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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Powerful Analysis of Trumpism

If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus’s argument in Plato’s Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice “if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice.”
Substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “justice” and “injustice,” and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.
One of the more fascinating aspects of last year’s presidential campaign was the rise of a class of pundits I call the “TrumpXplainers.” For instance, Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble.
But rather than quote Trump, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind.
In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.
They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.
I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right. It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people once mocked Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Trump’s “pragmatism” on the subject.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"You Are the Special People"

Darren Samuelsohn and Annie Karni report at Politico:
So, this is my real group,” Trump said at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, on November 18, according to the audio tape. “These are the people that came here in the beginning, when nobody knew what this monster was gonna turn out to be, right?”

He added: “I see all of you. I recognize, like 100 percent of you, just about.”
Trump had a packed schedule of meetings that weekend less than two weeks after the election. On the Saturday after the cocktail party, Trump met with Mitt Romney, Michelle Rhee, Betsy DeVos, Todd Ricketts, Bob Woodson, Lew Eisenberg and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. On Sunday, John Gray, Kris Kobach, Wilbur Ross, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Robert Johnson and David McCormick all schlepped out to Bedminster for meetings.
Trump often appears to want to include his friends in the decision-making process.
Turning to a longtime club member that night, he said: “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept -- boy, can you give me some recommendations?”
The supportive crowd ate it up as the relaxed Trump, in his element, gave them a close-up view of how he was setting up the government. “You are the special people,” he told the crowd of about 100 members, who mingled around a sushi station served by a waiter wearing a camouflage “Make America Great Again” cap.

Meat Loaf and Beans

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says President Donald Trump made him order meatloaf when they dined together at the White House this week.
Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, joined Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

The Republican governor said while guest hosting a New York sports talk radio show Thursday that Trump pointed out the menu and told people to get whatever they want. Then he said he and Christie were going to have the meatloaf.
‘‘This is what it’s like to be with Trump,’’ Christie said. ‘‘He says, ‘There’s the menu, you guys order whatever you want.’ And then he says, ‘Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.’’’
There is a similar story about LBJ, who also liked to humiliate people.   In a 1995 issue of The Washington Post, Diana McLellan reviewed  the memoirs of Pierre Salinger, who served as press secretary under Kennedy and (briefly) under Johnson:
Sadly, he omits everybody's favorite LBJ-Pierre Salinger tale. According to this grand and ancient legend, Johnson shouted down the table to him at a small luncheon, "Pierre, you haven't eaten your beans." "Mr. President, I happen not to care for this variety of beans." "Pierre, eat your beans!" Eventually, reluctantly, the tale went, Salinger ate all his beans -- and that was the day he quit. Does the story's absence mean that it's purely apocryphal? A pity, if so. But you'd think that a one-time gossip's apprentice would give it an airing if just to deny it.

Incompetent Vetting

Tara Palmeri reports at Politico that the White House dismissed six aides who were already on the job. They flunked  the SF86, a Questionnaire for National Security Positions
Among those who won't be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former campaign manager for Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.
Rene Marsh and Eugene Scott report at CNN:
A political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development was fired for an op-ed he wrote before the election that criticized then-candidate Donald Trump, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
In an October op-ed for The Hill, Republican consultant Shermichael Singleton said Trump was taking the Republican Party to a "new moral low."
"We allowed that hostile takeover to happen on our watch," he wrote. "This individual recognized a moment of great disparity in the Republican base and, like cancer, attacked and spread, consuming everything in his path."
Singleton's piece criticized Trump's rhetoric about African Americans during the campaign. After the election, the 26-year-old worked with Ben Carson during his confirmation process to become HUD secretary. Singleton, who is African American, then joined the department as a senior adviser.
Eliana Johnson reported last week at Politico:
President Donald Trump intervened at the last moment to deny Rex Tillerson his pick to be deputy secretary of state — former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams.
The president overruled his secretary of state — following meeting with Tillerson,
Abrams and son-in-law Jared Kushner — after reading news reports about their meeting, which included references to Abrams' criticisms of Trump during last year's presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the decision. Though his staff was aware of Abrams' statements, the president was not — until he read news reports about their meeting earlier this week.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Defying the Odds

Bitterness and joy, outrage and satisfaction, shame and pride, escapes to safe places and displays of celebration—these were just a few of the conflicting reactions that greeted the election of Donald Trump. One point lays beyond dispute: Donald Trump defied the odds, whether set by bookmakers or political pundits, or pollsters.

In this book—as they have for every presidential election since 1992—James Ceaser, Andrew Busch, and John Pitney Jr. revisit the race for the presidency and congressional and state elections through the short lens of politics today and the long lens of American political history. At the core of the 2016 election, they seek to understand and explain the different reasons for Donald Trump’s success at each stage of the campaign. With its keen insights into the issues and events that drove the 2016 election, Defying the Odds will be an invaluable resource for students and all political observers seeking to understand an election that was decades in the making and will continue to resonate throughout American politics for many years to come.


President Donald Trump's 40% job approval rating about one month into his presidency is 21 percentage points below the historical average rating for elected presidents in mid-February (61%). It is also 11 points below the lowest mid-February reading for any other president.
Bill Clinton held the previous low for a president near the end of his first month in office, at 51%. Ronald Reagan was the only other president with ratings at this point in his tenure below 60%. John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter enjoyed approval ratings above 70% at similar points in their presidencies.
Trump's initial job approval rating was 45%, making him the first president to begin his term with less-than-majority approval. Since then, his approval has fallen by five percentage points.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Tell-Tale Trump

...with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe

True! But why will you say that I am ranting and raving? I don't rant and rave. Hearing?  I have amazing hearing.  I hear everything. Sit down.  I will tell you the whole story.

I have the best memory, but I don't remember when I got the idea.  I have a lot of ideas, terrific ideas. That's why I won the election by the biggest margin, ever.   I loved the old man.  So much love.  But he had this eye, a disgusting eye.  [Opens his eye wide with his fingers and imitates a spasm.]  "Oh, look at me, I'm so horrible!"  It was like a vulture's eye, with a film over it. So like, many people were saying, you gotta do something about it.

Now this is the point. The very dishonest media say "Trump's a bad man." Bad men don't know anything.  But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I acted.  Terrific caution. Fabulous foresight.  I was never kinder to the old man   So nice.   And every night I checked in on him, which you won't hear from the lying media.

On the eighth night, I had my head in,, and the old man got up in bed, yelling --"Who's there?"  Don't blame him. Crime is terrible there.  People have to lock themselves in.  We'll fix that, believe me.

I kept still and said nothing. I have terrific silence and stillness.  Then I put a pillow on his head, very very gently, you know, like one of those snore strips.  Just wanted him to go to sleep, so he would close that disgusting eye.  And he did.  As Spicer would say, plain and simple.

I knew he was okay because I could hear his heart. Did I mention that I have the best hearing? Anyway, I am the greatest real estate guy, so I knew that he would have a  nice place to sleep under the floorboards.  Really classy.  Really clean. Like a fine-tuned machine.

Then somebody leaked.  They will pay for that, by the way.  Three police officers came by.  I had them set down and we had a wonderful meeting.  I told them that we are going to have law and order in this country and support our police,  Crooked Hillary never said that, did she?

The thing about the old man was supposed to stay secret.  I'm a big believer in privacy.

I showed the police officers around the place.  Melania is doing a great job with the tours, by the way. But I kept hearing the old guy's heart.  Now, I believe that you gotta have heart, but this was getting ridiculous.

The officers absolutely loved me.  Big supporters. Then some reporters came by.  Bad people, Disgusting people.  They said that they heard something about the old man dying.  "Fake news!"  I said.  The police laughed, cuffed the dishonest media, and went away.  Gotta remember to comp them to a reception at Mar-A-Lago.

But I kept hearing that heartbeat.  So I knew what to do.  I want to get along with the Russians, not fight with them.  So I called Putin and told him the story.  He said, "We can make problems like that disappear."  And he did.  Great guy.

And I lived happily ever after.