It’s crazy not to be scared by a President Trump

The Thinker by Rodin

During the 1972 Democratic primaries, Senator Edmund Muskie (ME) was caught crying on camera at a news conference outside the offices of the Manchester Union-Leader. Muskie said it was just snow melting on his face, but he was heatedly responding to reports that his wife was addicted to a drug. It was enough to kill his campaign. His primary competitor, Senator George McGovern (SD) eventually won the nomination, but McGovern’s eventual choice of vice president Thomas Eagleton was later pulled from the ticket. Eagleton had a past episode of clinical depression. At the time this was considered disqualifying.

Forty-four years later we elected Donald Trump as our next president. It’s abundantly clear that Trump has mental issues of his own, most prominently his supersize case of narcissism. Rather than being disqualifying, it was a feature of his campaign. Wikipedia defines narcissistic personality disorder as:

A long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.

You don’t have to be psychologist to see Trump’s evident narcissism. There is evidence every day in his Twitter feed. He’s a man so vain he attacks Meryl Streep for criticizing him at the recent Golden Globe awards. He told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

“I win, Maureen, I always win. Knock on wood. I win. It’s what I do. I beat people. I win.”

Trump obviously does not always win. He overleveraged himself with failed businesses in Atlantic City and elsewhere. His Trump shuttle between New York and Washington was taken over by creditors. He’s lost lots of lawsuits and most recently settled the Trump University class action lawsuit for millions of dollars. And yet he cannot acknowledge any of these many failures, matters of simple public record.

In ten days the American people are going to give this man the authority to use our nuclear weapons.

It’s thinking about this that makes my head hurt so much that simply to maintain my own sanity I have at times turned off my brain. I’ve avoided the typical ways people deal with stuff like this: booze and drugs, but I can certainly understand why a sane person would. At times I’ve avoided the news and deliberately sought out distractions. Most recently I’ve been playing a lot of online crossword puzzles.

If you are sane, you should absolutely be scared about a Trump presidency. Trump is super easy to read so it’s not hard to figure out how he’s going to behave and govern. He’s not going to reinvent himself. He will continue to lash out at critics over Twitter, but most likely he will use the levers of power to bully them too, perhaps tapping their phones, examining their computers and surreptitiously putting out dirt on them. He’s a natural fascist. He’s picked a cabinet of tone deaf bullies because he wants to change things, the same way a bull in a china shop will change things. As horrifying and illegal as these actions will be though, what keeps my heart skipping beats is his role as commander in chief.

Trump simply does not understand the complexity of our foreign policy challenges. When they occur rather than use back channels he will be inclined to go postal. Imagine what he would do if China closed off the China Sea to U.S. vessels, or if North Korea attacked South Korea, or sent an ICBM at Guam. Trump will go grand and he will go aggressive. He’d have the navy on the sea-lanes shooting at Chinese warships and aircraft. He might nuke North Korea. This is because he is a narcissist. When someone challenges your authority, you go grand. In the past this meant filing lots of lawsuits. In the future, this means using our military to maximum effect and quickly to prove you are serious.

Remember what his solution to ISIS was? “Bomb the shit out of them!” This got him great applause but it won’t solve the problem of ISIS anymore than Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia did much to slow the Vietcong. Dealing with ISIS is a multifaceted problem, but it’s much more a war of minds. Bombing the shit out of ISIS may cause lots of death and destruction, but it won’t change minds, only steel the resolve of those aligned with ISIS.

Trump is quite binary. If you suck up to him, he likes you. If you oppose him, he’s your eternal enemy and he will use whatever power he has to mow you down. He can’t deal with nuance or complexity. He is full of impatience and an “ends justify the means” sort of guy, typical of a narcissist. And he will never, ever admit a mistake.

One of these days he’s going to figure out that Vladimir Putin is playing him. Okay, maybe not. He may not be that self-aware. Right now he admires Putin, which is unsurprising as he and Republicans in general are drawn to strong people and really don’t care about our democracy. Putin though has an agenda and it’s likely he’s going to play Trump like a fine fiddle. Putin wants to restore Russia’s former glory. It’s not too hard to see how he can do this at some point: reoccupy most of Eastern Europe that the USSR used to control. I would not be surprised to see Putin send in the army to wholly occupy Ukraine. But why stop there? Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are so close too. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all used to be part of their empire. If any of these scenarios happen they are likely to catch Trump flatfooted. In fact they will be tacitly abetted by Trump, who sees NATO as obsolete. Maybe Trump would even approve.

But something will trip him up and Trump will go big because big and grandiose is how he operates. When he gets tangled in the invariable complexity of it all, he’s not going to be able to think out realistic options or realize he won’t be able to get his way. This is likely to lead to huge anger and a desire to hit his enemies with everything we’ve got. That won’t work either, but it will temporarily assuage his feelings.

If any president were likely to use our nuclear forces proactively, it would be Trump. And if he does it won’t be hard for other nuclear powers, principally Russia and China, to respond in kind. The point of diplomacy and foreign policy is to leverage power without resorting to extraordinary means. That’s not going to happen in a Trump Administration.

It’s entirely rational for rational Americans to be scared as shit by a Trump presidency. I sure am. If you are not, you are in denial.

God bless America, because Trump sure won’t.

47 mutineers

The Thinker by Rodin

I was hardly the only one shocked and more than a little dumfounded when 47 Republican U.S. senators sent an unsolicited letter to the Grand Ayatollah of Iran, Ali Khamenei last week. The letter said that any agreement between the United States, Iran, and all those other pesky countries (including China and Russia) working to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons could easily be abrogated by the Congress, something that is simply not true.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised. We have a Congress in full mutiny over this thing called constitutional government because it is proving to be inconvenient. They are in mutiny because they hate the guy leading the executive branch because he has the audacity not to agree with them on everything. Just a week earlier House Speaker John Boehner made good on his unilateral decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Hitherto foreign policy, with the exception of treaties has been the purview of the executive because, well, it’s that’s what it says in the constitution. It must be very confusing to foreign leaders. Just who speaks for the United States government? It’s pretty clear in other governments, but not in our government, not anymore.

Only it’s not just the Congress. It’s also the Alabama Supreme Court. It started when its supreme justice Roy Moore told county clerks not to marry gay and lesbian couples, this after a federal court ruled they could marry. Subsequently the entire (Republican) state supreme court backed him up. Alabama is basically telling its court clerks that its decision nullifies the federal court’s decision. This is something close to treason. At the very least it is a conscious effort to ignore the supremacy clause of the U.S. constitution. We fought a three-year civil war to resolve the issue of states’ rights. One can understand the impulse not to want to accept these rulings, but a court is never supposed to do anything that obviously conflicts with the settled and unambiguous law of our land. Alvin Toffler would say this is a classic case of future shock. It’s clear that Republicans and southern states in general aren’t doing very well in dealing with the future that has already arrived and won’t follow constitutional processes to change things they don’t like.

Still, what these 47 mutinous Republican senators did reached a new level of arrogance and stupidity. New Arkansas senator Tom Cotton initiated the letter. I had two thoughts when I considered how this letter got started. First was that Cotton hadn’t bothered to run it by staff first. If he had they would have doubtless provided a sanity check and told him that this was a really bad, potentially career-ending act, not to mention factually wrong. The other alternative is even more mind-boggling: his staff told him it was a bad idea but he proceeded anyhow.

The even crazier part is that 47 out of 54 Republican senators signed it as well. This included their majority leader Mitch McConnell and John McCain, hitherto one of the rational Republicans. This wasn’t rocket science. The letter was wrong about how our constitution works. It suggests that 47 Republicans don’t even grasp the basic workings of our foreign policy and congress’s role in it. You could both see it and hear it in Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony. It was basically: are you really this stupid? Did you not hear the words about swearing to uphold our constitution when you took your oath of office?

Some of the signers have belatedly suggested that maybe signing it wasn’t a smart move. Editorial boards across the country were virtually unanimous in condemning what these senators did. Some of the signers of course doubled down, particularly those who seem to be angling to run for president in 2016.

None of these senators should be trusted to so much as guard a roll of pennies again. It was a potentially criminal lapse of judgment, so much so that a petition calling for them to be tried for treason has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures on whitehouse.gov. Their hatred for all things Obama and their obsessive pandering to the worst elements of their own party overruled common sense, decency and apparently clouded over basic knowledge of our federal system and constitution. These erstwhile champions of the constitution clearly didn’t bother to read it before they signed the letter.

This is another Mission Accomplished moment, something none of these 47 senators will be able to live down. For many their states are so red it won’t make much of a difference to their jobs, but they will forever be ridiculed, insulted and scorned for their mutinous act. Like Lady Macbeth, they will never be able to remove this damned bloody spot from their careers. It’s a mark of deep shame they will carry into death, to be ever recorded in major sections of their biography. The many good things many of these senators have done are likely to be overwhelmed by this egregious, mutinous and profoundly stupid act of putting their anger and partisanship ahead of statesmanship.

The last debate

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s probably a good thing that most Americans are geography impaired. Many Americans cannot tell you what their neighboring states are, let alone pick out Iran or Syria on a globe. Mitt Romney seems to fall into this category as well, since during yesterday’s presidential debate he came up with the preposterous claim that Iran needed to help Syria so it could have access to the world’s oceans. Maybe he confused the landlocked Afghanistan with Iran. In any event, Iran has plenty of access to the world’s oceans as the southern part of Iran presses up against the Persian Gulf, and it depends on access to it to export most of its oil.

Overall, yesterday’s debate with President Obama did not reflect well on Romney’s grasp of foreign policy. Worse, he could not draw clear distinctions between how his policies would vary from Obama’s. He either tacitly or explicitly agreed with most of Obama’s policies, the inescapable implication being that Obama was doing a good job as commander in chief. Moreover, he drew a lot of false conclusions. For example, he criticized the president for turmoil in the Middle East, as if it was his fault. Even the casual observer of the Middle East understands that revolution, particularly in that part of the world, requires turmoil. It’s an area where democracy is virtually unknown and despots are aplenty. His reasoning is also suspect because it suggests that we can actually control the political process underway across the Middle East. All we can really do is attempt to influence policy by reaching out to leaders, the opposition, and by working with other countries to affect jointly desirable outcomes, such as ending Iran’s nuclear program.

We have tried using force to get our way and it didn’t work in Iraq, although we did squander hundreds of billions of dollars before a wiser president than Bush got us out of Iraq. Sadly, I predict the same will be true in Afghanistan as proved true in Iraq. Yes, we will be out by the end of 2014. Even Romney wants that to occur. But Afghan troops will be no more ready to take control of their country than Iraqi troops were. Afghanistan is likely to look a lot like Iraq in 2015, likely with no clear winner but with a heavy and destabilizing Talibani influence but the government retaining control in most major cities. But we’ll be out of there and most importantly al Qaeda will not be coming back. They will wisely stay out of Afghanistan. The Taliban will not let them back in, as they lost power the last time they let them in. The Taliban knows that as long as they make mischief only within their borders that we will leave them alone. That’s the bottom line in Afghanistan that both sides know we will accept, just not state publicly.

President Obama demonstrated a firm grasp of these nuances, and rightly called Romney out on some of his more absurd statements, like his fretting that our navy had fewer ships than at any time since World War One. Aircraft carriers did not even exist then. One aircraft carrier today is the equivalent of dozens if not hundreds of navy ships in the World War One era. It’s actually much more than that since it allows us to project a large concentration of air power at trouble spots across the world.

Both Obama and Romney found plenty of reasons to talk about domestic policy, since most Americans yawn at foreign policy. As usual, the moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS Newswas caught in the middle and had trouble bringing their focus back to foreign policy. By this point in the campaign there was really nothing that either candidate could state that Americans had not heard before. Instead, the casual listener could only go with gut assessments of the candidate. Obama looked the image of the sober commander in chief he has been. Romney looked again like he was trying to imitate Ronald Reagan, not succeeding very well and seemed a bit trigger happy as well.

The sad fact for Republicans was that the debate was a sure loser for them. Americans overwhelmingly approve of Obama’s foreign policy. We are out of Iraq, and are getting out of Afghanistan. We are war weary, so Romney’s saber rattling fell flat. It was not surprising then that Romney was happy to turn the conversation to domestic policy, where he holds better cards. Overall, Americans see no compelling reason to spend lavishly on defense at this time, particularly when we are entering an era of austerity and the obvious foreign threats against us are diminishing. Moreover, it is astonishing to most of us who pay attention to foreign policy that Russia is our biggest national security threat, as Romney recently asserted. The Cold War is long over. Russia retains an impressive nuclear arsenal but does not appear to have any imperialistic desires at the moment. It has its hands full controlling its own population.

In short, Romney got pwned last night. By the end of the debate it seemed that Romney knew it as well.