Tag Archives: Donald Trump

So Much Winning…

The Guardian recently made awards to the very worst “leaders” in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a pretty substantial list, beginning with announcement that the UK’s Neville Chamberlin award would go to Boris Johnson, and proceeding through several others ( the “Tiger Woods award for making us feel we barely knew you” went to the whole country of Sweden, and the “Walking Dead Award for Reminding Human Beings Our Greatest Threat is One Another” to the anti-lockdown protestors in the US), before landing on the Grand Prize Winner–no surprise there–Donald Trump.

Like Boris Johnson, he ignored international warnings about the coronavirus when meaningful action could have slowed its spread. He held public rallies even while experts begged for social distancing. He’s used press conferences to attack reporters, repeat lies and push treatments that some studies now suggest may be unproven cures at the same time he’s demanded praise. He’s promoted people who don’t know what they’re doing, allowed the demotion of others who desperately do, he’s abused leaders who’ve taken responsibility for their citizens, and adamantly taken none himself. He’s talked about his TV ratings while Americans were buried in mass graves.

The only award in which he’s not competitive is one for failing to meet expectations – because nobody who’s watched Trump for five consistent minutes is surprised by this disaster at all. America outstrips the world for coronavirus infection. There have been more than 842,000 cases there. More than 46,000 Americans are dead.

Donald, you blitzed this competition. It’s your crowning achievement! Now, go put a glittering corona on your head!

And that was written before he suggested injecting disinfectants….

Trump’s incompetence and corruption are no surprise to people who follow the news, but even Americans who are charitably referred to as “low information voters” can hardly help being aware of just how badly this sad, mentally-ill buffoon is performing.

Which brings me back to my recurring, unfathomable question. Why does anyone still support him?

It’s a question I see frequently in my Facebook feed; a mystery we talk about with friends and family. The easy answer, of course, is that these are uneducated or stupid people who occupy an “alternative fact” universe. Unkind–and unhelpful– as that description is, it probably does describe the sorts of people we saw pictured with misspelled signs and AK-14s at the demonstrations protesting pandemic shutdowns. On the other hand, there are clearly some intelligent, educated people who continue to defend this horrific administration, and who continue to support this demonstrably insane President.

Some, of course, are plutocrats and other beneficiaries of fiscal favoritism who care about nothing but their own pocketbooks. What about the others?

The social science research that has been done in the wake of the 2016 election confirms a strong relationship between what scholars delicately call “racial resentment” and support for Trump.

Obviously, not every Trump voter in 2016 was a White Nationalist, but fear of being “replaced,” of losing White Christian male privilege, is really the only available explanation for the continued fidelity of those not on the “payroll” who recognize his personal deficits and abysmal performance and nevertheless still support him.

I hate the conclusion I’ve reached. I hate what it suggests about a significant percentage–fortunately not a majority–of my fellow Americans.

As the pandemic has dragged on, so many Americans are demonstrating what is best about us–compassion, charity, creativity and a recognition that we are all–all– in this together. My hope is that these are the Americans who will turn out in massive numbers to vote blue in November.

About that vote…

David Sedaris recently had the perfect rejoinder to those who respond to “vote blue no matter who” by pointing to the (undeniable) faults of those imperfect Democrats. I think he said it all:

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

 

 

We Need Reassurance And This Isn’t It….

A number of media outlets have recently reported that Jared Kushner has been “tasked” with oversight of the administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

That’s evidently in addition to his “task” of bringing peace to the Middle East, and Vice President Mike Pence’s “task” of heading up the dysfunctional White House pandemic Task Force. Two recent columns have addressed this latest assignment handed to Wonder Boy, both by New York Times columnists.

I usually find Maureen Dowd too self-consciously cute for my tastes, but her column on Trump, Kushner and the pandemic is dead-on. She spent the bulk of her column inches on Trump’s incompetence, but it was her description of Kushner that resonated with me.

At the Thursday briefing, the president brought out another wealthy, uninformed man-child who loves to play boss: Jared Kushner. Where’s our Mideast peace deal, dude? Surely Trump did not think giving Kushner a lead role would inspire confidence. This is the very same adviser who told his father-in-law early on that the virus was being overplayed by the press and also urged him to tout a Google website guiding people to testing sites that turned out to be, um, still under construction.

Now he is leading a group, mocked within the government as “the Slim Suit crowd,” that is providing one more layer of confusion — and inane consultant argot — to the laggardly, disorganized response.

From the lectern, Kushner drilled down on his role as the annoying, spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made. “And the notion of the federal stockpile was, it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

There has been a predictable uproar over Kushner’s description of “our stockpile,” but it was precisely the sort of arrogant ignorance that we’ve come to expect from someone  perfectly described as the “annoying spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made.”

Michelle Goldberg’s column was a more serious analysis of the insanity of Jared’s most recent “tasking.” Here’s her lede:

Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

As Goldberg notes, Jared Kushner has had exactly three”successes” thus far in his life: being born to rich parents, marrying well, and influencing his father-in-law.  Other endeavors —” his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.”

(No wonder he gets along so well with Trump–they have similar trajectories…and similar delusions of competence. But I digress.)

“Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The author of a book about the Kushner family described Jared thusly: “he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Like his father-in-law. (In the quotable words of Rick Wilson, “Everything he touches dies.”)

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Now, in our hour of existential horror, Kushner is making life-or-death decisions for all Americans, showing all the wisdom we’ve come to expect from him.

I have repeatedly described Trump’s White House as a cross between the Keystone Kops and the Mafia. To which I should add that all of them are walking, talking illustrations of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Gee–I wonder why I’m not reassured….?

 

 

Emily Post Would Be Horrified

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day. One of my friends had posted a recent example of Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling, and one of his friends had commented that “you can buy education, but you can’t buy class.”

So true.

Class doesn’t require money, or a privileged upbringing. There isn’t even a correlation. (Barack Obama oozed class; his “Look at me, I’m rich” successor is wholly without it.) In this usage, it refers to that old-fashioned thing we used to call manners.

Time Magazine recently had an article about Emily Post, whose name has come to be identified with proper decorum, and it reminded us that “good manners” don’t have anything to do with which fork to use or the proper way to address nobility. Post made it very clear that people who thought wealth or status entitled them to count themselves among the classy elite were wrong.

She insisted that good breeding was far more than knowledge of, and compliance with, the rules: “Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it take to exclude those who are not of exulted birth; but it is an association of gentle folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognize it’s chosen members.”

It’s hard to read this description about who qualifies to be considered in Post’s “Best Society” without recognizing how completely it is at variance with the behavior of Donald Trump, who could never be accused of “good form” in speech, who is the antithesis of charm, who displays no knowledge of social amenities–and who has never publicly displayed the slightest consideration, instinctive or not, for the feelings of anyone.

[Post] also recommended ignoring “elephants at large in the garden,” otherwise known as wealthy know-it-alls: “Why a man, because he has millions, should assume they confer omniscience in all branches of knowledge, it something which may be left to the psychologist to answer.”

Emily Post, meet the Dunning-Kruger effect!

This is what confounds me: I understand partisanship; I understand that placing “conservatives” on the Court is important to religious fundamentalists, and that tax breaks are catnip to the greedy rich. I understand that Trump’s racist promises to expel immigrants and harass Muslims resonated with the substantial number of voters who are also racist.I am prepared to believe that people who wanted these outcomes held their noses and voted for the vulgarian who promised them.

But we have had three years of acute embarrassment, three years of Presidential behaviors that most people would punish their children for exhibiting. Is this the face of America that these voters want the world to see? Aside from the massive amounts of substantive harm being done by this buffoon and his corrupt and inept administration, there is the less quantifiable–but no less real– damage being done to America’s image, at home as well as abroad.

Our children see the head of state modeling behaviors we want them to avoid: bullying, lying, tantrums, self-aggrandizement, aggressive ignorance. (And if the President of the United States can’t spell or construct a grammatical or articulate sentence, why should they have to learn?)

Our allies are horrified–and wonder if this administration is an aberration, or whether America is no longer to be trusted.

And yet, his “base” continues to support him.

Emily Post would be appalled. I certainly am.

 

 

A Different Kind Of Coup

Remember Darth Vader–aka Dick Cheney–and his theory of the “unitary executive”? Cheney wasn’t the only devotee of expanded power for the Presidency–it turns out that William Barr is a true believer, and far more dangerous than most of us previously realized.

A recent article in the American Prospect is chilling.

I have Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Donald Trump said in a recent speech to a far-right-wing campus organization. Trump is not a constitutional scholar, and he would not care at all about “constitutional architecture” were he not president. So where did this sweeping claim to executive power come from?….

But for Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, and others on the right, the effort to take power for the president from the courts and especially from Congress has been a 40-year project. Barr and his comrades may find statements like “I have Article II” crass and narcissistic, but in their view Trump is generally correct. Executive power maximalists argue that the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution was to create a strong president with concentrated power and a largely advisory Congress.

The author notes that the most dangerous presidential power–and one that Trump’s lawyers are currently asserting– is the power to withhold information from Congress and the American people.

Neither Congress nor the courts nor voters can effectively check power abused in secret. And Congress’s power to require information from the president may be the power most difficult to reclaim if Congress yields that power in a tactical retreat in advance of the 2020 election.

Evidently, the expansion of presidential power–and the corresponding evisceration of Congressional authority–has been a 40-year mission for William Barr.

Barr (one of the original founders of the Federalist Society) worked in the Reagan White House with a group of lawyers who argued that the presidency had improperly lost constitutional powers after Watergate. Edwin Meese even asserted that the president could disregard Supreme Court decisions with which he disagreed.

Even very conservative legal scholars consider these assertions unfounded, and there is virtually nothing in the historical record that would support them. (The entire point of  “checks and balances” was to thwart an internal “coup” that would turn the president into either a monarch or a servant of Congress.)

After efforts by Reagan’s lawyers to challenge Congressional oversight failed in the Supreme Court,

Barr wrote and circulated throughout the executive branch a militant memorandum entitled “Common Legislative Encroachments on Executive Branch Authority.” The memo called for aggressive challenges to Congress’s claims to authority: “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”

As the author notes,

The bread and butter of congressional oversight of the executive branch is to examine executive branch actions and the reasons for those actions. According to Barr, none of that is any of Congress’s business.

Throughout his Executive Branch service, Barr–together with Cheney– has insisted that the President can ignore not only Congressional demands for information, but laws with which he disagrees.

The entire article is worth reading, because it gives needed context to the otherwise inexplicable behavior of William Barr today–behavior that is causing significant morale problems among the professionals at DOJ.

The following paragraphs are representative.

BARR WAS OUT OF GOVERNMENT through the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama presidencies, but remained a constant presence in rightist legal circles. On June 8, 2018, Barr sent an unsolicited memo to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general to whom Robert Mueller then reported, and to Steve Engel, who headed the OLC, entitled “Re: Mueller’s ‘Obstruction’ Theory.” Trump’s firing of Jim Comey as director of the FBI could not be obstruction of justice regardless of Trump’s motives, Barr argued, because the president’s power to remove executive branch officials is “illimitable.”….

BARR AND OTHERS ON THE RIGHT have sought relentlessly for four decades to concentrate power in the president and strip power from Congress. Barr’s legal arguments sound haughty and scary to all but the most ardent Trump supporters. But Barr is committed to presidential power with or without legal authority and with or without public support. And he will advance presidential power by any means necessary, which includes frivolous legal arguments and dilatory tactics forbidden by court rules and canons of legal ethics, and false testimony forbidden by criminal law.

I can’t imagine what philosophy of government would lead someone to Barr’s conclusions, but it is abundantly clear that he represents a clear and present danger to the Constitution as it exists, and to the Separation of Powers it clearly requires.

His attacks on separation of church and state are equally dangerous, but that is an issue for another day…

 

 

Impeachment And The Economy

In a recent column, Paul Krugman opined that–among other benefits that some of us see (like potentially ridding ourselves of a severely mentally-ill President who has the launch codes)–the Impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats in the House will be good for the economy.

This seemed counterintuitive, since we have always heard that the markets respond negatively to uncertainty–and as we are seeing, Trump’s behavior when he is cornered is nothing if not unpredictable.

Krugman’s column anticipated Pelosi’s announcement, but applauded Impeachment’s probable effect on the economy.

If there’s one thing the tweeter in chief believes, it is that what’s good for Donald Trump is good for America. A little over a month ago (although it seems like much longer) he told a rally that “you have no choice but to vote for me,” because his electoral defeat would lead to a market crash.

But a funny thing has happened over the course of Trump’s latest terrible, horrible, very bad, no good two weeks. Suddenly, impeachment (though not removal from office) has gone from highly unlikely to highly likely. In fact, given the explosive nature of the now-revealed whistle-blower complaint, I don’t really understand how he can not be impeached.

And the financial markets have basically shrugged.

As Krugman notes, on the surface, this is strange. No matter what the outcome of the Impeachment proceedings, while they are going on, they are pretty much the only game in town: little or nothing else will happen. The administration’s legislative agenda will come to a screeching halt. Why doesn’t this worry investors?

The answer is, “What legislative agenda?”

Even when Trump’s party controlled both houses of Congress, he had only two major legislative initiatives. One was a big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that will generate trillions in deficits but doesn’t seem to have done much for the economy. The other was an attempt to take away health insurance from around 30 million Americans, which didn’t pass.

It’s pretty obvious that, between watching Fox News and tweeting, Trump has had very little time for legislating, or for that matter, governing. (He has also given us ample reason to believe he has absolutely no idea how government works or how legislation is passed, which may explain his disinterest in both.)

To be fair, legislation isn’t the only way presidents can make policy, and the prospect of impeachment will probably exert a chilling effect on Trump’s ability to pursue policy through executive fiat. But here’s the thing: Since most of what Trump is trying to do is bad for America, whatever paralysis impeachment may induce is all to the good.

For Trump has, in effect, been waging a war on competence.

We’ve noticed.

In Trump’s vision of government, career diplomats who do actual diplomacy, experienced regulators who actually try to enforce regulations, researchers who produce objective data — up to and including weather forecasters whose predictions he doesn’t like — are all part of a deep state that’s out to get him. So Trump officials have been engaged in a systematic campaign to degrade America’s Civil Service, driving out people who know what they’re doing and replacing them with political hacks.

I’ve encountered a few members of Trump’s base, and their justifications for supporting him are consistent with Krugman’s description. Only “elitists” believe that people in government actually need to know something about governing, or  have experience or expertise in the subject-matter with which they are engaged. Any businessperson–well, any white businessman— can run  government.

Hell, you don’t need no fancy-shmancy degrees or experience. Just look at all those “best people” that Trump’s installed who are getting rid of all those silly rules and regulations that just get in the way of making a profit.

As Krugman says,

An impeachment inquiry will surely have a chilling effect on the Trumpian project of government degradation. It may not come to a dead halt, but Trump’s team of cronies will be distracted; they will be less brazen; they will be worrying about more potential whistle-blowers going public about what they’re doing.

In short, paralysis can be a very good thing. I’m rooting for it.