Tag Archives: Obama

Crazytown

It’s unlikely that Bob Woodward’s new book will move public opinion. The country is so polarized between people who are appalled by Donald Trump and dispirited by the unwillingness of the Congressional GOP to meaningfully confront him, on the one hand, and his white supremcist “base” on the other, that it is hard to see the added documentation doing much to change the political dynamic.

For me, the most difficult aspect of the last few years has been the need to accept an ugly reality: approximately 35% of my fellow Americans enthusiastically support a racist, and are willing to ignore every other distasteful and disgraceful thing about him, in return for his constant reassurance that– despite all the evidence to the contrary–their pigment makes them superior.

Woodward’s book won’t penetrate that. At best, assuming America survives this descent into tribal hatefulness, it will join the growing mountain of evidence available to future historians and psychiatrists.

As CNN describes the book,

Woodward’s 448-page book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” provides an unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President’s inner circle. From the Oval Office to the Situation Room to the White House residence, Woodward uses confidential background interviews to illustrate how some of the President’s top advisers view him as a danger to national security and have sought to circumvent the commander in chief.

Many of the feuds and daily clashes have been well documented, but the picture painted by Trump’s confidants, senior staff and Cabinet officials reveal that many of them see an even more alarming situation — worse than previously known or understood.

Actually, those of us who have been glued to news sources since November of 2016 do understand how alarming this Presidency is, and how utterly pathetic a man-child Trump is. It really isn’t necessary to get confirmation from anonymous sources–every day, Trump tweets his lack of even the most superficial understanding of the government he heads or the Constitution and laws that constrain it.

Let’s be honest. Trump owes his (very slim) electoral success to Barack Obama. Trump’s votes came largely from the white people (mostly men, but plenty of women) who couldn’t abide the presence of a black family in the White House. For eight years, they seethed, exchanging racist emails and sharing racist posts, looking for anything they could criticize publicly, and inventing things when the pickings were slim.

When Trump proved willing to say publicly the things they’d been thinking and saying privately–when he was willing to re-label civility as “political correctness,” and to “tell it like (they believe) it is,” they were his. Woodward’s book won’t change that; it is doubtful that many of them will read it.

 

I know that many good people, good citizens, good Americans will cringe at what I’ve just written. It’s too close to name-calling, too uncivil, paints with too broad a brush. President Obama himself, in his recent speech, took the higher road.

We won’t win people over by calling them names or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic. When I say bring people together, I mean all of our people. This whole notion that has sprung up recently about Democrats needing to choose between trying to appeal to white working-class voters or voters of color and women and LGBT Americans, that’s nonsense. I don’t buy that. I got votes from every demographic. We won by reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere and by fighting for every vote.

I understand what he is saying, and I absolutely understand that candidates cannot be as accusatory as I have been. But as Zach Beauchamp wrote after sharing that paragraph  in a perceptive article for  Vox 

There’s a part of this that feels like it’s ignoring reality. Political science research on the 2016 election suggests that Trump won because a huge chunk of voters responded positively to his racism and sexism. Voters who scored high on tests of racial resentment were unusually likely to support Trump, as were voters who scored high on measures of hostile sexism. These voters did not tend to be particularly stressed economically; this wasn’t displaced economic resentment. Rather, they seem to genuinely share the current president’s values, agreeing that the way to “Make America Great Again” is to slow or even roll back social change.

My hopes are pinned on the midterm elections. I do believe that most Americans are better than the base for whom “Crazytown” is just fine so long as they see it vindicating their white privilege. This is one election where every blue vote will count–whether it elects someone or not–because it will be, and will be seen as, a vote against tribalism, racism, sexism and the pervasive corruption of Crazytown.

The Politics Of Resentment

It doesn’t take a genius–or even a person of above-average observational skill–to understand what motivates Donald Trump’s policy preferences. If Barack Obama was for it, he’s against it. His seething resentment of his predecessor is as painfully obvious as his disinterest in (and ignorance of) public policy, or his blatant cronyism.

Did Obama want to protect the environment? Well, then screw the environment.

This week, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which, if finalized, would cast aside the commitment made by President Bush and President Obama to increase fuel economy and reduce pollution. In doing so, the administration is on a path that could needlessly upend a settled regulatory framework that has brought together disparate interests, delivered predictability to automakers, improved cars, and reduced pollution. As such, the proposed new rules run counter to what Ford, General Motors, and others across the industry have consistently advocated. In fact, industry and the state of California appear largely aligned on how to proceed in resetting fuel-efficiency standards, and the only missing player is the Trump administration, despite the president’s prior direction to his team to negotiate.

Scholars with The Brookings Institution have called for a “dialogue” on the proposed rule making. They emphasize three “key points”: the proposed changes break with the bipartisan history of the program; the proposal will hurt the auto industry; and the administration has relied upon a range of very questionable assumptions that defy common sense (um..what else is new?), in order to justify its proposal.

They also point out that none of the stakeholders involved support the administration’s initiative.

The U.S. auto industry represents 3.5 percent of U.S. GDP and is responsible for 7 million direct and indirect American jobs. Freezing the standards will undermine investments by auto manufacturers and their suppliers, harming the competitiveness of the industry going forward. Research shows that when standards are set at aggressive but attainable levels, they immediately spur technological innovation, catalyze competitiveness, and support jobs. For example, a report published last year by Indiana University looking at the impact of fuel-efficiency standards estimated that investment in innovation could increase jobs by between 200,000 and 375,000 in the year 2025, and add between $138 billion to $240 billion in GDP between 2017 and 2025.

The Brookings scholars also point out that challenging California’s authority under the Clean Air Act would needlessly destabilize the consistency created by a streamlined national program.

Of course, none of this matters to an incompetent and needy President who is not only ignorant of policy (and science, and economics, and….) but who is motivated primarily by resentment of Obama, who once embarrassed him at a Correspondent’s dinner to devastating  effect.

What is undoubtedly even more galling to a man who wears his bigotry like a badge is that Obama has the effrontery to be an immensely popular black man whose personal, intellectual and cultural superiority to Donald Trump is glaringly obvious. The one and only consistent thread in Trump’s “policy agenda” is destruction of the hated black guy’s legacy.

If that destruction requires despoiling the planet, well, so be it.

 

 

The Anti-Mensch

When I read that Trump had abrogated the Iran deal, I felt a familiar pain in the pit of my stomach. These bouts of indigestion and nausea have increased since November of 2016, as have my concerns over the world my grandchildren will inherit, and the role models they will choose to emulate.

Trump’s Presidency has been a consistent perversion of a value structure to which most Americans have long given lip service (if not always fidelity). Even if the country and the world emerge more or less intact from this dangerous, surreal period, how much permanent damage will have been done to our concept of civilized, moral, adult behavior?

When my children were very young, I used to tell them I wanted them each to grow up to be a mensch. Mensch is a yiddish word meaning “a real human being–a person of integrity and honor.”

What are the sorts of behaviors that characterize a mensch?

  • There’s civility, of course. Respect for other people. Courteous behavior in even trying situations. An absence of name-calling or other efforts to demean people with whom one  disagrees.
  • A rejection of bigotries both overt and latent. Refusing to judge one’s fellow human beings on the basis of such things as skin color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. A recognition that other people are entitled to the same rights and respect we claim for ourselves.
  • A healthy modesty–by which I mean recognition that none of us has all the answers, that other perspectives deserve consideration, that there is always more to learn, that it is always possible that one may turn out to be wrong.  A healthy modesty also implies respect for expertise, for the counsel of those with specialized or superior knowledge. A mensch has sufficient self-worth and self-confidence to give credit where it is due, and will instinctively recoil from bragging or grandstanding.
  • Maturity. Adults have a capacity for self-restraint, an ability to defer gratification when necessary to the pursuit of longterm goals. A mensch demonstrates maturity by admitting when he is wrong, and apologizing when something he has said or done makes such an apology appropriate. A mensch doesn’t engage in childish tantrums or schoolyard bullying conduct like publicly berating or humiliating others.
  • Respect for authority–as distinct from obsequiousness. A mensch balances his obligations to the rules and to those in charge against his duty to confront injustice, even when such confrontation entails a personal cost.
  • Personal Integrity. A mensch keeps his word, honors his commitments, pays his bills.  (As my father used to say, he “walks the talk.”) His behaviors are consistent with his pronouncements. Persons of integrity do not knowingly lie or mislead.
  • A good heart. A mensch genuinely cares about others in his family, his community and his country. He supports efforts to ameliorate poverty and injustice. He participates in activities intended to make the world a better place.

None of these ideal behaviors require riches or even intelligence, although like most parents I hoped my children would do well financially and would have the self-awareness that is one of the many benefits of an inquiring and lively intellect.

When I compare the behaviors and values that most parents try to instill in their children to Donald Trump’s daily, embarrassing eruptions, I cringe. President Obama was–and remains– a mensch; post-Presidency, even George W. Bush has been one.

Trump is the anti-mensch.

How do parents raise thoughtful, compassionate, responsible children when the media constantly reports the activities of a President who violates and scorns–on a daily basis– every behavioral norm they are trying to inculcate?

I’m keeping Tums in business.

 

Trashing The Country

I see that Scott Pruitt intends to roll back the Clean Power Plan put in place during the Obama administration.  Pruitt’s devotion to fossil fuel interests and his determination to eviscerate the agency he heads is, if anything, stronger than ever. To hell with clean air and water, or for that matter, the future of the planet.

The Guardian recently looked at another of the Obama-era regulations that Trump and Pruitt reversed.

A ban on bottled water in 23 national parks prevented up to 2m plastic bottles from being used and discarded every year, a US national park service study found. That is equivalent to up to 326 barrels of oil worth of emissions, 419 cubic yards of landfill space and 111,743lb of plastic, according to the May study.

Despite that, the Trump administration reversed the bottled water ban just three months later, a decision that horrified conservationists and pleased the bottled water industry.

Donald Trump’s primary policy motivation has been clear from the moment he assumed office: the erasure of Barack Obama’s legacy, no matter what the policy, no matter how good for America, no matter how good endorsing it would be politically for Trump himself. If Obama did it, Trump is determined to undo it.

For whatever reason–Obama’s skin color (Trump’s racism is no longer in question), his devastating take-down of Trump at that correspondent’s dinner, or some other motivation lurking in Trump’s clearly disordered mind–the only consistent thread in the disaster that is this administration is the determined and vicious assault on Obama’s legacy.

Did Obama want clean water and breathable air? Then those things aren’t important. Did he want to protect our national parks from pollution and despoiling? “Freedom” means letting plastic bottles proliferate!

The plan to curb pollution in America’s most famous wilderness areas was spurred when arguably its most famous park, the Grand Canyon, banned the sale of plastic water bottles in its gift shops, according to the report. Approximately 331 million people visit US national parks each year.

The program was meant to support a “life cycle” approach to plastic, which activists say is the largest global threat to the environment behind climate change. One million plastic bottles are sold per minute, according to a Guardian analysis. The top six drink companies in the world use an average of just 6.6% recycled plastic.

At the same time, new research has shown that plastics which find their way into the sea have entered the food supply. Scientists have found plastic particles in sea salt, honey, fish, beer and tap water.

When the parks began banning bottled drinking water in 2011, they installed hydration stations with free water. But that didn’t stop the bottled water industry from accusing the government of “infringing the freedom of families to decide for themselves how to hydrate.”

Think I’m kidding?

“It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said the acting service director, Michael Reynolds.

You can’t make this shit up.

 

Missing the Point

In the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords, apologists have gone into overdrive. Even those who recognize that climate change is real have pooh poohed the significance of our withdrawal; after all, the goals were voluntary and weak, and anyway, America’s cities and states are stepping up to the plate, so we’ll probably make our goals even without participating in a formal agreement.

A recent article in Time is typical of the many arguments that what looks like a sow’s ear might really be a silk purse in disguise:

Trump knew his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the climate agreement would provoke global outrage, and it did. For Trump, the economy is the priority. But Trump’s promise to revive the coal industry isn’t going to happen; instead, the opposite will occur. And it’s safe to say that by 2020 — the earliest date that the U.S. can technically withdraw from the climate pact — Trump could point to his decision even as he points at all the shuttered coal plants, and say: “See, I told you we didn’t need the Paris deal. America’s emissions went down regardless, and our economy became stronger without it.”

Let’s parse that paragraph. If Trump knew the decision would provoke outrage, he should have recognized that such outrage would make it more difficult to achieve other goals, both domestic and international, so why do it? As even the apologists have conceded, the targets we had endorsed were entirely voluntary; the administration could simply have ignored any that they felt were bad for the American economy.

What we’ve seen of this deeply disturbed man suggests that he withdrew because it would provoke outrage. Trump likes to stir the pot, and he desperately needs to be the center of attention. Achieving his goals quietly (assuming he has goals unconnected to his ego), without fanfare, doesn’t feed his narcissism.

And what about that statement that the economy is his priority? Where’s the evidence that Trump has even the slightest understanding of economic policy? His insistence that he will bring back a coal industry that even coal company CEOs admit is no longer viable should have been a clue to his cluelessness.

And arguing that we will meet our emissions goals without being party to the Paris Accords misses the point. The point is: symbolism matters, and it matters a lot.

When President Obama led the negotiations that produced the Paris Accords, he was signaling that the United States remained the world’s leader. He was demonstrating this nation’s willingness to work with countries around the globe to address common challenges, and our willingness to do the hard work of analyzing relevant science and working through thorny political barriers in order to hammer out an agreement.

Obama’s commitment to the process sent a message to the rest of the world, and it was a message that enhanced American stature and our ability to exercise global “soft power.”

The message sent by Donald Trump’s exit from that hard-won agreement was exactly the opposite: America is no longer a steadfast global presence, no longer a source of reassuring leadership in a dangerous world.

Under a volatile, unpredictable, and profoundly ignorant President and his cabinet of intellectual and moral pygmies, America is withdrawing from global leadership. (As Angela Merkel put it, in her typically understated way, America is “no longer a reliable ally.”)

Whatever the practical effect of withdrawal on our ability to fight climate change, the symbolism was devastating. Far from making America “great,” it diminished us and significantly weakened our influence around the world.

It was yet another unforced error by a man who tweets them daily.