Tag Archives: Trump

Transferable–and Not-So-Transferable–Skills

A recent article in the New York Times reflected upon Trump’s relationship with Steve Bannon (which appears to be unraveling). That article was one of many focusing on the disarray in the White House and the tensions between Bannon and the various others who have the President’s ear, and wouldn’t ordinarily prompt me to post.

But this paragraph caught my eye:

In a way, to believe in Mr. Bannon’s genius is to adopt the president’s belief in a sort of vulgar technocracy — the belief that the “best people” can solve any problem put in front of them, whether they have expertise in that field or not. A newspaper publisher can broker peace in the Middle East and revolutionize the government. A neurosurgeon can run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A life as a real estate mogul and celebrity businessman is adequate preparation for the presidency. But the ability to grab power does not grant the wisdom to wield it, and ungrounded grandiosity is just pretension.

During the campaign, I was constantly amazed by the number of people who appear to hold the belief that no special knowledge or experience is necessary to run a government agency-or for that matter, to run the government. They clearly believe that any reasonably savvy person (or in Trump’s case, anyone who can fog a mirror) can be President.

I watch television during my morning treadmill routine, and the other day I was struck by an ad for a window installer. He emphasized the length of time he’d been installing the product, and how important his knowledge and experience were.

May I point out that governing the United States is more complicated than installing double-paned windows?

Indianapolis once had a Mayor named Goldsmith who shared Mr. Trump’s evident belief that smart people can do any job, no matter how unrelated their prior education or experience. I still recall the woman with a distinguished scientific background who thought she’d been hired to oversee environmental assessments, and was astonished to discover she’d been hired to manage planning and zoning. (Because she was a smart person, she left.)

It’s bad enough that we have a President who substitutes arrogance for competence, but the problem is compounded by the fact that most of his personnel choices–in addition to lacking any relevant expertise–don’t appear to be all that smart, either. (Trump apparently confuses a willingness to flatter his already outsized ego with intelligence.)

We have a cabinet composed of people who have no idea how government works. The Secretary of State appears oblivious to the web of international agreements and protocols within which the United States is expected to operate. The Secretary of Education has never set foot in a public school; during her confirmation testimony, she displayed appalling ignorance of the most significant policy issues facing that department. But there is no humility accompanying her ignorance; instead, she comes armed with self-righteous hostility to the entire enterprise of public education.

There is the new head of the EPA, whose disdain for science and evidence (not to mention the agency he manages) is matched only by his regard for the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies. And the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who barely seems to understand what day it is, let alone the importance of HUD’s mission to neighborhoods in America’s cities.

Jeff Sessions does know how government works, of course; what recommended him to Trump appears to be his determination to reverse the progress made on civil rights–to further eviscerate the Voting Rights Act, encourage overreach by the police, and re-invigorate the drug war.

Most of the others are just as bad.

It’s not just that we have a self-aggrandizing buffoon in the Oval Office. We now have a government populated with–and being run by–dangerous ideologues with second and third-rate intellects who lack both relevant experience and any obvious willingness to learn, or to devote themselves to the tasks they’ve been assigned.

Our best hope actually lies in their incompetence. As Trump would say, SAD.

 

 

Environmentalism is About More than Climate Change

If  Saturday’s March for Science did just one thing, I hope it underlined the message that protecting the environment is about much more than climate change, critical as that issue is.

Do the climate change deniers at least believe that children in Flint, Michigan,  and East Chicago, Indiana should have lead-free water to drink? What about the rest of us? Should Americans continue to have routine access to safe, potable water? Breathable air? Toxin-free fruits and vegetables?

How do Republicans justify Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era regulation to protect U.S. waterways from coal mining operations? (I don’t know about you, but to me, “Let them drink coal ash” sounds even worse than “let them eat cake.”) What about the elimination of information on methane emissions, removal of the word “science” from the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology mission statement, and the promised roll back of auto pollution standards?

Huffington Post has published a list of Trump’s anti-environment measures in just the first 90 days of his administration.

I’d be interested in hearing Todd (don’t confuse me with the facts) Rokita’s justification for the administration’s refusal to ban an insecticide that, as extensive research has demonstrated, harms the developing brains of fetuses and children who eat food from plants treated with the compound.

Much of the EPA’s own research outlines chlorpyrifos’s adverse health effects. In 2016 the EPA reported“sufficient evidence” that low levels affect brain development and concluded that some American 1- to 2-year-old children are receiving up to 140 times what are considered safe levels in their food. The EPA has also reported elevated levels in water supplies and established that the compound adversely affects 1,778 out of 1,835 studied species of wild animals.

I’ve noticed that all those pious “pro life” Republicans lose their zealous commitment to the well-being of the fetus when the threat to the unborn must be balanced against the health of corporate bottom lines, rather than the health of the mother.

Trump has issued Executive Orders that would undo both the Clean Power Act and the Clean Water Act.  According to those much-maligned scientists, reducing the scope of the Clean Water Act as called for in the Executive Order risks seriously degrading waters used for swimming, fishing or drinking.

Speaking of Republicans, incomprehensible as it may seem today, it was a Republican President–Richard Nixon– who established the EPA that is under such relentless attack from today’s GOP.  As Nixon stated in his 1970 State of the Union address to Congress,

“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. … Clean air, clean water, open spaces – these should once again be the birthright of every American.”

Well, times (and the GOP) have certainly changed. As U.S. News recently reported,

Currently, there is a systematic attempt to undermine this legacy. President Donald Trump proposes to slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent and reduce its workforce by 3,200 employees – the harshest cuts in the agency’s history. But the environmental problems for which the agency is responsible have not shrunk or even stayed constant; instead they’ve grown significantly since the 1970s. The U.S. population has grown by over 100 million, economic activity has quadrupled, electricity use has tripled and the inventory of toxic substances has grown to over 85,000 compounds.

Every elected official who supports this assault on the EPA is supporting the presence of particulates, smog and greenhouse gases in the air we breathe, lead and coal ash in the water we drink, and toxic pesticides in the food we eat.

We need to challenge them to deny that.

Trump, Le Pen and Racism

On “Last Week Tonight,” his brilliant take on the world we inhabit, John Oliver spent considerable time discussing the upcoming French elections. The entire segment is worth watching–it’s informative as well as hilarious (if depressing can be hilarious)–but one quote really struck home.

“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America, is this feels a little like deja vu,” Oliver warns, “A potentially destabilizing populist campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric who rages against the elites despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth, even as experts reassure us that there is no way that this can possibly happen.”

Anyone who has watched the “evolution” of Le Pen’s movement over the years, from her father’s forthright Nazi-ism to her smoother delivery of White Supremacist bigotry, understands the extent to which the upcoming election is a referendum on the extent of French racist sentiment.

Deny it as we might, Americans watching the French political drama unfold have just held a similar referendum.

Media pundits and “serious” political commentators have resisted attributing Trump’s electoral college victory to racism, offering a number of alternative explanations: economic distress in the heartland, Hillary hatred, authoritarian tendencies. Recent research, however, confirms what many of us saw during the campaign–the unsettling resonance of barely veiled racist appeals.

In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Wood, a political science professor at Ohio State, mined newly available data.

Last week, the widely respected 2016 American National Election Study was released, sending political scientists into a flurry of data modeling and chart making.

The ANES has been conducted since 1948, at first through in-person surveys, and now also online, with about 1,200 nationally representative respondents answering some questions for about 80 minutes. This incredibly rich, publicly funded data source allows us to put elections into historical perspective, examining how much each factor affected the vote in 2016 compared with other recent elections.

Wood evaluated the evidence for the income and authoritarian hypotheses, and found them insufficiently predictive. He then looked at the data measuring racial resentment.

Many observers debated how important Trump’s racial appeals were to his voters. During the campaign, Trump made overt racial comments, with seemingly little electoral penalty. Could the unusual 2016 race have further affected Americans’ racial attitudes?…

Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions. The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.

The statistics told the story.

Finally, the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the SRS scale made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.

The unexpected results of the Brexit vote in England have been widely attributed to anti-immigrant bias. Le Pen’s appeal is explicitly racist and nationalist, and she is expected to easily make the run-off in France’s upcoming election. In the United States–long considered a beacon of inclusivity, despite our frequent lapses–the electorate ignored the terrifying personal and intellectual deficiencies of a candidate who appealed to their tribalism and racial resentments.

Are these events– and others, like the Turkish election– evidence of the decline of cosmopolitanism, and a global triumph of tribalism? If so, what happens next?

 

A Good Question–And Some Dispiriting Answers

A recent article in the New Yorker raised a troubling question: How is it that an Administration as disorganized as Donald Trump’s has been so methodical when it comes to attacking the environment?

Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”

The list of steps that the Trump Administration has already taken to make America polluted again is so long that fully cataloguing them in this space would be impossible.

The author did follow that disclaimer with a long list of actions that were increasingly depressing as I read them. And she pointed out that the Administration’s horrendous budget proposal would  slash the E.P.A.’s budget by thirty-one per cent–more than it proposes reducing the State Department’s budget (twenty-nine per cent) or the Labor Department’s (twenty-one per cent).

The proposed cuts would entail firing a quarter of the agency’s workforce and eliminating many programs entirely, including the radiation-protection program, which does what its name suggests, and the Energy Star program, which establishes voluntary efficiency standards for electronics and appliances.

These initiatives are, of course, insane. But so much of Trump and his Keystone Kop Administration is insane. What is particularly worrisome is that in this one area, the Administration appears to be moving effectively to accomplish its goals. (I’ve been counting on the disarray and incompetence of the Trump White House to blunt the effect of his actions.)

How is it that a group as disorganized as the Trump Administration has been so methodical when it comes to the (anti) environment? The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. …

But, while money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. There’s arguably more money, in the long run, to be made from imposing the regulations—from investing in solar and wind power, for example, and updating the country’s electrical grid. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Amanda Erickson proposed an alternative, or at least complementary, explanation. Combatting a global environmental problem like climate change would seem to require global coöperation. If you don’t believe in global coöperation because “America comes first,” then you’re faced with a dilemma. You can either come up with an alternative approach—tough to do—or simply pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

We evidently live in a world where significant numbers of people would rather make the planet unlivable for their children and grandchildren than face unpleasant realities or co-operate with Others.

I find this incomprehensible. And deeply worrisome.

Encouraging Signs

Doctors and psychologists are reporting spikes in depression and other psychosomatic responses among the general citizenry in response to the daily reports of dysfunction, corruption and regression in Washington.

Those responses are understandable. But as I keep reminding myself, the news isn’t all bad. We are seeing a genuine resurgence of civic engagement at a level I have never previously seen, and there are growing indications that announcements of the death of journalism may also have been premature.

Despite concerns that “outrage fatigue” would cause activism to dwindle, groups opposed to Trumpism have continued to proliferate–even in red states like Indiana.

For example, Women4Change Indiana was formed immediately after the election. It has four task forces, focused upon guaranteeing the dignity and safety of all women, especially in regard to sexual assault, reproductive health, and LGBTQ rights; mentoring and empowering women to achieve greater political leadership; fighting racism and promoting civility in political discourse; fighting against gerrymandering and voter suppression and improving civics education.

Formed just five months ago, it currently has 14,000 members across the state. In Indiana.

In even more good news from Indiana; “old school” Republicans (not old chronologically, just advocates for what used to be Republican values) have formed a group called “Enterprise Republicans,” which they describe as “diverse and inclusive” and devoted to protecting the human rights of all Hoosiers. I’m told they plan to primary selected Republican culture warriors, a welcome tactic in Indiana, where gerrymandering has created so many safe Republican seats that there has been no politically realistic way to effectively counter the most rabid rightwing zealots.

Then there’s journalism. According to the Washington Post,

The philanthropy established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar will contribute $100 million to support investigative journalism, fight misinformation and counteract hate speech around the world…

“We think it’s really important to act now to keep dangerous trends from becoming the norm,” Stephen King, who heads the Omidyar Network’s civic engagement initiative, told The Washington Post in the philanthropic group’s first public comments on the three-year funding commitment….

The newly announced funding is intended to address “a worrying resurgence of authoritarian politics that is undermining progress toward a more open and inclusive society,” said Omidyar Network managing partner Matt Bannick.

The network is also concerned about the declining trust in democratic institutions around the world, including the news media, he said.

“Increasingly, facts are being devalued, misinformation spread, accountability ignored and channels that give citizens a voice withdrawn,” he said. “These trends cannot become the norm.”

The story–which is very encouraging–ended with a recitation of other philanthropic efforts to bolster legitimate journalism and combat “alternative facts.”

On Monday, a group including Facebook and Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, announced the News Integrity Initiative, a $14 million effort to advance news literacy and increase trust in journalism. It will be based at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism in Manhattan.

And last month, the Democracy Fund and First Look Media, both founded by Omidyar, announced that they would award $12 million to news organizations including the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica.

We can only hope that these efforts reach the Indianapolis Star at some point….

There are also encouraging signs that local governments are stepping up to address pressing issues. Cities across the globe have increased their efforts to protect the environment and advance social justice.  Cityscope reports that in Toronto, for example, the city is using its contracting clout to encourage the employment of disadvantaged populations, and cities in the U.S. are looking to follow suit. Cities are protecting immigrants, addressing police misconduct (even as Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department retreats from Obama-era oversight agreements), and investigating  other ways to compensate for the damage being done in Washington.

The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question, of course, is whether these efforts, and the many other promising movements and activism tools that are emerging, will be able to turn a very threatening tide of authoritarian incompetence.

As David Brooks wrote this week, in a scathing (and laugh-out-loud funny) column,

The human imagination is not capacious enough to comprehend all the many ways the Trumpians can find to screw this thing up.

It’s We the People versus the Trumpians, and I wouldn’t count us out.