Tag Archives: Donald Trump

George Will On Our “Shabbiest” President

When one self-regarding man undertakes to analyze another, it can get interesting.

I typically find George Will to be just this side of insufferable. If we are talking about people who clearly take themselves way too seriously, he may well set the bar for the category. That said, he is clearly very intelligent, and occasionally he’s even insightful. (I’m told by baseball fans that his observations about the game are excellent.)

At any rate, his recent description of Donald Trump in “The Shabbiest U.S. President Ever” strikes me as “on the money.”

The current iteration of the Republican Party doesn’t escape Will’s wrath, and he’s properly scornful of the Senate’s unwillingness to act as part of an independent branch of government. But he saves most of his considerable vocabulary of insults for Trump.

The president’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of U.S. involvement. His protectionism — government telling Americans what they can consume, in what quantities and at what prices — completes his extinguishing of the limited-government pretenses of the GOP, which needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by “elites,” markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.

After 30 years of U.S. diplomatic futility regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the artist of the deal spent a few hours in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, then tweeted: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” What price will the president pay — easing sanctions? ending joint military exercises with South Korea? — in attempts to make his tweet seem less dotty?

Will spends a few sentences berating the media for its “lazy” fixation on “Trump as shiny object.” Then he gets serious.

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

Which is why this fountain of self-refuting boasts (“I have a very good brain”) lies so much. He does so less to deceive anyone than to reassure himself. And as balm for his base, which remains oblivious to his likely contempt for them as sheep who can be effortlessly gulled by preposterous fictions. The tungsten strength of his supporters’ loyalty is as impressive as his indifference to expanding their numbers.

This strikes me as an accurate–indeed, a perceptive– description.

I just can’t help wondering what a similarly penetrating examination of George Will would look like.

 

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.