication of wrongdoing.

“In a normal administration, you might be told you have to cut bait, you’re out,” said Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary. “You get latitude you might not in normal worlds. Trump shares that feeling of people fighting back when they get personally attacked. When you’re right, you fight.”

The fight did not last long, however. On Wednesday afternoon, a two-page summary of allegations, written by Democrats on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, included accusations from unnamed colleagues that Jackson had crashed a government vehicle while intoxicated following a Secret Service party, among numerous other offenses. Support for Jackson’s nomination evaporated almost immediately, with White House officials saying Wednesday night he was considering abandoning his bid to be VA secretary.

And just before 8 a.m. Thursday, the White House made it official: Jackson was out.

Whereas the Jackson scandal came and went in the span of three days, the Pruitt saga has been unfolding steadily for more than a month, in a cascade of damaging headlines about the administrator’s ethical blunders, security regimen and reliance on taxpayer money and government perks to support his lifestyle.

Another president might have fired Pruitt by now, but not Trump, who has become convinced that the EPA chief is a singular warrior for his deregulation agenda. While other Cabinet officials caught in ethical peccadilloes have apologized and promised to do better, Pruitt has been defiant and has told the president he did nothing wrong, officials said.

Though Pruitt has maintained the president’s affection, officials said, he has become estranged from most of the senior White House staff. Stories about tension between Pruitt and the West Wing were described by one White House official as “brutal,” and senior aides have grown exasperated by Pruitt and fearful that even more damaging information may come out about his profligate behavior.

Trump and many of his aides said beforehand that they planned to closely monitor Pruitt’s Senate testimony on Thursday, with some White House staffers hopeful the administrator might embarrass himself. “If he screws up the testimony,” one senior White House aide said, “we have a chance at getting him out of here.”

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.


Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration

Ronny L. Jackson has served as a White House physician since 2006. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
 April 26 at 8:55 AM 

Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration Thursday amid mushrooming allegations of professional misconduct that raised questions about the White House vetting process.

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” Jackson, the White House physician, said in a defiant statement. “If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”

Jackson’s nomination had become imperiled even before Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday released new allegations of misconduct. The claims include that Jackson had wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.

The allegations were contained in a two-page document described by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee as a summary of interviews with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues. The document also described Jackson’s “pattern” of handing out medication with no patient history, writing himself prescriptions and contributing to a hostile work environment with “a constant fear of reprisal.”

Veteran advocates and many lawmakers also had expressed concerns about Jackson’s lack of management experience, and some have worried that he would capitulate to Trump’s goal of outsourcing more veteran services.

Senator calls vetting of VA secretary nominee ‘abysmal’

President Trump’s nominee to be the next veterans affairs secretary, Ronny Jackson, was on Capitol Hill April 24 as senators questioned his vetting. 

Jackson, 50, has consistently denied wrongdoing. He told colleagues Wednesday night that he had grown frustrated with the nomination process, according to two White House officials with knowledge of his deliberations. He was a surprise nominee to succeed David Shulkin, an Obama-era holdover once lauded by Trump, who was fired March 28.

During a television interview just minutes after Jackson’s statement, Trump said he had another candidate to lead Veterans Affairs in mind but would not provide a name. He noted, however, that the possible nominee has more political experience than Jackson.

Trump also blamed Democrats for derailing the nomination of “an incredible man.”

“These are all false accusations,” Trump said while calling into “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. “They’re trying to destroy a man. … There’s no proof of this. He’s got a beautiful record.”

Trump singled out Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, for unfairly maligning Jackson and said voters in Montana should make him pay a price.

Trump also suggested his opponents were eager to take down Jackson because another of his nominees, Mike Pompeo, seems on track to survived a difficult nomination process for secretary of state.

White House officials suggested that Jackson might remain in his current post despite the allegations about workplace misconduct.

“Admiral Jackson is a doctor in the United States Navy assigned to the White House and is here at work today,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Jackson becomes the latest candidate Trump has put forward to run a major agency only to topple during the confirmation process. His prior nominees for labor secretary, Army secretary and Navy secretary all withdrew last year after questions arose during their vetting process.

Jackson’s nomination to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency was contentious from the start. White House officials, members of both political parties and veterans advocates all questioned the president’s decision, which was announced via Twitter on March 28.

The move coincided with Trump’s removal of David Shulkin as VA secretary. The Cabinet’s only Obama-era holdover, Shulkin clashed with those in the administration who’ve sought an aggressive expansion of VA’s Choice program, which allows veterans to seek health care from private providers at taxpayer expense. Those opposed to that plan fear it will undermine efforts to address the many challenges VA faces.

Jackson, a one-star Navy admiral whose tenure at the White House spans three administrations, has been criticized as too inexperienced to take on the monumental task of leading an organization comprising more than 360,000 employees. Apart from overseeing the White House medical staff, Jackson led a military trauma unit in Iraq, tending to troops who had suffered catastrophic wounds during one of the war’s most violent stretches.

He rose to prominence in January, after delivering a fawning assessment of Trump’s health. The president is said to have been captivated by his doctor’s appearance in the White House briefing room, where, following Trump’s physical, Jackson extolled Trump’s fitness and cognitive acuity.

“In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients,” Jackson said in his statement. “In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes.”

Late last week, aides to Tester received damaging information about Jackson’s management of the White House medical office. They began interviewing his colleagues, many of them active-duty military officers, whose assessment of the admiral alarmed not only Tester but the committee’s chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who agreed to postpone Jackson’s confirmation hearing while lawmakers investigated the allegations.

The report released by committee Democrats suggested Jackson demonstrated a “pattern” of handing out medication with no patient history, writing prescriptions for himself and contributing to a hostile work environment where there was a “constant fear of reprisal.” The document also says he “wrecked a government vehicle” after getting drunk a Secret Service party.

In a statement Thursday morning, Isakson thanked Jackson for “his service to the country.”

“I will work with the administration to see to it we get a VA secretary for our veterans and their families,” Isakson said.

The White House, which was criticized for failing to adequately vet Jackson’s nomination, defended him until the end, saying that his record as a physician serving three presidents was unassailable, and demanding that he be allowed to defend himself during a confirmation hearing. But by Wednesday night, senators in both political parties doubted he could survive politically.

Since 2001, when the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, VA has had seven secretaries. It’s acting head is Robert Wilkie, who was moved into the role from another appointed position at the Defense Department.

Jackson planned to retire from the Navy to take VA job. Trump has put him up for a promotion from one-star to two-star admiral. That nomination remains pending with the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A leading veterans group said Thursday morning that it was happy to see the end of a “painful and tumultuous chapter” for Veterans Affairs.

“But the volatile, damaging saga continues,” said Rieckhoff. “We now face the prospect of a stunning eighth nominee for VA Secretary since 9/11. Our community is exhausted by the unnecessary and seemingly never-ending drama.”

Philip Rucker, Amy Gardner, Seung Min Kim and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux contributed to this story.

French President Macron charms both parties in an impassioned speech to Congress

Macron made it clear: He’s not Trump

Emmanuel Macron’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress April 25 highlighted at least 10 key differences between the French president and President Trump.

 April 25 at 5:18 PM 
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday delivered an impassioned call for multilateralism and U.S. engagement in the world, saying it was “an essential part of our confidence in the future.”

Speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, amid frequent standing ovations and cheers, Macron recalled the long history of U.S.-French relations, and the countries’ shared values and culture in areas as diverse as democracy and freedom, human and civil rights, literature, jazz and the “Me Too” movement.

But, he warned, “this is a time of determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail. And together we shall prevail.”

Much of what he said, although couched in stirring and global terms, posed a direct challenge to the Trump administration and to the U.S. president with whom Macron has said he has a special relationship.

Macron expressed hope that the United States would reenter the Paris climate accord, which President Trump exited early in his administration.

“Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent than transforming our economies to meet the challenge of global change,” he said. “I hear . . . but we must find a transition to a low-carbon economy. What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the future of our children?”

Macron: We have to fight ‘fake news’ to protect democracy

French President Emmanuel Macron told Congress April 25 that fake news engenders “irrational fear and imaginary risks” in France and the United States. 

He said he believed U.S. and French disagreement on the climate issue was “short term” and that “in the long run, we will have to face the same realities. We’re just citizens of the same planet.”

Macron also called for resolution of trade disputes through negotiation and the World Trade Organization, indirectly criticizing Trump’s imposition of tariffs. “I believe we can build the right answers . . . by negotiating through the WTO and building cooperative solutions,” he said.

“We wrote these rules,” he said. “We should follow them.”

Macron called for the free world to “push aside” the forces of “isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism,” and to “shape our common answers to the global threats that we are facing” with an updated multilateralism, lest the post-World War II institutions that “you built,” including the United Nations and NATO, be destroyed.

Macron: France wants to work on ‘new deal’ on Iran

French President Emmanuel Macron and President Trump spoke about the Iran nuclear deal at a joint news conference at the White House April 24. 

“This requires more than ever the United States involvement, as your role was decisive in creating and safeguarding the free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism, you are the one who has to help to preserve and reinvent it,” he said.

On Iran, he repeated his support for the nuclear deal and outlined a four-part solution to Trump’s concerns about the agreement and Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

“Our objective is clear. Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons,” he said as the chamber rose with applause. “Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never.”

“But this policy should never lead us to war in the Middle East,” he said, adding that respect for sovereignty must include Iran, “which represents a great civilization.”

“Let us not replicate past mistakes,” he said. “Let us not be naive on one side. . . . Let us not create new wars on the other side.”

“There is an existing framework, the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to control the activity of Iran. We signed it, at the initiative of the United States. We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that.”

Trump, who has called the agreement “the worst deal” in history and has said he will determine by May 12 whether to withdraw the United States from it, will have to make his own decision, Macron said.

“But what I want to do . . . is work on a more comprehensive deal” that would leave the agreement in place while strengthening it by working on a larger, four-part international agreement that would also contain Iran’s ballistic missile program and its military expansion in the region.

“This containment . . . is necessary in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Iraq and also in Syria,” Macron said.

“I think we can work together to build this comprehensive deal for the whole region for our people. Because I think it fairly addresses our concerns. That’s my position.”

Macron’s cross-party appeal was palpable from the moment he walked into the chamber — lawmakers did not appear to mind that he was running about 20 minutes late. Members of both parties beamed, hooted and leaped to their feet more than two dozen times as Macron praised the U.S.-French partnership and endorsed the Trump administration’s efforts to launch denuclearization talks with North Korea.

But Macron began to lose the Republicans in the chamber when he spoke at length about the environment, criticizing those who prioritize short-term economic gain over the long-term health of the planet. Democrats were alone in cheering his efforts to balance economic and environmental concerns, while only a few moderate Republicans, such as Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), applauded his hope that the United States would rejoin the Paris agreement.

Democrats were generally swifter to applaud Macron’s observations on trade than Republicans, for whom certain gestures of approval mean crossing Trump — such as when Macron quipped that “commercial war is not the proper answer” to resolve economic tensions. His general observation that Western countries should “not create new walls” also struck a chord with Democrats, but not Republicans.

Nonetheless, Macron’s ability to charm and stir lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was clear. Top members of both parties heartily applauded Macron after his 50-minute speech, and several rank-and-file members gathered in the well of the House chamber to introduce themselves and offer their congratulations.

Only one member of the top congressional brass was noticeably missing: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). A spokesman for Schumer said the leader had a scheduling conflict.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also attended the speech.

Macron followed a long line of heads of state to address a joint session, from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941 to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.

The French leader noted that his speech to lawmakers fell on the 58th anniversary of President Charles de Gaulle’s address to lawmakers during a visit Washington in 1960. Although Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that such a “great honor” was “seldom allowed,” more than 100 leaders have appeared before a joint session since Churchill.

Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

VA nominee Ronny Jackson faces explosive new allegations of drinking, wrecking government vehicle  

The issues surrounding Ronny Jackson’s nomination for VA, explained

The Fix’s Amber Phillips takes a look at the hurdles facing Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

 April 25 at 4:48 PM 

White House physician Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going away party, according to an explosive list of allegations released Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In the two-page summary of interviews conducted by the minority staff, Jackson also stands accused of a “pattern” of handing out medications with no patient history, prescribing medications to himself, and contributing to a hostile work environment with “a constant fear of reprisal.”

According to the report: “Jackson was described as ‘the most unethical person I have ever worked with,’ ‘flat-out unethical,’ ‘explosive,’ ‘100 percent bad temper,’ ‘toxic,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘volatile,’ ‘incapable of not losing his temper,’ ‘the worst officer I have ever served with,’ ‘despicable,’ ‘dishonest,’ as having ‘screaming tantrums’ and “screaming fits,’ as someone who would ‘lose his mind over small things,’ ‘vindictive,’ ‘belittling,’ ‘the worse leader I’ve ever worked for.’”

It continued: “As Jackson gained power he became ‘intolerable.’ One physician said, ‘I have no faith in government that someone like Jackson could be end up at VA.’ A nurse stated, ‘this [working at WHMU] should have been the highlight of my military career but it was my worst assignment.’ Another stated that working at WHMU was the ‘worst experience of my life.’”

The document does not provide specifics on when some of the alleged incidents occurred and it presents a stark contrast to the stellar portrait offered by Jackson’s defenders, who have described allegations as a smear job.

Jackson, 50, a Navy rear admiral and former combat physician who served in Iraq, has been under fire for days amid questions about his qualifications to lead VA and allegations of his management practices at the White House Medical Unit. Late Monday, Jackson’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee was postponed, two days before it was scheduled to occur. Trump told Jackson Tuesday that he should fight for the nomination, according to people familiar with the discussion, but earlier in the day had suggested that perhaps the doctor should withdraw.

Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s choice to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaves a Senate office building after meeting individually with some members of the committee that would vet him for the post on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

In addition to Jackson’s lack of management experience, he had come under fire for his glowing appraisal of Trump’s health following his annual physical in January. Jackson said then that the president might live to the age of 200 with a healthier diet. In recent days, fresh concerns arose about Jackson’s management of the White House medical office, said the officials, who declined to provide details.

Earlier Wednesday, the White House intensified its defense of Jackson, arguing that his record as personal physician to the past three presidents was sterling and demanding that he have an opportunity to personally attest to his character and job performance before the Senate.

“Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician has been impeccable,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday. “In fact, because Dr. Jackson has worked within arms’ length of three presidents, he has received more vetting than most nominees.”

Sanders said that Jackson’s background had been scrutinized in four separate investigations, including one conducted by the FBI, which she described as “very detailed and thorough.” She said that he had received “unanimous praise” from dozens of witnesses and “glowing” evaluations from his superiors.

But Sanders would only generally praise Jackson and stopped short of answering for specific allegations leveled against Jackson this week, including that he over prescribed drugs to White House staff.

Though Sanders said Jackson underwent background investigations pertaining to his position as presidential physician, she would not detail what if any separate vetting process may have been conducted on him once Trump decided he wanted to nominate him to be VA secretary.

Philip Rucker contributed to this story.

Ik begrijp Ruud Lubbers nu veel beter dan tijdens de 12 jaar dat hij premier was

‘Ik had het mijn vader graag gegund die mooie verhalen te kunnen lezen die na zijn dood verschenen’

Ria Lubbers herinnert zich de wanhoop nog maar al te goed. Haar man lag opgebaard in zijn werkkamer, waar overal losse aantekeningen slingerden. Genoteerd in dat vrijwel onleesbare handschrift van hem, dat met het klimmen der jaren ook nog bibberig was geworden. Wat moest je er nog mee?

Boekhandel J. Amesz, sedert 1889 gevestigd in Kralingen, is de enige winkel die Ruud Lubbers van binnen kende, zo wordt verteld. Hij kwam er graag. De winkel is vlak bij de Avenue Concordia waar de familie Lubbers vele jaren woonde. Hier worden zijn Persoonlijke herinneringen gepresenteerd.

Een boek met vele vaders. Een ervan is zoon Bart, behorend tot de kleine club van mensen die het schrift – kleine losse letters, ‘kraaienpoten’, zegt mevrouw Lubbers – kunnen ontcijferen. ‘Een paar jaar geleden vertelde vader me dat hij vaak wakker lag’, vertelt Bart. ‘Dat was nieuw, hij sliep altijd goed.’ Schrijven bleek de remedie. Lubbers ging zijn herinneringen noteren, elke ochtend een paar uur terugdenken aan zijn ouders en grootouders, zijn jeugd, zijn werk.

De familie Lubbers: niemand met politieke aspiraties.
De familie Lubbers: niemand met politieke aspiraties. ©
Herinneringen aan jeugd, werk, ouders.
Herinneringen aan jeugd, werk, ouders. ©

Die structuur van korte hoofdstukken hebben we aangehouden, vertelt Hannah Aukes, die via zoon Bart bij het project betrokken raakte. Haar vier lange interviews vormen de andere bron waarop het boek is gebaseerd. Voornaamste opdracht: de stem van Lubbers laten doorklinken. ‘Het moest zijn alsof je hem hoorde praten. En fragmentarisch, zoals het geheugen werkt.’

Dat is gelukt. Meer nog dan praten is het hardop denken geworden, de gedachten van een man die op zijn leven reflecteert. Twee dagen na verschijnen is er al een tweede druk, toch waren de eerste reacties niet onverdeeld positief. Journalisten die de Haagse tijd van Lubbers van nabij meemaakten, hoopten op onthullingen en kwamen bedrogen uit. De Haagse periode omvat iets meer dan een kwart van het boek, zoals het een kwart van zijn leven beslaat.

Na het boek begrijp ik veel meer van Lubbers dan tijdens de twaalf jaar dat hij Nederland bestierde. Je voelt de behoefte verantwoording af te leggen, en tegelijk helder te krijgen waarom de dingen liepen zoals ze zijn gegaan. Van Lubberiaans is geen spoor te bekennen. Volgens zoon Bart omdat lange zinnen in tweeën zijn gehakt.

Ria Lubbers: 'Ik heb alles willen weggooien.'
Ria Lubbers: ‘Ik heb alles willen weggooien.’ ©

Voor de begrafenis, nu drie maanden geleden, kwam een macht aan hoogwaardigheidsbekleders naar de Laurentiuskathedraal. Oudste kleindochter Emilie vertelt dat ze zijn hoogste onderscheiding de kerk mocht binnendragen: het Grootkruis in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw. Lubbers als man van de wereld. Man van het geloof ook, al speelt dat in het boek amper een rol.

De presentatie bij Amesz laat een andere kant zien, meer in de stijl van het boek: intiem, kwetsbaar en huiselijk. Korenwijn voor iedereen. Zeker de helft van de aanwezigen is van de familie. De politiek is belichaamd in de persoon van Frits Korthals Altes, die als een fotograaf hem vraagt een stapje naar achter te gaan, zijn rol met verve speelt: ‘Dat heb ik nog nooit gedaan.’

De familie moet nog wennen aan het vele positieve dat na het overlijden over Lubbers werd geschreven. ‘Het is ook onzuiver, eerst dat afbreken en nu dat ophemelen’, vindt Ria Lubbers: ‘Er is zoveel onzin over hem geschreven.’ Zoon Bart: ‘Ik had het mijn vader graag gegund die mooie verhalen te kunnen lezen die na zijn dood verschenen.’

Secretaresse Anke de Roo, bij journalisten welbekend omdat wie Lubbers wilde benaderen bij haar uitkwam, is ook lid van het kleine clubje dat met de Lubberiaanse hiëroglyfen uit de voeten kan. ‘Op de computer deed hij weinig’, vertelt ze. Bij het beantwoorden van een mail lag wel zo ongeveer de grens. Alles ging met de pen.

Geert Mak is er omdat Lubbers en hij na een interview contact bleven houden en bevriend raakten. Ze deelden hun belangstelling voor Europa. ‘En ik heb hem weleens verteld dat hij zo op mijn broer lijkt, dat kan iets gedaan hebben.’ Ook Mak zette Lubbers tot schrijven aan.

Geen van Lubbers’ nakomelingen heeft politieke aspiraties. Kleindochter Emilie zegt dat opa haar voorhield dat ze beter wat kon doen waarmee je echt iets kan veranderen. ‘Dat vertelde ik premier Rutte op de begrafenis. Die moest lachen.’

Ria Lubbers vertrekt als een van de laatsten, stijf gearmd met zoon Paul. Dat het boek er nu ligt, is een opluchting, had ze gezegd. ‘Nu is er eindelijk ruimte om te rouwen.’


Denken als Elon Musk verklaart waarom iedereen bang is voor Musk

Boek (non-fictie) – Denken als Elon Musk


Erwin Wijman en Jeanine Blaauw

Haystack uitgevers;

176 pagina’s; euro 15.


Toen de baas van Boeing Dennis Muilenburg eind vorig jaar tweette dat zijn firma eerder een mens op Mars zal zetten dan SpaceX, het ruimtevaartbedrijf van Elon Musk, reageerde Musk op Twitter met twee woorden: Do it. Het is exact het plagerige, ironische antwoord dat je van Musk kunt verwachten als hij wordt uitgedaagd door de heersende machten.

Boeing is niet alleen ‘s werelds grootste vliegtuigbouwer, het maakt net als SpaceX ook raketten en ruimtecapsules. Alleen is Boeing met een omzet van 100 miljard dollar per jaar vele malen groter. Het ergert de grote jongens dat nieuwkomer Musk hen constant voorbijstreeft met zijn bedrijven. Eerder liet Mercedes-Benz al weten Tesla te beschouwen als zijn grootste concurrent op het gebied van elektrische auto’s. Niet BMW, niet Volkswagen of Audi. Tesla. Even later liet Ferrari zich in vergelijkbare bewoordingen uit over het bedrijf uit Fremont, Californië.

Iedereen is bang voor Musk, en met een reden. Blijkt uit deze, en de vele andere kleine anekdotes in het boekje Denken als Elon Musk van Erwin Wijman en Jeanine Blaauw, over de beroemde, bejubelde en gehate baas van SpaceX, Tesla en nog een stel techbedrijven. Wijman en Blaauw kijken met een marketingoog naar hoe Musk de zaken aanpakt en dat is lezenswaardig en vermakelijk. Het boekje leunt zwaar op de Musk-biografie van Ashlee Vance, maar is veel lekkerder geschreven.

Musk-exegeten zullen er geen letter nieuws in lezen. Maar voor uw oude vader die nu weleens het naadje van de kous wil weten over deze ‘romantische revolutionair’ annex onruststoker, is het een prima cadeau in een prettige prijscategorie. En dan krijg je nog de gebonden versie ook. Musk zou tevreden zijn.


Jewish man gets his German passport after 80 years.

A man wearing a kippah during an ordination ceremony at the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne, Germany. (INA FASSBENDER/REUTERS)

 April 6

Ralph Dannheisser is a retired journalist who covered Congress for Reuters and the U.S. Information Agency and was a reporter at the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Seventy-nine years, six months, 24 days. That’s the time that passed between my birth as a Jewish baby in Nazi Germany — a noncitizen — and the day just months ago that I, an American, acquired citizenship in a democratic Germany that seemed eager to welcome me as one of its own.

Citizenship had been stripped from my parents and grandparents in 1935, three years before my birth, by one of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws imposed by Adolf Hitler’s regime. Jews were classified as state subjects without the rights of racially “pure” Germans. By late 1938, with neighbors attacked on the streets and others mysteriously disappearing, and with synagogues throughout Germany pillaged and aflame, my parents realized they would have to leave to survive.

They were among the lucky ones: They found us temporary safety in a refugee camp in Rotterdam and were granted a U.S. visa in 1940. All of my grandparents also had emigrated to Holland but were trapped there by the Nazi invasion. All four were ultimately murdered in concentration camps, my mother’s parents at Sobibór and my father’s at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

With that history, it is easy to understand why so many survivors of the Holocaust could bear no renewed contact with Germany and have opted to never again set foot on German soil. But my response was different.

The postwar German government, as far back as the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949, embarked on a path of democratic governance and decency. And the Grundgesetz, or Basic Law, adopted that year contains a specific provision aimed at German Jews and others targeted by the Holocaust. “Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants,” it reads, “shall on application have their citizenship restored.”

In 2005, I made a week-long visit to my “home town” of Hamburg, courtesy of the city government. Hamburg and other major German cities hosted such group trips for former residents uprooted by the Holocaust to show the transformation from the Hitler era and the resurgence of Jewish life they seek to encourage. Besides the more conventional touring, we visited the new Jewish community center-to-be, attended Friday night religious services and, importantly, spoke about the Holocaust to non-Jewish high school students.

Of course, there was an element of public relations involved in the visit, and perhaps a desire by the new generation of Germans to expiate guilt for what their parents and grandparents had done. But doing right, it seems to me, deserves positive recognition regardless of the complicated motivations — and Germany was doing right. I began to consider claiming citizenship under the 1949 law.

I wouldn’t gain much in practical terms. Any benefit would pretty much be limited to the inconsequential — things such as being able to clear customs a bit faster at E.U. airports and easing travel to some countries that require a visa for U.S. citizens. And although my ultimate decision to apply for dual citizenship this past year was influenced by the U.S. election in 2016 (the new president and the intolerant attitudes he seemed to encourage made the clichéd expression “It can’t happen here” just a bit less certain), that factor was secondary.

Far more relevant was my feeling that, by claiming citizenship, I also could reclaim a bit of the humanity that was stolen from my parents and grandparents in the Nazi era.

As I mulled it all over, I reflected on my parents’ experience, and what their attitude might have been. Traumatized by the Nazi murders of their parents and other close family members, the loss of their friends and homes and possessions, they never considered recovering German citizenship. They died before the prospect became appealing to me. But I would like to think that my parents, who had defined themselves in equal measure by their Jewish and German identities, would have understood my decision.

Germany’s welcoming stance toward refugees under Chancellor Angela Merkel enhanced my appreciation further. And I was struck by the irony that the very country my parents and I had to flee almost 80 years ago was now acting in a much more humanitarian fashion than the country that had taken us in.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population of Germany had bounced back to about 200,000, from less than 40,000 five years after the war. Although I am deeply distressed by the revival of anti-Semitism — and now anti-Muslim bias as well — in Germany, throughout Europe and here at home, I am impressed by the stalwart, noisy opposition to that tide by democratic leaders such as Merkel.

So, on May 15 last year, I applied for citizenship under the Basic Law provision. Because of my age, approval came through from Bonn in late August — far short of the year-long wait that I was told is typical. A census report issued by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in 2016 shows that 638 Americanswere naturalized that year.

On Nov. 22, I headed to the German Embassy on Reservoir Road NW in Washington to receive my citizenship certificate and complete a passport application. (I received that German/E.U. passport just last month.) For the citizenship ceremony, my partner, Susan, and I were escorted to a conference room named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz und Gaffron, a pre-war German ambassador to the United States who resigned from the diplomatic corps in protest the day after Hitler was appointed chancellor.

Joining us at a table in the middle of the room were a young American-born family who qualified for automatic citizenship by being the grandson and great-grandchildren of a Holocaust survivor. (As my generation ages and dies off, the mix of applicants has shifted increasingly toward our children and grandchildren.)

The potential practical benefits for them were far more dramatic than the ones I was gaining. The children could receive their university education in Germany at no cost, or elsewhere in the European Union for far less than in the United States, and would be eligible to work almost anywhere in the nearly 30 E.U. countries.

The naturalization ceremony conducted for our little group by Holger Scherf, the German consul general in Washington, was simple but profoundly moving. He opened by acknowledging the mixed feelings we surely felt. “It’s not easy for you” to be entering into citizenship in “the country that took your family,” he said. And although the German government sought to “redress in part this injustice that has been done,” he said, it was clear that “this is not about forgive and forget.” Contrasting 21st-century Germany with the Nazi regime of the 1930s and ’40s, Scherf declared, “Today we are a completely different country, a welcoming, diverse country. Today we are an open society.”

Understandably, he cautioned that the memory of the Holocaust must be kept alive. (Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 12.) “Those who don’t remember are in danger of seeing things repeat,” Scherf said. And he quoted the late Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps: “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.”

As my choice to take on German citizenship was based on emotional and psychological rather than practical grounds, the ceremony and Scherf’s words made that decision seem right for me.

I remain immensely proud of being an American. And now, as I approach my 80th birthday at the end of the month, I finally can be proud of being a German as well.


Washington Post

%d bloggers like this: