The coming blue wave

The Thinker by Rodin

To my surprise, Roy Moore lost his bid to be Alabama’s next senator last Tuesday to Democrat Doug Jones. Jones won, but not decisively, by a 1.5% margin over Moore. One of the more curious aspects of the election was that 1.7% of the votes were cast as write-ins. It’s reasonable to assume that virtually all of these were from people who would normally vote Republican, but couldn’t stomach Moore but could not vote for a Democrat.

This is the first example I’ve seen of a “reverse Green Party effect”. It’s usually Democrats that shoot themselves in the foot. We do this by being so principled that we get the exact opposite result instead. In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that swung for Trump last year, had Jill Stein’s (Green Party) votes gone for Hillary Clinton instead then Hillary Clinton would now be president of the United States.

What’s appalling in Alabama is that apparently almost all Republicans voted for the pedophile Moore anyhow. Those who voted for a write-in plus those who stayed home apparently gave Jones the edge. Huge kudos goes to blacks and women in Alabama that showed up to vote, which was the edge Jones needed. I can see why both would have incentive to vote. After all, Moore said he’d like to get rid of constitutional amendments after the 10th amendment. This would make slavery legal again and take away women’s right to vote.

When a Democrat can win a statewide office in Alabama again, that’s pretty much all you need to know about which way the political winds in this country are blowing. Granted that Jones’s victory pretty much is a fluke. There was literally no one worse in the whole state of Alabama that Republicans could have nominated. As one Republican wag put it, Republicans could have picked any other name out of the phone book and have won the election by at least 10%.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Steve Bannon seems serious about fielding a Trump Republican in every Republican primary next year. Moreover, Trump plans to aggressively campaign for Republican candidates. Given Trump’s track record recently promoting Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Luther Strange in Alabama and then Roy Moore, all who lost, it’s clear his endorsement is toxic. These tactics enflame Democrats, which is likely to have them coming out to vote in droves. A Trump endorsement also keeps establishment Republicans lukewarm about voting for any Trump Republican that survives the primaries and caucuses.

In short the 2018 elections are likely to be a blowout, ending eight years of Republican control of Congress. The House should flip. One scenario suggests that when the dust settles Democrats could take the chamber 255 seats to 177 Republican seats. Retaking the Senate no longer seems improbable, particularly if Trump Republicans run against Democrats. Democrats should not take this for granted. It depends on maintaining their enthusiasm, a skill at which Trump will predictably excel.

Moreover there are so many issues beyond Trump that will encourage not just Democrats to come out, but to lean independents toward Democratic candidates and even pull away many Republicans. Last week’s vote to end net neutrality is one example. Support for net neutrality is overwhelmingly bipartisan but changing it clearly won’t happen with Republicans in charge. Republicans’ tax bill that looks likely to pass is another animus as it clearly shifts yet more income toward the rich. Rank and file Republicans don’t like it either. On so many issues voting Republicans tend to side with Democrats but even where they don’t, independents do. Some of these include addressing climate change, shrinking our national monuments and the rank incompetence in the people that Trump is nominating. This included a recent judicial nominee who had never tried a case. Even Congressional Republicans seem to be blanching at this.

It’s unknown where the Mueller investigation will be come November. Rumors abound that Trump is about to fire Mueller, although he cannot without firing a whole lot of other people and putting in place sycophants to do the deed. In any event, when Richard Nixon tried this approach it was hugely counterproductive and led to his eventual resignation. It certainly would inflame voters even more and make Washington even more chaotic than it currently is.

So it’s not hard at all to predict that the political heat will continue to rise in our nation’s pressure cooker. Next November the pent up frustration should be overwhelming. So I for one hope that Trump keeps endorsing Republican candidates, as he is now toxic. Please proceed.

At the turning of the Trump tide

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s one thing to hope that Trump will be booted from office. I’ve hoped for it of course and have written a number of posts why I think it’s going to happen. However, it’s another thing to feel that it will happen. Yesterday for the first time I felt it in my gut. Trump’s a goner. It’s just a matter of time now.

Stormy seas have been hitting the Trump presidency, mostly caused by his own relentless and largely inchoate fury and mismanagement. For nearly seven months they have been persistently eroding his own presidency, leading to almost daily incidents that were often scary, troubling, befuddling, confusing and amusing, sometimes all at the same time.

Trump has proven to be his own worst enemy. This suggests at least on some unconscious level that Trump doesn’t want to be president so he is taking actions to bring it about. There have been countless things Trump has done or said that should have brought its swift end. But Trump’s “news conference” on Tuesday at Trump Tower wherein he laid bare exactly what he thinks about the protests and counter-protests last weekend in Charlottesville sure feels like his jump-the-shark moment.

Americans have been exercising extreme patience with this president, but his overt racism and his complete inability to distinguish between the racist and violent actions of the Nazi and white supremacists versus the scattered violent though overwhelmingly peaceful reactions by counter-protesters seems to finally be that bridge too far for Americans. It’s that and the horrific videos of the car James Fields drove mowing down protestors, then backing up and at high speed and mowing down more. Trump can’t distinguish a meaningful difference between these sides. Nor does he understand that there is no such thing as a good racist, and all of the protestors were racists. If you believe that you should have special privileges because of your white skin, you are evil.

Even many of the protestors are appalled by what happened a week ago today. Many are suffering the consequences. There is a reason KKK members usually cover their faces: they are secretly ashamed of their actions but also they didn’t want to be identified. In the Internet age when hundreds of cameras are recording the faces and actions of people at this event it’s not too hard to identify these protestors by name.

The reactions have been swift. After these events, organizer Christopher Cantwell delivered a tearful “I’m being so unfairly treated” video on YouTube and is now facing multiple felony charges, including possible federal charges. Protestors have had their social media, Internet services and PayPal accounts closed. The white supremacist website The Daily Stormer lost its GoDaddy hosting. Many protesters have lost their jobs. While they have the right to protest, most live in Right to Work states. This empowers employers to fire them for any reason at all, at least for any reason not protected by federal or state law and being a racist is not one of them.

Businesses, whose profitability depends on attracting customers of all races, religions and ethnicities, quickly realized that further association with Trump could be toxic for them. Enough ditched two councils Trump had created that within days Trump had disbanded them. At his Tuesday news conference he discussed creating another council to advise him on his supposed theme of the week: fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure. By Thursday this council too was aborted in the womb. Trump’s Infrastructure Week turned out to be a joke.

Instead on Thursday Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon gave two unauthorized interviews wherein he deliberately contradicted Trump on some points. I think he did this to get fired, as he was already estranged and operating from an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Yesterday Trump formally fired Bannon, who was largely responsible for his election in the first place. Bannon’s real crime: contradicting Trump.

New chief of staff John Kelly’s actions to try to bring order to the White House seem to be flailing even while the worst of Trump’s advisers are slowly being thrown out. And that’s because Kelly learned Tuesday a painful but predictable lesson: Trump won’t let anyone control him. He’ll go rogue whenever he wants. Police will have more success getting guns away from NRA members than Kelly will have getting Trump’s hands off his smartphone and controlling his Twitter feed, something essential if his presidency is to survive.

So Trump has finally jumped the shark and thus it’s all downhill for him from now on. What’s new and telling in the last week is that his supposed advocates are estranging him. Moreover, this estrangement is having a snowball-rolling-downhill effect, picking up momentum everyday. Business interests have abandoned him. Republicans are becoming comfortable criticizing him, making it easier for other spineless Republicans to develop some spine. One minister finally left his prominent evangelical council. Let’s hope others soon follow. Trump deals with his shunning by canceling these councils and events. This morning we learn he won’t attend the Kennedy Center honors. It’s unclear how many would show up if they were held anyhow.

And Trump being Trump he’s accelerating his own decline. He’s pissing off the very people he needs to move his agenda, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This makes it easier for them to not want to move his agenda too. Worse, should it come to impeachment and removal from office, it gives them animus to get rid of him. The math to rid him is not that hard to achieve. Aside from dealing with the wrath of Trump voters in many districts (voters who are becoming increasingly less supportive of Trump) there is little downside to removing Trump. For if Pence is put in, Republicans have some hope of accomplishing pieces of their agenda and making Republicans look sane again. With Trump it’s clear that it only gets worse and that Trump is facilitating his own end.

For me I have finally reached the point where I am more filled with a feeling of glorious schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misery of someone else) than I am appalled and scared by our president. Granted, Trump still has the power to wreak nuclear havoc. His downfall to me now seems certain, not just intellectually but emotionally. I sense it. I think at some point rather than face the increasing scorn and legal tsunami heading his way he will just resign. He’ll find a fig leaf reason that he thinks will save his honor by finding something/someone to blame (“Who could have known that Washington was so corrupt?”) then hopefully go.

Real justice would be for him to be prosecuted for any crimes he committed, but also to be ignored and scorned. It seems that Steve Bannon has reached a post-Trump age, as has Fox News. I am hoping for the worst possible outcome for Trump after he is gone: he is imprisoned for crimes, reviled as our worst president ever, his businesses crumble from being toxic assets, and hardly anyone bothers to read his Twitter feed anymore. It would be poetic and real justice.

The Republican unraveling

The Thinker by Rodin

The Senate’s rejection of a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act last night was a bit of a surprise, but certainly symptomatic of a Republican Party in free fall. It was really a roll of the dice and could have easily gone either way but either way would have been bad for Republicans.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) certainly found a great time to go “mavericky”. Perhaps his brain cancer diagnosis gave him an opportunity to vote his conscience for a change and cement something of a legacy. McCain got most of the attention but Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also bucked considerable party pressure in voting against this bill. In any event it was clear that many Republican senators weren’t actually in favor of the “skinny repeal” bill. Many voted for it only on the condition that the House moves it to a conference committee and create something else. The bill’s failure appears to be a harbinger that the leadership’s ability to ram legislation through by bypassing its committees is nearing an end.

The White House hasn’t gotten the lesson. As usual seems to be doubling down on the stupid. This has the effect of making the White House even more chaotic and paralyzed. It’s like Trump wants to do everything wrong and in the worst possible way. In my last post I advised Americans to buckle their seat belts because the turbulence would only get worse. It has, and dramatically so. I often feel like we are living in a parallel universe because our politics is so chaotic and disordered that it is hard to believe it’s real. The only question is what parts of the aircraft fail first and whether the nation can make something of a safe landing. Consider:

  • On Wednesday Trump tweeted that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military. He said this decision was made after consulting with his generals, which appears to be a lie. He certainly didn’t consult with his Defense secretary, who was blindsided. It’s unclear if this tweet will become policy. But it has caused a hell of a ruckus, with prominent Republicans coming out against it. It’s not hard to figure out why Trump did this. He’s creating distractions and trying to excite his base, which is only excited when he does hateful things to groups they dislike. Trump says this decision will save money and improve our military. But if carried out it would remove tens of thousands of transgender people from the military who are serving honorably and who the nation has already invested considerable time and money. So aside from the blatant discrimination it makes our military less ready and less ready.
  • New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci is busy trying to act nastier than Donald Trump, if that’s possible. In his amazing, profanity-laden interview with The New Yorker, Scaramucci called the man who is supposedly his boss, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and suggested Priebus was a leaker. He said of White House adviser Steve Bannon: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” He says he plans to fire everyone on the White House communications staff. Oh, and he wants to kill all White House leakers.
  • Trump continues trying to figure out a relatively benign way to fire his earliest and biggest supporter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which he hopes can be done indirectly through his voluntary resignation. So far he hasn’t found the courage to fire him outright. Trump is very upset that Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation, figuring it was Sessions’ duty to make it go away because of loyalty. He either doesn’t know that the Attorney General is supposed to be independent so the law can be enforced impartially or simply doesn’t care. In any event his true target is Sessions’ deputy, the only person who can fire Special Counsel Mueller. Trump needs a new sycophant Attorney General who will fire Sessions’ deputy, which Sessions can’t do because he’s recused himself. If he can then he has to hope to have the acting deputy fire Mueller. All this is greatly alarming Republicans in Congress because Sessions is seen by them as an excellent conservative hitting all the issues they care about. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), has already said that he won’t hold any hearings for a replacement if Sessions is fired. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) also announced that if Sessions is fired he would pursue legislation to prohibit Trump from firing Mueller.
  • John McCain’s call for the return of regular order in the Senate received applause from senators on both sides, who have had enough of their leadership disempowering them. A revolt against their leadership is likely brewing.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have squandered their political capital. Trump feels the need to shake things up and bring in an ever purer, nastier and more loyal staff. He can’t compromise because he sees that as losing face. He’s certain that the way he has always done things will work in a republican system of government that requires compromise.

Feeling the pressure to get things done, both House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell are using insular and high-risk strategies to push through legislation that apparently is only supported by the slimmest of partisan majorities. Their system is breaking down, particularly in the Senate. Senators are immune from gerrymandering because the citizens of each state directly elect them. So the Senate is going to be more moderate than the House, and it’s this way be design, at least since the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. In short, the institutional pressures and the simple desire for legislators to retain their seats are slowly overriding blind partisanship. We saw it yesterday in the votes of senators McCain, Collins and Murkowski.

Moreover, the executive branch is dissembling. The good news is that we have a competent Secretary of Defense, but it’s unclear if he can trump over a maniacal Donald Trump in a national security crisis. We also have a pissed off Secretary of State reputedly thinking of resigning and whose department is so understaffed that it is pretty much ineffective. We have branches of the executive at war with each other. And we have a president without the political skills to bring order to the mess he created and actually govern. In fact, we have a president that thinks not governing is governing. Thus it’s no surprise that there is massive dysfunction.

Look behind the scenes and it’s clear that institutional forces are marshaling, more significantly on the Republican side. Republicans are beginning to realize that they are better off without Trump. Fortunately, Trump gives them plenty of ammunition. Trump’s narcissism and cognitive dissonance will require him to become crazier and more erratic, which will feed the process. Ultimately, Republicans are going to war with each other, which should eventually render clear boundaries between traditional Republicans and Trump supporters. (Hint: the patriotic ones will eventually be seen as the traditional Republicans.) It’s all unnecessary if Trump would more toward political accommodation and begin governing rationally. It’s clear that he is incapable of doing so.

Judgment Day? Dear God, please start at the White House

The Thinker by Rodin

For being “retired”, life sure is keeping me busy, too busy to find much time to blog. The thing about being retired is that you can do anything you want. For me this means doing more of the stuff I love, which is teaching and consulting, both of which provide some income too. Blogging doesn’t bring in any money so it tends to sit on the back burner some weeks. For the last two weeks or so I’ve had little downtime.

I’ve not been at a loss for topics though, which is why I’ve decided to skip for now my monthly Craigslist casual encounters post (sorry, fans!). Mostly I’ve been thinking about evil and by extension evil people. There are so many sterling examples of late, particularly the people in the White House. My brother-in-law, one of the few right-wingers in my life, posted a picture of Trump and a bunch of his execs in the White House praying, or pretending to pray. His remark was something like: “Something you never saw in the last administration, ha ha! Isn’t it good to have real Christians in the White House?”

Trump and staff hypocritically "praying"
Trump and staff hypocritically “praying”

Yeah, right. I’m careful not to leave snarky comments with Rick, my brother in law. I have to live with him and he’s a good husband to my sister too. We can easily push each other’s buttons but choose not too and arguably I’m more publicly expressive of my opinions than he is of his.

Yet the photo really irked me. First of all, I sincerely doubt Trump has uttered a sincere prayer in his life, unless it was to plead to God to bring him more money. Second, for all of Obama’s haphazard churchgoing, Obama is something of a regular churchgoer compared to Trump. As best I can tell the only time Trump goes to church is to attend weddings, funerals and more recently political events. At a prayer breakfast in February he used the religious occasion to pray for poor ratings for The Apprentice, now that Arnold Schwarzenegger in playing the boss.

As for the rest of these White House “Christians”, Jesus would not recognize any of them as his followers. I won’t expound here about hypocritical Christians in general because I’ve done so many time, including this post. I … just … don’t … get … it. I don’t get how these “Christians” can believe they are Christian. I don’t believe Trump thinks he’s a Christian and I doubt he spends a millisecond thinking about God or concerning himself with the poor, except to pick their pockets.

The whole lot of these White House stoolies are running as fast as they can away from The Lord, by doing their damnedest to make the rich richer and the poor poorer (not to mention kill the planet) while trying desperately to humiliate the poor in the process. Include in this bunch my brother in law Rick, a faithful Catholic in the sense that he goes to Mass weekly, tithes his share but otherwise lives values wholly inconsistent with Christianity. Ironically, some of the most Christian people I know are atheists. In the unlikely event of the Rapture, I totally expect most of today’s “Christians” will be dumbstruck when their atheist neighbors ascend into heaven while the pit of hell opens up for them. It’s like Matthew 19:21 is excised from their Bibles, you know: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’”

Speaking of brothers in law, I have another one, well, not quite a brother in law, but the husband of a niece. We recently got into something of a civilized rant on Facebook. My niece was wondering if there were any really great men in the world. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. I said: drive a couple of hundred miles south to Plains, Georgia some Sunday and watch the 39th president, James Earl Carter, teach Sunday school. Or watch him, age 90-something, nailing boards into walls at one of the many Habitat for Humanity houses he and his organization help construct. Jimmy Carter gives me hope that there really are some true Christians in the world. After all, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Carter Center has overseen more than a hundred elections, spreading democracy across the world.

But none of that mattered to my niece’s husband John. He has spent too much time watching Fox News. And somewhere in there he heard that Carter sent money to commies, Manuel Noriega of Nicaragua in this case, although we’re talking about the late 1970s. What a horrible man! Granted that history was not kind to his short presidency, but he did get a Nobel Prize from it and took unpopular but correct actions, such as agreeing to turn the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. We kept the discourse pretty civil, largely due to his wife Sandy who was probably sending him IMs saying she wanted to stay on my good side. Alas, neither John nor brother in law Rick have anything good to say about Jimmy Carter, the most prominent example of a true Christian I can think of in today’s world. Jimmy Carter is by no means a saint, but he is a saintly man. He is holy in my mind, one of a handful of holy men in this world for who this honor should be obvious.

But not to John, not to Rick, and probably not to any of them people in the photo, except possibly the minister leading these hypocrites in prayer. Doubtless immediately after the photo op, the base applauded their “true Christians” while the subjects went back to deconstructing the administrative state, the professed aim of Trump’s senior adviser Steve Bannon which hopefully will include a new world war too.

I wish I could be a Christian just long enough to believe in Hell. With a few exceptions, I’m having a hard time thinking of a group of people more deserving to spend eternity there than the hypocrites in the photo. Fortunately, Jesus loves even dregs of humanity like them, even though their sacred mission seems to be to facilitate Satan by making more Americans poor, sick, hungry, anxious and scared.

Well, I’m not a Christian. Although I don’t believe in hell, here’s a toast wishing them a speedy entrance to it anyhow. The whole bunch of you in that photo can go to hell.

The Trump “winging it” presidency

The Thinker by Rodin

What a bizarre first two weeks we’ve had of the Trump “administration”. A blizzard of executive orders suggests that Trump is taking charge, but in reality there’s hardly anyone in the office, which is why the phones ring and ring. The normally bustling West Wing is eerily quiet with most of its offices empty. There is not much in the way of support staff because Trump hasn’t hired any. Meanwhile our new president reportedly retires around 6:30 p.m. Melania is in New York so he’s pretty much alone watching TV (mostly Fox News) or tweeting when the mood strikes. Outside the White House gates or on the mall there are often protesters. Spending the weekend at his resort in Florida brings more outside his gates there.

A more introspective president might take this as a clue that he’s unpopular. So far there’s no sign that Trump is becoming introspective. Any poll that suggests otherwise is faked. This would seem crazy but is not the least bit crazy if you consider that he has a classic case of narcissism. Convinced of his superiority and invincibility, the only possible explanations involve vast conspiracies, mostly by the media. So he is aggressively going after the media by not giving access to news outlets like CNN that he accuses of publishing fake news.

His administration is essentially winging it. Most of his cabinet nominees have yet to be approved. He’s fired most of the political appointees left over from the Obama Administration, who normally use their expertise to keep the lights on until the new guy takes over. This has led the White House to be disconnected from the agencies it is supposed to manage. With minimal staff at the White House it’s literally impossible to keep all communication channels open. Those many assistant and deputy assistant administrators in the White House simply aren’t there. Their role traditionally has been to listen, communicate relevant facts up the chain and work the human tree to make sure the president’s directives are followed. With one guy doing the work that would normally be distributed among ten or more staffers, stuff just isn’t happening. And with Trump’s White House staff still unclear about their roles, there’s a lot of musical chairs going on.

In fact, lots of weird stuff is going on. The many bizarre executive orders emanating from the White House have caused a true WTF reaction from the rest of government, the press and the public. Is there a lawyer on the staff? It’s popular to diss lawyers, but they exist for a reason. In the White House you hire lawyers to analyze existing law and regulation to keep you from doing stupid stuff. The Trump White House is doing all sorts of stupid stuff because most of these orders are not being vetted, sometimes not even with the cabinet members already confirmed. Most of these executive orders seem to be coming from Steve Bannon, the president’s policy adviser and apparently the Racist in Chief.

It seems that Trump is not bothering to read the orders he is signing or cannot retain the knowledge in them. It’s reported he was upset to learn that Steve Bannon was now on his National Security Council, and his Homeland Security chief and Defense department chief weren’t. They were demoted to mere advisers. Like Lt. Col Henry Blake on M*A*S*H, he’ll sign anything Radar puts in front of him. There is nothing illegal about doing this — the NSC is a pure executive branch thing — but it seems weird and bizarre when it comes to something as critical as managing our national security competently. Trump senses he did something wrong but with his narcissism and cognitive dissonance can’t seem to amend any of his mistakes. Maybe he figures it makes him look weak.

It’s a winging it presidency that is underway, driven by people who think that government should be run like a business, which in the business world is generally by edict of the CEO or board of directors. Wags tried to tell Trump that business and government were completely different spheres, but he seems to have not read the memo, probably because he rarely reads anything. The result is a government that seems more in paralysis than functioning. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that Trump and most of those working for him have little idea about how our system of government functions. That a court can block his power seems to surprise him. That Congress may not roll over for his every request seems surreal. When he promotes ideas like maybe Putin is our friend, he can’t figure out why it upsets people.

With dogmatism, curiosity ebbs. With dysfunction comes the opportunity to take advantage of it. One of the most amazing things about the last two weeks has been the reaction from protesters. The Women’s March on Washington was a huge success. It is engaging women on all levels, including my wife who is typically disengaged. She has joined a local women’s club to figure out how to move the political needle. Scientists are planning a march on Washington. Democrats in the minority might just be able to block the nomination of the wholly unqualified nominee to run our Education department, Betsy DeVos. Wherever Trump goes protesters follow. This will probably be a persistent issue during his presidency.

Moreover, Trump looks like hell. He looks tired and hassled, like he is getting an endless high colonic. He looks like he’s added another twenty pounds. Maybe all those free White House chocolate chip cookies are too good to pass up. On some level he probably understands he is in way over his head, but it is on a very submerged level. Campaigning for president is fun; actually being president is rarely fun. You may live in a gilded cage, but a cage it is. Every action generates reaction. So many balls are in there air, but there is literally no way to catch them all. So things are done haphazardly when they are done at all. It is government by chaos and miscommunication.

Perhaps Trump will master all this in time, but the odds are he won’t. It’s hard to exercise the levels of power when you don’t know where the levers are. The result is more anarchy than government. Maybe anarchy is preferable to the reality he would unleash if he could actually manage change. However, it leaves the rest of us with a deep pit in our stomach, worried and waiting to see how this house of cards collapses. It is likely to be sooner rather than later.

What to expect from the Trump Administration

The Thinker by Rodin

There are reasons so many of us are alarmed by the upcoming Trump administration. Certainly we are concerned about the direction he and Republicans in Congress are likely to take the country. His picks detail the wreckage they hope to create, from loosened environmental laws, to mass deportations, to the implicit if not explicit favoring of whites over others. As alarming as these things are likely to be, there are far bigger areas of concern. What is more alarming than all of that? Well, there’s Donald Trump himself!

If there is something good to say about Trump it’s that he’s quite transparent and thus easy to understand. Normally this would be good, but it’s bad in this case because we know pretty much how he will behave and thus govern, and this part is awful. Trump has many issues but what is most likely to hobble him is his inability to concentrate on anything for more than five or ten minutes. This is the reason he is spurning national security briefings. He is constitutionally unable to cope with them, so he copes by refusing to get them because they are full of detail and nuance. This means he will get periodic bullet summaries at best, handled and filtered by aides. From imperfect knowledge he will make life and death decisions affecting us all, probably impetuously.

Republicans like principled conservatives. However, Trump is wholly bereft of principle. All that really matters is being noticed. He thrives on attention. He prefers positive attention but as he demonstrated during the campaign negative attention will do too. Attention is what matters and his craving for it is insatiable. He feels validated when he is talked about. One way to be more talked about is simply to be outrageous. And when you are outrageous, it’s easy to succumb to impulse. And so he does day after day. His tweets are collections of sophomoric “Hey, look at me!” thoughts. Rarely are they coherent or even consistent. Yesterday he was tweeting that Russia did not interfere with our election, contradicting our best intelligence assessments. He said if this was a problem, why wasn’t it brought out during the campaign, where it was repeatedly. You can see his general problem rather clearly: short attention span. (Curiously, these tweets have been deleted.)

In the 2008 campaign Sarah Palin was lampooned when asked which newspapers and magazines she read. She replied, “All of them.” Donald Trump barely reads. He doesn’t read any books and at best he scans newspapers. Most of what he consumes is on conservative TV channels. He’s basically friendless and it’s pretty clear he is emotionally distant with his spouses and at least some of his children. Those who complained about Obama’s religion should be outraged by Trump’s lack of morals or religious convictions. He never attends church. He has no history with faith communities. He’s clearly not a Christian. It’s doubtful he could define what empathy is, simply because he can’t understand the concept. He feels closest to those who are a lot like him, which is why he is populating his cabinet with mostly rich white guys, but these relationships are invariably ephemeral and are discarded when no longer of use to him. What matters to him are wealth and an endless need to be validated.

So what does this say about how his administration will govern? First, he will delegate a lot of stuff because it simply doesn’t interest him. Second, he’s going to piss off a lot of the people he picks to help lead the country, because he will spontaneously contradict them whenever it is convenient or gets him some attention. Doing so makes him (in his eyes) look superior and/or increases attention/adulation. No one will be allowed to outshine him and if they do they are likely to be undermined or replaced. This will mean that staff like Steve Bannon will become powers behind the throne, feeding him bullets and sound bites as it serves their agendas. They will also dish out plenty of red meat for him and his supporters that will serve the dual purpose of validating Trump’s enormous ego and the convictions of his supporters.

If Trump is playing his supporters for fools, Putin is playing Trump for the fool that he is. Both cold and real wars are very inefficient ways to extend power. It’s much easier if you can get your enemies to undercut themselves, but it doesn’t hurt when you have a sycophant like Trump who is already indebted to you.

Trump will be keeping us outraged and his supporters happy while the biggest dangers are really elsewhere. He’s already starting to make a wreck of our foreign policy: pissing off China, validating the Philippines’ dictator Duterte, undercutting NATO and even going off after our defense contractors.

We’ll see how this plays off. Trump is a true Shakespearean character that will likely wreak massive havoc unless/until forces manage to stop him. This process looks like it is already underway. Congress will be looking into how Russia influenced our election. Trump’s fervent and repeated assurances that there is nothing there somehow makes it much more likely that there is. Unless things change quickly, his businesses from which he profits will be accepting money from other countries, which would put him in violation of the Emoluments Clause of our constitution. This alone is impeachable. Given all the other baggage he’s been carrying it’s likely a number of these could be impeachable. It all depends though on if/when Republicans in Congress decide to proceed with them. As a master bully with supporters willing to literally take up arms to defend him, it’s likely they will be cowed instead.

We live with the curse of interesting times and our country is its nexus. I find that I cannot allow myself to think too much about it, simply for my own sanity. We are about to go through the most dangerous time for our country, certainly since the Cold War and likely since the Civil War. It’s unclear to me if we can rise to this occasion. If we cannot, Vladimir Putin will be ecstatic but you sure won’t be.

Trump is playing his supporters for fools

The Thinker by Rodin

Has anyone noticed that the people Trump is picking for his administration are pretty much doggedly determined to work against the interest of those who voted for him? Okay, there are plenty of people, but the inconsistencies are so galling you would think his supporters would be up in arms. But there are few complaints from supporters so far.

Trump infamously promised to “drain the swamp”, but he’s apparently set on picking the wallets of those who voted for him instead. In other words, they’ve been masterfully played.

Sadly, this is the Achilles Heel of the white working class, which Trump understood. Racial pride comes before everything for them. You just have to pull the right strings. Trump is hardly the first to do it, but the first to do it so brazenly and completely. You have to play into the lie that white people are somehow special and better than others. And you have to look to scapegoats they can project their anger onto: Hispanics, blacks, gays and Muslims. It also takes a heap of phony patriotism. The idea is to obscure who is really to blame for their decline: global forces largely beyond anyone’s control and moneyed capitalists who will ruthlessly take out rungs out of the ladder of opportunity to advantage themselves.

Those others are actually people a lot like Trump. Trump succeeded by stomping down pretty much everyone unwise enough to work for him: employees, contractors and partners. Trump has screwed plenty of working class whites, particularly independent contractors and investors. And somehow he’s not going to keep screwing these people? Puh-lease. The evidence:

  • Steve Mnuchin gets to be Secretary of Treasury. Trump railed against Wall Street insiders, but picked a partner at Goldman Sachs, one of the firms that gave us the Great Recession and stripped vast amounts of wealth from many of Trump’s supporters.
  • Wilbur Ross will be Commerce Secretary. Founder of the International Coal Group, he was in charge during the Sego Mine Disaster, which killed twelve. He knew all about the mine’s safety issues and did nothing. He was also Rudy Giuliani’s privatization adviser while he was New York mayor.
  • Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. He’s managed two fast food companies (Carl’s Jr. and Hardees), doesn’t believe in a minimum wage and has talked excitedly about creating automated fast food restaurants.
  • Tom Price for Health and Human Services whose mission will be for the department to stop providing health and human services. Of course he is against the Affordable Care Act, wrote one of the few bills that completely overturns it and will work to repeal it. The principle people to be affected if the ACA is overturned will be Trump supporters, many of whom depend on the ACA’s Medicaid provisions for health care. Many Trump voters may give their lives or shorten them considerably by voting for Trump.
  • Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. Like the Arabian Horse Association president that ran FEMA for George W. Bush, Carson has zero experience in housing, unless you count the fact that his family depended on public housing to survive when he was a child. His mission will be to make sure that no others are as fortunate as he was.
  • Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She hates public schools, loves charter schools (even though their record is worse than public schools) and basically wants to dismantle the public school system. You’ll get vouchers instead, which won’t come close to paying the tuition for your kids’ education. Free elementary and high school education will be a thing of the past if DeVos is successful. Bring back the glorious 19th century with a society full of illiterates and homeless urchins in the streets! Those were the good old days!
  • South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for U.N. ambassador, who has zero experience in foreign policy.
  • Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. He wants to abolish all clean air laws. Who will be disproportionately impacted by dirtier air? The white working class for sure. All those particulates in their air are sure to spike asthma rates, emergency room visits and premature deaths. A lot of those factories will be spewing into nearby white working-class communities.
  • Linda McMahon for Small Business Administration. She has small businesses experience like the World Wrestling Federation, which she ran.

I doubt his supporters will notice any of this. What they will notice and cheer on are the red meat appointments he is throwing out instead:

  • Steve Bannon, an open racist for his chief advisor
  • Michael Flynn, a xenophobe and Russian lover for national security adviser
  • Lots of white faces, principally white men, running his administration. Yea team white!
  • Distractions that will probably be more smoke than mirrors, such as efforts to deport up to 11 million people living here

Trump’s real genius is not getting people to vote for him, but to get them to voluntarily bend over and claim “I like this” while he screws them in the ass.

Working class America, you are about to be fleeced, discounted and shown the door. Sadly, most likely you will say, “Thank you and may I have some more?” when you unwisely vote to reelect this man in 2020.