Tag Archives: incompetence

How We Got Here

As usual, Paul Krugman is both blunt and correct: How did we get here?

The core story of U.S. politics over the past four decades is that wealthy elites weaponized white racism to gain political power, which they used to pursue policies that enriched the already wealthy at workers’ expense.

Until Trump’s rise it was possible — barely — for people to deny this reality with a straight face. At this point, however, it requires willful blindness not to see what’s going on.

For three plus years, credible/mainstream media sources have treated Trump as a legitimate–if unfit–Chief Executive, and the GOP as a normal political party. That approach  finally seems to be giving way to a recognition that–as the saying goes– we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Genuine conservatives are appalled, as they should be; they understand that the appropriation of the label by would-be fascists will make it immeasurably more difficult to rebuild a responsible–or even civilized– GOP.

In the same issue of the New York Times that carried Krugman’s column, conservative columnist Bret Stephens described Trump’s worse-than-tone-deaf response to the protests: “Empathy is a word he can’t define, compassion an emotion he can’t experience, humility a virtue he can’t comprehend and kindness an act he will never undertake.”

In a column for the Washington Post, George Will–someone with whom I have rarely agreed–noted that there is “no bottom” to Trumpian awfulness, and insisted that we must defeat not just Trump but his enablers.

This unraveling presidency began with the Crybaby-in-Chief banging his spoon on his highchair tray to protest a photograph — a photograph — showing that his inauguration crowd the day before had been smaller than the one four years previous. Since then, this weak person’s idea of a strong person, this chest-pounding advertisement of his own gnawing insecurities, this low-rent Lear raging on his Twitter-heath has proven that the phrase malignant buffoon is not an oxymoron.

The Lincoln Project, formed by “Never Trump” Republicans, has aired some of the most hard-hitting ads highlighting Trump’s racist appeal.

As bad as it has been, things are now getting much, much worse.

I have previously characterized this administration as a marriage of the Mafia and the Keystone Kops. But I omitted the Brown Shirts.

Krugman’s column focuses on the way the Mafia contingent has used and abused the Keystone Kop contingent. Will and several other commentators from varying political perspectives have focused on the ineptitude, ignorance and (almost) comical incompetence of Trump and his cronies–the behaviors that remind me so forcefully of the Keystone Kops.

But the administration’s appalling response to the protests reminded me that there is a far more threatening parallel: the genuine “thugs” who are all too eager to smash and burn and incite, to turn peaceful demonstrations into justifications for imposing a police state that would protect white supremacy.

The demonstrations and chaos have reminded many of us oldsters of the rioting and mayhem that took place in the 60s. However, unless my memory is faulty–which is certainly possible– there are some very significant differences.

When I see the television coverage and cellphone videos of the current protests, I see an enormous white presence–it often seems 50/50–evidence that many, many white people understand (as those saccharine TV commercials during the Coronavirus conclude) “we are all in this together.”

Interestingly, in the videos I have seen of people breaking windows and looting, more than half of those caught on camera have been white. (Trump says they are “Antifa;” it is far more likely that they are his storm troopers.)

The final difference: Nixon may have been a crook. He was certainly paranoid, racist and anti-Semitic. But next to Trump, he was a paragon of benign sanity.

How these differences will play out depends on how many Americans–covertly or overtly–sympathize with the Storm Troopers, and how many understand that we really are all in this together.

I think it was Mark Twain who said history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It’s up to us to make sure that this rhyme ends on a positive note.

 

 

 

Yes, Donald, It Is Your Fault

I still remember being furious with my middle son over something (a high school test he’d blown off, as I recall); I was beginning a long “motherly” diatribe when he absolutely shut me down by saying “yes, it was my fault.”

Admitting when one is wrong isn’t just a sign of maturity–although it is certainly that. As my son had figured out, it’s also an effective counter to other people’s anger. That’s one of the many, many things our profoundly immature President doesn’t get.

In the Washington Post, Paul Waldman recently noted an exchange between a (simpering) Maria Bartiromo and Trump, in which Trump insisted that “no one” blames him for the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic.  And of course, he has also disclaimed any and all responsibility for the spread of the virus–it was The W.H.O. or the CDC or China, or his favorite target, Obama.

Medical professionals beg to differ.

My cousin, a cardiologist, recently blogged about a recent editorial in the Lanceta well-regarded medical journal.  The editorial pinned responsibility squarely on the Trump administration for its  marginalization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It called the extent of that marginalization dangerous for both the U.S. and the world. In the editorial, the journal pled with Americans to put a president in the White House who will understand that “public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” and enumerated the ways in which the Trump administration had weakened the agency.

As Waldman pointed out, absolving Trump of responsibility for our economic disaster requires accepting the “misleading formulation” that we must choose between saving lives or reopening the economy. In his opinion,

this depression is absolutely Trump’s fault. He made a series of disastrous decisions that led us to this point, and other countries that have had far different experiences illustrate what might have happened if we had a president who wasn’t so utterly incompetent…we lost two months when we could have been preparing for the pandemic that would inevitably arrive in the United States. Though Trump was repeatedly warned by people inside and outside his administration beginning in early January that a pandemic was on its way, he continued to dismiss the threat, praise the Chinese government for its response and insist that there was nothing to worry about.

It is now late May, and the U.S. still doesn’t have a national testing and tracing strategy to contain the pandemic. Meanwhile, Waldman points to the experience of countries fortunate enough to have competent leadership.

South Korea saw its first case of covid-19 on the same day we did, Jan. 20. But its government acted quickly with an aggressive program of testing and tracing to contain the spread. The result is that, as of this writing, we have nearly 85,000 deaths, while South Korea has just 260.

Like us, South Korea is facing economic challenges stemming from the pandemic. But its unemployment rate in April was 3.8 percent.

To take another example, Germany has been hit harder than many places by the virus. The Germans have recorded a few less than 8,000 deaths — a lot, but still only about a third as many as the United States on a per capita basis. But because Germany had a system in place in which the government covers payrolls in an emergency, its unemployment rate is only 5.8 percent, while ours heads past 20 percent.

I have a son who lives in Amsterdam. The Netherlands, like Germany, has covered payrolls, and is projecting an eventual “cataclysmic” unemployment rate of something under 9%. (The Netherlands also keeps its infrastructure in tip-top shape, but that’s a matter for a different rant.)

Waldman says our disastrous situation could have been avoided “if Trump wasn’t so shortsighted, so ignorant, so inept and so unwilling to believe what experts were telling him.”

True. And if he wasn’t a walking, incessantly-talking illustration of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or even if he was enough of an adult to acknowledge when he was wrong. But then, he’d be a different person.

A functioning adult.

The Math of Politics

Life in the U.S. these days is dispelling a number of previously accepted “truths”–and not just the widespread belief in American “can-do” spirit and competence.

Those of us who have spent a significant portion of our adult lives in politics, for example, have generally accepted the “math” of politics–the belief that political success is an exercise in addition. Successful campaigns are those that add supporters to whatever base the campaign started with.

One of the reasons so many of us were stunned by Trump’s victory (even recognizing that it was an Electoral College squeaker, and a significant loss in the popular vote) was that his entire strategy was based upon subtraction and division. That first surreal trip down the golden elevator (you really can’t make this shit up) was followed by a speech calculated to repel Latino voters.

His subsequent behaviors were similarly offensive exercises in subtraction. I doubt that disabled folks were charmed by his cruel and demeaning imitation of a disabled reporter. His declaration that there were “good people on both sides” of the racist and anti-Semitic riot in Charlottesville reminded  black and Jewish voters, among others, why David Duke and the Neo-Nazis had endorsed Trump.

It has been three-and-a-half years of constant subtraction.

Political pundits are fond of pointing out that Trump’s popularity has never been good–he has been “underwater,” with negatives larger than positives throughout both the campaign and his dismal presidency. I’ve been appalled by the number who do continue to support him, but it’s true that his base has never been close to a majority. (The lesson here is the importance of turnout, and the need to fight voter suppression–it doesn’t matter that a majority hates you if enough of them don’t vote.)

Thanks largely to his pathetic performance during the pandemic, there are emerging signs that his internal polling is tanking, posing a real dilemma to the down-ballot sycophants running in 2020.

Dozens of media outlets are reporting that US intelligence agencies held more than a dozen classified briefings beginning in January, warning Trump about the emerging threat of the coronavirus. Trump ignored them (as, evidently, he ignores everything in those briefings…). Voters who cared only that their 401Ks were growing–who dismissed the obvious corruption and incompetence and international embarrassment because the only indicator they found meaningful was the one on the bottom line–are suddenly less forgiving.

Speaking of numbers and math–Trump’s pursuit of political victory has always rested on his belief in division. Dividing immigrants from citizens, blacks from whites, Muslims and Jews and mainstream Protestants from Evangelicals, rich from poor, rural from urban residents and  more recently, Red States from Blue.

The concept of “American” seems entirely foreign to him. Playing on fears and resentments  has been his “go to” instinct, and in 2016 that (barely) worked for him.

There’s plenty to fear about a pandemic, but very few people are looking to the “bully pulpit” for direction; a “pulpit” from which we get only rambling diatribes, seething animosities and evidence of Dear Leader’s monumental stupidity. (True, some people are actually asking health authorities if it’s okay to drink bleach…Those people are beyond help.)

Right now, Americans need reassurance that our government is in the hands of competent people who will see to it that we’ll eventually be all right.

We need empathy–expressions of concern and human-kindness and connection.

We need to believe that we have a President who is more concerned with our health and wellbeing than with himself. (Amazingly, the braggart-in-chief– a consummate liar–somehow can’t manage to lie about that.)

Above all, we need a President who knows how to add–and stops dividing.

 

Can A Pandemic Have A Good Side?

Pollyanna here! (I know– this is a rare appearance of my positive side…)

What prompted my question was a series of posts on my neighborhood listserv, which is usually dominated by complaints about trash pickup, potholes and porch thieves. The first of the series was this one:

If there are any elderly or immunosuppressed neighbors who have an errand they cannot run, I’d be happy to help! I work in a nursing facility and know there are many elderly that are fearful of getting to the store.

That was followed by one titled “Be Kind,” which read

Please keep an eye out for neighbors, friends, kids, even people on the street that look stressed. Be kind to everyone since we cannot know the problems they are having with the stress of this slow moving crisis. Whether emotional or financial, it will bring out depression in those trying to keep it together. Domestic violence is likely to increase. It is unlike a hurricane in that we don’t know when, where, how, or how long.

Forty-nine neighbors had responded to that post when I last checked, and the comments were uniformly positive, thanking the poster for the reminder, suggesting ways to be helpful to neighbors, and indicating an intent to check on the well-being of older residents or those with medical problems.

I live in a downtown neighborhood–often referred to (scornfully) as “the hood” by people who assume that urban life is dangerous, faceless and anonymous. I actually know most of my neighbors, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, so I was gratified, but not surprised, by the attitudes expressed in these posts.

Also on the potentially positive side is growing recognition that a robust social safety net doesn’t just help “those people”–i.e., the poor or marginalized. If people living paycheck to paycheck (and there are more of them than you think) don’t have paid sick leave, they are likely to come to work when they shouldn’t, and to infect “us.”

And it probably goes without saying that if everyone had access to healthcare, it would be easier to identify and isolate sick folks and thus contain pandemics. Perhaps the virus will help more people understand why a society that protects the most vulnerable is actually better for everyone.

Finally, despite the best disinformation efforts of Faux News, there are signs that this public health challenge is creating a renewed appreciation for the importance of a properly functioning government.

Periodically, America’s historic penchant for anti-intellectualism and distaste for “pointy-headed” experts facilitates the election of a “politically-incorrect” public official.  Previously, this has been a more common outcome at the state and local level, but in 2016 it elevated a toxic and profoundly ignorant man to the Presidency.

When resentment of knowledge unites with fear of social displacement–in our case, the escalating panic of less-educated white “Christian” males facing loss of their dominant status–it creates an opening for the con men and would-be autocrats who view government office as an opportunity for graft rather than a call to serve.

Unfortunately, when an emergency arrives that requires a government solution, the utter inability of these bozos to perform–to use the powers of government for their intended purpose– becomes too obvious to ignore.

The Trump administration’s multiple transgressions against science, the environment and the most basic principles of good government will be responsible for many deaths that  might have been avoided. There isn’t much average Americans can do about that at this point–but going forward, we can and must learn a lesson: competent government matters.

And at a time where so many Americans have displayed their ugliest sides–their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and more–we can take comfort in the humanity and genuine goodness of so many ordinary citizens.

It may not be enough, but it’s important.

Conspiracy Theories In One..Two..Three…

I still remember a meeting I attended many years ago, when I was in City Hall. A number of neighborhood groups–aggrieved about something I no longer recall–met with Mayor Hudnut and a small group of city officials and accused us of engaging in a devious conspiracy to undermine whatever it was they were exercised about. Bob Cross, then Deputy Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, responded that incompetence usually explains far more than conspiracy. (Actually, as he remarked after the meeting, we would have been incapable of pulling off a conspiracy.)

It was a bit of wisdom I’ve not forgotten.

There are all sorts of ongoing problems with the Iowa Caucuses–working folks often can’t participate, Iowa is over 95% white and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole, and the parties and media pay far too much attention to the results. Perhaps the monumental cluster-f**k this year will prompt a re-evaluation. (I personally favor a national primary…or at this point, even a retreat to those despised “smoke filled rooms.” Trump would never have emerged from a smoke-filled room.)

In the wake of Iowa’s inability to issue immediate results, Talking Points Memo blamed complexity and an app that was definitely “not ready for prime time.”

Experts in cybersecurity and election administration told TPM on Tuesday that the app chosen by the Iowa Democratic Party failed to handle the complexity, providing an example of what not to do in administering an election.

But incompetence isn’t an explanation that feeds the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders identified a donor who had given money to both Mayor Pete and to the company that developed the flawed app (as had four of the Democratic contenders) and concluded that Pete was part of a clandestine effort to rig the election. Anti-Bernie folks responded by identifying a guy with a “commie background” who has  donated to Bernie, so Bernie’s a commie.

For the record, Bernie’s campaign has said the caucuses were not rigged.

Business Insider reported that GOP operatives were gleefully piling on.

Amid the chaos surrounding the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses, multiple Republicans have pushed conspiracy theories that imply the process was rigged against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

With so much confusion in Iowa, some in the GOP saw an opportunity to be exploited.

There is no evidence whatsoever the caucuses were rigged, but some Republicans are pushing this conspiratorial narrative in what appears to be a fairly transparent effort to divide Democratic voters. The primary season is already heated, with supporters of the various Democratic candidates often duking it out online.

A column in the Washington Post summed up the various elements of this mess that should genuinely trouble Democrats, and the lessons this exercise in breathtaking incompetence should teach.

Transmitting results digitally opens up a whole cyber-world of hacking risk — yet Iowa insisted on doing it anyway. Organizers did try to guard against disaster by requiring precincts to include snapshots of an on-paper count. But there’s a lot more they didn’t do, such as test their system statewide or tell any security experts the name of the for-profit company that constructed the app in a hurried two months. (That name, by the way, is “Shadow, Inc.” Now don’t you feel better?)…

Iowa party officials started by crying “user error” to explain the struggles many precinct captains had downloading and uploading. Okay, if “user error” means very few people could use the app without encountering an error. Some encountered limited bandwidth because so many individuals were accessing the program at the same time, which the party might have anticipated considering they were running 1,681 caucuses simultaneously. Some in rural areas ran into poor wireless service, which the party also should have anticipated considering, well, it is Iowa. The next day, officials began to blame a “coding issue.”

The Iowa imbroglio, in other words, so far reveals lots of incompetence and little insidiousness. More tech isn’t always better, and, in this case, it was worse because a product wasn’t fully tested and didn’t function as it was supposed to.

The first two sentences of the column pointed to the real issue: Americans’ widespread distrust– distrust that encourages belief in conspiracy theories.

Want to cause countrywide confusion and sow doubt in the integrity of our democracy? Apparently there’s an app for that.

Indeed.