Tag Archives: Donald Trump

This Is Our Challenge

Charles Blow is one of the very few columnists who almost always cuts to the very heart of an issue.  His clarity was particularly pronounced in his January 11th column, “The Lowest White Man.”

He began with a description of Donald Trump that mirrored what most sentient Americans already know:

I guess Donald Trump was eager to counter the impression in Michael Wolff’s book that he is irascible, mentally small and possibly insane. On Tuesday, he allowed a bipartisan session in the White House about immigration to be televised for nearly an hour.

Surely, he thought that he would be able to demonstrate to the world his lucidity and acumen, his grasp of the issues and his relish for rapprochement with his political adversaries.

But instead what came through was the image of a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

Blow acknowleged Trump’s antipathy  to people who are not white, but refused to attribute his intransigence about the wall to anything as coherent as bigotry, reminding readers that the original idea of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it was just a cheap campaign stunt. (Trump doesn’t have actual policy positions; that would require reading more than the chyron running on the screen beneath Fox and Friends.)

The column then asks and answers the real question, the one I’ve heard a million times–from family, from friends, from colleagues: why can’t his base see what we all see? How can anyone still support this pathetic buffoon?

That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson saidin the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

There is, of course, a copious history that prompted Johnson’s observation. Poor whites in the post Civil War South were kept compliant by reassurances that–no matter how wretched they were–they were better than those black people, and entitled to their superior status.

There are too many white guys, north and south, who still cling to the comforting belief that their skin color and male genitals make them better than those “others”–women, Jews, gays, immigrants, and even (as we have recently seen) Native Americans. But consistently and especially, black people.

They found Obama’s Presidency intolerable, and they are Trump’s committed base.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.

That belief, ultimately, is what the resistance is about. That is the worldview that absolutely must be left in the dustbin of history.

If We Have To Keep The Electoral College…

Discussions of Constitutional originalism tend to illuminate the very different meanings that different people ascribe to that term.

I’m currently reading “We the People” by Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of Berkeley’s law school, and I will return to the subject of “original intent” and his (and my) take on it once I’ve finished the book. But today, I want to propose an “originalism” experiment for those of us who are critical of the current, undemocratic operation of the Electoral College.

Democracy, of course, wasn’t the point of the College. But then, neither was its use as a partisan tool advantaging a reactionary political party, which is what it has become.

There’s a pretty robust consensus that a constitutional amendment simply getting rid of the Electoral College is unlikely to succeed, at least for the foreseeable future. And since some of the College’s most ardent defenders are also proponents of “originalism a la Scalia” (a legal approach so flawed that even Scalia couldn’t consistently apply it), I think we should begin a movement to make the College operate as originally intended.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution provided the original plan by which the electors voted for president. (Electors did not originally vote for vice president. The President would be the person who received a majority of votes from the electors, and the person receiving the second most votes would become vice president. That changed with the emergence of political parties, a phenomenon necessitating the 12th Amendment.)

Individual electors were supposed to be selected by a vote of citizens on a district-by-district basis, and were supposed to exercise their independent judgment when casting their votes for President. Wikipedia shares the following quote from Alexander Hamilton, describing the Founding Fathers’ “original intent” with respect to the electors:

A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated [tasks].

Over the years, the “original intent” of the Electoral College has been ignored.

Rather than electors who have been chosen by their neighbors to exercise their informed judgment on behalf of the citizens who chose them (and presumably knew who they were, either personally or by reputation), we now have slates of faceless elector candidates pledged to vote for their parties’ respective candidates. Most states also have passed laws prohibiting so-called “faithless electors”–that is, electors who exercise independent judgment and opt to vote for a candidate who did not win that state’s popular vote.

Does anyone believe that a majority of electors possessing “information and discernment” and exercising “independent judgment” would have cast their votes for Donald Trump? (Or for that matter, that such electors would have confirmed Florida’s “hanging chad” results?)

So here’s my proposal: If we must keep the Electoral College, by all means let’s start a movement to assure that it operates in a manner that is consistent with the Founders’ “original intent.”

Religious “Morality”

I get alternately amused and annoyed when self-identified “religious” folks question the morality of agnostics and atheists. How, they piously declaim, can one be moral without (their version of) God?

It’s pretty easy, actually.

Most of the nonreligious folks I know have thought deeply about the nature of morality and their ethical obligations to their fellow-humans. And my genuinely religious friends–who tend not to be among the self-righteous and self-congratulatory “Pence-ites”–are equally thoughtful. But lately, I’ve begun wondering just how those “Christian warriors” define the morality they’re so sure we nonbelievers don’t have.

Pat Robertson, for example, has weighed in on the issue of how America should respond to Saudi Arabia’s recent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

A major evangelical leader has spoken in defense of US-Saudi relations after the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, saying that America has more important things — like arms deals — to focus on.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, appeared on its flagship television show The 700 Club on Monday to caution Americans against allowing the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia to deteriorate over Khashoggi’s death.

“For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies,” Robertson said. While he called the faith of the Wahabists — the hardline Islamist sect to which the Saudi Royal Family belongs — “obnoxious,” he urged viewers to remember that “we’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

I’m going through the Christian bible right now, looking for the place where Jesus said that money from the sale of weapons with which to kill people takes priority over the sanctity of life. (Unless, I assume, it’s the life of a fetus…)

Robertson’s response is part and parcel of the fervid fundamentalist Christian support for Donald Trump–support that has generated numerous academic analyses and chattering class punditry  devoted to the question: how do these “family values” and “morality police” Christians explain their support for a man who exemplifies everything they previously professed to hate?

It isn’t just his personal immorality–three wives, multiple affairs (including with a porn star), bragging about sexual assault, constant bullying and even more constant (and obvious) lying. It’s also his business practices.

A recent article in The New Yorker provided evidence that fraud is at the heart of the Trump business model.

The Times published a remarkable report, on October 2nd, that showed that much of the profit the Trump Organization made came not from successful real-estate investment but from defrauding state and federal governments through tax fraud. This week, ProPublica and WNYC co-published a stunning storyand a “Trump, Inc.” podcast that can be seen as the international companion to the Timespiece. They show that many of the Trump Organization’s international deals also bore the hallmarks of financial fraud, including money laundering, deceptive borrowing, outright lying to investors, and other potential crimes.

Of course, my question is rhetorical. We all know why so many White Christian men (and the women they dominate) support Trump–he tells it like (they think) it is: they are superior by virtue of their religion, their genitals and their skin color, and so they deserve to keep a more privileged status than women and minorities.

There are lots of words that describe that attitude and that support, but “moral” isn’t one of them.

Is THIS The New World Order?

If the scenario of minority governance painted by Ezra Klein–about which I blogged a few days ago–persists, if the current iteration of the Republican Party continues to control all three branches of America’s government despite being the choice of a dwindling minority of America’s voters, what can we expect?

Rather obviously, we can anticipate tax and spending policies benefitting the rich and well-connected at the expense of the rest of us. And speaking of the rich and well-connected, there have recently been several reports involving rich and connected Erik Prince, and his “vision” of privatized warfare.

Prince is Betsy DeVos’ brother, and the former head of Blackwater. Actually, former is a misnomer: Blackwater still exists, but its name was changed after it became a dirty word.

According to the Washington Post, 

More than a year after his plan to privatize the Afghan war was first shot down by the Trump administration, Erik Prince returned late last month to Kabul to push the proposal on the beleaguered government in Afghanistan, where many believe he has the ear — and the potential backing — of the U.S. president.

That speculation continues, despite a statement from the President of Afghanistan to the effect that the country would “under no circumstances” allow the counterterrorism fight to become a “private, for-profit business.” American military figures are equally negative

At the Pentagon, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, told reporters that “I absolutely do not agree” with Prince’s contention that he could win the war more quickly and for less money with a few thousand hired guns.

In addition to such a plan violating signed agreements with the Afghan government, Votel said, “the most significant downside is that we turn our national interest over to contractors.” Quoting earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Votel said, “I don’t think this is a very good strategy.”

The fact that people who understand warfare are negative only goes so far with a President who thinks his gut knows more than “the generals” (or climate scientists, or economists, or pretty much anyone). The article notes the existence of

a widespread belief in Kabul and Washington that Prince has a willing audience in President Trump, who is known to be frustrated with the cost and slow progress of the strategy he adopted a year ago — a belief buttressed by the White House’s refusal to reject the idea out of hand.

The Afghans aren’t convinced;  Qadir Shah, spokesman for the country’s National Security Council, has been quoted as saying that Prince possesses a “colonialist type of arrogance” and is “a war profiteer who stands to make $10 billion a year from such a plan,” assessments that are hard to dispute.

Since severing his ties to Blackwater — the company he founded that was accused of heavy-handed practices, including the killing of civilians, while under U.S. contract in Iraq — Prince has cycled through several iterations of the same business and now runs a Hong Kong-based company called Frontier Services.

It isn’t simply that Prince is an out-and-out profiteer, an accused murderer, and as despicable as (although clearly brighter than) his sister. Privatizing war is a terrible idea, and we’ve already gone too far down that path. In 2005, I wrote a paper titled “Outsourcing Patriotism” about dubious practices during the Iraq War.

During that war, private corporations were the second biggest contributor to coalition forces after the Pentagon, and nearly a third of the budget earmarked that year for the war, or $30 billion dollars, went to private companies. Wherever possible, soldiers were replaced with highly paid civilians not subject to standard military discipline. As I noted at the time, whether such contractors are mercenaries (whose use is banned by the Geneva conventions) is one concern, but the practice raised much graver issues, among them whether the ability to “hire” soldiers allows policymakers to wage war by proxy and without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments are subject.

In such a world, Congressman X doesn’t have to come home and justify sending a constituent’s son or daughter to war. In such a world, lobbyists for companies being hired to fight  would agitate for military rather than diplomatic “solutions” to international issues. And in such a world, those companies would inevitably be available to the highest bidder, not just to the U.S.–and to the extent they employed former members of our armed forces, our tactics and capacities would become an open book our enemies could read.

But people like Erik Prince would make a lot of money. And idiots like Donald Trump wouldn’t understand why hiring soldiers wasn’t a great idea.

Proving Woodward’s Point

As I said yesterday, anyone who has watched this deeply dysfunctional President has come to the same conclusions Woodward attributes to Trump’s staff. But thanks to the very low levels of civic literacy in this country, it may not be apparent to everyone how profoundly his proposed actions violate the most basic of our constitutional premises.

A couple of examples from the Washington Post:

President Trump has long derided the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people” and lashed out at NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. On Tuesday, he took his attacks on free speech one step further, suggesting in an interview with a conservative news site that the act of protesting should be illegal.

Trump made the remarks in an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller hours after his Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, was greeted by protests on the first day of his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that,” Trump said. “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”

I rather doubt that the Daily Caller’s reporter asked the appropriate question: Are you aware that the First Amendment to the Constitution specifically protects the ability of citizens to “petition their government for redress of grievances?” (The Daily Caller is a  website founded by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Hence my assumption the reporter didn’t confront the President.)

It doesn’t really matter. Since Trump has given exactly zero evidence of ever having encountered the Constitution–let alone understanding it–I’m sure a reference to the First Amendment would have fallen on deaf ears.

In another Post column, David Von Drehle addressed the President’s utter contempt for the rule of law.

Here’s a question I never expected to ask:

Should law enforcement officials ignore crimes committed by their friends and associates?

I grew up thinking the answer was a simple no. The figure of Justice, with her scales in one hand and her sword in the other, wears a blindfold to symbolize her impartiality. Carved in stone over the doors of the Supreme Court are the words: Equal Justice Under Law.

As I got older and saw a few things, I came to understand that justice, as meted out by humans, is imperfect. Yet the principle of the matter — the goal for which we should aim and the standard by which we should measure — remains the same. Impartiality. Equality. Fairness.

So why am I asking?

On Labor Day, the president of the United States used Twitter to express precisely the opposite idea.

Von Drehle was referring to Trump’s angry eruption at the indictment of “two very popular Republican Congressmen.” He clearly believes that the role of the Justice Department is political, that since both he and Sessions are Republican, the department should protect Republican wrongdoing.

I don’t know what’s worse–that Trump would have such an uniformed view of what “law” means, or that he was willing to tweet his ignorance for the whole world to see. As Von Drehle concluded,

Nineteenth-century orator Robert Green Ingersoll once wrote, “Nothing discloses real character like the use of power.” In his pity for Paul Manafort, convicted tax cheat; in his hatred for truth-telling “rats” and “flippers”; and now in his assertion that the law should exempt his political allies, Donald J. Trump is disclosing his.

Sixty percent of us, plus or minus, noticed.