Tag Archives: Trump

When He’s Right, He’s Right

David Brooks can be a maddening columnist. He is often thoughtful and perceptive; obviously highly intelligent and unfailingly civil, he rarely comes across as doctrinaire. On the other hand, he often produces analyses that are surprisingly naive and occasionally even uninformed.

I read his columns regularly, because when he’s right, he’s really right. (And to be fair, even with his more off-base musings, there are usually nuggets worth considering.)

In his December 7th New York Times column, Brooks didn’t just hit it out of the park, he hit it out of the county.

Brooks is an old-fashioned Republican, conservative in the principled, Burkean sense of that term. I will readily admit that even in my most conservative days, I’ve never fallen into that particular category. Unlike the white nationalists and other morally repugnant political figures who have hijacked conservatism, however, Burkean conservatism was an entirely respectable approach. I’ve watched Brooks wrestle with that hijacking, and watched his efforts to give positions with which he clearly differed an (unearned) benefit of the doubt.

His lede describes that attitude, which he attributes to a generalized category of “good Republicans.”

A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.

The column makes it pretty clear that Brooks has (finally!) turned a corner.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

In this week’s Times, Peter Wehner–once on the staff of the Reagan White House, and a proud conservative Evangelical–comes to much the same conclusion in a column titled “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.”

Brooks recognizes that the rot that now infects the entire GOP didn’t start with Trump.  With Sarah Palin and Fox News, the party traded a previous “ethos of excellence” for an “ethos of hucksterism.”

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

Compare the tax cuts of the supply-side era with the tax cuts of today. There were three big cuts in the earlier era: the 1978 capital gains tax cut, the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, and the 1986 tax reform. They were passed with bipartisan support, after a lengthy legislative process. All of them responded to the dominant problem of the moment, which was the stagflation and economic sclerosis. All rested on a body of serious intellectual work…

Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

As readers of this blog know, I was a Republican for 35 years. In 2000, I left. I realized that the party  for which I’d worked so long no longer existed; I said then (and continue to maintain) that I hadn’t left the party, the party had left me.

Brooks is not engaging in hyperbole in that last line. Every day, I run into good, thoughtful people I used to work with–in party politics, in municipal government–who echo his lament. They no longer see the GOP as a traditional political party with a political philosophy based on a distinctive moral vision. They certainly don’t see anyone pursuing excellence.

They see what David Brooks finally sees: an immoral cult pursing its tribal interests to the detriment of the country.

Jerusalem

From climate deniers who base their rejection of science on biblical passages, to the “pastors” who excuse Roy Moore by pointing out that Joseph was older than Mary (I am not making that up), to bakery owners who defend bigotry as “sincere religious belief,” America is awash with zealots who debase both authentic religion and core American values.

Which brings me to the Evangelical Christian Zionists who represent a disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters.

It is tempting to see Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem, a break with decades of American Middle-East policy, as a gift to the Evangelicals who believe that, in order to bring on the Rapture, Jews must be gathered in a secure Holy Land. (Lest anyone mistake this belief for pro-Jewish sentiment, they also believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.)

However, The Brookings Institution has a different explanation.

A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.

Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t all of the “Christian Zionist” variety.

Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.

So why is he taking a step that knowledgable advisors like Mattis are said to oppose, a step certain to destabilize one of the world’s most dangerous regions? Why take a step that will make his (ridiculous) promise of a “deal of the century” bringing lasting peace to the Middle East impossible?

From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.

The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.

But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else.

CNN agrees.

The ramifications of an embassy move would be felt far outside of Jerusalem. It would overturn 70 years of international consensus, and, many argue, would effectively signal the end of moves to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The status of Jerusalem is an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations between the parties, as part of a peace agreement. Moving the embassy is seen as America pre-judging that delicate issue. The obvious wisdom of leaving the issue open is why 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv–and none have embassies in Jerusalem.

In 1995, in response to intense lobbying by “pro-Israel” interests (including those Christian Zionists),  Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every President since then, Republican or Democrat, has refused to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, each of those Presidents has used a presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move.

 

A number of American Jewish organizations have criticized Trump’s decision, accusing the President of ignorance and of ‘irresponsible’ decision-making. Polls show only 20% of American Jews supporting this decision.

The eruptions throughout the Arab world that have already occurred as a result of Trump’s rash, uninformed announcement–and likely future reactions that will endanger Israel and trigger more violence– are among the many negative consequences of electing a profoundly unfit, uninformed, mentally-incompetent narcissist to the Presidency.

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Incompetence? Or Sabotage?

There’s an old saying that even paranoids have enemies.

When Trump appointed Mick Mulvaney to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–despite a provision in the law creating the Bureau that seems to vest appointing power in the departing head of that agency–I had a sudden epiphany. (Or–more probably–indigestion. But bear with me.)

When he was in Congress, Mulvaney voted in favor of killing the agency, which was created after the financial crisis to protect consumers and keep an eye on Wall Street. He has argued that the agency has too much power; he’s called its regulations “harsh.” In other words, he fits the profile of almost all Trump appointees: he wants to dismantle the agency he is being appointed to run.

Leave aside, for now, the lawsuit over this appointment. My “epiphany” isn’t about this particular appointment. In fact, it is a conspiracy theory–and I should be ashamed of entertaining it, but it seems so persuasive….

What if Putin really is blackmailing Trump? And what if he is demanding, as payment for his silence, the decimation of America’s federal bureaucracy?

Think about the people Trump has appointed. Betsy DeVos wants to destroy public education. Scott Pruitt wants to erase the EPA. Just this weekend, the New York Times ran a story about Tillerson’s hollowing out of the State Department. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to shrink or eliminate national monuments. Ajit Pai is intent upon repealing net neutrality. Don’t get me started on Sessions. In fact, every single person Trump has appointed has approached the job with a hatchet in hand.

I’ve previously attributed this continuing disaster to the profound incompetence that characterizes this administration. But really, mere incompetence can’t explain all this. Maybe it’s malevolence–his obsessive hatred of Obama and his determination to erase everything Obama did–but why would Trump deliberately and intentionally destroy the agencies of  federal government? Clueless as he is, even he would have to know that history wouldn’t be kind to an accident of the Electoral College who presided over the destruction of American government.

Putin is a terrible human being and a ruthless despot, but unlike Trump, he’s smart. The various ways in which Russia influenced our election were clever; we’ll never be able to calculate the actual effects of that stealth operation. Putin also knows that Russia could never defeat the U.S. militarily. Trump’s election victory was probably an unanticipated gift. If he really does have the goods on our unstable, needy, none-too-bright President, why not use that leverage to make Trump do his dirty work?

He wouldn’t have to deploy a single soldier….

We’ve already seen incalculable damage to  America’s profile abroad. We’ve already watched as Trump’s “troops” have undermined, understaffed and rendered impotent some of our most important federal agencies, dramatically weakening the country.

If all that isn’t the result of Putin blackmailing Trump, what could possibly explain it?

 

 

If It’s Mental Illness…

I always hesitate before blogging about guns, knowing that posting any opinion other than “yes, you have a constitutional right to pack heat whenever or wherever you want, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve beaten your wife” will generate howls of opprobrium and hysterical accusations that I want to disarm everyone.

But still.

The Orange Menace in the Oval Office is on record–well, on twitter–saying that America doesn’t have a gun problem, that what we do have is a mental health problem.

There are, of course, multiple available rebuttals to that statement. We might point out that other countries with similar percentages of mentally-ill citizens but fewer guns have dramatically fewer incidents of gun violence. We might point out that allowing civilians to own lethal assault weapons developed for warfare is evidence of a different sort of mental illness. We might point out that the Second Amendment doesn’t require a failure to differentiate between a hunting rifle and an AK-15.

Even if we ignore those arguments, we’re left with a question that our Tweeter-in-Chief conveniently ignored: if mass shootings are attributable to failures of our efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, why did he eliminate Obama’s restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness? (We do know the answer to that: Trump’s obsessive hatred of Obama and his fixation on erasing any and all measures attributable to his predecessor.)

As NBC reported in February,

President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

President Barack Obama recommended the now-nullified regulation in a 2013 memo following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six others dead. The measure sought to block some people with severe mental health problems from buying guns.

The GOP-led House and Senate obediently passed the bill nullifying the Obama-era measure, and officials of the NRA “applauded” the action.

Of course they did.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, called out Republicans over the move.

“Republicans always say we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the laws already on the books. But the bill signed into law today undermines enforcement of existing laws that Congress passed to make sure the background check system had complete information,” he said in an emailed statement.

So, welcome to the U.S. of A… On this Thanksgiving Day, feel free to express your gratitude for a country where any raving lunatic can legally buy a gun, and the twittering lunatic in the White House can launch nuclear weapons.

American exceptionalism, baby!