Tag Archives: Donald Trump

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.

 

 

Speaking Truth To Power–Very Softly

A number of Republicans who reluctantly voted for Donald Trump  in 2016 did so under the assumption that he would compensate for his lack of government knowledge and experience with solid appointments–people familiar with the ins and outs of governance, to whom he would listen and from whom he would learn.

To observe that that didn’t happen would be the understatement of the century.

Initially, Mr. My-gut-already-knows-everything-so-I-don’t-need-any-advice did include a few competent, ethical advisors among the crowd of sycophants, family members, know-nothings and outright gangsters he assembled, but those individuals are all long gone–frustrated by their inability to get through the grandiosity, bluster and mental issues in order to affect policy.

One of the frustrated individuals who departed was Jim Mattis, who has now written a book. Raw Story has a description.

Mattis shared an excerpt from his upcoming book “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” with the Wall Street Journal, which published an essay based on those writings that explains his decision to accept Trump’s offer to lead the Pentagon — and touches on his decision to step down.

“Using every skill I had learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could,” Mattis wrote. “When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution.”

The retired U.S. Marine Corps general took several veiled shots at the president, his domestic leadership and his understanding of the United States’ role in the world.

“Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither,” he wrote. “Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy.”

The article refers to Mattis’ shots as “veiled,” and that’s accurate. Mattis is clearly reluctant to follow in the path of other ex-employees, several of whom have written tell-alls after departing through the White House’s ever-revolving door. That said, it isn’t necessary to read between the lines in order to locate Mattis’ significant concerns about Trumpian foreign policy (if Trump’s global interactions can be dignified by calling them ‘policies’).

“At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering,” Mattis added. “A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of as many nations as we can make common cause with, we can better deal with this imperfect world we occupy together. Absent this, we will occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world.”

Mattis warned that Trump’s domestic leadership had ripped apart American unity, and he said that placed democracy itself in danger.

 “Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart,” he wrote. “What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.”

As I read these excerpts, I couldn’t help thinking how unlikely it is that the subjects of Mattis’ (entirely appropriate) concerns ever cross Trump’s mind.

If Mattis ever does write a tell-all, it will be well worth reading.

 

Trump’s Influence

Mass shootings and hate crimes have both increased since Donald Trump was elected. It is not a coincidence.

According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, the United States is continuing to experience a steady rise in hate crimes in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

The report compiles data collected at the city level for hate crimes as well as extremist activity, providing what Levin described as a “proxy” for information around the country.

Levin found that American cities are experiencing decade-high rates in hate crimes, after an eight percent increase in 2018 compared to the previous year.

The rise is occurring amid a broader decrease in crime and homicide rates, with white nationalists and far-right extremists continuing to be the “most ascendant” group behind violent extremism, the report found. The “overwhelming majority” of extremist domestic homicides in 2018 were committed “by white nationalist/far right sole assailants who attacked around the mid-term elections,” per the report.

“The overwhelming majority of declining extremist domestic homicides in 2018 were by white nationalist/far right sole assailants who attacked around the mid-term elections,” the report reads.

The data on hate crimes comes from 30 U.S. cities, assembled to provide a top-down view of the situation. Fourteen out of the 30 experienced decade-high rates of hate crime occurrences last year.

It no longer surprises us to learn, in the wake of a mass shooting, that the perpetrator was a member of one of America’s proliferating rightwing groups. In a post following the killings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Ed Brayton commented on the predictability of the discovery.

Here’s a shocker. The guy who shot up the Gilroy Garlic Festival (which I’ve attended before and it’s amazing) turns out to be a white supremacistwho posted anti-immigrant rhetoric on his social media and told everyone to read a book from the late 1800s that advocated violence based on eugenics and is a popular book among other white supremacists.

The shooter had posted diatribes asserting that only “strength and violence” determine morality, and referencing a book –“Right is Might”–that Brayton notes is “filled with misogynistic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and is a staple among neo-Nazis and white supremacists on extremist sites.”

This is not the least bit surprising. In 2018, 50 people were killed by domestic terrorists and the ADL reports that those acts of terrorism were “overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists” and that “White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.” In fact, all but one of those acts in 2018 was committed by a right-wing extremist and that one terrorist used to be a white supremacist and converted to Islamic extremism shortly before he went off.

Bloggers and political pundits have linked this increase in white supremacist mayhem to Trump and his rhetoric. Scholarship confirms the accusation. Recently, The Brookings Institution published an analysis well worth reading in its entirety. Noting that many observers have questioned the connection, they consulted the data.

It would be naïve to think that data will change many individuals’ minds on this topic, but nonetheless, there is substantial evidence that Trump has encouraged racism and benefitted politically from it….

There is a clear correlation between Trump campaign events and incidents of prejudiced violence. FBI data show that since Trump’s election there has been an anomalous spike in hate crimes concentrated in counties where Trump won by larger margins. It was the second-largest uptick in hate crimes in the 25 years for which data are available, second only to the spike after September 11, 2001….

The association between Trump and hate crimes is not limited to the election itself. Another study, based on data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 saw hate crime rates more than double compared to similar counties that did not host a rally.

Bottom line: 2020 will be a referendum on hate.

At this point, the Democrats could nominate a potted plant and it will have my vote.